Photo courtesy of FreddiusMercurium
During the 1980s, when it was the in-thing to do, the AWA led the league in producing big money talent that made all their big money in the WWF. If you think ROH looks like a-star making company, consider the Wrestlemania III card. AWA had more alums on it than any other territory, a list that included:
The Can-Am Connection (both Rick Martel and Tom Zenk)
The Iron Sheik
…and, most importantly of all, Hulk Hogan.
At the height of the Hulkamania era, Vince McMahon’s roster was an all-star team of choice talent, a mind-boggling number of whom came from the AWA. So, why was the WWF promoting the single most successful wrestling event to date while the promoter who made all these stars, Verne Gagne, was struggling to herd cats and put together the original Superclash card?
Easy, says the WWE history: the WWF had created Hulkamania! They had the most over babyface in wrestling. Fans lined up around the building to see him, buy his t-shirts, be captivated by his promos, and watch him drop his leg on heels. The only problem? All those things had already happened in the AWA. The WWF didn’t create Hulkamania, they were simply willing to pay for it.
Hogan re-debuted on WWF television on in late December of ’83 and won the title less than a month later from The Iron Sheik. According to the WWE version of history, The Iron Sheik was such a hated heel that defeating him instantly catapulted the Hulkster into iconic status. That Hulk Hogan was already a nationally-recognized superstar, who had already appeared on the covers of a multitude of wrestling magazines while he was working in the AWA, with a face that was already known to a non-wrestling audience thanks to his work in Rocky III was completely ignored. That The Iron Sheik, while an effective heel, was never a top-level competitor, but just a guy Bob Backlund was willing to lose to, also completely ignored. I love The Sheik’s “No Iron Sheik, no Hulkamania” line as much as the next guy, but it simply isn’t true.
Hulkamania, just like the nWo, was an angle from another territory rehashed by a man willing to spend money to make money. The idea that Vince McMahon changed wrestling by creating Hulkamania is as big a wad of hooey as the idea that the WWWF was a promotion of equal stature to the NWA. Vince McMahon should be lauded for capitalizing on a grassroots movement that Verne Gagne had done everything to try and ignore, WrestleMania, and many other things. But not Hulkamania.
Hogan could have been anybody’s cash cow, but he chose to work in the WWF because Vince McMahon wasn’t a bitter old-timer like Verne Gagne was. If Hogan had gone to Jim Crockett promotions, there would still have been Hulkamania because Hulkamania was a connection between Hogan and the fans, not an angle that any booker dreamed up. That is why Hulkamania persists (if weakly) more than thirty years later.
The idea that the WWF created Hulkamania is a marketing tactic used to maintain the illusion that the WWE do now and always have owned the exclusive patent on good ideas in wrestling. Hulkamania was born in the AWA and migrated east in 1984, and saying that the WWF created Hulkamania is an insult. To Hogan, to the people who packed the Minneapolis Auditorium or St. Paul Civic Center to see him wrestle and bought those early shirts that he printed himself, and to fans of the history of the sport.
Vince McMahon being at the precise middle-point between hard work and opportunity at exactly the right time to capitalize on Hulkamania is a story within itself, but one they don’t seem willing to tell. Instead of being happy that they picked up a fumbled ball and returned it for a Superbowl-winning touchdown, the WWE want to be the ones who invented the game of football.