Immediately following Thursday’s formal announcement that WrestleMania 36 is headed to Raymond James Stadium, Tampa-reared WWE icon Hulk Hogan, 65, sat down with the Tampa Bay Times for a wrestling-related chat. Among the topics: His future role with the WWE, the recent deaths of some of his beloved peers, and the moment he got hooked on professional wrestling.
On his future role with the WWE:
"I'm not really sure. I can't wrestle anymore because nine back surgeries, two fake knees, two fake hips. ... I've had 17 surgeries in the last 10 years. I kinda missed the memo on the 'fake' part (of wrestling). ... Vince (McMahon, longtime WWE CEO) has this master plan. And I don't mind being the hood ornament, and I don't mind being the Babe Ruth of the promotion, but Vince is putting together a whole new thing. ... I still feel like I'm 20 in my head, but my body's telling me, 'Easy, brother.' I'm not sure what the title is, but hopefully really soon I'll be back and really, really active."
On when he first became smitten with wrestling (Hogan said he was still attending Ballast Point Elementary, but his timeline may be a little awry):
"I had my dad take me to the (Fort Homer Hesterly) Armory because on wrestling (the taped TV program) Saturday morning, Dusty Rhodes got attacked by this guy named Boris Malenko. And when Dusty Rhodes got attacked, he made this big comeback, and when he punched Malenko he knocked his teeth out. He had false teeth. So Dusty Rhodes stomped on his false teeth and broke his teeth in the ring. And right after that, they went to a commercial break or something. And when the camera came back on, Malenko was on going, 'Do you see these teeth?! These are the teeth of a human destruction machine!' (Hogan says this with an exaggerated Russian accent). ... I said, 'Dad, you gotta take me.' So that was my first match, Dusty Rhodes versus Malenko at the Armory, and I was hooked at that point."
On the spectacle of WrestleMania:
"I was the King of Bacchus in New Orleans for Mardi Gras (in 2008). I've been to several Super Bowls here. I've seen everything. ... But what I fell in love with was that whole energy. It's just like, getting addicted to something. ... Once they see what happens out there, there are gonna be a lot of kids that go, 'Oh my gosh, I've never seen anything like it,' or 'Oh my gosh, I want to be a wrestler.' ... There's a certain magic to it that I have never, ever seen with any other event. There's just nothing like it."
On whether he believes the WWE will honor Tampa’s strong wrestling heritage during WrestleMania week:
"They're pretty much theme-oriented, and they tap in to the community. ... It's like the mayor (Bob Buckhorn) said, this is such an intertwined part of what Tampa is, that old wrestling. Just like the Columbia Restaurant and Port Tampa and the University of Tampa. It's all part of Tampa history, so I think the WWE's gonna do a good job, especially embracing our historic wrestling roots, 'cause there are so many guys who started here."
On the recent deaths of WWE legends King Kong Bundy (who died Monday) and “Mean” Gene Okerlund (who died Jan. 2):
"Bundy was a tough one because I just ran into him a couple of months ago in the LaGuardia Airport, so we said hello and he gave me a big hug. ... But the one that really was a hard one for me to get by was the Mean Gene one. I talked to Geno on Christmas. I said, 'Hey brother, Merry Christmas, we're gonna have a Christmas drink.' He goes, 'Well, I can't see you big man 'til after New Year's. I'm up here in Minnesota with the family, but I'll give you a growl when I come down on the 2nd.'
“I spent so many years with (Okerlund). When I left Minnesota, I took Mean Gene with me to New York. And then when I left New York and went to work for Ted Turner, I took Mean Gene with me there for 10 years. Then when I left Ted Turner I took Mean Gene with me back to WWE. ... Gene and I were really, really close. That was a tough one. But Bundy, they’re all tough, brother, especially guys that die so young. It’s hard.”
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.