When most wrestling fans think of Hulk Hogan as world champion, they picture him either in the yellow and red with the WWF’s classic winged eagle belt around his waste, or in the black and white, holding WCW’s big gold belt, desecrated with the NWO’s spray painted letters.
However, if you step back in time, you can find rare photos and footage of Hulk Hogan in 1982 and 1983 — just before Hulkamania “ran wild, brother” — of Hulk Hogan with the belt that got away, the AWA World Championship.
Twice Hogan would beat AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel and twice he would be stripped of the title and the win stricken from the record books. The first such occasion was on April 18, 1982 when Hogan defeated Bockwinkel after both men used a foreign object. Hogan held the title until April 24, when the belt was given back to Bockwinkel because of the aforementioned use of foreign objects.
Hogan’s win was struck from the title history and he was never truly AWA champion.
Fast forward almost one year later. Hogan and Bockwinkel would meet again and Hogan would win again. However, the title would be taken again — this time that very night — after AWA officials ruled that Hogan was disqualified for throwing Bockwinkel over the top rope.
The series of matches and “almost-wins” was supposed to set up a final match where Hogan would vanquish Bockwinkel and become the undisputed AWA champion, but the storyline never had a chance to complete.
Why? As with most issues involving The Hulkster, this one came down to a dispute about money and merchandizing agreements between Hogan and AWA owner Verne Gange. The two parties couldn’t reach an agreement about Hogan’s cut of the merchandise and Hogan ended up returning to the WWF and winning the WWF Heavyweight title in January of 1984, beginning what we now recognize as the rise of Hulkamania.