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The Champion of Toronto

March 10, 2012

Professional wrestling is a strange beast. It was a sport, now it’s entertainment. It’s a soap opera for men posing as an athletic competition. It’s written, it’s choreographed; but like a sport, it has an audience.

The pro wrestling audience is no different than any other sporting event audience. The audience has a team to root for and a team to root against. The audience roots for the good guy and against the bad guy. It is rare when the audience, as a whole, is split. It is even more rare when the audience cheers the other way around.

Introduction

The wrestling industry is like any other industry in this world. It’s trying to make money. It markets itself through embellishments. Every event is the biggest event ever. Every character is the greatest character ever.

Obviously that cannot always be true.

The WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment has figures that will point to either “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson as the biggest stars ever. Those two superstars were the two biggest stars of their era. An era which saw higher revenue for the business and the indsustry than ever before. However, neither is able to definitively state their own dominance over each other. They are equals.

But when push comes to shove, neither Stone Cold or the Rock could hold a candle next to Hulk Hogan.

Hulk Hogan transformed the wrestling industry from obscurity to popular culture. Nobody elicited more interest from those uninterested in wrestling than Hulk Hogan. And no where in the world is Hulk Hogan more special than in Toronto.

Part I: The End of an Era

At Wrestlemania III, from Pontiac Michigan, Hulk Hogan solidified his success, the business’ success and the industry’s success with his match and victory over Andre the Giant.

Three years later, it was time for Hulk Hogan’s era to subside. It was time for Hulk Hogan to pass the torch to the next big star in the wrestling business. Wrestlemania VI was being held, for the first time outside of the United States, in Toronto’s SkyDome. Hulk Hogan was putting his championship on the line against the Ultimate Warrior.

This was the most unique match wrestling had ever offered to it’s audience. This match was good guy versus good guy. This match asked the audience to take sides without the benefit of being told who to root for. Never before has wrestling just pitted two superstars against each other and let the audience decide who the root for.

In the months leading up to Wrestlemania VI, everybody had an opinion on the match. Not just wrestling fans, everybody. People who never spoke of wrestling weighed in on this match. Everybody, individually picked a side for the match. Not just the wrestling audience, but the world as a whole divided into two equal camps: one side Hulkamania; the other the Warriors. This was going to be the biggest wrestling match ever.

In the SkyDome, both wrestlers made their way into the ring. The audience was split right down the middle. Half were Hulkamaniacs, the other half were Warriors.

When the match ended, a new champion was celebrated and the old champion graciously made his way from the ring. Half of the audience gloated in their victory; the other half, sad from defeat.

Due in part to Hogan’s undeniable star-power and in part to Warrior’s poor performances and lack of commitment to the business, Hogan would be given back the championship a year later and asked again to hoist the company upon his “24 inch pythons.”

Part II: The Return

In the twelve years following Hogan’s defeat to the Ultimate Warrior, Hulk saw his career change in many ways. He left the WWF/WWE for WCW, only to return again for what was supposed to be his swan song. Hulk Hogan was going to wrestle again at Wrestlemania, again in Toronto. Hogan’s opponent, the biggest star the WWE had to offer, the Rock.

The Rock was positioned as the face, the good guy. Hulk Hogan, the bad. This was going to be the match where Hulk Hogan lays down for the Rock, where Hulkamania officially passes the torch to “The Great One.”

Both superstars entered the ring, one to cheers, the other to such a huge wave of support that was clear, the audience wanted their good guy to win. The audience’s support was behind Hulk Hogan, not the Rock. It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

There were some Rock boosters in the audience, but their voices were easily drowned out by the Hulkamaniacs: the people who never forget Hulk Hogan’s gracious defeat at Wrestlemania VI, the people who never forget the joy brought to them by the Hulkster, the people who are able to forgive or even acknowledge Hulk for his “Hollywood” phase. There are very few surprises in the wrestling business. This was one of them.

The broadcast crew, the producers, nobody expected the reaction. The two wrestlers in the ring were not expecting the crowd’s reaction. The two men looked at each other, then they each looked around to the crowd. Then the two experienced wrestlers had a quick discussion.

“Hey Hulk, what are we supposed to do?”

“Dwayne, let’s give the fans the greatest match they’ve ever seen.”

The Rock, as planned, would win the match but Hulk Hogan would walk away from the ring in the centre of the SkyDome as champion of Toronto.

Epilogue

Hulk Hogan’s personal life and professional career have been much fodder for the tabloids since Wrestlemania X8. Although his advanced age and worn-down body no longer allow him to perform in the ring as he once did, he’s still a star in the business. Not a star like he was in the 1980s and 1990s, but still a star, still a man with a gravitas about him.

The Ultimate Warrior’s big moment was Wrestlemania VI. His career fizzled away as quickly as it rose. The Rock, having successfully made his way into the movie business, occasionally returns to the WWE as a big star, although with each return, the audience is left wondering what to do with this fading star trying to regain some of his past glory.

Hulk Hogan competed at the two biggest wrestling events ever held in Toronto. In each event, he lost the match because it was written that way. It is his true greatness that allowed him, in both matches, to lose the match but win the audience’s favour.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Riot Kitty permalink
    March 11, 2012 1:55 am

    I still think the World Wildlife Federation is a bunch of asses for suing over the acronym.

    total asshats

  2. March 12, 2012 1:02 am

    Hulk Hogan is the face of wrestling.

    And he’ll always be the good guy.

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