Sports | January 23, 2019 5:00 am

Hulk Hogan: Recognizing 35 Years of an Unlikely American Icon

Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik to win his first WWF title 35 years ago today.

UNITED STATES - APRIL 03: Wrestle Mania 21 in Los Angeles, United States on April 03, 2005 - Hulk Hogan at Wrestle Mania 21 at Staples Center. (Photo by Mike FANOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 03: Wrestle Mania 21 in Los Angeles, United States on April 03, 2005 - Hulk Hogan at Wrestle Mania 21 at Staples Center. (Photo by Mike FANOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

On a memorable January evening at Madison Square Garden in 1984, Hulk Hogan escaped out of the famed “camel clutch” of World Wrestling Federation champion Iron Sheik and into the bright lights of the national spotlight. 

Thirty-five years ago today, Hogan defeated the Sheik to win his first WWF title and “Hulkamania” was born in earnest. 

Born Terry Gene Bollea in Georgia, Hogan would hold that title – and become the face of the WWF while doing it – until losing a title fight to Andre the Gian more than four years later in February of 1988.

During those four years, Hogan anchored the first-ever wrestling pay-per-view event, WrestleMania, and was gifted his signature theme song, “Real American” by Rick Derringer (who had a previous hit with “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Coo”).

The song, along with Hulk himself, helped turn Hogan into an American icon who, despite some bumps in the road, still endures today.

“To understand the success of that song, you have to grasp how big of a star Hulk Hogan was,” pro wrestling reporter Sean Neumann told MEL. “He’s the biggest professional wrestling star there ever was and likely ever will be, and he was a pop-culture phenomenon. Everyone knows who Hulk Hogan is, even today. He’s the Elvis of pro wrestling. The song was enormous because he was an enormous figure in the entertainment world – then and today.”

With Hulkamania in full force and “Real American” serving as its anthem, Hogan dominated the mid-to-late 1980s. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, TV Guide and PEOPLE. He had his own Saturday morning cartoon show, was turned into action figures and became the face of WWF SUPERSTARS breakfast cereal. 

The Hulkster was huge and, though he’s never been as popular as he was back then, he remains an iconic cultural figure.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL – MARCH 08: NY POST OUT Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, takes the oath in court during his trial against Gawker Media at the Pinellas County Courthouse on March 8, 2016 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Bollea is taking legal action against Gawker in a USD 100 million lawsuit for releasing a video of him having sex with his best friend’s wife. (Photo by John Pendygraft-Pool/Getty Images)
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As for those aforementioned bumps in the road, they included charges of steroid use in the early ’90s, a publicized divorce from his wife Linda which included multiple allegations of infidelity, a leaked sex tape of Hogan and the wife of a friend, and an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Gawker for publishing a clip of the tape which bankrupted the site and netted Hogan a $31 million settlement.

But, in spite of those, more people probably remember the Hulkster for his signature leg drop finishing move than they do for bankrupting one of the internet’s snarkiest tabloid sites.

And, if you look at photographs of Hogan and who he was dropping elbows on rubbing elbows with when he was at his peak, it’s easy to see why. Here are 12 of the most telling shots.

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – MARCH 29: Businessman Donald Trump and World Champion Wrestler Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania Vl Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey March 29 1987. (Photo by Jeffrey Asher/ Getty Images)
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THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON — Pictured: (l-r) Professional wrestler Hulk Hogan during an interview with host Johnny Carson on June 15, 1982 — (Photo by: Jospeh Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
UNITED STATES – JANUARY 01: Hulk Hogan and Muhammad Ali (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett
Wrestler Hulk Hogan in his wrestling togs, lacing up hightop boots as he sits in dressing room before his bout at the Miami Arena. (Photo by Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
The LIFE Images Collection/Getty
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO — Episode 1398 — Pictured: (l-r) Professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, professional basketball player Dennis Rodman during an interview with host Jay Leno on June 17, 1998 — (Photo by: Margaret Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — Episode 12 — Pictured: (l-r) Billy Crystal as Prince, Jim Belushi as Hulk Hogan,, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus during the ‘Backstage’ skit on February 2, 1985 — (Photo by: Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
(GERMANY OUT) Wrestling-Champion und Schauspieler Hulk Hogan mit gelbem Kopftuch und dem Weltmeistergürtel. Er spannt seine Armmuskeln an. . (Photo by Raudies/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
ullstein bild via Getty Images
UNITED STATES – Mr. T with Hulk Hogan, circa 1985. (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett
LOVE BOAT – “Miss Mom/Who’s the Champ/Gopher’s Delusion” which aired on February 1, 1986. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) PATRICIA KLOUS;TED MCGINLEY;HULK HOGAN;GAVIN MACLEOD;BRUCE JENNER;TIM ROSSOVICH
ABC via Getty Images
Wrestler Hulk Hogan flexing huge muscle on his left arm as he rides his Hulkster motorcycle on road in front of his home. (Photo by Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
The LIFE Images Collection/Getty
UNITED STATES – circa 1991: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Hulk Hogan at Planet Hollywood (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett
Wrestler Hulk Hogan in wrestling togs incl. his championship belt, flexing his biceps amidst 7 youngsters who are imitating his pose in dressing room before bout at the Miami Arena. (Photo by Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
The LIFE Images Collection/Getty