If John Cena is a “wrestling cancer” then what does that make Hulk Hogan? Both kept down talent, whilst making bank for themselves and the business. Now that Cena is gone from WWE we are left with the gaping void the industry seemingly refuses to fill. No matter how lengthy their pushes and/or title reigns may be, you never get the feeling you’re watching The Guy WWE is building up for the next generation. The champions are now placeholders.
Even in the post-Hogan era of WWE, you felt them try so hard to get Diesel over, and later Shawn Michaels to varying results. Nowadays, WWE is quick to jettison on talent like Roman Reigns, too hesitant to pull the trigger on Shinsuke Nakamura or Shayna Baszler. The only time I can recall WWE doing this in the past is with Lex Luger. And he was still one of the top draws in the company, despite the skittish booking after they balked at giving him the belt at the ‘93 SummerSlam.
It used to be that if you subtract the most powerful force something else surely would have replaced them. If the British never conquered the world, the French would’ve. If Hulk Hogan didn’t explode in popularity, Randy Savage or Kerry Von Erich or Ric Flair would’ve. If Cena flamed out, WWE is a company dominated by Triple H and Batista. But what happens when the power vacuum remains vacant? If everyone is on relative similar standing and WWE is willing to try almost anyone out as champ before running back into the arms of Brock Lesnar?
That’s the world we live in now. No head honcho. No top dog. This time last year WWE Champion Kofi Kingston was feuding with Dolph Ziggler, the latter being booked as a cheap imitation of Chris Jericho. Current champ, Drew McIntyre, is feuding with *Squints* Ziggler. Son of a bitch. Ironically, what’s waiting in the pipeline for McIntyre is Randy Orton who was Kofi’s next feud after Ziggler.
The cycle goes:
- A new champion is crowned amidst fanfare
- Solid start with solidified star, or fan favorite
- They work their way down with lukewarm wrestlers
- Their reception becomes lukewarm
- They lose the title because they flamed out
Only difference is while Kofi will likely never get a title shot again, when McIntyre gets beaten he’ll get a another crack at the gold. But my point still stands: when WWE decides virtually everyone is on equal footing it dilutes the product.
The 1980s in the WWE was all about Hulk Hogan. The rest of the roster was either monsters designed for Hogan to beat or to make up the Intercontinental Championship level. Hogan leaves, WWE becomes all about Bret Hart, Diesel, and Shawn Michaels until Steve Austin takes the ball in 1998, and so on.
Which brings me to the scenario I want to game out for today… what-if Hulk Hogan simply vanished from wrestling after 1993 and never resurfaced in World Championship Wrestling?
Upon Hogan’s entry, WCW was losing to WWE. Starrcade 1993 had a returning Ric Flair facing against the monster heel Big Van Vader at the height of his powers. A genuine Cinderella story. Ric’s run in the WWE can’t to an abrupt end after two title reigns, when Vince told him to put over the new guy Razor Ramon and informing Ric he was to move down the card to get younger talent over. Upon returning to his old stomping grounds, Flair wasn’t positioned in the main event of Starrcade. It was Sid Vicious who was tapped to go over Vader. But a violent confrontation in England involving Sid and Flair’s best friend, Arn Anderson, lead to his firing. Ric went from scheduled to tag team with rival Steamboat versus The Nasties. The event he made famous entering its 10th anniversary and in his hometown, Flair was positioned third from the top originally.
The greatest wrestler, the face of the NWA and WCW promotions putting his career on the line against someone virtually unstoppable and it made less money than the god awful WrestleMania IX. Taking place that year the PPV drew a 2.3 buy rate. A higher mark than the subsequent four WrestleMainas. Meanwhile, Starrcade did a pitiful 0.55 buy rate. While Starrcade had Steve Austin, Cactus Jack, Road Warrior Hawk & Animal, and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat people chose to watch Giant Gonzalez versus The Undertaker.
Despite being mired in scandal and their top star leaving the promotion, WWE was in the green. The live gate and attendance was slightly up from the year before, while WCW live gate and attendance was down a staggering 69% from the previous year.
Entering 1994, WCW appeared to be on their last legs where they lost a speculated $23 million. If Ted Turner wasn’t such a big wrestling fan the plug on WCW likely wouldn’t have been pulled. To make matters worse, Steamboat and Rick Rude suffered career ending injuries roughly the same time when WCW was lacking top guys besides Flair.
WCW was in dire straights and signing Hulk Hogan was the ultimate move of a desperate company aware they are on thin ice even with a friendly boss like Ted Turner. Still, Hogan failed to move the needle. And to make matters worse, the excessive contract they signed Hogan too meant stagnant numbers lead to the company still losing money.
From Dave Meltzer of the Observer, July (before Bash at the Beach), 1994:
two weeks before the Bash at the Beach PPV, early buys seem to be tracking at the usual rate of all other WCW PPVs, which has some in WCW quietly panicking. If this PPV does the same weak buyrate as all other WCW PPVs, it would be a financial disaster for the company given all the money they’ve spent on Hogan and advertising. And they still have the rest of the year and 2 other PPVs Hogan is scheduled to work, so if they can’t do huge business for Hogan’s first match, it’s unlikely that it’ll get any better the rest of the year. They’ve already called in all the favors they can for this one (Shaq and Mr. T appearing, Ted Turner doing the press conference, George Foreman promos, etc.). So basically, if this fails, it could prove devastating for WCW. All their eggs are in one basket on this one.
Doesn’t sound good. How about after Bash at the Beach?
Dave says it was a huge success and drew an estimated 1.02 buyrate, which is exactly what WCW was hoping for and makes it the biggest WCW buyrate since 1991… Hulk Hogan alone is expected to pull in $680,000 which ain’t bad for one night’s work. It outdrew King of the Ring by more than 30%, which is the first time a WCW PPV has ever outdrawn a WWF PPV in the same time period.
Even as Hogan’s star cooled, with the launch of WCW Nitro to counter WWE’s Monday Night Raw’s programming, Eric Bischoff was able to get neck-and-neck against McMahon. The two would trade wins until the nWo formed and blah blah blah. You get the picture. The rest is history.
Bottom line is if Hogan didn’t show up Turner probably pulls them plug on WCW as it was losing too much money for him to ignore. He tried everything to keep his passion project afloat. While he wasn’t heavily involved in the programming, he wasn’t afraid to write a big fat check.
If WCW could remain afloat, Vader doesn’t fall out of the title picture and likely reclaims the belt at some point in the near future. At forty-five, Flair was still a draw and as the booker he knew what’s to be done. When Hogan came in, Flair had all the power to bury the Hulkster, but did what’s right for business. Not many in his position and of his stature would do that. Certainly Hogan would never repay Flair for his kindness.
In the end, WCW couldn’t have survived without the very person who would help kill them. If Eric Bischoff had his ducks in a row, after the ‘97 Starrcade he rebuilds around the cruiserweight division and pays Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall (maybe they’re not even there to begin with) to stay home. The boom period for WCW was ending no matter what, but just like the WWE in 2001, the capitalist society we live in demands the red line always go up.