In the 1980s, nobody was bigger in professional wrestling than Hulk Hogan. You can take your Ric Flair’s, Dusty Rhodes and Andre The Giant’s and none of them could match the incredible popularity that The Hulkster had during his peak. The 80s was the golden era of wrestling and saw the sport go from a small, regional performance to a national beloved pastime for all the family, young and old.
One of the main reasons that wrestling boomed in the United States during these years was because of Hulk Hogan. He became famous across the globe with his role as “Thunderlips” in Rocky III, and built on that performance by returning to the WWE (he had been fired after taking the role by Vince McMahon Sr) and bringing “Hulkamania” with him.
Hulkamania began in the AWA after he was fired for his role in Rocky III, but was fully realised by Vince McMahon Jr. The current owner of the WWE bought the company from his father and immediately chose Hogan as the man who was going to lead him into the future. He did just that, becoming the most popular wrestler of all time (although “Stone Cold” Steve Austin may dispute that) and helping make the WWE into a brand known across the globe.
But that’s jumping to far ahead. In this article, we’ll take a look at when Hulk Hogan started wrestling and what made him become the star he was in the world of professional wrestling.
When Did Hulk Hogan Start Wrestling?
Hulk Hogan began learning to wrestle in 1976, when he was trained by Japanese wrestler Hiro Matsuda. Hogan had been spotted in the gym he worked in my the Brisco’s – Jack and Gerald – who were impressed by Hogan’s physique and thought that he could become a professional wrestler. They begged Hiro Matsuda to train Hogan, and both men eventually agreed to star the training, with Hogan aged 23.
However, the training did not start out as well as he would have hoped. On his first day in the ring, Matsuda broke the ankle of Hulk Hogan which forced him to quit. This was a commonly used tactic back in the day, to injure a trainee to see just how much they wanted to become a professional wrestler. If they wanted it that badly, they’d come back next time and risk more injury and only then would they be allowed to learn all the tricks of the trade for the ancient art form.
Luckily for fans, Hogan new that he could become a big star and make a lot of money, so came back as soon as he could to continue learning. This was the right thing to do, as less than a year later he made his debut in wrestling, in mid 1977. He had his first match against Brian Blair in Fort Myers, Florida, on August 10, 1977. At this time, he went by the name Terry Boulder, although he soon donned a mask and went by the name “The Super Destroyer”.
He would make his debut in WWE two years later on “WWF Championship Wrestling” on November 13th, 1979. He was signed to the company under Vince McMahon Sr, joining from the AWA and originally joining up with the company as a heel, and was not the “Hulkamaniac” that fans had grown to know and love. Hogan wrestled Ben Ortiz, a little known wrestler from Puerto Rico, in his debut for the WWE. The match lasted less than two minutes and was a complete squash match. Hogan won the bout with an Axe Bomber (his finisher before adopting the leg drop) and started off his WWE run with a victory.
It wouldn’t be until he was fired by Vince McMahon Sr in 1981, after filming his scenes with Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III, that Hulkamnia was born. He became a huge fan favourite in the American Wrestling Association (AWA). He became a big star in the promotion, which prompted Vince McMahon Jr to bring him back into the fold with the World Wrestling Federation (which changed it’s name to the World Wrestling Entertainment in 2001) which helped make him the biggest star wrestling has ever seen.
Matches against the biggest stars in wrestling helped make Hogan a household name. He had huge matches against the superstars of the day, like The Iron Sheik, Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre The Giant and Sgt Slaughter, which made him an American Hero in the eyes of the fans. While his reputation has been tarnished in recent years by some…choice comments, shall we say… nobody can deny the absolute force of nature that Hulkamania was when Hulk Hogan was running wild, saying his prayers, taking his vitamins and when nothing worked for him.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.