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WWE BRINGING IN BIG NAME FOR WRESTLEMANIA WEEKEND FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YEARS

By Mike Johnson on 2019-03-22 10:20:00

World Wrestling Entertainment will be bringing Hulk Hogan in for Wrestlemania 35 weekend, PWInsider.com has confirmed with multiple sources.  It will be the first time Hogan will attend Wrestlemania weekend since Wrestlemania 31 in San Jose, when 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. 

Hogan being brought in for Wrestlemania weekend is perhaps the final piece of the puzzle for Hogan to return to the WWE fold.  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. 

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.  While All signs pointed to that potential final Hogan match at Mania 32, instead Hogan was fired by WWE in July 2015 after a tape of Hogan using racist language towards African-Americans (recorded secretly in 2006) 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 filmed without Hogan's knowledge by Hogan’s then-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 Gawker.com 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 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.   Additional legal cases regarding the tapes are still ongoing to this day.

Hogan admitted after the Gawker 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.  

While Hogan had won the lawsuit against Gawker, that victory had already come 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 the racist language was leaked well after Hogan’s February 2014 WWE return. WWE fired Hogan immediately when the rant was leaked in July 2015, 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 had long classified this as being removed from the Hall during media interviews.  WWE, after reinstating him last year, publicly acknowledged he was removed from the Hall, but only after the reinstatement.  The reality remained that all material related to the Hall of Fame that had been published by WWE after Hogan was fired still listed Hogan as a member and has featured his photos as well.   It was after the announcement that he was reinstated that WWE ever acknowledged they had officially pulled Hogan from the Hall of Fame and that Hogan was telling the truth about that all along.

WWE did make every effort to distance themselves from Hogan at the time of his firing.  They removed the 1980s animated series starring Hogan from the WWE Network (it has yet to return) and informed all licensees they needed to halt production on all Hogan-related merchandise.   Hogan has yet to be reintegrated into their action figure line as of this writing.   For many, many, many months, footage of Hogan was not 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 its unveiling at Wrestlemania AXXESS that year.   Those plans were immediately canceled and the statue, if it was even completed, still has yet to be revealed publicly.  

WWE somewhat softened their stance as the years went on, using classic Hogan footage in video pieces and promotional material for the company.  Hogan also appeared in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about Ric Flair and the HBO Andre the Giant documentary, a WWE Studios co-production.   They finally announced his reinstatement.  Hogan returned last year to Monday Night Raw for the first time, paying tribute to the late Gene Okerlund.  He made an appearance at the Crown Jewel PPV in Saudi Arabia.  Hogan was the first WWE personality to appear at the Wrestlemania 35 announcement in Tampa, his hometown, a few weeks ago.  

It's been a slow process to reintegrate Hulk Hogan back into WWE and that will continue with Hogan coming in for Wrestlemania 35.  He could be doing community outreach appearances.  It's possible he'll have a cameo on the PPV, but even more likely he may be involved in inducting his long-time friend Brutus Beefcake into the WWE Hall of Fame.  Beefcake's induction has been rumored for several weeks.  PWInsider.com can report that WWE sources have confirmed that the company is bringing Beefcake in for Wrestlemania 35 weekend as well.  While that doesn't confirm the induction, the puzzle pieces are certainly there to make that conclusion.

We are told that WWE is currently finalizing plans on other names from the past they are seeking to bring in Wrestlemania weekend as well, with Steve Austin's name floating around quite a bit.

As WWE works to bring Hogan back to the fold in a greater capacity, work is already underway on a feature film about the formulative years of Hulk Hogan and the birth of Hulkamania with Chris Hemsworth (Thor) attached to play Hogan.

 

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