Pinpointing Hulk Hogan’s precise wrestling gimmick is often a curious exercise. With most of the wrestlers in the cartoonish WWF of the 1980s sporting gimmicks literally as simplistic as cowboys and Indians, the charismatic big man who occasionally wrapped himself in the American flag to brawl with foreign rulebreakers more or less played himself.
And a huge part of his persona — both IRL and in the ring — was that of a musclehead. In fact, Hogan’s stated place of origin was Venice Beach, California, a haven for the hardest of the hardcore, golden-tanned, beachside bodybuilders. But if that proved too glancing or subtle, there was, of course, the continuous presence of his trusty weightlifting belt.
It became the enduring symbol of Hulkamania — the demandments of which were vast amounts of training, frequent prayers, heavy supplementation with “vitamins” and a strong belief in self. Outside of a wrestling ring, if Roddy Piper always wore a kilt and “Cowboy” Bob Orton always wore his cowboy hat, Hogan’s weightlifting belt inextricably linked the Hulkster to gym culture long before any of his merchandise included an allusion to a solid object, which in Hogan’s case was a barbell.
The Heart of Hulkamania Lurked within a Leather Support Strap
So deep and intimate was the Hulkster’s connection with his beloved weightlifting belts that he considered it a sacred act to ceremonially retire one on television. With another belt already cinched tightly around his waist, Hogan claimed to have worn the stained strap of leather for 1,001 of alleged squat sets, and promised supernatural strength and formidable muscle growth to whomever won the belt and subsequently wore it during workouts.
This was far from a one-off segment, as most of the skits documenting Hogan’s time away from the ring were dedicated to fitness, with two of the most memorable chronicling Hogan’s attempts to train fellow wrestler Hillbilly Jim and star interviewer “Mean” Gene Okerlund for ring readiness. The partered workouts of Jim and Hogan focused heavily on true powerlifting moves like the bench press and the squat, where Hogan had to absurdly teach Jim — who was almost exactly the same size as him — how to evenly bench press a 135-pound barbell. Hogan is seen sporting a weightlifting belt throughout.
His belt, however, becomes far more superfluous (and comedic) when it’s time to train with Mean Gene. After first disrupting Mean Gene’s morning routine of cigars, pancakes and bacon by substituting a glass of raw eggs, Hogan coerces him to run several laps around a Minneapolis lake while also forcing him to attire himself in identical gym wear, right down to the leather weightlifting belt. Eventually, the pair hits the gym and does some actual weight training before heading over to the Met Center. While in the home of the long-gone Minnesota North Stars, the pair runs stairs and performs other partnered climbing drills — weightlifting belts affixed to their waists the entire time.
The Weightlifting Belts Go Big Time
Hogan continued to wear his weightlifting belt in skits depicting his training regimen with Mr. T in preparation for Wrestlemania, hilariously showcasing Hogan with the belt around his waist during rounds of punching a heavy bag. Since none of the risk elements that a weightlifting belt was designed to address are present in a boxing scenario, the belt appears to be present just as a symbolic representation of the Hulkster’s gym-rat bona fides. And so, it only looks slightly less ridiculous than when he wore the very same belt as he and T went grocery shopping.
In fairness, Hogan wasn’t the only wrestler of his era to really go heavy on the weightlifting belts. In fact, his adversaries Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff both wore them as they prepared for their Wrestlemania showdown. Orndorff effortlessly cranks out five steady reps of 405 pounds on the deadlift before he and Piper threaten to physically assault Mean Gene by lashing him with their belts. No such beating is depicted on screen, but a passerby on a New York street is kicked and stomped on by Orndorff and Bob Orton as Piper instigates and Mean Gene screams in protest.
The Weightlifting Belts Get a Makeover
When Hogan took his first major leave of absence from the WWF to film the movie No Holds Barred, colorful weightlifting belts adorned the wardrobe of Hogan’s on-screen character Rip Thomas, and he sported an identical getup when he appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show to promote the film. By 1992, Hogan had fully integrated colorful belts bearing his signature red-and-yellow color scheme directly into his promotional outfits, and he took that upgraded marker of frequent gym visitation with him to World Championship Wrestling a year later.
When the Hulkster finally made his heel turn and formed the New World Order (nWo) with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash in 1996, the weightlifting belt remained, only now it had turned black and white to match the rest of the nWo’s aesthetic. With the belt now a feature of his actual in-ring attire, “Hollywood” Hogan was able to remove it and brandish it as a leather strap to whip his opposition with.
These days, the 68-year-old Hogan is more of a dad jeans kind of guy, which doesn’t require the same straps of leather as before. But on his way to the mountaintop — through all that training, all those “vitamins,” all the praying and all the self-confidence — one thing remained at his literal side: his weightlifting belt. Whatcha gonna do when you need a little help at the squat rack — or the produce section — brother!