My childhood memories of wrestling are sketchy. I can’t remember actually watching it and yet I have a very vivid memory of one of my primary school friends asking me who my favourite wrestler was, and me then pointing to a padded Bret Hart sticker on my pencil case. I can’t even remember why I placed that sticker on my pencil case, but it probably had something to do with the colour pink and a mild, innocent, child-like crush on The Hitman.
It’s funny how things change as you grow up. I no longer place stickers on my pencil case. (No, now I dot trading cards around my office.) I no longer spend time discussing who my favourite wrestlers are. (No, I just started a blog to do exactly that.) And I no longer develop crushes on dysfunctional and emotionally bankrupt wrestlers. (Duh!)
My memories of Hulk Hogan are centred around watching Thunder in Paradise on weekend afternoons at my grandparents’ house and re-watching Mr. Nanny several times over at Christmas. Saying that, I’ve got a vague recollection of singing “I am a real A-me-ri-caaan!” with displaced pride. My love affair with the USA goes way back, but I’ll talk about that briefly in my Raw recap. Unlike the wrestling fans who truly grew up with Hulk Hogan, I don’t have any loyalty to his cause. I never dressed up like him for halloween or lost my voice screaming at the TV when he won or lost matches. I don’t have quite the same gut wrenching sadness when he screws up. Alright, maybe a little. I mean, I’m pretty soft-hearted. I would never enjoy someone being caged by depression and suicidal thoughts.
Strangely, I do feel huge affection and sadness for Ric Flair, which is bizarre because as a kid I couldn’t have picked Flair out of a police lineup. *Insert your own Ric Flair/police line-up joke* I suppose it’s the unexplained but enduring allure of The Nature Boy. And by ‘allure’ I mean as a character. I find him physically quite frightening. If I found myself cornered by Flair in a dark alley I’d probably pray for unconsciousness.
I digress. The whole purpose of this post is to consider what good, if any, can come of Hulk Hogan signing with TNA, as was announced yesterday. Clearly this is a great PR exercise for TNA. Despite cutting a somewhat tragic figure, Hogan still pulls in a huge amount of mainstream media attention. It’s not always favourable attention, but his name still draws interest from outside the wrestling world.
TNA, deservedly in WWE’s shadow, needs a hook. Something to prick up the ears of people who know nothing of wrestling but may be persuaded to watch if a familiar face appears in the opening credits. People like my brother’s girlfriend who, when I asked her if she wanted to come to one of the WWE shows on their forthcoming British tour, asked me “Will Hulk Hogan be there?” When I said no, she declined the offer to join us.
What’s in it for Hogan? A regular salary, promotion for his new tell-all book, the opportunity to hear a crowd chanting his name again and the satisfaction of telling the tax man he’s working for a legitimate wrestling franchise. A TV marriage of convenience in the purest form.
TNA is the only franchise to even come close to rocking Vince McMahon’s boat. And by that I mean TNA’s kayak bobs and bounces off the McMahon luxury cruise liner. They have an opportunity to develop characters, make stars and break the monopoly the WWE holds over televised professional wrestling. But they go nowhere and, at least on the surface, don’t appear to have a vision of the creative direction the company needs to take. They seem more than happy to remain in the stalemate of mediocrity and leave their product seemingly unfinished. I do watch TNA; partly because of the women’s division and partly because I think I should watch it. I will admit though, some weeks I just can’t face it.
In signing Hogan, all TNA are doing is placing a sticking plaster over the cut. It’ll hold for a while, but once the initial glue stops sticking, the wound will still be there and the plaster with be thrown away. Much like WWE’s Raw guest host bit, the hope at TNA is that people will come for Hogan and stay for the show.But that will get old quickly. At least Raw’s guest hosts change on a weekly basis, leaving room for a better show next week if this week’s show was terrible.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, because Brett Favre is personal hero of mine and comparing him to one of life’s more cringe worthy characters feels shameful and wrong. But the situation is similar to struggling (American) football teams bidding to bring Favre out of retirement for what feels like the tenth time and capitalise on his immense throwing arm. It’s a temporary fix while you’re preparing the ground for new talent to come up through the ranks. Except, it kind of works in football’s case because a) Brett Favre can still go like a train and b) the teams who sign him know they’re on borrowed time and need to make plans for the future. Hogan can’t go any more and TNA don’t appear to have any plans to gloss up and pad out their TV output.
The worst thing about this whole development is that, despite knowing it’ll be awful and objecting to Hogan’s contract, I’m still being sucked in by what I’ll refer to as the Mike Tyson Effect. There’s something fascinating about watching oddball characters who should be settling down behaving inappropriately. When I watched the Tyson movie, some of Mike Tyson’s comments were vile, and yet I watched the whole thing all the way through. Out of sheer morbid fascination I want to see how this latest chapter of Hogan’s life plays out. And I feel really bad about that. Just like how I felt like a TV whore watching Hogan Know’s Best and then Brooke Knows Best.
It would be great to be proven wrong on this. Really. But all the road signs point to Disasterville, TNA.