Monday, October 9, 2023

Hulk Hogan in Japan: What If?

After Hulk Hogan was fired from WWE by Vince McMahon Sr. in 1981, Hogan began wrestling in Japan. He always speaks positively of his time in Japan, and Hogan's run in NJPW included becoming a part of the original IWGP Heavyweight Championship lineage in June 1983, as the first holder of the championship. His return to WWE in December 1983 is the most impactful moment in wrestling history, with Hogan winning his first WWE Championship that next month setting a foundation that began a revolution in the wrestling industry. Hogan was the face of WWE and led the company into its new era of popularity. But what would have happened if Hulk Hogan had stayed in Japan instead of returning to WWE?

It's a hypothetical question that has never been answered, and there are many different possibilities. One if them is that Hulk Hogan would have become the biggest star in Japanese wrestling. He was already incredibly popular in Japan, and his popularity likely would have grown even more if he had stayed full time. It's possible that he would have had matches with top Japanese stars of today such as Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Hiroshi Tanahashi, all who began their careers before Hogan stopped wrestling in 2012. And it's very likely that he would have become the first non-Japanese holder of the second IWGP Heavyweight Championship, which has been held by AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar, Kenny Omega, Vader, Jay White, Scott Norton, and Bob Sapp.

Another possibility is that Hulk Hogan would have helped to bring Japanese wrestling to a wider audience sooner. Hogan's appearance in, "Rocky III" even before he became the superstar that he is today proves that he already was a success in pro wrestling. His presence in Japan would have helped to raise the profile of the Japanese wrestling scene. This could have led to Japanese wrestlers having their current level of popularity in the United States sooner than the 2010s.

Along with looking at could have happened if Hulk Hogan had wrestled in Japan full-time, it's interesting to look at what possibly would not have happened. It's unlikely that he would have ever wrestled in WWE, as the company generally has always preferred wrestlers on its roster to make WWE their priority. However, it's possible Hogan may still eventually wrestled in WCW, especially since the company had working relationships with NJPW in the 1990s.

Yet even though Hulk Hogan may have appeared in WCW, it's highly unlikely that he would have become the leader of the New World Order (NWO) faction. Hogan's presence in the NWO revolutionized pro wrestling for a second time, drawing high viewership numbers, attendance figures, and PPV buyrates. The NWO is still popular to this day, but that may not be case if Hogan had never been its leader.

And lastly, Hulk Hogan's legacy would not be as impressive as it is today. In 1997, he main-evented Starrcade, which has gone down as the highest-grossing PPV event in WCW’s history. On July 6, 1998, Hogan main-evented, “WCW Monday Nitro” in front of an attendance of 41,412 fans, the largest live-televised crowd for a non-PPV in history. He won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship six times, which later became known as the World Heavyweight Championship in WWE after they gained ownership of it, and is one of the most prestigious titles in pro wrestling history. During Hogan's first reign, he held the championship for 469 days, the longest reign in the championship's history. During Hogan's second reign, he made history again by holding it for 359 days, the second-longest reign in the championship's history.

In the end, even though Hulk Hogan experienced ups and downs during his times in WWE and WCW, wrestling full time in the United States again in 1983 was the right move for his career. Plus, the door was open for Hogan's brief returns to NJPW in to tag team with Great Muta/Keiji Muto in 1993, to wrestle Tatsumi Fujinami in 1994, and to wrestle Masahiro Chono in 2003. And even though Hogan was not an NJPW lifer, the company still valued the contributions that Hogan made, which was proven when NJPW inducted him into Greatest 18 Club, the company's first hall of fame.

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