Hulk Hogan—born Terry Bollea in Augusta, Georgia, on August 11, 1953—put professional wrestling on the map and helped the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) become the billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut that it is today. In between bodyslamming giants and executing his devastating leg drop on opponents in arenas all over the world, Hogan was also a leading man in movies, a merchandising phenomenon, and an all-around pop-culture mainstay for kids throughout the '80s and '90s. For more on the man behind Hulkamania, here are nine facts you should know, brother!
1. Hulk Hogan had a shot at going pro in baseball.
As a youngster, Bollea took his little league team to the national regional finals in 1966, coming just one game shy of reaching the Little League World Series (he actually gave up the game-winning home run to the opposing team). He continued playing baseball into his early teens, and as a 6-foot-6-inch high-school pitcher, the towering Bollea caught the attention of big-league scouts from the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds. But a broken arm ended his dreams of going pro while he was still in school, and instead, he took up guitar and weight lifting. (In an alternate reality, Bollea could have wound up on the Cincinnati Reds alongside one of his greatest in-ring rivals, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, who was part of the Reds' minor league system in the early '70s.)
2. He got a shot at becoming a wrestler because he was in a band.
Beyond a love of baseball, he was also a studio musician for 10 years and played bass in a rock group called Ruckus. When wrestling icons Gerald and Jack Brisco—The Brisco Brothers—saw the gigantic Bollea perform with his band in Tampa, they invited him to meet promotor Eddie Graham and trainer Hiro Matsuda. They obviously saw the potential, too, because Matsuda offered him a coveted training spot.
3. Matsuda broke Hulk Hogan's leg the first day of practice.
Hulk credits his big mouth for the injury. "The biggest mistake I made was I ran my mouth around this small town. ‘I’m gonna be a wrestler! I’m gonna be a wrestler!’ Big mistake," he said on "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's podcast. "So when I went down there, Matsuda broke my leg the first day. [He] sat between my legs, put his elbow in my shin, grabbed my toe, posted my leg, snapped my leg and told me not to come back. I went back four months later."
4. His ring name wasn't always Hulk Hogan.
During his 1977 debut, Hogan wrestled under a mask as "The Super Destroyer," a shared name traded back and forth between several wrestlers. Soon after, he ditched the mask to wrestle as "Sterling Golden" and "Terry 'The Hulk' Boulder" throughout smaller wrestling territories. When he eventually went to work for Vince McMahon, Sr.'s World Wide Wrestling Federation (the precursor to the WWF/WWE) in 1979, McMahon wanted a wrestler who could appeal to the Irish fans in the Northeast territory, eventually settling on the ring name "Hulk Hogan." Though Bollea was worried it sounded a bit too much like "Hulk Hoagie," he agreed to the name change.
5. He got fired from the WWF for starring in Rocky III.
The old-school thought was that wrestlers should never do TV and movies in order to avoid exposing the business as choreographed, so it was a major taboo when Hulk appeared as Thunder Lips in Rocky III. "If you were a wrestler you were a wrestler," Hulk explained on Austin's podcast. The role cost him his job with WWF under Vince McMahon Sr., so Hulk went to wrestle for the American Wrestling Association (AWA) for a while before Vince McMahon, Jr., who took over the company from his father, pulled him back to WWF to make him the star of the program.
6. Hogan's parents didn't approve of his wrestling until he won the WWF Heavyweight title in 1984.
Hulk dropped out of the University of South Florida where he was studying finance in order to become a wrestler full time; it was a decision that disappointed both of his parents. Describing his personal favorite career moment on his website, Hulk wrote:
"[Becoming a professional wrestler] just ruined [my parents'] hopes and dreams for me. So, we had a very strained relationship for quite a long time. But when I beat the Iron Sheik in Madison Square Garden, both of my parents [were] in the audience sitting next to Linda McMahon [wife of Vince McMahon, Jr.] When I came back with the belt, [Andre the Giant] was pouring champagne on my head. My dad and mom came to the dressing room, and they both said how proud they were of me. They were very, very happy that I made that decision to be a wrestler."
In WWE lore, that's the night Hulkamania was born.
7. Marvel owned the copyright on his name.
After wrestling as Hulk Hogan—and even "The Incredible Hulk Hogan" at points—for several years, Bollea's high-profile role in WWF and budding movie career caught the attention of Marvel's lawyers, who thought the name was infringing upon a certain green monster in purple pants. So in 1984, Marvel and the WWF worked out a compromise where the comic book company would license the rights to the name to the WWF and Hogan for 20 years in exchange for monetary compensation. Most notably, Marvel received .009 percent of the gross on any Hulk Hogan merchandise sold and $100 for every match Hogan wrestled in. Keep in mind that Hogan has spoken in the past about wrestling 300 matches per year at points, so it's easy to see why Marvel jumped at this agreement.
Recently, Eric Bischoff, former president of WWF's rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW), said that the Marvel issue was behind Hogan when the Hulkster came to work for WCW in 1994.
"Hulk Hogan owns the trademark ‘Hulk Hogan’ not Marvel," Bischoff said on his 83 Weeks podcast. "Hulk Hogan and his attorneys and Marvel reached an agreement prior to Hulk coming to WCW that gave Hulk Hogan the rights to use ‘Hulk’ as long as it was Hulk Hogan in a wrestling-related environment so I didn’t have to pay Marvel anything. That was something Hulk and Marvel had come to an agreement with prior to Hulk coming to WCW."
8. He's the only pro wrestler ever to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Hogan landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated's April 1985 issue, where he was lauded as "Pro Wrestling's Top Banana." There's some disagreement about whether Hulk is the only pro wrestler to ever play cover model for the magazine, but since The Rock's cover came after his Hollywood mega-success alongside an article about his football career, and Ronda Rousey graced the cover for her UFC and modeling prowess, not her WWE career, it's clear that Hulk is the only one to be on the cover strictly because of pro wrestling.
9. Hogan knocked Richard Belzer unconscious on live TV.
During a gonzo appearance on a cable talk show where he and Mr. T were promoting the first Wrestlemania, Hogan put host Richard Belzer in a headlock that rendered him unconscious. Hogan then dropped him, sending his limp body to the floor, where Belzer hit his head bad enough to get a concussion. He came to and threw the show to commercial while his head was bleeding, and later sued Hulk, Mr. T, and Titan Sports (the former corporate name for WWF/WWE) for $5 million. Eventually, the parties reached an undisclosed settlement.