Can I say first that I think a lot of this stems from a lack of forethought or ability to think quickly on Hulk Hogan’s part?
Much has been made of his using the words “trinket” and “toy” to describe his own WWF World Title belt to Japanese media ahead of his match with The Great Muta in Tokyo in 1993 for the IWGP title. For his part, Hogan was simply emphasizing the upcoming match, the importance of the title he was going for, to the media audience present.
No big deal. He did the same by automatically associating the Giant (Paul Wight) in WCW in 1995 with Andre the Giant (he was in storyline the son of Andre), his most famed opponent. No one really thought Paul Wight was on a level near Andre, but we went along, because that’s wrestling. Wrestlers never say what they really think, they say what’s gonna draw. They’re supposed to.
How often do you really buy, kayfabe or shoot, when a wrestler tells the audience that the upcoming match is his or her toughest yet? That’s just what they say. The next thing is the biggest, the most important, and trumps all before. Why? The past has already been bought – what comes next is still up for sale, in terms of ratings, sponsors, or real ticket and pay per view sales.
For those reasons alone, we can let Hogan off the hook for doing what he always tried to do: hype the next main event. In this case, he’s hyping the belt he’s going for next. Beyond that, 1993 wasn’t a viral age, and he potentially had little reason to believe the comments would go beyond a Japanese media broadcast.
As I began though, I really think there’s just a language struggle happening here. Hogan’s full statement and mannerisms are a bit confused like he’s searching for the right phrase: he points to the WWF Winged-Eagle Belt on the table before him and says “this is a toy… a trinket… something you hang on the Christmas tree.” He goes on to say the belt he now wants is the IWGP belt the Great Muta has. Those ellipses are Hogan searching for the right word, and he ends with describing it as an ornament.
Two potentials with translation here. One: Hogan is giving the Japanese media a list of different words to describe this belt as something he’s already had, played with, an ornament to describe something done before. Two: given the audience and sensitivities of race associated with “oriental” (a term many Americans still ignorantly used in 1993), he wanted to avoid a similar linguistic sound with the English “ornament.”
And ornament is what I think he’s going for. A Christmas tree trinket or ornament isn’t a bad thing. It’s a symbol of celebration of the year it was made, that has passed. That actually makes a lot of sense for how Hogan might want to phrase it here. The belt he has is awesome, but it’s already won (many times by 1993), and he can hang it up on the wall as an ornament of that accomplishment.
If you insist, on the other hand, Hogan made a calculated jab at his own promotion and McMahon ahead of bolting wrestling for an acting hiatus to give fans a new thirst for him in his absence and leverage that into a huge contract with Ted Turner and WCW in 1994… well, you’ve got precedence for thinking so.
Hogan has made a career of knowing when to exit the spotlight, how long to hang out of it to drum up a desire, and when and where and how to pop back into the spotlight. Though it’s seen diminishing returns over the years, it’s been an effective formula for the Hulkster.
When the first wave of Hulkamania was losing steam, post-Andre and WrestleMania III, Hogan let the title go to controversy (the twin Hebners doing the old switcheroo), and did a no-finish with Andre in the tournament for the title at WrestleMania IV to give Randy Savage a year with the belt. In turn, he took time off for other endeavours, then returned as an ally with Savage, forming the Mega Powers, only to have Savage turn on him (bottling the very real jealous tendencies of Randall Poffo) for the Mega Powers Explode story at WrestleMania V, where newly invigorated with fan support by the Macho turn, he was able to sustain momentum for a year.
When Hogan’s momentum was surpassed that year by the Ultimate Warrior, Hogan once again bowed out of the spotlight, giving the title to Warrior at WrestleMania VI, and going down the card and out of the title picture to battle Earthquake. This coincided with the trial and conviction of Dr. Zahorian for steroid distribution to WWF wrestlers two years ahead of McMahon’s own trial (and I’ll get to that). Interesting that Hogan was content to stay out of the WWF title picture when the WWF was under heavy scrutiny for steroids. He wasn’t wrong – media hounding led to the discovery that the Warrior had left syringes behind in hotel rooms, a fact that had to be covered up.
When the Warrior didn’t pan out so well, and with the Zahorian trial done, Hogan came on back to take the title with Sgt. Slaughter playing the role of go-between, taking the belt from Warrior and losing to Hogan.
When Hogan then went on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1991, the first media covered steroids scandal done and the investigation into McMahon ongoing, Hogan blew his opportunity to come clean and get right, and instead gave a muddled and clearly well-chose response to not admit guilt or innocence when Arsenio asked him about steroids. He suffered a great deal of media backlash, and again decided it was time to bow out of the spotlight, this time dropping the title through controversy to the Undertaker (via Ric Flair interference), and exiting after a Royal Rumble through WrestleMania feud with Sid Justice (as had been contracted). He stayed gone a whole year.
I recently covered his return at WrestleMania IX a year later in 1993 to recover the WWF title here at TWM, and it was Hogan taking one more shot and payday run with the belt after his year-long absence had again created some interest in him (not to mention that the product hadn’t really been fiscally successful in his absence).
That gets us to this pre-King of the Ring 1993 promo in Japan ahead of his match with Great Muta. It is certainly possible given his pattern of disappearance and re-emergence that Hogan realized this time that the re-emergence needed to happen with the WCW’s audience instead of the WWF’s, who might not buy another comeback. Therefore, he didn’t have to be careful with praising the WWF, and that maybe even putting it down would somehow make his coming hiatus and re-emergence with WCW instead of the WWF more justified.
Hogan has of course carefully crafted the narrative of his career to suggest these hiatuses from the ring always coincided with movie-making and taking a shot at his acting career. I’d just point out they also heavily coincided with fan rejection, media backlash, and steroid scandal.
After all, it happened again in WCW. When the WCW fans quickly, quickly tired of the old WWF Hulkamania stuff, he was relentlessly booed and mocked in 1995. He dropped the title in controversy (to the aforementioned Giant thanks to a Jimmy Hart turn), and left for months, letting the nWo storyline play out to the most popular angle in the business over the first half of 1996, and then, according to Eric Bischoff’s biography and Kevin Nash, decided to return just as WCW was going to introduce Sting as the third member of Hall and Nash’s invasion, trumping Sting and making the black and white heel turn that would give his career another few years and title reigns.
When the nWo storyline got unbelievably old and boring in 1998-99, he disappeared and came back for his last run with WCW, bringing back the red and yellow and riding the wave of nostalgia again for a short stint.
Through that lens, it’s certainly possible that calling the WWF title belt a toy and a trinket was a well-calculated shot to put down the promotion he would be leaving while indirectly elevating the WCW as much as the IWGP title.
If asked directly what his real intentions were in calling the WWF Winged-Eagle belt a trinket to the Japanese media, I’m sure Hogan’s answer would be as muddled and fence sitting as his Arsenio Hall steroids answer.
You can find me on Twitter @gritvanwinkle.