Bash from the Past
“Mean Gene, the first thing you need to do is to tell these people to shut up if you want to hear what I got to say.”
It was July 7th, 1996 in Daytona Beach when Hulk Hogan shocked the wrestling world by turning heel. The Bash at the Beach pay per view had been hyped up for weeks with Lex Luger, Sting, and Randy Savage set to take on Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and a mystery partner. The line was about to be drawn as Hall and Nash were waging war against the company. Their third man’s identity was kept secret to most all the way up to the moment Hogan stepped through the curtain. When he came down that entrance ramp and dropped a leg across Savage, he took a huge gamble and forever changed the Hogan brand. Bash at the Beach was the biggest and most important pay per view of 1996.
The show leading up to the main event had its moments. Rey Mysterio and Psychosis had a great opening match. The Nasty Boys and Public Enemy had violent Dog Collar match. Steve McMichael had his pay per view singles debut in a successful outing, while fellow Horseman Ric Flair won the United States title. Throughout the night the announcers talked about who the third man could possibly be. Despite all that happened throughout the night, nobody could have predicted nor anticipated how important the main event was that they were about to witness.
Eric Bischoff discusses Hogan’s heel turn in Controversy Creates Cash. Bischoff had flown down to Hogan’s house and pitched the idea to Hogan, trying to be delicate and respectful, while selling him on it as well. Hogan didn’t buy it. As Bischoff put it, Hogan politely kicked Eric out of his house. It was only later that Hogan approached Bischoff and said he would do it. Hogan was right to have reservations. He had spent several years building up his brand and a heel turn would change all of that. However, Hogan was running on fumes at that point. His character needed rejuvenation in some capacity.
Hall and Nash didn’t give up to much offense during the match. They even managed to knock Luger out of the match early, leaving Sting and Savage at the mercy of Hall, Nash, and whoever was about to come to the ring. When Hogan came down to ring and turned on Savage, it was such a shock that the match just stopped. How often do you see a match stopped because a participant actually participated? It was incredible. Hogan then launched on a verbal tirade that tore apart his fans and business associations, and then announced the birth of the New World Order. It wasn’t so much anti-establishment as it was anti-everything. Hogan no longer felt there were any rules he needed to play by.
Those that were fans in the 1980s knew Hogan as the guy in the red and yellow who was the great American hero. He was the guy who always came through. There was nothing for which you couldn’t count on him. When wrestling became popular again in the latter part of the 1990s, Hogan was once again once of the faces that represented professional wrestling. This time it was different. There was quite a difference between the Hogan fans knew in the 80s, and the man fans knew in the 90s.
The Hogan character had always been arrogant in a way. That was evident in his program with Randy Savage in 1988 and 1989. Yes he was a good guy, the good guy, but you kind of got the feeling that the character was not as humble as we would like to believe. Whether that was intentional or not is up for debate. The night of the ’96 Bash was the first time that Hogan acknowledged what his foes had long suspected. He was explicit for the first time about how he believed he was bigger than any wrestling organization. His name was a brand, not another line on the roster.
“I made (WWF) a monster. I made people rich up there. I made the people who ran that organization rich up there, brother. And when it all came to pass, the name Hulk Hogan, the man Hulk Hogan, got bigger than the entire organization, brother.”
It has been said that the best heels are the ones who believe they are right. In that respect, Hogan made a great heel. It’s no different than a movie or rock star. The Hogan character was a man who lost his way over time. He no longer had a passion for his fans, but a disdain for anyone who stood between him and his money, no matter who they were. Somewhere along the way, Hogan became bigger than everyone he had ever worked for. In his mind he was the god of wrestling. Why should he not be able to stick it to the company and fans with which he no longer felt were giving him what he was owed?
“And as far as Billionaire Ted goes, Eric Bischoff, and the whole WCW goes, I’m bored, brother.”
If there was one thing that wrestling fans and businessmen alike were all reminded of that July night, it’s that anyone could turn. Nobody was off limits when it came to who could be a hero or a villain. Today that concept is lost on fans. There is virtually no one in wrestling who cannot turn at this point because everyone already has at some point in time. There is no turn, heel or baby face, that could shake things like Hogan did. Even John Cena, whom some are clamoring for to turn heel, could not have that kind of surprise impact, it would only be a shockingly bad business move. Hogan also gave the hope that any character can turn around and be rejuvenated.