In 1986, much to the chagrin of traditional fans who were still unsure of where the then-WWF was looking to take wrestling, their worst fears came true with the literal cartoonization of their favorite wrestlers (or "superstars" as they were now being called). While Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling is nostalgic for many, it became one more nail in the coffin for the old guard of promoters and fans who wanted their wrestling to be more sports-oriented and less circus entertainment.
Black Saturday – The WWF Making Moves and Decimating The Past
In 1984, the World Wrestling Federation was marching along, slashing and burning the remnants of the territories established by the NWA that had stood the test of time for more than 35 years. Not everything was harmonious amongst the promoters all the time. Still, at least they banded together when confronted by a common enemy- such as the outlaw promotions that would occasionally materialize.
The WWF, led by Vincent K. McMahon Jr., was playing hardball and taking absolutely no prisoners. "Junior," as he was called, was not as respectful about how things had been done for years. If there were a way to make more money and a better way of doing things, then the then-WWF would be the first to try it out, even if that meant rocking boats and burning many bridges.
The NWA territories and Verne Gagne’s AWA felt the financial effects of being poached of much of their talent, including future megastar Hulk Hogan. On April 9th, 1984, the Brisco Brothers sold their shares of Georgia Championship Wrestling to many diehard southern wrestling fans’ dismay. July 14th of that year is known as Black Saturday, which was the day the WWF took over the timeslot for Superstation WTBS that had been home to Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW). Although this deal didn’t prove as profitable for the WWF in the short run because Southern fans were accustomed to a more realistic wrestling style, their competitors feared that the writing was on the wall.
MTV, Tuesday Night Titans, and More!
To reach a wider audience, the WWF began a crossover effort with an upstart cable channel, MTV. Cyndi Lauper, a fashion college dropout out of Queens, New York, and her boyfriend rock manager David Wolff, would be key players for the WWF to be able to showcase their product to a new audience. Lauper released her hit song Girls Just Wanna Have Fun on September 6th, 1983, where Captain Lou Albano played her controlling and borderline abusive father in the video. Lauper was designated as one of the station’s core artists and was given a lot of air time. A year and a half later, in her song The Goonies ‘r’ Good Enough, we see many WWF stars in the official video, including Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, Fred Blassie, Nikolai Volkoff, and The Fabulous Moolah.
Recommended read: Wrestler Cameos in Music Videos
On May 29th, 1984, USA Network launched Tuesday Night Titans (TNT), a loose parody of a late-night talk show. The show was filled with unforgettable moments that clearly demonstrated that they were looking to be more than just a wrestling company. Tuesday Night Titans was unlike any show seen beforehand in the wrestling world. From George "The Animal" Steele and Captain Lou Albano making Christmas cookies to Kamala "eating" a live chicken brought by Freddie Blassie, Lanny Poffo reciting a poem while wearing a suit of armor, and Dr. D David Schultz accidentally firing a loaded gun while showing his collection to Vince McMahon and Lord Alfred Hayes was just a small sample of what the audience came to love.
"Vince McMahon interviewed a parade of wrestlers as if they all lived in some parallel universe where everyone walked around in colored trunks, Arab headdresses, pink leisure suits, tribal feathers, and army fatigues," relates Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham in their book Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment. "To the promoters of the crumbling NWA, the show was a heresy. They feared it would turn the public against them by altering traditional, physical wrestling into television comedy." Sports Illustrated called it "maybe the most provocative show on television."
Wendi Richter appeared in Lauper’s She Bop music video in yet another example of MTV and the WWF working together. Richter, when running to the ring accompanied by Lauper, would use this as her entrance music. The integration of wrestling and music became officially known as the Rock and Roll Connection after The Brawl To End It All on July 23rd, 1984. With a 9.0 rating, it is still one of the most successful programs MTV has ever had, and now, teenagers were discovering wrestling too. This set up The War To Settle The Score held on February 18th, 1985, aired both live and primetime, becoming the new highest-rated show in MTV history. With Mr. T’s popularity following Rocky III and the hit series The A-Team, he had a cross over appeal that the WWF was looking for when having non-wrestlers personalities involved in their storylines.
The inaugural WrestleMania, which combined wrestling with music and celebrities, was built upon this last show’s momentum. The event offered closed-circuit television for people unable to attend the Madison Square Garden event and who also had the wherewithal to pay for such an expensive option. The show was a success, with over 19,000 fans in attendance and over one million viewers on closed-circuit television. The WWF grossed $4 million, a staggering number at the time. The thinking was that to become a national promotion, they needed a national event to go with it. They used Starrcade ’83 as an inspiration but wanted to top it.
