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By Mike Johnson on 2018-03-22 15:55:00

WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan last appeared for World Wrestling Entertainment in July 2015, but that could soon change. has learned that conversations are underway for Hogan, 64-years old, to return to the company.  Discussions began several weeks ago. 

There is no word yet as to what role Hogan could play for the company should the two sides come to terms.  The obvious guess would be an authority role for the Smackdown brand.  It fits logically, given that Shane McMahon has taken a “leave of absence” from his role as Smackdown Live’s storyline Commissioner and Daniel Bryan is returning as a pro wrestler, but that’s just a guess. 

It could simply be Hogan is returning to resume his former duties as an ambassador for the company.  Wrestlemania is coming and as nonsensical as it sounds, Braun Strowman needs a partner.  WWE is also lining up tons of major names for the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia.  Hogan would certainly fit in as a major addition there.   There will always be a need for star power to mine for future DVD and WWE Network projects.  Hogan fits into all those scenarios and many more.   

WWE, in responding to a PWInsider request for comment, issued the following statement:

“We have had discussions with Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan) about how he can help others learn from his mistakes, however, he is not under any contract with WWE."

Hogan was fired by WWE in July 2015 after a tape of Hogan using racially insensitive language towards African-Americans was leaked to the public, first published by The National Enquirer.  Hogan’s conversation, including an angry rant about his daughter Brooke’s then-boyfriend (who was African-American), had been secretly filmed in 2006 by Hogan’s former best friend, radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge.  In what would become a huge media story, Hogan was also secretly filmed sleeping with Bubba’s then-wife Heather Clem. 

When footage of that sex tape was posted online by several years later and the online outlet refused Hogan’s requests to remove the video, he sued the website.  Hogan testified during his civil trial against Gawker that the release of the material "turned his world upside down" and that he was "completely humiliated.”  On the stand, Hogan commented that he thought "Not, again" as he had completely "cleaned his life up” following the end of his first marriage, which resulted in a 2011 divorce.

Hogan sued and settled with Bubba the Love Sponge, who later refused to testify in the Hogan lawsuit against Gawker.  To this day, Hogan and Bubba, who were the best of friends, have never reconciled. 

Hogan also sued Heather Clem and Mike “Cowhead” Calta, a local radio DJ in Florida who at one point, worked for Bubba the Love Sponge.  The tapes were leaked after a series of events that began when Bubba's marriage with Heather ended.  To safeguard the tapes, Bubba moved them to his radio office, where they were later stolen.  The existence of the tapes became known when attempts were made to sell them different news organizations.  Gawker claimed that the sex tape was delivered to their office by persons unknown, leading to the website publishing a review and footage from the video.

The leaking of the racially-insensitive rant, where Hogan came across terrible, came in the middle of Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker.  The tapes also leaked during a period where the transcript of the material had been sealed from the public by the Judge presiding over the civil lawsuit.

Hogan filed a second lawsuit against Gawker in the wake of his WWE firing, alleging the outlet had purposely leaked the transcript of Hogan's 2006 rant to ruin his wrestling career.   In that second lawsuit, Hogan alleged that Gawker had been threatening to release the transcript of his comments, for some time before they came out.  The lawsuit claims that then-Gawker head Nick Denton wrote online that Hogan's "real secrets" would be coming out while then-Gawker Editor AJ Daulerio (who published the sex tape video clips alongside his review) Tweeted "XOXO" with a link to the National Enquirer's article about the Hogan rant.

In the end, Hogan won a judgment in the amount of $115 million against Gawker.  The judgment bankrupted the outlet, which later came to a settlement of $31 million with Hogan. 

Hogan admitted after the judgment that he had turned down several attempts by Gawker to settle the case, telling The New York Post, “if I put my tail between my legs, if I take the money but don’t tell the truth or I don’t face [the situation], I’m not going to be able to live with myself. I knew how unhappy I would be. I told my wife, I said, ‘Jennifer, I just got to follow my heart."   

It later came out that Hogan wasn’t settling, at least in part, because Silicon Valley tech billionaire Peter Thiel was backing the lawsuit to destroy Gawker, angry about personal information about him and others that had been published by the online outlet.  As irony has it, Thiel was named as one of the backers to the Alliance of American Football this week, obvious competition to the planned reboot of Vince McMahon’s XFL football league.

While Hogan had won the lawsuit against Gawker, that victory came at the cost of his relationship with WWE.  

