The End of Hulk Hogan

It took only a few minutes for the WWE to scrub Hulk Hogan from its history. Is this the end for the most iconic professional wrestler of his generation?

24 July 2015, 4:49pm

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Hulk Hogan has disappeared. The most iconic professional wrestler and most revered compulsive liar of his generation has been scrubbed from WWE's official histories. He's gone from the Hall of Fame. His merchandise has been pulled. He's no longer a judge on the Tough Enough reboot. Professional wrestling has slammed its large orange son all the way down the memory hole. It took only a few minutes.

This happened with merciful quickness after the full audio of the Hogan sex tape was released to the National Enquirer and RadarOnline. It is distasteful in a way that goes beyond the familiar (and extremely distasteful!) stuff that we already knew. In this new material, Hogan — at some point before, after, or possibly during sex with his good friend's wife — goes on a racist tirade regarding his daughter's possible romantic relationship with a black man.

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It's stupid, awful, greasy stuff, strewn with familiar and odious racial epithets and defined by full-blown white sexual panic in the face of nothing scary at all. As pillow talk, it's inexplicable. By any standard, it's horrific. It was, by itself or in conjunction with his other recent disgraces, enough to be the end of Hulk Hogan.

There is some precedent for the WWE's early attempts to erase Hogan from their history: Chris Benoit. When it became obvious that Benoit was a murderer, his merchandise was pulled, his name scrubbed from the books. He was disappeared, just as it appears Hogan will be. Other than that, this does not happen. Vince McMahon, to his credit, has an open-door policy when people leave: if there's money to be made, they can come back. CM Punk is currently suing WWE, yet he still has a presence on its website.

We don't know how far this process goes with Hogan. He's so much bigger than Benoit ever was that the notion of making his name unsearchable in the WWE Network database seems farcical. This is just Day One of the WWE's response, and it may very well be simply a severing of contact in the now, though the removal of Hogan from the Hall of Fame website seems to indicate a more permanent diminishment of his legend.

Things are not going so great for Hulk Hogan. Photo by Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

But Hogan was the biggest star in pro wrestling history. No matter how odious people thought he was, no matter how much he angered his co-workers by swinging his prodigious backstage weight around, you couldn't escape him. You had to do business with him because he was, in some respects, the business. Even now, 30 years removed from Hulkamania, he seemed too big to fail.

And what of WWE and pro wrestling? It's not hyperbole to mark this as a watershed moment in wrestling history. To say that pro wrestling has traditionally been a rogue's gallery of reprobates and lunatics is an understatement. It's a business where men were stabbed to death in showers. Where drugs and steroids flowed freely. And where racism has been not only been ignored but sometimes actively embraced.

Hogan is not measurably worse than some of the people WWE has opted not to erase. Is this worse than Michael Hayes being kept on the payroll backstage? Is it worse than Iron Sheik's racist and anti-Semitic tirades? Vince McMahon himself dropped the n-word on air, in a skit seemingly designed to play up the notion of his minority employees having to eat a shit sandwich every day of their working lives.

Pro wrestling at the top level is so endlessly fascinating because it never sets trends. It only reacts. Anyone who thinks the Attitude Era's mix of sex and violence was dangerous remembers neither the timbre of the '90s or how quickly WWE would walk back its worst impulses when advertisers periodically revolted. And because wrestling always plays it safe, it's a living history book, mapping the psyche of the working-class public at a given moment. You can watch our highest aspirations and our worst fears, but also what we think of as baseline acceptability. And right now, in 2015, a racist tirade, even one delivered by a legend, is not acceptable.

This means, then, that whatever WWE was is not what the WWE is as of today. Whatever racism they flirted with in the past or still do in the present, whichever racists they've employed, Hogan's tirade proved too much. I don't know that this would have been the case even 15 years ago.

Hogan's behavior drew a line for the WWE even as he was crossing over it. Their response doesn't make them the good guys, but it does signal that such overt racism will not be tolerated going forward. And that is a good thing, even if WWE's moral legacy overall is mixed.

As for Hogan, there's some justice in this outcome. To be abruptly squashed by a pop culture to which he so desperately wishes to cling, for him to be undone by an unguarded, honest moment in a life made of carefully cultivated bravado, is as close to an ending worthy of literature as we're likely to get.