The WWE's decision to place its vacant Universal championship belt around the waist of Kevin Owens on Monday sent shock waves across the pro wrestling world due to the last-minute swerve on Raw.
Owens, a beloved and respected heel by hardcore fans who have followed his journey from independent star to the top of WWE's main card, continues to gain new fans with his classic style and strong microphone work. Among his most prominent admirers is Hulk Hogan, who not only tweeted congratulations to Owens after his victory on Monday, but backed up his belief in Owens on Wednesday as a guest of former WCW president Eric Bischoff on his new podcast "Bischoff on Wrestling."
Yo yo Kevin Owens congrats my brother HH
- Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) August 30, 2016
Hogan has kept a relatively low profile since the firestorm of his 2015 firing by WWE, but he praised Owens as being the one person he believes could become the face of the business, even if he possesses many nontraditional qualities.
"One of the guys who was in WWE before they let me go -- and I don't know if he was on anybody's radar or anybody was watching him -- who you would never expect Hulk Hogan to point out was Kevin Owens," Hogan said. "I told Triple H, 'This kid Kevin Owens, no matter how he looks physically and no matter what you think about him, when he walks out, he's over in such a weird way.'"
The one major intangible Hogan points to when talking about Owens is the natural heat he creates with the crowd.
"I watched him work on an NXT match and he was just grinding old school like a heel," Hogan said. "He was getting the heat, staying on a guy, letting a guy sell, walking away, going back to the dance, keeping his heat. Then I watched the baby face try to come up several times at the wrong time and Kevin had enough instincts to cut him off. And when he did let him come up, he was backpedaling like a Pat Patterson or a Hollywood Hogan or a real big chicken s--- heel and he was over so well as a heel.
"I told Triple H, 'If you get this guy up and running, he can turn into one of your greatest baby faces,'" Hogan claimed.
Hogan believes today's superstars are "like interchangeable parts" but says Owens, despite not having the look or build of a Brock Lesnar or Ultimate Warrior, could be a dark horse because of the hope he creates.
"I look to see a guy with a lot of hope who could break through this cookie-cutter menu that people have now to choose from and break through and change the game again," Hogan said. "A guy like Kevin Owens shows me that hope spot that no matter how much TV you have to shoot, no matter how many towns you have to make -- here is one guy that will put it back on track and make it easier for everybody to figure it out."
The key to Owens' ultimate success, Hogan believes, is how he navigates the politics behind the scenes. He referenced Hall of Famer Booker T's catchphrase of "Don't hate the player, hate the game," as it pertains to getting your big break and protecting it despite the objections of others.
"At the end of the day, the truth is this wrestling business -- as much as you do or don't want to admit it or understand it, with all these smart marks saying Hogan and John Cena are politicians -- is about relationships on every level," Hogan said. "If you want to be a main event guy for 20 or 25 years or for however you want to do it, you have to be a great politician. You have to be a politician in the ring and in the dressing room.
"You have to be a great, smart politician when you're working with Vince [McMahon] and Triple H. You have to be a politician when you're out in public, especially," he continued. "It's all about having that finesse to really make sure in every different situation that you understand the game. I don't know how much Kevin understands the overall game, but that has a direct influence on how long he will stay a dominant force in this business. He has to understand the game."