Throughout the 1980’s wrestling had somewhat of a golden age. Generally, due to the emergence of pay-per-view TV and cable, wrestling went from being a small scale and regionally controlled, to the behemoth we know today controlled by two country-wide companies (WWE and WCW). During this golden age, many of the industry stars became household names throughout the world, and as such, build brands that have catapulted their earnings into the stratosphere. Let’s take a look at three of these stars, and how they built their empires.
Terry Gene Bollea, or Hulk Hogan to everyone except his mother, is probably the best-known wrestler the world has ever seen. Known for his love of bananas, a blonde handlebar mustache, and his larger-than-life persona, Hogan was easily recognizable as the face of WWF – later WWE. His fame reached a peak in the late 80’s and early 90’s, where he cameoed in movies such as Muppets from Space and Gremlins 2. This period in his life made his face recognizable across the globe, and as such, his personal brand began to take root in toy shops everywhere. From the mid 80’s through to the mid 90’s Hulk Hogan wrestling figures sold in huge volumes, as they became the ‘must have’ Christmas gifts for kids everywhere.
While there were a fair few branded products that didn’t make the grade (the less said about Hogan energy drinks the better), Hulk Hogan still made an absolute fortune off the character that Terry Gene created. In more recent times, Hogan has been embroiled in lawsuits with the likes of Gawker and a bitter divorce battle, so pinning down his net worth is a little tricky, but a ballpark figure that most people see as realistic is $120 million.
Andre The Giant
André René Roussimoff, A.K.A André The Giant, will probably be best remembered as Hulk Hogan’s arch nemesis, resulting in a feud that culminated in the fondly remembered Wrestlemania III. As a sufferer of Gigantism, André was easily recognizable due to his immense size when compared to his compatriots. Stand at 7ft 4in tall, he towered over most of his opponents, and his feud with Hogan led to his face being similarly plastered on many children’s bedroom walls. Generally portrayed as ‘the bad guy’, André actually entered the arena quite differently and was cast as the hero when he first met Hogan in the early 80’s. The roles soon flipped around, and one of wrestling’s most famous rivalries was created.
Similar to Hogan, André The Giant merchandise was everywhere for a brief period, with action figures being at the center of the brand identity. It was also no coincidence that Hulk Hogan action figures were partly to thank for the popularity of the toys (after all, if you have the Hogan figure, he needs to fight with someone, right?), and whilst he never quite reached the levels of the Hulk, André made a lot of money through his merchandise. It wasn’t just merchandise through – online games in any form imaginable, from Arcade games to themed slot reels featured Andre, as did character spin-offs in movies which helped increase his popularity. Consequently, sales of action figures, T-shirts, and mugs soared, leaving André with an estimated wealth of around $10 million before his untimely death aged 46.
Best known as ‘Big Show’, Paul Wight is a modern enigma in the wrestling scene. A world champion 7 times over, Paul Wight is arguably the biggest name in wrestling right now. With rumors of his impending retirement in February, Big Show is sure to be capitalizing on as much merchandise sales as possible before he finally ends his wrestling career. With a net worth of $20 million so far, it will be interesting to see how Paul Wight attempts to cash in on his fame in an era that is far different from the times in which Hulk Hogan and André The Giant ruled supreme.
Already a veteran of the movie scene (see Knucklehead, Jingle All the Way and The Waterboy), Paul Wight is now becoming a world-renowned face outside of the ring, which is a good move for any modern sportsman, in a world where video games are ruling the kids ‘wish lists’, rather than action figures. Keeping his brand alive, post-wrestling will be interesting to watch and could be an indication of what these stars need to do in a modern world, where many of the rules have changed since the inception of modern wrestling. Where Hulk Hogan could get away with being the star of his own video game, WWE now owns the bestselling wrestling game (and Paul’s likeness too), so other avenues will surely have to be explored if the Big Show is to shrewdly add to his already immense pile of cash.