Did you know? NWA Starrcade ’83: A Flair For The Gold at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina saw Ric Flair defeat Harley Race to commence his second title run as NWA World Heavyweight Champion. It was the first wrestling event to utilize closed-circuit television in more than one state and is now considered "The WrestleMania before WrestleMania," with an estimated 15,500 in attendance. Other than the NWA title match, the card featured Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine in a brutal dog collar match, and Jack and Jerry Brisco vs. the team of Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood. Starrcade ’83 was inspired by the WWF’s Showdown at Shea from 1980, which pitted Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko in a steel cage. That event is estimated to have drawn 36,000. Starrcade is a concept that is said to have been spearheaded by Dusty Rhodes.
Saturday Night’s Main Event aired on May 11th, 1985, and was a huge hit for the WWF for years to come. At the time, it became the slickest produced wrestling show the WWF or anybody else had ever seen, thanks to NBC and Dick Ebersol’s involvement. It wasn’t just a ring with a dirty mat and some lights. They had state-of-the-art lighting, four cameras at ringside with boom mikes to catch the sounds that usually went unheard. SNME looked better than even the recent WrestleMania.
Watch: The Intro to Saturday Night’s Main Event
At the height of the Rock’ n’ Wrestling Connection era, we saw the release of The Wrestling Album on November 9th, 1985. It provided us with such instant classics as Land of a Thousand Dances, Hillbilly Jim’s Don’t Go Messin’ With a Country Boy, Junkyard Dog’s Grab Them Cakes, and "Hulk Hogan’s Theme," but more on the story behind that a little later! Other notable mentions are Roddy Piper’s For Everybody and Nikolai Volkoff’s Cara Mia. WWF dipped its toes in Hollywood when several of their stars like Roddy Piper and the Tonga Kid appeared in the wrestling comedy Body Slam (1986). Piledriver: The Wrestling Album II was released later in 1987.
Watch: The Land of a Thousand Dances music video and get up and dance!
During this time, professional wrestling became a nationwide phenomenon. Yes, in years to come, you had the Attitude Era followed by the Ruthless Aggression Era, but arguably wrestling never reached the mainstream popularity as it did during the mid-’80s. The WWF was considered a wrestling company, but they sure were deviating from the usual formula of what was considered "wrestling." With all these changes to a more "family-oriented" product, it was only a matter of time before they focused on targeting children in their marketing and promotional efforts. The marriage of wrestling and rock and roll changed pop culture and sports forever.
Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Arrives on Saturday Mornings
With Hulkamania running wild and becoming a very profitable brand, the WWF wanted to capitalize on the surge of popularity they were enjoying. Due to the burgeoning demand, the floodgates were blasted open, and the WWF marketing machine started churning out merchandise of all kinds. From toys, t-shirts, lunch boxes, and everything in between, you name it, the WWF in the mid-’80s was everywhere. In September of 1983, a Mr. T animated series was aired and served somewhat as a testing ground for what the WWF had planned for their animated series. But unlike the Mr. T. animated series, which was a heavy message-oriented show that sought to teach lessons and educate the viewer on weighty subjects such as child predators, eating disorders, and world hunger, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling would be much more lighthearted and nonsensical. Lessons were sometimes taught but in a more tongue in cheek manner with heavy doses of comedic relief.
So it was decided that the larger than life characters portrayed by the WWF would be perfect for an animated series for children. The Orlando Sentinal was skeptical about this idea that "sounded out of place" and went heavy on the sarcasm before even giving the venture a chance.
"Surely CBS could’ve found somebody a little more heroic around whom to construct a cartoon series [referring to the Hulkster]. Leon Spinks, perhaps, or John McEnroe. Or how about a show called Dirty Harry’s Make My Saturday Fun and Gun Hour?"
The production companies for the show were DIC Entertainment and the WWF’s Titan Towers. Jean Chalopin, Andy Heyward, and Tetsuo Katayama are credited as individual producers, as well as Jeffrey Scott, creator, and developer. Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling aired on CBS on September 14th, 1985, and lasted until 1986. Re-runs of all 26 episodes comprising of two seasons were shown until the middle of 1987.
The original plan was for the series to be voiced by the real wrestlers and follow the storylines on TV. These plans had to be scratched very early on as the wrestler’s hectic schedule made it impossible for their voices to be used, and the production of each cartoon episode took too long for them to really match with what was happening in the real WWF.
