Thanks to my job, I've had the good fortune of meeting some cool people over the years. Today I had the great pleasure to spend some time with Hulk Hogan.
The Hulkster burst into my world in 1982, when I was fifteen, with his performance as Thunderlips in Rocky 3. I only half-jokingly tell people it is the greatest scene ever filmed for the big screen. Nearly thirty years later, The Hulkster is as omnipresent as ever.
In the 80's when Hulk Hogan became a house hold name, he was as important as any athlete/entertainer in my life. Not only was the WWF becoming part of my every day world, but their storyline capitalizing on the US/Iran tensions with Hogan vs Iron Sheik had everyone hot and bothered. As Hogan so often explains about winning his first WWF title, "The state of relations between the USA and Iran was total chaos, so the hatred toward the Iron Sheik was real." When Hogan pinned the Sheik on 1/23/84 to win the strap, I was as excited and emotional as I was for any big win by one of the teams I rooted for, and I was not alone. Just check the crowd reaction at Madison Square Garden that night.
The Hogan experience blew up from there. The 24-inch pythons, the trademark mustache, the pantheon-level entrance music, the catch phrases about prayers and vitamins and "whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you?!" followed by the double fisted "shooting" of himself off camera,
it all came together and he helped take wrestling from a freak show to The Show, culminating in Wrestlemania. Hulk body slamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3 remains one of the watershed moments in sports entertainment history. Hulk said today that the first time he tried to hoist Andre up, he was too heavy and he stumbled back. The second time, Hulk said he got his balance and got Andre off his feet, but as he went to raise Andre higher for the slam he tore muscles in his back and shoulder. So one of the most monumental moments in his career was one his most painful.
You could argue that Hogan is among the most recognizable "athletes" in the world. As my friend Nick said, "If I showed my wife flash cards with pictures of Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky and Hulk Hogan, she would know Hogan. She probably wouldn't know the other two." For people of my era, Mike Tyson and Michael Jordan may, may, be the only two who would get recognized more often.
Meeting Hogan today I was struck by how all the beatings and all the surgeries had taken their toll on the 58 year old. His face is worn with the lines of punishment endured. Some of his own doing, some from countless opponents in the ring and some from an '80s lifestyle that great fortune afforded back then. He moves gingerly and deliberately. He told me the eight back surgeries, some just to remove the pins and wires that were put in him, were the worst. Two of the operations resulted in bad anaesthesia experiences and left Hogan hospitalized for extended periods. Despite all that, it's still mezmerizing to watch him flip the switch and go into "Hulkster" mode. He goes from a relatively docile and subdued man, to a raging ball of energy, spouting out his trademark lines as he shoves his charisma down our throats with his powerful hands as they wave frantically in our face.
Hulk admits the last two years have been tough on him. His personal life has been a battle royal unto itself. But he seems to have rebounded, remarrying and immersing himself in his own wrestling company, TNA. He is pleasant and engaging to talk to. He loves wrestling and enjoys talking with those who love it too. He is quick to point out that the real star of wrestling is wrestling. "Hulk Hogan is replaceable. The Rock is replaceable. The stars come and go, but the show remains. The writers are so good that they can turn anyone into a star."
When we were done talking we "got a Polaroid together," or this case an iPhone. We only spent ten minutes together, but it was the thrill of a lifetime. It's not everyday you get to hang with Thunderlips... in the flesh, baby.
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