Unpopular Opinion: Hulk Hogan was a better heel than face
Hulk Hogan is arguably the biggest icon that professional wrestling has ever produced. That status is rooted in his work as the face of WWE from the mid-1980s to early 1990s during which time he played the hero who main evented WrestleMania after WrestleMania and carried the company through its national expansion.
However, before Hogan played this face character, he had also wrestled to reasonable success as a big man heel. Even more notably, after spending a decade as the most recognizable good guy in wrestling, Hogan turned heel again. At WCW’s Bash at the Beach 1996, he joined Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to launch the New World Order, the evil super group that shifted the direction of wrestling.
The conventional wisdom is that Hogan’s big heel run in the late 1990s was all about inverting his face run from the preceding decade, and it’s true that the initial turn wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful were it not for the face work to precede it. However, Hogan’s turn didn’t so much reinvent him as a character as synergize his existing gimmick with a late 1990s sensibility.
The truth is that Hogan had long wrestled sort of like a heel, including eye gouges, closed fist punches, and raking his fingernails against opponents’ backs. That’s not to mention his tendency to pose and preen after a victory. By 1996, fans had tired of Hogan as a hero and come to recognize his less admirable qualities as a person and performer.
Hogan as a heel made complete sense at that point in time and he was a heat magnet. The turn synched up brilliantly with the Internet taking hold and fans sharing backstage news and personal opinions at a new level to edge popular opinion against The Hulkster anyway. In his new heel Hollywood Hogan persona, he was able to channel an even more unified hatred from the audience than he’d been able to summon their love in the preceding years. Moreover, as the default WCW Champion, he felt something like a modernized Harley Race or Ric Flair—the veteran legend for younger stars to challenge, with the added edge that he wasn’t as well respected as a worker as these heel champions to precede him.
Ever the shrewd businessman, Hogan dove headlong into this reinvented gimmick. At the end of the day, he was an even better heel than he was a face.