Instead, they opted to use voice actors, and some of them you will even be familiar with.
Brad Garrett, who voiced Hulk Hogan, is a stand-up comic that went on to play the role of Robert Barone in Everyone Loves Raymond. Charlie Adler voiced Roddy Piper (who constantly cackles in every show) and became a prolific voice actor having 277 credits to his name, including Rugrats, Tiny Toons, and the voice of Starscream in the first three Michael Bay Transformers live-action movies. James Avery, as the Junkyard Dog, is known to many as Uncle Phil in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with Will Smith and as the voice of Shredder; the arch-nemesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Junkyard Dog from the cartoon is sometimes jokingly described as "The Shredder talking jive." If you go down the list of everyone, most remained working in movies and animation for many years, and still, some are active to this today.
The show itself had a very basic approach of good guy versus the bad guy and was an offshoot of what you saw of the WWF on television. This allowed for it to follow the basic cartoon trope that was common for animated series for children. ’80s kids got to see the wrestlers on the show hanging out, having wacky adventures together, and spoiling Roddy Piper and his heel henchmen’s villainous plans. At the time, it was fun to see that Hulk and his friends really didn’t get along with Piper and his cronies, even though most children understood the difference between a cartoon and the real WWF.
One notable difference in Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, compared to most of the cartoons (Mr. T. being the exception), was the WWF wrestlers’ live-action skits. Of course, the skits were comedic and used the real wrestlers, but they were much more infantile and absurd, even compared to the WWF promos seen on TV at the time. Mean Gene Okerlund mostly hosted them, and although this was a children’s show, he and the other wrestlers deliver their lines very well, making this perhaps the best reason for any wrestling fan to track down a couple of episodes. But a fair warning, the promos are more like GLOW and Fuji Vice (Don Muraco and Mr. Fuji) than Austin 3:16 or anything by CM Punk or Mick Foley. Nobody here is threatening bodily harm to anybody else, and it’s obvious that it’s all in good fun.
Watch: Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Wrestling Live-action segment with Mean Gene Okerlund and Big John Studd
Things You Might Not Have Known about Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling
Although Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Wrestling is a children’s animated show — and it can be a tad hard to get through now with adult eyes — many interesting stories surround the show that can be appreciated by fans of all ages.
Roddy Piper’s debut wrestling match was actually in Manitoba, Canada, in a lumber camp "filled with the loneliest, nastiest-looking bunch of lumberjacks" he had ever seen as told in his book In The Pit With Piper by Robert Picarello. But the official debut for the first pro match in "a big-time league, the American Wrestling Association" came soon thereafter at the hands of Larry Hennig at the Winnipeg Arena. Of course, Larry Hennig was the father of Curt Hennig, known as Mr. Perfect later in the WWF.
There is a nod to his AWA debut in episode 13 called Rowdy Roddy Reforms from season 2, where on the episode’s title card, he is shown tossing daisies out of a basket. This mirrors what he did in his real debut. "My entrance alone that night got me noticed. I came into the arena led by a full wailing pipe band- four pipers, two snares, and a bass drummer wearing a big, fuzzy hat with a pint of scotch in the hole of it, as tradition dictated. Me, I was 167 pounds soaking wet, in the middle of these guys, with my basket of dandelions, which I was sharing with the crowd to their complete disbelief."
In the show, Roddy Piper hates Rock and Roll music, which echoes his heel character’s sentiment and makes him a natural villain inflaming the Rock and Roll Connection.
The Hulk Hogan Theme was written and produced by Jim Steinman but performed by a WWF "house band" called The World Wrestling Federation All-Stars and can be heard at the beginning and end of each episode. This instrumental version was later reworked into the song Ravishing by Bonnie Tyler in her Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire album. Hogan’s entrance music was later changed to Real American by Jim Derringer, which was originally going to be used by the team of Mike Rotunda and Barry Windham, calling themselves the U.S. Express. However, with the departure of Windham and Dan Spivey substituting him, the song was passed along instead to Hulk Hogan.
Curiously, both "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka and Wendy Richter’s likenesses are used throughout the two seasons, even though both had left the WWF by the mid-’80s. Mad Maxine had a short-lived stint in the WWF and looked like a cross between someone in a Mad Max movie and Storm from the X-Men. She can be seen in early promotional posters for the animated series, but she is nowhere to be found in the show once it aired. She claims that the WWF had concept sketches of her character, but she was never told by Moolah, who wound up getting the show’s role. Proof has surfaced that Maxine would be called "Mad" Maxine Ryder, who rode around in a vehicle called a "Punk Cycle." At the time, she was Moolah’s student and prodigy. Maxine left wrestling altogether shortly thereafter.
