Column: Hulk Hogan hopes to return for one final WWE match at WrestleMania
Terry Bollea is sitting in front of a mirror as he prepares to become Hulk Hogan.
It’s a daily challenge for the pro wrestling legend who acknowledges that at 66 years old, he doesn’t look as good as he might appear when the cameras are on.
“I got it figured out,” he said as he straightens his famous blond horseshoe mustache with a small comb. “When I go home with my wife and my four Chihuahuas, the headband comes off and the fake hair comes out and I’m [a] beach bum. But whenever I leave the house, I know I have to be Hulk Hogan.”
Hogan is sitting in a green room on the Fox Studios lot after appearing on the network’s baseball playoffs pregame show with Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Frank Thomas. Rodriguez tells Hogan he has been a Hulkamaniac for years, Ortiz tells him how big he is in the Dominican Republic, and Thomas connects with him on their Georgia roots. It’s a surreal moment for Hogan, who actually had dreams of being a baseball player before breaking his arm while playing third base his senior year in high school.
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“I wanted to be a baseball player as a kid,” he said. “That was my first love, but breaking my arm was the best thing that ever happened to me because I segued into wrestling.”
Hogan was in Los Angeles for the 20th anniversary episode of “WWE SmackDown” at Staples Center and to promote returning as a character in the WWE 2K20 video game. He smiled when he saw his face on a billboard outside Fox Studios as he drove into the lot with his friend and WWE Hall of Fame manager Jimmy Hart. Last year, Hogan was reinstated to the WWE and its Hall of Fame after serving a three-year suspension when a sex tape involving him came out with him using racist language.
“I’ve found out the more scars you get on you, the more some people relate to you,” Hogan said. “I’ve been through a lot obviously. I have a ton of scars, and people actually relate to me more because of that. I’m not perfect, but it’s about standing up, owning it and moving forward. I’m so happy to be back.”
Last year, Fox acquired the rights to the popular “WWE SmackDown” show, which had aired live weekly on the USA Network, in a five-year deal worth more than $1 billion. The show made its debut Friday night in Los Angeles and has been promoted heavily on Fox Sports broadcasts ranging from the NFL and Major League Baseball to NASCAR and college football.
Wrestling fans in Los Angeles from 1986 to 1993 will remember watching Hogan on Fox 11 when “Superstars of Wrestling” and ‘Wrestling Challenge” were staples of KTTV’s weekend afternoon programming. Hogan was viewed as a local hero then, even though he had no real ties to Los Angeles.
“I was born in Augusta, Georgia, in a trailer, and right after I was born, my parents moved to Tampa, Florida,” Hogan said. “But when I started wrestling, I wanted my persona to be this tan, blond-haired, blue-eyed All-American hero from California. I knew ‘Muscle Beach’ was down in Venice, so I just went with it. I wanted to be Hulk Hogan from Venice Beach, California. That was the gimmick. It sounded better than Terry Bollea from Tampa, Florida.”
Even when Hogan became a villain later in his career, he didn’t desert his fictional California roots.
“I wanted to turn on the fans, so I became Hollywood Hogan,” he said. “When I made the transition from Hulk Hogan from Venice Beach, California, to Hollywood Hogan from Hollywood, California, I just did it to piss people off. I’m a movie star, and I’m better than you. I did it to upset the fans, but it didn’t really work. They still loved me.”
Hogan has a hard time moving around as the result of “seven unsuccessful back surgeries” and said he is scheduled for an eighth back surgery soon. Despite bragging about the size of his arms — “24-inch pythons, brother!” — his finishing move was the “atomic leg drop,” which required him to bounce off the ropes, jump up and fall flat on his rear end more than 300 times per year during the course of a career spanning three decades.
“Everyone says they wouldn’t change anything about their life. If I could change anything, it would be my finisher,” Hogan said. “I would never use the leg drop. I’d use the sleeper. All the back surgeries I’ve had are because of that damn leg drop. I had scoliosis, brother. Dropping that leg for 35 years did me in. I said I had the largest arms in the word, and I should have used a sleeper hold or another finisher with my arms.”
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Hogan is still holding out hope for one more match after his back surgery. His full-time wrestling career ended years ago, but he has already had conversations with WWE chairman and chief executive Vince McMahon about having one last match, possibly at WrestleMania 36, which will take place in his hometown of Tampa next year.
“I talked to Vince, and I said I really don’t know if I could live with myself knowing my last match was with TNA [Total Nonstop Action Wrestling],” he said. “If I can get fixed, I pray I can have one more match. I told Vince, ‘When I get through this back surgery, I’m going to get in the best shape of my life and we’re going to talk about me having one last retirement match.’ “
So who would Hogan want to face in his final match in his hometown at WrestleMania, the event he and McMahon helped popularize beginning in 1985?
“I’d love for it to be against Vince,” he said. “I had such a great time with him in the ring at WrestleMania 19. I had no idea what to expect from him, but he’s a great bad guy. His timing is great. I loved wrestling him, but everything he does hurts. When you’re in the ring with someone and they’re hurting you, you kind of pinch them on the wrist, and the whole match I was doing that to Vince. I was like, ‘Vince, take it easy!’ Everything he does hurts, but I’d like to get in the ring with him one more time for my last match. That would be perfect.”
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