First came the photo: Hulk Hogan, American wrestling icon, with arms outstretched against the stars and stripes, with the words, "One nation, one team," and the hashtag #LetsDoThis. • Then came the video: Hogan again, in a 51-second, WWE-style clip, roaring and flexing and exhorting the U.S. men's soccer team to take care of business in the World Cup. • Thousands of posts and retweets later, Hogan's status as a global symbol of American toughness was reaffirmed. Not that the legacy of Tampa native born Terry Bollea was ever in doubt. • Given Hogan's American-icon status, it's only fitting that the wrestler's waterfront bar and restaurant, Hogan's Beach, will be Tampa's premier party joint this Fourth of July weekend, with live music and fireworks Friday through Sunday. Hogan, who has a home in Clearwater, will likely be there each night, pumping up fans from stage. • Over crab cakes at Hogan's Beach, we grilled the Hulkster on the evolution of his restaurant and his status as a symbol of America. Here are excerpts.
Obviously the Hulk Hogan brand has been an international symbol for decades. But was there a point where you began to realize there was an American-ness to it, too?
Oh, yeah, brother. In the early '80s, it was lucky timing for this Americana thing, because we had this huge altercation with Iran, and the guy that I wrestled, the Iron Sheik, was actually the Shah of Iran's bodyguard. He's the real thing. He's not just some phony wrestler. So I come out, waving the flag, doing the American thing, and all of a sudden, the character of Hulk Hogan, with the blond hair and the muscles from Venice Beach, Calif., got branded red, white and blue. I got branded that night, brother.
There's a responsibility to that. When you become a symbol of the red, white and blue, you're asked to visit troops and do a lot of patriotic endeavors.
I haven't been overseas yet, but we may go this year with Vince (McMahon), because Vince goes every year. But we've done all the stuff — Fort Hood, all the USO tours to see wounded veterans. It's amazing, because these guys, I'll sit there and go, "Ah, my back hurts! I've had nine back surgeries, I've replaced both knees, replaced both hips, my back hurts." All of a sudden I walk in there and I see these kids, like 18, 19 years old, both arms blown off and a leg, and I say, "Brother, are you okay?" "Ah, I just had a bad day at the office, sir!" It just straightens you right out.
It seems like you're having a good time with the party element of Hogan's Beach.
I am. And I don't drive on those days, so I have an extra drink or two. I get up there with the kids, and there's so much energy with the electronic music. I used to work out to AC/DC and hardcore rock 'n' roll. Now I work out to dubstep and trap music. I just got hooked on this electronic music. And so when I'm up there, I'm actually having a good time. It's fun. I think people like seeing me make a fool of myself, too, so it's good. You need to come out, brother.