NXT

Velveteen Dream proving that he’s the star Hulk Hogan said he wasn’t

The ultra-charismatic Velveteen Dream cosplayed as Hulk Hogan once again at TakeOver: WarGames, which further proved how wrong Hogan was about him.

On July 21, 2015, a then-19-year-old Patrick Clark was eliminated from the much-criticized WWE reality competition Tough Enough. Despite flourishing in most of the wrestling-related challenges — Clark was one of the few contestants with tangible wrestling experience — the judges, particularly Paige and Hulk Hogan, chided him for his hubris and arrogance.

The Hogan criticisms were particularly scathing, as he told young Clark that his promos “sucked” and that he wanted Clark to stop being “Patrick the smart mark”.

To be fair, Hogan eventually said that he respected Clark in between his “coach speak” cliches later in the episode. But when The Miz grilled Hogan about why he put Clark in the bottom three, Hogan reiterated that he was “looking for the best of the best” (because Tough Enough had such a great track record in the star-making department) while also saying that Clark getting eliminated from the show was “setting him up for greatness” (which is contradictory and undermines the entire point of the show!).

Two days later, Hogan was fired by WWE after a hidden camera caught him going on a racist and homophobic rant.

More than three years after those fateful few days, Hogan has mostly faded out of the collective WWE consciousness, though the company seems intent on slowly easing him back into the product, which is as enraging as it is unsurprising.

Meanwhile, Clark — now rechristened as The Velveteen Dream in NXT — has become arguably the biggest star to emanate from that season. And he has taken great pleasure in rubbing it in Hogan’s bright orange face.

“Hollywood” Dream

Dream usually uses his ring gear at NXT TakeOver events to send some not-so-subtle messages to the audience — who could forget him sporting tights with “Call Me Up Vince” airbrushed on the back at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV.

Consequently, it was no surprise to see the Washington D.C. native dress up as arguably wrestling’s greatest politicker at two of this year’s TakeOver shows. However, unlike at TakeOver Chicago II, where he merely donned an attire that meshed the Hogan look with Puma spots — which referenced his opponent Ricochet’s time as Prince Puma on Lucha Underground — Dream took things a step further during his NXT Championship match against incumbent titleholder Tommaso Ciampa at NXT TakeOver: WarGames.

Not only did Dream come to the ring dressed in Hollywood Hulk Hogan attire, which alluded to Hogan’s late-90’s renaissance in WCW, he also used Hogan’s signature three punch-big boot-leg drop comeback as part of HIS fire-up sequence during the late stages of his match with Ciampa.

To be fair, Dream used other legendary callbacks during the closing moments of the bout –particularly Bret Hart’s ring post-assisted figure four leglock and the original version immediately after.

But there seemed to be something a bit deeper when it came to Dream appropriating a series of moves that made Hogan — and the WWE — a lot of money in the 80’s and 90’s.

From the outside looking in, it came across as a “Take That!” at a man that scolded him for his immodesty. A man that dismissed him as a “smart mark” that couldn’t cut a good promo. A man that would rebuke the very thought of him or a man like him dating his daughter — unless he gets a significant pay raise and/or grows another two feet and takes up basketball.

Whatcha gonna do, brother?

Of course, Hogan wasted no time after the TakeOver: Chicago II match to do what he does best: attach his name to whatever the hot thing is and use it to get himself over. His tweet suggesting that he and Dream team up also reeked of him attempting to use a black wrestler to prove that he isn’t the racist that those tapes showed him to be.

Suffice to say, it didn’t work, as Dream quickly shot him down the way he often tried to shoot down the overwhelming cheers he received as a heel.

Hogan wanted to take this now-23-year-old’s shining moment and make it about him. That should come as no surprise to anyone. Dream is far from the first marketable act that Hogan has attempted to glom onto, and there is arguably nobody in the wrestling business that’s a bigger mark for him or herself than Hogan (the irony!). Little did he know, Dream sporting the famous Hogan colors was about him, just not the way that he thought.

This small bit of cosplay was more than some wink and a nod. It served as a reminder of what Dream has become despite Hogan bashing him for lacking in humility.

(By the way, the idea of white judges chiding the only black contestant on that season of Tough Enough for his arrogance has its own share of racial baggage. It plays into the notion that black athletes, no matter the sport, should be “grateful” for the opportunities they are given; that they should be docile, meek, deferential, and apolitical.)

The Dream is not over

Despite coming up short in a brilliant match with Ciampa at TakeOver: WarGames, Dream proved that he is more than capable of being a main event act at the NXT level and, hopefully, on the main roster. He is destined for stardom, which was something Hogan only predicted for him AFTER he dressed him down on national TV.

Not only is Dream one of the most charismatic and athletically gifted young wrestlers on the WWE roster, but he has also effectively used smark terminology time and time again to advance many of his feuds, subverting the very criticisms Hogan levied against him.

Dream wearing the familiar threads of one of the biggest names in the history of the industry further illustrated this point. Here was a black man oozing with star power imitating one of the biggest draws in wrestling history — a man that more or less said he didn’t have what it took to be in WWE and was exposed as a racist days later — and performed Hogan’s schtick better than Hogan did in his prime. That is some peak level trolling, and it’s very on brand for the Dream.

Of course, there’s a small, minute chance that Dream was legitimately paying tribute to a man that admitted on tape that he was a racist. A man that told his son that he didn’t want to respawn as a black person after he died. A man whose Tampa, FL. restaurant instituted a thinly-veiled, racist dress code.

He did give the eye-roll inducing “he was never racist to me” argument when discussing the Hogan issue on Jim Ross’ podcast back in 2015 — which, to make this clear, is NOT how racism, or any form of discrimination, works; just because Hogan is nice to one black person doesn’t mean he isn’t capable demonizing the other members of that race.

This would also into the aformentioned desire for prominent performers like Dream to toe the political line to avoid hurting their earning potential, which while understandable given the lopsided power dynamics between management and the “independent contractors”, would be a bit disappointing.

What’s more likely is that Dream is using his tremendous character work as a way to show the racist, washed old wrestler — and by extension, the company that edited days worth of footage to frame him as full of himself — that he had plenty of reason to believe in his abilities.

And to the man who disregarded him as a mere fanboy, Dream’s recent fashion choices have sent a loud and clear message: “Good try, Terry!”