WWE announced today that Hulk Hogan and Titus O’Neil will host this year’s WrestleMania. The two-night event will emanate from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday, April 10, and Sunday, April 11. There are several things to dive into on this topic. Troubled history, poor optics, and the concept beg the biggest question, why?
The first red flag is Hulk Hogan being on the show. His racist comments followed by his apology tour minus the actual apology eroded his reputation with part of the audience. The other segment of the audience still loves the Hulkster as much as they ever have.
While most other forms of sports and entertainment would have permanently washed their hands of Hogan, WWE never leaves money on the table. Hogan still sells a lot of merchandise, and he’s the biggest star in the history of professional wrestling. That’s doesn’t excuse WWE, but it explains why they still do business with him despite alienating their audience members.
Titus O’Neil is still an active member of the roster, but he hasn’t wrestled since the 9/11/20 episode of Raw, losing to Lashley in under a minute. O’Neil is known more for his award-winning philanthropic deeds than his accomplishments in the ring and is a fixture in the Tampa community. O’Neil deserves all the accolades he’s received for his excellent work with various charitable organizations.
The optics of this announcement are poor, insulting, and screams of desperation. Look at the graphic of them together. It accentuates a narrative screaming WWE is happy to have Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania. However, they know some people won’t like it, so here’s our charitable Black superstar to pacify any angry people of color.
On the other side of the coin, the guest host routine is pointless. “Oh snap! Grab the kids and pack our bags. (insert name) is hosting WrestleMania!” said no one ever. The exception is The Rock hosting WrestleMania 27 to kick off his feud with John Cena. It’s a hollow role that takes time away from the stuff that fans pay to see.
If WWE Champion Bobby Lashley headlines either night of WrestleMania 37, he will be the second African-American full-time wrestler to work the main event. While that is considered small potatoes in the larger scheme of things, it would be nice to avoid red and yellow while Black Excellence is on display.
As a person of color, I fully understand that watching wrestling means encountering tone-deaf and insensitive issues regarding race. The pairing of Hulk Hogan and Titus O’Neil is sad more than anything else. Eye rolling, hilariously so, in fact. This isn’t the first time these issues have come to light. However, Thirty-three years of fandom have me wondering when will be the last time?