Professional wrestling, for the uninitiated, is basically a violent soap opera in spandex. There are good guys and bad guys, and not only did they fight in the ring, but basically anywhere the two sides came together; all while moving along an ongoing storyline from match to match. Originally, wrestling was broken up amongst several regional divisions that maintained their own territory. In 1983, Vince McMahon purchased Capitol Wrestling Corporation from his father and combined it with his own company, Titan Sports, Inc. Together, they became what would be known as the World Wrestling Federation (known as World Wrestling Entertainment since 2002 after a name dispute with the World Wide Fund for Nature).
McMahon went against tradition and sought to get WWF programming on syndicated television nation-wide; violating the boundaries of the other organizations. He wanted to take full advantage of the growing cable television and video tape trading markets. His goals were given a significant boost when he hired Hulk Hogan, who had gained notoriety for his appearance in Rocky III, away from the American Wrestling Association. Rowdy Roddy Piper was signed on as Hogan’s rival and Jesse “The Body” Ventura as an announcer. McMahon’s ranks were further bolstered by talent from the AWA or National Wrestling Association.
The next innovation came after WWF manager Captain Lou Albano met Cyndi Lauper, a self-proclaimed wrestling fan, on a trip to Puerto Rico and was asked by the singer to appear as her father in the video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. This led to what’s been called the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection, which featured a period of intermingling between WWF and the music industry. It was kicked off on Piper’s interview show, Piper’s Pit, by Albano and Lauper entering into a “feud” to be settled by a match between female wrestlers of their choice. MTV would go on to broadcast this match; the first live match on cable and the first live women’s professional wrestling match between Wendi Richter and The Fabulous Moolah. Other celebrities began participating in events, and Lauper continued to use wrestlers in further music videos. McMahon’s make or break innovation came in 1985 with the debut of WrestleMania, which is essentially the World Series of wrestling. The show ended up becoming the WWF’s most successful promotion and catapulted the WWF to the top of the wrestling pile.
With Hulk Hogan’s popularity at an all-time high, it was decided to use him to try and make a project to appeal to the younger wrestling fans. Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling was developed by Jeffrey Scott and produced by DiC Entertainment. It featured two groups of wrestlers: the faces (the good guys) and the heels (the bad guys). Hulk (Brad Garrett, making his lead debut in an animated series) led the faces comprised of Junkyard Dog (James Avery), Captain Lou Albano (George DiCenzo), Andre the Giant (Ron Feinberg), Wendi Richter (Jodie Carlisle), Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka (Lewis Arquette), Hillbilly Jim (Pat Fraley) and Tito Santana (Joey Pento). Piper (Charlie Adler) led the heels, which featured the Iron Sheik (Aron Kincaid), Nikolai Volkoff (Ron Gans), the Fabulous Moolah (also Carlisle), Big John Studd (Chuck Licini) and Mr. Fuji (Ernest Harada). Originally Mad Maxine was meant to be one of the heels, but while the show was in production she suddenly left the WWF and was replaced by her manager, Moolah. Announcer Mean Gene Okerlund (Neil Ross) also made an appearance in several episodes. While the various wrestlers would appear in live-action segments between stories, professional actors voiced their animated counterparts (interestingly enough, Albano would go on to become a voice actor himself on The Super Mario Bros. Super Show in 1989). A lot of the live material would be excised when the series entered reruns in order to pare down the episode running times. Although WWF Magazine’s August/September 1985 issue showed some earlier more realistic character designs, the final models used on the show were a bit more simplified and exaggerated. Each character also drove a vehicle that matched their theme, such as Piper driving a hot rod with bagpipe-like exhausts and Junkyard driving a truck with a doghouse on the back.
Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling debuted on CBS on September 14, 1985 and was aired in an hour-long block of two episodes. Most episodes featured two 11-minute segments while several were full 22-minute stories. Episodes would depict the wrestlers getting into wacky situations that often led to a competition between the two teams. Because of FCC regulations at the time, actual wrestling was very minute in presence in favor of delivering slapstick-laden pro-social messages. Scott wrote the majority of the episodes with additional scripts from Larry DiTillo, Sandy Fries and Michael Maurer. Jim Steinman’s “Hulk Hogan’s Theme”, which served as Hogan’s entrance theme at the time, was used for the cartoon’s intro. Score Productions handled the rest of the show’s music. The series was animated by HanHo Heungup Studios, Wang Film Productions and Studio Shaft.
Because of the long production times in making an animated series, the storyline of the show couldn’t keep up with the events transpiring at the WWF. In July of 1985, Snuka left the WWF and went to wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling before returning to America in the AWA. That November, Richter left after McMahon orchestrated an unscripted defeat of her using Moolah in disguise over disagreements about her compensation. However, both characters remained throughout the show’s two-season run.
Much like its wrestling inspiration, the show was heavily merchandised during its run. Winston Toys released six erasers (eight if you count the Hulk and Snuka variants) that resembled action figures (in fact, four of them better resembled the LJN bendable figures than the show’s character designs). Other merchandise included a bed sheet set, lunchboxes by Thermos, a collectible sticker album by Diamond, a raincoat, a card game, puzzles and a series of coloring books by Golden Books, and a schoolbag. In 2020, Beardy’s Toys began releasing a limited-edition series of 7-inch resin action figures based on the cartoon.
|One of the VHS covers.|
DiC released several episodes to VHS during and after the show’s run, which were later repackaged and re-released by WWF Home Video in the 1990s. In 2014, episodes were made available on the WWE Network. However, all content featuring Hulk Hogan was removed in July of 2015 after he was fired and blacklisted for racist comments he made in a leaked video. While some content was eventually restored, Rock ‘n’ Wrestling was not amongst them beyond concept art and a photo gallery.