“Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan are the two most important wrestlers in WWE history, but who really deserves to be called the biggest star ever? While there have been bigger mainstream stars to come out of wrestling, such as The Rock and John Cena, within the wrestling industry there are only two real candidates for the most important performer. Austin and Hogan both defined their respective eras of wrestling, and both were box office attractions theretofore unseen by WWE.
Character-wise, Austin and Hogan couldn’t be further apart. Austin as a fan favorite was a rebellious, unpredictable butt-kicker, while Hogan as a fan favorite was the ultimate superhero—a crusader who urged children to say their prayers and take their vitamins. As villains, Austin turned into a psychotic coward obsessed with the world championship and WWE boss Vince McMahon’s approval, while Hogan morphed into “Hollywood” Hogan, the egotistical leader of the dominant nWo faction in Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Yet through it all, both “Stone Cold” and “The Hulkster” remained on top.
While Hogan and Austin did briefly cross paths while working in WCW—when Austin was still “Stunning” Steve—and later WWE, the two sadly never had the dream match many wanted for years. With Hogan now 68 years old and retired due to a host of nagging injuries, and Austin only recently having his first match in 19 years at WrestleMania 38, it’s virtually impossible for the match to happen. The only real face-off still possible between the two sports entertainment icons is the battle for the number one star in professional wrestling history.
Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan – Who Was The Better WWE Wrestler
When it comes to sheer in-ring performance, there’s little debate that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin outclassed Hulk Hogan, and by a good margin. That’s not to say that Hogan was a terrible in-ring wrestler, as that’s not at all true. Hogan was a fine in-ring performer, especially earlier in his career, capable of raising his game to match a more talented opponent. He had truly great matches with the likes of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, the unsinkable battleship Stan Hansen, and even the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair while in WCW. Still, Austin was a much more versatile athlete, and while he leaned on wild brawls in the late-1990s, he showed off impressive technical wrestling skills in WCW and 2001 WWE, going hold for hold with top-level grapplers like Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit.
That said, professional wrestling isn’t a sport, it’s sports entertainment, kayfabe in WWE is long since dead, and in-ring wrestling isn’t everything to consider. As different as their characters were, Austin and Hogan were both excellent talkers, each capable of holding a live crowd in the palm of their hands. Each created iconic catchphrases, and each delivered promos that have become legendary in WWE history. In that respect, it’s basically a tie. Both Austin and Hogan are also blessed with boundless charisma, which only made their segments even more must-see TV. Had both men squared off in their respective primes, it most likely would’ve been the most-watched feud ever, just based on the clashing of two larger-than-life personalities.
Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan – Which WWE Era Was More Successful
Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin presided over the two top eras of WWE when it comes to mainstream popularity. Hogan reigned atop the Hulkamania Era—set to be the focus of a Hogan biopic starring Chris Hemsworth—which is generally considered to have begun when he beat The Iron Sheik for his first WWE world title in January 1984, and ended when he stopped wrestling full-time for WWE in early 1992. By then, the Ultimate Warrior had risen to the top of the industry while names like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were primed to take over a very different period for the company. Years later, Austin was the principal star of the Attitude Era, generally considered to have officially begun during his rise in the fall of 1997, and ended after WWE bought rival WCW in the spring of 2001.
While the Hulkamania Era was a bit longer, there’s no question that from a purely business standpoint, the Attitude Era was more profitable for WWE. WWE is doing great financially today as well, thanks to their streaming deal with Peacock, big-money TV deals with USA and FOX, and a lucrative partnership with Saudi Arabia. But the Attitude Era saw the company rake cash in hand over fist, with merchandise selling like wildfire, pay-per-views doing huge viewership, live events selling out everywhere, and WWE actually crossing over from simply being professional wrestling to being mainstream entertainment. That might all sound like the Attitude Era is the clear winner, but from a creative standpoint, the late-1990s birthed a lot of regrettable things, such as women having pudding matches and wrestlers doing blackface skits. It’s also easy to argue that without Hulkamania paving the way, the Attitude Era could’ve never happened, as Austin was building on existing infrastructure created by men like Hogan and future Bonesaw actor Randy Savage.
Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan – Who’s The Biggest Star In Wrestling History
With all the above factors considered, it’s a truly close battle between Hulk Hogan and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for the title of the biggest star in WWE history. Austin was the better technical wrestler, but he and Hogan were basically equal on the mic and in charisma—at least based on the electric way in which fans responded to them both. The Attitude Era made more money, but the Hulkamania era arguably outstripped it creatively, and also set the stage for wrestling’s later evolution. Without Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant selling out the Pontiac Silverdome at WrestleMania 3, it’s unlikely Steve Austin vs. The Rock would’ve ever sold out the Houston Astrodome at WrestleMania 17.
While it wasn’t a WWE happening, Hogan also deserves extra credit for revitalizing his career as Hollywood Hogan alongside Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in WCW, as the nWo pre-dated the Attitude Era slightly when it came to making wrestling cool in the mainstream. The rise of WCW also resulted in WWE actively competing for TV ratings, another example of Hogan being the rising tide raising all ships, no matter which company he worked for at the time.
In wrestling history, and WWE history in particular, Hogan may be the most important figure not named Vince McMahon. Yet, Austin was the bigger star. At the height of the Attitude Era, the iconic Austin 3:16 t-shirt was everywhere, as was Austin himself. He appeared on all kinds of TV shows and commercials, and was even animated on Celebrity Deathmatch. While Hogan did those things too, Austin did them to a larger extent, and also finally got wrestling some respect from the mainstream press, whereas Hogan was often treated like a sideshow attraction. While the battle is close, when it comes to who’s the biggest WWE star ever, Steve Austin wins with an “Oh hell yeah!”.
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