The Ayatollah of Hulkamania

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When Hulk Hogan hopped aboard Total Nonstop Action wrestling in 2009, he promised the mom and pop company (run by Panda Energy) would experience a “revolution” and claimed that the company would be the “best wrestling product out there, brother.” But, as TNA moves its way towards Slammiversary on Sunday with a main event featuring former WCW legend Sting and former ECW/WWF tag team stand out “Bully” (Bubba) Ray Dudley, it’s easy to see these promises made by Hogan as yet another blemish on the backside of one of the great careers in the history of the business.

Now, Hulk Hogan has lied before. About a lot of things. He’s lied about how big Andre the Giant was when he slammed him at WrestleMania III, frequently changing his story from 7’, 500 pounds to somewhere in the vicinity of an overturned Volkswagen. He’s lied about shows he performed on, things he said backstage, and things said in public. He’s lied so much that even when he says harmless things about wanting to be the bass player for Metallica, it turns into him being asked to be the bass player for Metallica. Oh, and the Rolling Stones.

His most infamous assertion -- infamous enough to have the director of the film himself, Darren Aronofsky, publicly refute it -- is that the 2008 pro wrestling movie The Wrestler was created with him in mind, telling Howard Stern the only reason that Mickey Rourke ended up playing the film’s “protagonist” Randy “The Ram” Robinson was that: “If I had done it, Hollywood would have looked at it as a joke.” 

The irony of course, is that the movie did have a version of him, Randy's opponent in the fictional main event at Madison Square Garden in 1989, which appears to have the same cultural cache as Hulk’s triumph over Andre at WrestleMania III. A major player in the 1980’s now years past his prime, “The Ram’s” nemesis “The Ayatollah” -- played by Ernest “The Cat” Miller -- initially appears to be the Andre the Giant (or at least aesthetically The Iron Sheik) to Randy’s Hulk Hogan.

But the similarities between Hogan and The Ayatollah take shape the second the latter appears. This goes beyond Randy being keenly aware of his descent, while Hogan continues to think he’s at the peak. Watching the film (and knowing Hulk’s career), you begin to see hints -- especially when you find out that The Ayatollah, and not Randy, won the original match -- that show Randy maybe playing the “part” of the Hulkster, but the Ayatollah most closely resembles what Terry Bollea  (which is Hulk Hogan's real name) has been in the 20 years after his highest points.

The comparison becomes even clearer when he flippantly responds to a request from Robinson to “go over the plans” of the match by saying “How about this? I’m the heel and you’re the face.” Add some gravel to the voice, maybe switch “heel” and “face”, then end it with “dude” or “brother” and you could imagine Hogan saying it before any of the big matches he wrestled during his prime or stumbled through in the decades that followed. And the reason guys like The Masked Man say things like this about the company he runs:

***

Given where he is now -- not physically (i.e., in TNA) per se, but in the zeitgeist (as the sad old guy with the terrible kids and insufferable wife who also starred in the most depressing sex tape of all time) -- it’s easy to forget that “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan was the attraction in the WWF during the 80’s: he essentially never fairly lost a fight, told children to take vitamins, and ran train on heels while main eventing almost every PPV for the first 8 years of the WrestleMania era. He eventually parlayed this success into films, huge merchandise sales, and A-list celebrity status; something wrestlers almost never achieve. It also built the ego Hogan walks around with today.

This self-serving attitude almost spelled the end when he jumped ship from WWF to WCW in 1994, after leaving for the money (and being promised he would choose what was best for his character). He figured his fans would follow, but they just didn’t care anymore, seeing right through the repetitive promos and increasingly labored shirt tearing. The Hulkster needed a drastic new direction to remain relevant. This came in the form of a color change -- from red and yellow to black and white -- after the NWO was born. The good guy was now a bad guy (with a darker beard ) giving Hulk the mainstream attention he so desired again.

Of course, after finally reaching the “pretend to be friends with Jay Leno” level of success (and even losing to the man with the world's largest forehead in a match at Sturgis), Hogan continued blackmailing anyone he negotiated a contract with into giving him whatever he wanted, including full creative control over whether his character won or lost. This was the downfall of Hogan, his failure to look at his character as mortal.

He continued to ride it until the wheels fell off. They did, but the Terry Bollea train continues running to this day. He even recently has said he thinks he still has a match left in him. This coming from a “dude” who cannot even walk to the ring without cortisone shots, which is the sort of discombobulated way of thinking that leads you to believe the man has no idea what he is doing. Or at the very least, one that should reconsider allowing someone named Bubba the Love Sponge to handle his business endeavors.

Hogan’s most recent efforts to remain at the forefront of his niche include opening a beachfront restaurant in Florida, using his daughter as a dowry for ratings in TNA, starring in sex tapes with his best friend’s wife, and creating a shoot interview series in front of an audience called Hulk Hogan Uncensored. Fans pay 100 dollars to watch Hogan and “Controversy Creates Cash” cohort Eric Bischoff speak about themselves and tell “real-life” stories from “life on the road” with “the boys”, which come from a guy who once called a main event paycheck from Vince McMahon “like one of my driver paychecks”. Needless to say, all of these escapades have gotten not so Hulkamaniac like reviews. Unlike another re-invented enigma, Iron Mike Tyson.

Since Hogan has joined TNA -- where he and Eric Bischoff, two of the three men (along with Vince Russo) most directly responsible for the demise of WCW still run the company -- the “Immortal“ era of TNA has been populated by a grossly overpaid group of former friends worried about their images and obsessed with staying in the money. Surprisingly -- in between trying to make Rob Van Dam a viable X-Division champion and marrying off his daughter to Bully Ray on television -- building new superstars isn’t exactly the top priority. The company draws ratings that no one envies, and spotlights wrestlers that should no longer be stars. This is not something new to the wrestling business and seems to occur whenever Hogan’s “stroke” is in play. Did I mention he lies?

There is usually a positive stigma or feeling attached to discussing original greats, a willful ignorance of what the person has become in deference to their period of universally accepted greatness. Wrestling fans show tolerance for mistakes and forget the most asinine of storyline, but in Hogan’s case the damage has been done. He even scares away fans from TNA, which has his face plastered all over it, which brings along with it nightmares of Nitros past.

For every epic slam of Andre the Giant, there is a huge asterisk that says “fingerpoke of doom.” Every “Warrior vs. Hogan at Wrestlemania 6” meant “Warrior vs. Hogan at Halloween Havoc”. Part of this is that God created Terry Bollea, not Hulk Hogan -- Vince McMahon did that. He’s attempting to fulfill a mythical storyline as the Hulkster instead of being the best Terry he can be. This shows.

But how does Bollea’s story end? If his track record is any indication, the conclusion doesn’t look too promising. Hogan is destined to want that final taste of what it feels like to be on top, probably at this year’s Bound For Glory (“TNA’s WrestleMania”, or at least their "biggest" show). Even though he hasn’t ruined Slammiversary -- really just kind of boring everyone with his steadfast belief in the awesomeness of Sting (who he held down for years in WCW) -- his presence alone still gives cause for concern. All purists can hope, is that unlike Randy Robinson performing his final “Ram Jam” on Ayatollah, the only leg drops Hulk Hogan will be dropping is on his son’s turntables.

Christopher James Tuttle, better known as C.J., is a writer located in Southern California. He studied journalism at Cal State LA. He is currently a regular columnist for MMA Torch and an avid (fake) wrestling/sports fan. Send him hate mail and nasty tweets: c.j.tuttle@me.com and @kidceej

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