Although the sex tape was posted online by Gawker during Hogan’s time with Impact Wrestling, the tape of Hogan using racially insensitive language was leaked well after Hogan’s February 2014 WWE return. 

When Hogan’s rant leaked in July 2015, WWE fired Hogan immediately, his final appearance having been on an episode of Tough Enough for the USA Network as a judge that week.  Hogan had appeared the year before as the host of Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans and had been brought back, in part, to represent WWE’s nostalgia as they were going to utilize the brunt of their video library (including every PPV event) as part of the launch and promotion of the WWE Network streaming service.

Upon Hogan’s firing, WWE immediately scrubbed all signs of their original top star from their official website, including his WWE Hall of Fame profile page.   Hogan has long classified this as being removed from the Hall during media interviews, but the reality remains that all material related to the Hall of Fame that has been published by WWE since still lists Hogan as a member and has featured his photos as well. 

WWE made every effort to distance themselves from Hogan, however.  They removed the 1980s animated series starring Hogan from the WWE Network and informed all licensees they needed to halt production on all Hogan-related merchandise.    For many, many, many months, footage of Hogan was never even used in promotional material showcasing the history of the company.  WWE had planned to unveil a Hulk Hogan Hall of Fame statue in 2016 and even film an entire DVD related to Hogan with the narrative built around the unveiling at Wrestlemania AXXESS.   That was immediately canceled and the statue, if it was even completed, has never been seen publicly.

In recent years, WWE has somewhat softened their stance, as classic footage of Hogan again to appear at times in video pieces and promotional material for the company.  Hogan appeared in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about Ric Flair and will appear in the forthcoming HBO documentary on Andre the Giant, a WWE Studios co-production.   It would make sense to tie Hogan into promotion for that film, given the legend of their Wrestlemania III bout and how that story would fit into the Andre film.

Shortly after his WWE release, Hogan went on a public apology tour, including an appearance on Good Morning America in August 2015.  During an interview with Amy Rorbach, Hogan said he was at the lowest point of his life when the sex tape was recorded in 2006 and at the time, he was suicidal. He said he was very mad at his daughter Brooke and was upset over a situation involving her and her then-boyfriend. Hogan said he had no idea he was being taped at any point.

When asked during the GMA interview if he was a racist, He commented, "No, I'm not. I'm not a racist. I never should have said what I said. It was wrong. I'm embarrassed by it, but a lot of people need to realize that you inherit things from the environment and when I grew up, it was South was a rough neighborhood, very low income, and all my friends...we greeted each other saying that word. The word was thrown around like it was nothing."

Hogan was asked during the GMA interview if it was fair to say he inherited a racial bias.  Hogan responded, "I would say that is very fair. The environment I grew up in....all my white friends, all my black friends, to hear that word on a daily basis. That's how they would greet me in the morning. 'Good morning, so and so.' I think it was part of the culture and the environment that I grew up in."

Noting that he was seeking forgiveness of his fans at the time, Hogan said, "Oh my gosh, please forgive me. Please forgive me. I'm a nice guy. I'm not the Hulk Hogan that rips his shirt off and bang, bang slams giants. I'm Terry Bollea. I'm just a normal man."

In a March 2016 interview with The New York Post after his successful lawsuit against Gawker, Hogan said his  rant was, "Probably the stupidest thing I've ever said.  The people that know me know that I'm not a racist.  When I got re-married, my Minister, an Afro-American Minister, Michael Beck, I go to a predominantly Afro-American church, A Gothesies Spiritual Center.  Everybody who knows me knows I'm not a racist.  Even the WWE knows I'm not a racist.  They had to do what was best for business, for their company, but for me, everybody that knows me knows that's not who I am."

When asked why he used the "N" word in the Post interview, Hogan responded, "Because I was mad about the way my daughter was being treated in my opinion.  I thought she should get out of that relationship.  I knew the young man for six years.  We got along great.  Things started going awry and I was very mad at Brooke for not taking my advice.  She finally did eventually.  I said something horrible and I'll live with it forever but that's not me, that's not who I am."

Hogan’s apologetic response to the situation (particularly the GMA interview) received criticism in some circles and sympathy in others.  While he played up publicly that his life and career had been ruined, some of that was obviously to assist him as he headed into his legal showdown with Gawker.  Hogan’s legal victory, however, did not lead to an immediate “all is forgiven” return for Hogan, as WWE held to its decision to distance themselves from him, a move that showed how serious they took the situation, given his importance to their mythos. 

