For one night at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa the crowds were roaring again for pro wrestling legends Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan.
First over the sound system as a loop of their 1994 Bash at the Beach match in front of 14,000 thousand played. The clip featured Michael Buffer, Mr. T, Orlando Magic center Shaquille O’Neal, fireworks and a motorcycle, in case you need reminding of its spectacle.
Then there was the present day cheering, when Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart introduced Flair and Hogan to the Hard Rock Cafe stage for several hundred fans carrying championship belt replicas and wearing Hulkamania t-shirts. They’d paid between $145 and $295 to be there, and many let out a “Wooo!” in Flair’s signature style.
The Q&A session that followed brought tales from the road involving alcohol, trashed hotel rooms, bar brawls, pranks, and yes, even some stuff about wrestling.
Over and over, Flair would laugh as he began a story with “I remember a time” in such-and-such city with such-and-such wrestler, and Hogan would lean his head back and cover his face, as if to say, “Oh no, not this one Ric.”
There was the time that Flair showed up at a hotel bar in England wearing one of his sequined robes, wide open with nothing on underneath, and began strutting on top of the bar, and the time Hogan broke into Flair’s hotel room with Vince McMahon and ”rearranged it” (Hogan’s words) before Flair returned with a date to find the place “trashed” (Flair’s description).
There was the time Hogan and Flair were on the road for the WCW and drank until 4 a.m. before deciding to prank call McMahon, who at this point was their former boss and chairman of the rival WWE. When his wife Linda McMahon answered, Hogan panicked and handed the phone to Flair, who ended up getting cursed out by the upset woman.
"I said, 'I don't think either of us is ever going back to the WWE'," Hogan said.
There was the time in Dayton, Ohio (or maybe it was Jacksonville?), when Flair invited an entire restaurant’s worth of Hooters girls back to his and Hogan’s hotel. After convincing a reluctant Hogan to party with them, Hogan woke up to find his wallet was missing. Flair was missing a Rolex.
“We should have went looking at Hooters,” Flair said.
There was the night at New York’s famed China Club when a group of wresters was out and the tag team duo known as the Nasty Boys stomped on Flair’s friend’s sunglasses and stripped him naked, so Flair slapped one of them and got hauled out by the bouncers.
Hogan ended up getting handed the bill, but realized the waitress had mistakenly put everyone’s $3,500 bar tab on Flair’s credit card.
“I hurried up and forged his name, and left the biggest tip you’ve ever seen,” Hogan said.
Hogan, 64, and Flair, 68, obligingly answered questions about their favorite matches (Hogan’s was Wrestlemania III when he bodyslammed Andre the Giant, Flair’s was that match against Hogan in ‘94 and matches versus Dusty Rhodes and Ricky Steamboat), their favorite bad guys (Hogan said Andre, Flair said Roddy Piper), and the genesis of their catchphrases ("wooh" was modeled after Jerry Lee Lewis, "brother" came from Hogan struggling to remember anyone's actual name).
One fan who said he’d traveled all the way from Germany for the event got on the microphone just to tell the men thank you. Steelers linebacker Anthony Chickillo was in the audience, and others had driven from Alabama.
After explaining that there was a time when all fans would be invited back to the hotel bar after a live wrestling event, Flair looked at the crowd and said, “Man, I wish I could have a drink with you guys. S--t!” Then he asked about Tampa’s Mons Venus strip club for the second time, having already given a shout-out to owner Joe Redner in the crowd.
Flair is still recovering after being hospitalized in August and spending 10 days on life support before undergoing surgery to install a pacemaker. He says the problems were brought on by his drinking, and after surviving that, he vowed to never drink again.
In the 2017 ESPN 30-for-30 documentary Nature Boy, Flair says he drank 10 beers and five mixed drinks, or more, every day for decades.
“When I came out of the hospital, it took me about thirty days to stop thinking about dying,” Flair said in Tampa. “I looked at the calendar, and there were three things I said, ‘I just want to make it to that.’ One was my 30-for-30. One was (fiance) Wendy’s birthday. The other one was this night here.”
For a guy who claimed he slept with 10,000 women and was famous for wearing $10,000 robes and bragging about his limousines, watches and lizard-skin shoes, Flair seemed humbled at the Tampa event, and very grateful to Hogan.
When Hart thanked the crowd and tried to end the show, Flair stopped him to say “one last thing.”
“He visited me in the hospital. He got on a jet and flew straight there, even though he was in terrible back pain,” Flair said, pointing to Hogan. “When my son was on life support, he lent me money. He lent me money. ... Back in the day, when people didn't even know what Make-A-Wish was, this guy was doing Make-A-Wish with kids, taking pictures and signing autographs, every single night.”
Flair left the Hard Rock Cafe escorted by security guards. People turned from their slot machines to take photos. He was surrounded by women, and smiling.