Every birthday from about 8 years on, I begged and pleaded with my parents for the same present: tickets to see the WWF live at the Cow Palace. My aunt was actually a regular at wrestling matches from the days of Gorgeous George and once almost got kicked out of the arena for throwing her high heels at some heel who was hitting her favorite fighter with a foreign object every time the referee turned his back. Funniest thing about this is my aunt was the most uptight, old-money, stuck-in-her-old-ways woman I knew. She was someone who might throw a fit if someone spilled soda or even sat on her all-white couch that for some reason was never sat on (why someone would feature furniture you couldn't sit on, I'll never know), but I could never imagine her throwing a shoe.
But that's what the wild and wacky world of professional wrestling is all about. It's more than just the soap opera for men it's so commonly referred to as. It's more like a rock concert of kung fu fighting acrobats complete with fireworks and the occasional dead man, masked man and/or midget. It's a place where good battles evil between the ropes while bringing the thousands in attendance along for the next chapter.
And that showmanship that helps drive the action is what the new video game, "Hulk Hogan's Main Event" is all about. Because wrestling is more than just men in tights rolling around and getting sweaty (not that there's anything wrong with that), Hogan is using the power of Kinect to bring gamers into the ring with him while teaching them the taunts, poses and posturing that made him a worldwide phenomenon.
I caught up with Hogan inside video game publisher Majesco's booth at E3 to talk wrestling, showmanship and his time inside the ring, from his days rocking a mask to his nights as "Hollywood." Here's what one of the most influential wrestlers in the history of the business had to say.
Jon Robinson: I'm about to play your game for the first time. What's your advice on how I can become the next Hulk Hogan?
Hulk Hogan: You're very lucky because instead of looking for a coach, you have now found the greatest coach of all time. I don't know too much, but I do know a lot about wrestling, and in "Hulk Hogan's Main Event" I'm your coach, brother. I teach you the moves, get you all excited, and then it's up to you to get the crowd booing or cheering and get them ramped up. The whole entertainment aspect gets you rolling right into the ring, and then you get to turn the moves up and either do some scientific wrestling or cheat like the bad guys. And what's cool is, you can't sit on the couch for this one. Since it's on Kinect, you actually have to get up, get moving and move your bum around.
Jon Robinson: You are one of the best showmen professional wrestling has ever seen. How did you learn to get the crowd so moved during your matches?
Hulk Hogan: I played music for about 10 years before I ever got into the wrestling business, so I was used to being on stage and being in front of people. I really wasn't a great singer, so we had a couple of guys who would sing, but in between songs, I would grab the mike and talk to the crowd, so I got over any shyness I had in the music business before I ever got into wrestling. Then when I got into wrestling, it was all about that scientific stuff and rolling around on the ground and putting each other in arm locks and leg locks, but the first time I ever looked out into the crowd -- I was wearing a mask back then, and they called me The Super Destroyer -- the reaction from the crowd was a lot louder than I got for the actual wrestling. So the reaction from the crowd made the wrestling easier for me, and I worked that in my whole career. Most of the time when I wrestled, the crowd wasn't just cheering, they were standing up and cheering or carrying on, and that's what's cool about this game, it really plays up that entertainment aspect. As soon as you enter the arena and walk down that ramp, it's up to you to get the crowd going, and that parlays right into the fact that now you're on your feet and doing the wrestling moves using Kinect. It really takes you from wanting to be a wrestler to putting you right on the spot and in the spot.
Jon Robinson: So, how did you go from some strange dude in a mask to arguably the most popular wrestler of all time?
Hulk Hogan: That transmutation or transformation took quite a while. I started wrestling 35 years ago, and I had a pretty intense attitude back then when I was young and injury free. The wrestling promoters back then had me start under a mask because they were hoping that one day I might turn into something. When you start out in the wrestling business, you make a lot of mistakes, tripping over your own feet and looking like a fool. The Super Destroyer mask was really to protect me because I was so big and back then I was one of the few guys who actually looked like I trained. A lot of the guys I was wrestling had big arms, but they also had big stomachs. So under the mask, I could learn my way while everyone beat me. Then this whole transformation started happening, but becoming Hulk Hogan took quite a few years. I quit wrestling a few times, then I was Terry Boulder, then the promoter starter calling me Sterling Golden, then I was Terry "The Hulk" Boulder, then I was Terry Hogan, then I became Hulk Hogan. It actually took me eight or nine years before I was able to put it all together. That's why it's so hard for these young wrestlers who all think they should be in the main event. There's a lot more to it than just having a scientific match. You have to put the whole thing together.
Jon Robinson: What do you think of your persona living on in all of these video games like "Main Event" and "WWE All-Stars"?
