It’s been 26 years since Hulk Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant in the Pontiac Silverdome -- cementing WrestleMania as one of America’s iconic entertainment events -- and Andre is still the No. 1 subject the Hulkster gets asked about on the street.
On Friday night, Hogan will square off once again on a WrestleMania weekend. But this time he’ll be on stage instead of in the ring. He’ll go back and forth with fans, not foes. And WWE will be mere miles away and a world apart, all at the same time.
Hogan, 59, will join his former WCW boss, Eric Bischoff, and wrestling ring announcer Dave Penzer on the Beacon Theatre stage in Manhattan for “Hulk Hogan: Uncensored,” a chance for fans to pick Hogan’s brain on highlights and controversy from his legendary career.
The appearance will happen the same night Hogan’s current pro wrestling home, TNA Wrestling, presents a card at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury. Comparing the Beacon and Westbury to Madison Square Garden and MetLife Stadium -- where WWE will hold its Hall of Fame induction ceremony and WrestleMania XXIX, respectively, this weekend -- begs the question of whether TNA and Hogan are making themselves look small by comparison.
“Oh, my God, brother, that whole WWE is a monster,” Hogan responds, reminding despite being a decade old, TNA is still in its relative infancy compared with the competition. “That’s a whole other universe, a whole other entity.”
Hogan’s job is to increase TNA’s market share, which leads to another query. Will he succeed as a wrestling executive, or face the Michael Jordan curse of a legend who hasn't transferred his playing field skills to the board room?
“When the business is in your blood, I don’t know what to tell you -- I’m not worried about what Michael Jordan did, or what Vince McMahon is,” Hogan told Newsday on Tuesday. “I just worry about my own thing, bro. So, I don’t know what their deal is, but I’m still having fun.”
Hogan was having fun with his “Hogan and Friends” appearances he took around the country, where he joined five or six friends from the wrestling business to take questions from an audience. But Hogan says most of the questions ended up coming his way. He had joined Bischoff for some similar on-stage corporate appearances, and decided to take that format to the masses for Friday’s “Uncensored” debut.
“Eric would fill in the blanks and kind of ask really good probing questions because he knows me so well because I’ve worked in so many different companies with him,” Hogan said. “He would kind of take the audience in a train of thought. And it gets crazy, man. So we can say we’re going to go X amount of time, and depending on the energy in the room with the people once we talk interacting -- it gets really fun.”
Hogan is confident he’ll get some positive feedback, saying, “That’s another area where I get hit on [in public is] with questions about TNA right now, with WWE being PG and us doing wrestling the way it should be done.”
But a betting man would wager that Hogan also gets questioned about TNA’s current Aces & Eights invasion storyline. The angle has engulfed the company’s “Impact Wrestling” show on Spike TV, much like the Hogan-featured NWO angle, which gave WCW a shot in the arm in 1996 in its competition with WWE.
Unfortunately, the NWO swallowed up anything else creatively in the company. When the NWO became stale, there was nothing left and WWE’s “Attitude Era” beat WCW, and WWE eventually acquired the company for pennies on the dollar.
When asked how Aces & Eights will be different, Hogan responded, “Well, there’s a plan ... Long term is that we actually have people writing backwards -- you know, from two years out backwards, or a year backwards, or six months out backwards. So they do have direction instead of a week-to-week situation.”
Hogan is happy to have direction, too, after a dark period best chronicled in the 2010 A&E documentary “Finding Hulk Hogan.” In the show, Hogan admitted he nearly committed suicide following his much-publicized breakup with his former wife, Linda.
As Hogan spoke by phone from Clearwater, Fla., he mentioned how much he was enjoying projects outside the squared circle, such as the nearby Hogan’s Beach Shop, filled with beach -- and some wrestling -- paraphernalia, or the Hogan’s Beach bar/restaurant near the Tampa airport.
Hogan said longtime partner-in-crime Jimmy Hart is managing the place, prompting an in-jest question of whether Hart uses the megaphone he used to take to the ring.
Um, he really does.
“I swear to God, he runs it all day with a megaphone and with the jacket with the keyboard keys running down the sleeve,” Hogan laughs. “That’s how people want to see him.”
Hogan aficionados want to see him happy after such tumultuous times, and he swears he is -- enjoying his fan base but not being defined by the size of the crowd, instead focusing on the “peace” he’s found. He joked that he wished someone could “loan me about 30 years” so “[I could] run like I did in the ’80s.” But he reassures that the moment of wishful thinking doesn’t consume him.
“It has been a roller coaster ride that was just one huge drop, and it just scared the living hell out of me,” Hogan said of the past few years. “And when the nose started coming up on it, I said, ‘Man, I know God was with me all the way through this one.’ Where I am is great.”