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Hulk Hogan turns 58 years old today, still entertaining idea of wrestling in TNA

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Hulk Hogan, one of the most influential members of the pro wrestling fraternity, celebrates his birthday today (Aug. 11, 2011). He turns 127 58-years-old.

"The Hulkster's" impact on the industry cannot be overstated. How many wrestlers can lay claim to being the top babyface in the business for a number of years only to reinvent himself a decade later as the top heel? Just one that I can think of.

From his early days in Japan to the AWA with Verne Gagne, he was a charismatic star from the get-go. His bit part in the hit movie Rocky III as "Thunderlips" only furthered his fame and when he made his way back to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and the greasy, loving arms of billionaire to be, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, it was a straight shot into the stratosphere.

From Jan. 1984 until late 1993, Hogan was the man in not just the WWF, but the entire professional wrestling world. It wasn't even close, in fact. Sure, "Macho Man" Randy Savage had an extended title reign but guess who came out of that looking like a peach? He also dropped the strap to Ultimate Warrior in a high profile match but even then he came out ahead, watching Warrior falter so badly once he was charged with leading the company that Hogan looked better just sitting on the sidelines basking in the glow of Warrior's failures.

At this point, though, he was stale, or at least his character was. His gimmick, a cartoon like, larger than life character that trained, ate his vitamins and said his prayers, had a limited shelf life. Part of what makes Hogan so incredible is the fact that he managed to get so much mileage out of this role, and used it to transcend the professional wrestling industry.

But, eventually, defiant fans made it clear that enough was enough and it was time for a change. These cries were ignored for years, as Hogan was hesitant to give up his role as a top babyface and big merchandise money maker with the red and yellow of "Hulkamania" still running wild ... kind of.

Like any good business man (or leech, or ruthless politician, whatever you'd like to call it), though, "The Hulkster" knew when it was time to finally give it up and find the next big fad. His legacy was already set in stone as the most popular wrestler of all time, so he could afford to take a chance on a hot new angle. In this instance, after he made his way to WCW and failed as the top babyface draw in the company, he saw the writing on the wall when "The Outsiders," Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, came to Atlanta.

They kick-started an entire movement with one of the most simple but effective storylines one could think of (or lift from Japan, either way). Hall and Nash invaded from the WWF and they were hot, bringing plenty of heat with them. They just needed one top babyface to defect and push them over the top as the next great stable in pro wrestling. By all accounts, it took some convincing to get Hogan to jump on board, at least at first. After all, this man had been a babyface since 1984. Here it was 1996 and life as a hero was still good enough to want to hang onto, even if it wasn't as profitable as it once was.

But money and popularity will always win out in the battle of good vs. evil and it was just a matter of time before the devil on Hulk's left shoulder convinced the angel on his right shoulder to come to the dark side. At WCW "Bash at the Beach" 1996, "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan was born ... and another wrestling revolution was on the horizon.

The New World Order (NWO) was perhaps the most masterfully booked stable in WCW history, at least at first. It grew stale towards the end of its run, due largely to the fact that the powers that be didn't know how to let go of the company cash cow, but it was undoubtedly the most popular time for the Ted Turner owned company.

Would Hall and Nash have found another wrestler (like Sting, who was under consideration as the top defecting babyface before Hogan accepted) to lead the charge as the NWO went head on against WCW and had as much success as they eventually would with Hulk at the helm? That's a difficult question to answer and one that's worth an entirely different post. It serves the purpose in this post of making it clear that there would be doubt, at the very least, that the angle could succeed without the certain star power Hogan brought to the table.

His heel turn was legitimately a big deal. That may be difficult to comprehend now, due to the watered down nature of the product we're all used to in today's climate. But at that time, the biggest star in the history of the business, a star who was so big that he brought entire generations of fans into the fold, turning into a bad guy after being a good guy for as long as anyone could remember was such a cosmic shift that it was an undeniable smash hit.

What's more, Hogan played his role to perfection, dying his beard black and turning himself into an edgy badass that fans bought into with no compulsions despite the fact that he was well into his 40s at that point. His heel persona was just as over as his babyface character, his promos just as biting and full of the same vigor and life as before. In fact, one could argue he did it all even better.

By the time his run as the top heel in WCW ran out, his legend was set in stone. Even those that hold grudges against him for his many faults (and there are many, myself included) are forced to admit how amazing it is that he was able to do so much. And all this with his decidedly limited abilities once he climbed inside the ring. Was he a great technical wrestler? No. Hell no. But his charisma and masterful control of the crowd more than made up for what he lacked athletically.

He would capture another world title upon his return to WWF, rebranded WWE by then, and have another memorable WrestleMania match with The Rock before riding off into the TNA sunset. Only that sunset has been more like a dark alley with no light at the end.

Unfortunately, this story has no happy ending. Hogan, after abusing his body for years with a rigorous travel schedule and repeated surgeries on his knees, hips, back and everything else, he's still risking it all by taking an active role with TNA (Impact Wrestling). In fact, for reasons I will never understand, he's contemplating a return to the ring for yet another match against Sting, possibly at the Bound for Glory pay-per-view later this year.

Whether he returns or not almost doesn't matter, though. Sure, he's largely done nothing but tarnish his legacy since making his way to TNA, but his legend is simply too large to diminish with a forgettable run at the end of his storied career.

I'll end this by leaving you with a video of his match with Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III. For those that want to see the most famous bodyslam in pro wrestling history, skip to 5:50. And feel free to share your favorite "Hulkster" moments in the comments below.

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