Hulk Hogan: It's crazy. WWE owns my intellectual properties and all of my old footage, so Vince McMahon is repackaging all of that old stuff. It's a great compliment, though, because at the end of the day, I'm so grateful to anybody who contributed or helped me become who I am today. A large part of my career and a large part of my life, I'm very grateful to Vince McMahon Sr., Vince's father. I'm also very grateful to Vince McMahon because he and I were best friends and business partners. I was an employee, and we went down a lot of twisty roads together. Even right now, if I was to call him and tell him, "Hey, Vince, I need help," I guarantee Vince would be there for me. So I am very grateful for the fact that I have "Hulk Hogan's Main Event" coming out and that I'm on the cover of "WWE All-Stars." It's kind of like Hulk Hogan has found his niche, not only in Americana but in the video game world. It didn't have to be this way. The fans could've totally forgotten about me, but the fact that the fans have been so loyal, I'm still in the game. Right now, I'm with Impact Wrestling, formerly TNA, and, after two years of back surgeries, I'm working there creatively and helping out, but you never know, I might just slide back into the ring someday. It's not like I could take any crazy bumps, but then again, I never did. [laughs] I have to be really careful with my back.
Jon Robinson: When you think back to your favorite matches, do you have one moment that stands out as your personal favorite?
Hulk Hogan: I'm torn between my match with Andre the Giant and my match with The Rock. Andre was huge, and it was a defining moment for me because Andre passed the torch when I body slammed him. That was a huge deal, and I'm not trying to downplay it, but then later on in my career, when I finally returned to WWE after all those years of working for Ted Turner, Vince told me, "Hey, if you're coming back, then you better bring it." So when I went back, I was the ultimate bad guy, and when they put me in the match against The Rock, the fans were supposed to boo me out of the building. But it was a defining moment because the fans cheered me so loud and they booed The Rock. The fans were letting everyone know that they loved Hulk Hogan so much, that they were so loyal to Hulk Hogan, that nobody was going to tell them who to boo and who to cheer. It was like the fans slapped me in the face and told me, "Don't you know who you are? You're Hulk Hogan!" It was a huge moment in my career.
Jon Robinson: After so many years of drinking your milk and eating your vitamins, was it fun flipping it on everyone and doing the "Hollywood" character?
Hulk Hogan: I talked to Ted Turner about it before we did it, and I told him, "We're either going to ruin this business, or we're going to capture lightning in a bottle and it's going to be the greatest thing that ever happened." When I turned into a bad guy, the ratings shot up, the numbers went through the roof, and for two and a half years, we were able to beat WWE in the ratings.
Jon Robinson: One of the guys you fought with and against for years in both WCW and WWE was Randy Savage. What are some of the memories you have of him?
Hulk Hogan: Randy and I were stuck together like glue for about 15 years. We did everything together -- we traveled together, we worked out every day together -- and then we went on to have some great matches. I know this sounds horrible, but we made a lot of money together, and then we had this huge falling out that to this day, I still don't know why he got mad. He went through a lot with his divorce from Elizabeth and stuff, but we just started talking again a few months before he died. I don't do many independent wrestling shows, but I finally did one and [Randy's brother] Lanny was there, and he was telling me how tough it was after their dad passed away, but his dad was really happy that Randy and I had started talking again. But then Lanny was really worried about his mom, so they were going to throw a big barbecue at his mom's house with Randy and I, and that was supposed to be the next weekend, but Randy died in the middle of the week. Out of all the guys who have died, that one hit me the hardest. I've known a lot of guys, I've walked into hotel rooms where there have been bad situations, but that one was a tough one.
Jon Robinson: You talked about your back problems earlier, but I was just curious if there's somebody out there you'd like to have that one last match with?
Hulk Hogan: Well, if there is that one last huge match that really, really meant something to the fans, that would have to be against "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. I can see him already making appearances back on TV, and he's already starting to get full of himself. I heard him say for a while that his back and his neck were too messed up to wrestle, but from what I've been seeing lately, I think he's getting geared up to do something, and I'd like to be a part of it.
Jon Robinson: How about in Impact Wrestling? Do you see a guy in Impact who might have the ability to carry that brand to another level?
Hulk Hogan: I've really tried to be optimistic when looking at the talent that is there, and I've already tried to give the football to a couple of guys who are there, and they are just so off into that: "TNA Wrestling, this is TNA Wrestling, I have a five-star match every week." But that's not the big picture. I think the one guy I really need to focus on is Matt Morgan. There are a couple of things that need to be fixed, and one of the main things is his interviews. When Scott Steiner looks at you and calls you a punk and says you look like a tiny turd in a toilet bowl, you need to come back and say something about how you can look over the top of Steiner's head. Instead, he's out there talking about how he respects Steiner as an athlete. His whole rap needs to change. I think if we sit down and really dial Matt Morgan in, he can be somebody who can really turn things around and lead Impact Wrestling to the promised land.