Hogan was the original WWF superhero, empowering the company during its initial national expansion in the mid-1980s, headlining the first nine Wrestlemanias in the process.  One of the most famous personalities in the history of pro wrestling, Hogan’s popularity at its zenith led to appearances in major films and a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live.   He was easily the most recognizable figure in the history of pro wrestling globally, at least until the advent of The Rock in Hollywood.  Even today, someone with only the barest of pro wrestling knowledge would immediately recognize Hogan.

Although Hogan had left WWE at different points and even led World Championship Wrestling against it during the Monday Night War of the mid-1990s, he will be forever remembered as the star who lit the torch of the golden era of the then-WWF in the 1980s. 

Hogan’s popularity, sparked by an appearance in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky III as well as Hogan’s own unique charisma, helped create the Rock N’ Wrestling Connection after WWF poached him from Verne Gagne’s AWA in Minnesota.  A WWF-MTV partnership helped bring pro wrestling mainstream, with Hogan as one of the central figures alongside Mr. T, Cyndi Lauper, Roddy Piper, Lou Albano, Wendi Richter and The Fabulous Moolah.

Most of the iconic moments that crystallized professional wrestling for many fans revolve around Hogan.  Teaming with Mr. T.   Feuding with Roddy Piper.  Saturday Night’s Main Event.  A steel cage match with King Kong Bundy at Wrestlemania 2.  Bodyslamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III.  The Mega-Powers handshake with Randy Savage.  The Mega-Powers exploding.  The Ultimate Showdown with The Ultimate Warrior.  Training. Prayers.  Vitamins.  Hogan, for many fans who grew up in that era, remains the very definition of pro wrestling itself. 

Hogan has long sought a return to WWE, especially after the Gawker lawsuit was resolved.  Of late, several stars he shared the ring with, including Ric Flair and Diamond Dallas Page have pushed that it was time for WWE to bring him back into the fold. 

WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry recently stated that Hogan would be welcomed back, but only if he spoke to and apologized to the African-American members of the WWE locker room. 

Hillbilly Jim has talked of wanting Hogan to induct him into the WWE Hall of Fame this year, and depending on how conversations go, that could be a possibility at this juncture.

Hogan has long classified his 2015 firing from WWE as the end of his pro wrestling career.  He had been training and pushing for an in-ring return, likely on the Wrestlemania stage.  His last bout took place at the 2011 Impact Wrestling Bound for Glory PPV in Philadelphia, losing to former WCW foe Sting in a bout where Sting regained storyline control of the promotion for then-owner Dixie Carter.

Undoubtedly, if Hogan had his way, he’d return for a major match.  He had been pushing for one before his firing.  Whether that is on the books (or even can be, given Hogan’s age and past health issues) remains to be seen. 

Hogan’s appearance at Wrestlemania 30 saw him appear as the “host” of the event in segment with The Rock and Steve Austin.   At Wrestlemania 31, Hogan appeared as part of a surprise NWO reunion, backing Sting in his match against Triple H, who had been backed by DX.  That moment was meant as a throwback tribute and celebration of the Monday Night War era. 

While there was speculation Hogan could return to the ring at Wrestlemania 32, he was let go by the company well before creative plans were in place for that event.   There had been plans for Hogan vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania 25 at before Hogan's back issues necessitated surgery, throwing that dream match out the window.   

Obviously, the return of Hogan would be contingent on WWE feeling the return would be OK with their promotional partners.  There would obviously be a negative response among some who follow the company, particularly on social media.  Still, the comments were made 12 years ago, which doesn’t make them right, in any way, but they were recorded without Hogan’s knowledge and he has long claimed publicly, it was a rant that took place during a terribly rough period in his personal life.   Hogan sued everyone he could over the tapes existing and won every one of those cases.  He has shown remorse publicly, although for some, his response and his remorse weren’t enough at the time and won’t be enough now, years later.

In most cases of celebrity scandal, forgiveness, not from everyone, but most, comes in the end.  Celebrities who were demonized eventually get back to work and sometimes becoming lionized again.  It takes time, sometimes years, as seen in the situation surrounding actor Mel Gibson, but eventually even Gibson, at one point considered un-hirable in Hollywood, went back to work as an actor and director.    In the case of Hogan, his return to WWE, would undoubtedly, bring waves of excitement and nostalgia.

While time will tell what comes of the discussions, whether Hogan goes back to work and even what a Hulk Hogan WWE return in 2018 could entail, the first steps have been taken for the familiar red and yellow to once again appear under the WWE umbrella. 

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