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Hulk Hogan's arrival in WCW in 1994 was probably the biggest wrestling story of the decade up until that point. Hogan arrived at a company in transition, both with their roster and non-wrestling personnel, but also politically within the Turner Broadcasting company and how the company was being presented. A more efficient WCW was seizing upon a WWF faultering in the wake of Hogan's very departure in 1993. Eric Bischoff, who's power was gathering momentum had a mantra: I already know were better than them, now I've got to make that argument fact.
Hogan was the answer. The belief was that WCW had a great product by that point, but Hogan could shed a spotlight on it that WCW just couldn't do in any other way. And the mantra was largely correct, Hogan arrived in June after a string of pay-per-view events in 1994 that includeda series of great matches and some very good storytelling.
Getting Hogan wasn't easy, though. When he left the WWF a return to wrestling (which, surely, would've meant a return to New York) was far from his mind as he pursued an acting career. But WCW came calling at a good time in early 1994, and circumstances regarding taping locations meant the company and Hogan were both in the same place at the same time. Hogan was open to offers, but held out for an absolutely mental contract that would see him receive a big cut of pay-per-view revenues that were above WCW's previous average, although with other perks stacked on top of a gargantuan basic contract.
Had Hogan arrived alone the ammunition for this article would be much more blunt. But the signing of Hogan coincided with a number of other acquisitions. Brutus "The Barber" Beefacke, Earthquake, Jimmy Hart, Jim Duggan and Randy Savage would all arrive before the year was out, joining the likes of Bobby Heenan and Mene Gene Okerlund. The 1980s were alive and well in 1994 WCW.
Names like Cactus Jack, Dustin Rhodes, Flyin Brian Pillman, Steve Austin and others were cast to the side as Hogan's aging friends were given spots in major programs. But even in the middle of 1994 the effects weren't that significant. Hogan and Ric Flair were embroiled in a big moneymaker for the company (and, in turn, for Hogan) in a feud that had begun months before Hogan even signed and would conclude with a career vs career match at Halloween Havoc. From a business standpoint the pair had done an excellent job, and while the quality of the WCW product was declining the positives of Hogan on top outweighed the negatives.
But backstage things were starting to shift. Flair, as head booker, had no ultimate control over Hogan's storylines (Hogan had that himself), but if Flair could have exerted total control over the rest of the product then it's plauisable that the effects could have been minimal. But the pull of Hogan placed 1980s WWF stars in a position to usurp young WCW original guys - see Jim Duggan defeating Steve Austin in under a minute or (more laughably) Brutus Beefcake main eventing WCW's biggest PPV of the year against Hogan at Starrcade.
By the turn of 1995 the benefits of Hogan were beginning to wear off. The WCW undercard had gone from being quite exciting to quite old in the space of less than 12 months. If you extend the clock back a couple more years you can add Chris Benoit and Too Cold Scorpio to the names of highly talented young athletes that the WCW had on board but disguarded.
In it's place were old men. Kevin Sullivan, Arn Anderson, Bunkhouse Buck, Avalanche, The Butcher. Really, the only good news at the turn of the year was that WCW had finally pulled the trigger on turning to Hogan vs Vader - a feud a good 3-4 months in the making. Vader had been waiting for his chance and he and Hogan were set to make a lot of money.
But despite what history might show - the feud did very good numbers, it's certainly a case of what might have been. Vader laid out Hogan in a wonderful show closing angle at the Clash of the Champions. Wonderful, save for the fact that Hogan popped up about three seconds later nullifying the whole effect.
Superbrawl still had a big match feel to it, and when it concluded with Flair attacking Hogan for the DQ you felt like WCW were, or should have been, postponing the inevitable of Vader defeating Hogan for the title. This isn’t a Vader love-in, it just made sense in the context of the bigger picture. Vader beats Hogan, Savage beats Vader, Savage turns heel then has a big money feud with Hogan.
When it came down to it though, the numbers proved those who had backed the Hogan ticket were right. Regardless of what WCW was before Hogan, and regardless of what they had become under him, the numbers were big. Him vs Vader did WCW's highest PPV buyrate in July 1994. In August he and Flair broke TV viewing records. Hogan vs Vader in February and March did similarly big records – a price rise for WCW Uncensored meant that the show was WCW's biggest drawing PPV ever, Hogan reportedly earned more than $700,000 for the event.
And that's where the company were headed. What's old is new again: Hogan and Savage, joined by The Ultimate Warrior (Renegade) and even the second coming of Andre The Giant (Paul Wight - akak The Big Show) were in the pipeline. The company were all set to try and recreate the feuds of the 1980s.
And it wasn't the silliest of plans. Hogan and Savage would likely be the biggest money feud the company could put together, if you combine those two with Vader, Flair and Sting the top of the WCW tree was quite fruitful. But the knock-off acts were a step too far (not that Wight ended up as the second coming of Andre). At the time, it's hard to think that Hogan and Flair might have so much more shelf-life on top. The company absolutely weren't preparing for the long term; in many ways the acquisition of Diesel and Razor Ramon may have saved them, not just let them thrive.