Looking back at Hogan’s career, particularly in WWF he always seemed to refuse to work with guys significantly smaller than him. Henning, Hart, possibly Flair and god knows who else. When I’ve watched a few matches where he did face somebody smaller in him, you can see that people would actually start cheering for the heal. The main reason being was Hogan was so much bigger the heals became underdogs. Despite all the programming to make people love Hogan some fans would cheer the underdog, even accept them needing to cheat to win against him. Or at least some Hogan fans wouldn’t be that enthusiastic to see him beat up a not all that threatening smaller guy. I suspect he learned this when doing house shows with a then heal Jake the Snake.
The main exception to this was Savage (or foreigners like the Iron Sheik). All Savage had to do was be a dick towards Elizabeth at the start and part way through the match everybody would want to see the much bigger Hogan beat the shit out of him. This worked for Roddy too when he “kicked” Cyndi Lauper.
I’m starting to think Hogan wasn’t always being an ass when refusing to work with smaller guys. He realized what didn’t work for him and stayed away from it, for which I can’t really blame him too much.
I would agree with that, to a certain point. Bret Hart made the same point when talking about his match with Owen Hart at Wrestlemania, noting that he didn’t want to get too much offense on his smaller brother because he’d just come off as a bully then. And in fact, you kind of made that point in your own e-mail: Hogan’s biggest money programs in the 80s were with “smaller” guys. Roddy Piper, Randy Savage and Paul Orndorff. No one doubted for a second that Savage and Piper could kick the shit out of anyone they wanted, and Hogan put over Orndorff so strongly that they made $10,000 a night for a year and half off of it. That’s the key. Yeah, if Hogan is facing Mr. Perfect and takes all the offense until fans are giving the heel sympathy, it’s gonna backfire. Just look at what happened with the infamous “flea market” program against Kidman in WCW. But when Hogan was fighting Randy Savage, Savage would BRUTALIZE him, and Hogan was a master of the sympathetic beatdown selling, leading to the Popeye comeback and win. The key was Hogan adjusting his formula to match the opponent’s strengths, not just ducking anyone who he didn’t consider in his league because of their size. That being said, I absolutely do not blame Hogan in the 80s for having that mentality. The guy drew millions of dollars so it’s hard to fault him for wanting to stick with doing an easy run against Killer Khan or Kamala and putting his kids through college off it. My issue is that the business passed Hogan by in the early 90s and he was too stubborn to acknowledge it, basically brushing off guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels as “too small” when in fact the steroid trials meant that Hogan himself was in fact too big. When he finally did adapt, as Hollywood Hogan the ultimate coward who would sell for a reflection in a mirror, he was able to draw millions of dollars again.