Hogan’s match-up with Sting showcased his enduring ability to connect to the audience

One of the frequently discussed topics coming out of TNA Impact Wrestling’s Bound for Glory pay-per-view earlier this week was the performance of Hulk Hogan in his fight with Sting.

As many of you know, Hogan’s body is a wreck, with multiple knee and back injuries having plagued him over the years. A guy that big doing leg drops every night in the 1980s is probably what started the long journey to a physical breakdown. Hogan won’t even take bumps any more, and as he says, he won’t wrestle, but he’ll fight — which, in the case of the match with Sting, meant blading, outside interference, and other tricks to move the bout along.

But let’s not forget Hogan’s seemingly innate charisma and his sense of connecting with a crowd. Back during his first big run in the WWF in 1984, it was clear he wasn’t the most gifted athlete or worker. But he carried himself like a star, could deliver a promo, and when he got into the ring, he fed off the audience.

Watch Hogan’s matches and see how often he looks into the crowd, either as a babyface seeking support or as a heel taunting fans. You don’t see many wrestlers in 2011 trying to connect with the audience like Hogan did, and that’s simply because wrestlers today don’t know how to do it. Sure, current WWE Champion Alberto Del Rio has a tremendous gimmick as a rich man and shows great facials, but he doesn’t truly interact with the fans.

Hogan has always understood how to paint the story of a match to the crowd. When he would “Hulk up” at the end of a bout and then point his finger at his opponent, everyone knew — even those poor folks in the last row of the balcony — that his antagonist was going to get his ass kicked. There was nothing subtle about Hogan’s character, which is why it worked. In many ways, all of the wrestlers in the 1980s were similarly larger than life and caricatures. That type of approach had to end eventually, and we saw the lines blurred during the WWF’s Attitude Era.

Today, however, so many wrestlers are just carbon copies. They don’t sport bald heads with long blond hair, they don’t tear their shirts off before every match, and they don’t talk to the audience with their eyes and movements beyond an occasional listless gaze.

Yeah, it sounds like I’ve had too much of the Hulkster’s Kool-Aid, and I know there’s plenty to be critical of him about. But his match with Sting showed a nod to his past via his ability to elicit emotion from a crowd, which is a skill not often seen in the WWE these days.

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