The character of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, who only appears in the episodes Drive Me Crazy and Rock’ n’ Zombies, is actually an underhanded cheapskate that even the heels find disagreeable. In the few live-action sequences he does appear, he is sometimes heard whistling "Pop Goes the Weasel."
Some of the quirks in the show involves the fact that all the wrestlers are dressed in their wrestling gear all the time. They could be walking outside, at a restaurant, or a movie theater, and they’re in their wrestling gear with people seemingly not even batting an eye in surprise. Hogan has a full head of hair in the show; long, blond, and luxurious. I wonder if he had any creative control over that? Junkyard Dog, or JYD, as he’s called in the show, many times says "Another One Bites The Dust" in reference to the song by Queen the real JYD would use as his entrance music. The song’s references stopped after a few episodes, with the rumor being that the WWF no longer wanted to pay for the rights to the song.
Despite the cartoon being filled with wrestlers, no wrestling in the ring is ever seen. Sure, we may see them toss each other or other people around, but none of it is done in a wrestling setting inside of a ring. We only get to see what happens before and after the events. Six episodes only focus on the heels, and for some odd reason, we sometimes see all the good guys living together in Hogan’s apartment, including Wendi Richter. This is a bit reminiscent of the Three Stooges that lived together and often slept in the same bed.
In the live-action portion of the opening sequence, when we see Hogan walking down the street and people start to swarm around him, you can see a couple of people in the upper right corner falling but quickly getting back up. Look for a woman in a pink shirt!
Lewis Arquette, who voiced "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka in the show, is the father of David Arquette who went on to star in the wrestling-themed movie Ready to Rumble (2000) that flopped at the box office earning $12.5 million, which was only half of what it cost to be made. He later became WCW World Heavyweight Champion in what is considered by many fans as one of the most infamous moments in wrestling history, and a close second to the "Fingerpoke of Doom" when Hollywood Hogan of the nWo pinned Kevin Nash, leader of the Wolfpac faction of the said group on January 4th, 1999.
In an unusual missed opportunity, the WWF never released toys based on Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. Alas, we were deprived of owning the Junkyard Dog’s "Junkmobile." The closest they got was very detailed, albeit smallish erasers similar to the "Bendies line" that looked like the wrestlers. Fortunately, their hard rubber WWF Superstars by LJN were going strong and available from 1984 through 1989.
Notable wrestlers oddly not in the show include George "The Animal" Steele, who if anybody was "cartoony" during the mid-’80s, it was certainly "The Animal." "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth is probably the biggest omission of the show. Maybe "Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart could’ve made an appearance or two, along with the Dream Team of Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Brutus Beefcake. What about King Kong Bundy? Who would you have liked to have seen in the show that didn’t appear? "The Adorable" Adrian Adonis, anyone?
Not Flawless, But There’s Fun To Be Had
The stereotypes throughout the cartoon would anger quite a few people today. Still, to be fair, they actually reflected how the characters really were on TV but in an oversimplified way. Looking back at the cartoon now with adult eyes, the inane haphazard plots and the sloppy animation gives the show a rushed feel and the sense that it was simply a cash grab geared towards kids and not something that was handled with care or with the intent of creating a first-rate product.
The show’s quality is dubious even for Saturday morning cartoon standards, but this was about getting out content at the height of Hulkamania. Fans of the WWF and Hulk Hogan, especially the younger ones, couldn’t get enough of their heroes, and they just wanted to watch more and anything that was out there. The ’80s was an explosion of pop culture where nobody knew what was going to work and what wasn’t, giving birth to many intellectual entertainment properties.
There certainly is a charm to Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. The show did pretty well, lasting two seasons if you appreciate the fact that this was entering the so-called golden age of Saturday morning cartoons, and had the formidable task of trying to grab a child’s attention with so much content for them to watch. So go ahead and grab a bowl of your favorite cereal and seek out some of these fun, nostalgic episodes! Just pretend it’s Saturday, and you don’t have to go to school today!
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss the following articles on our site:
- Foreman Grill – An Opportunity Lost for Hulk Hogan
- Alice Cooper Reflects on "Terrifying" WrestleMania III Experience
- Marvel Comics and the Money They Made off Hulk Hogan
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