The man, the myth, the legend in spandex turns 61 years old today. FHM looks back at the time we tracked him down to find out whether one of the most iconic men of our lifetimes was worthy of the title, Living Legend...
It was early 2012. FHM had just got word that Hulk Hogan would be visiting Britain for the first time in 18 years. We decided to send our man, his biggest fan - and wannabe wrestler - Rusty Trombone, to track him down...
The story of Hulk Hogan’s wrestling career is one that spans six US Presidents, has witnessed the fall of communism and watched Jacko go from black to white to dead. Not bad for a bloke with a handlebar moustache and a penchant for prancing around in crotch-hugging Speedos.
Sure, he has an impressive CV: 12 world heavyweight titles since turning pro in 1977, holder of the record for the longest WCW world heavyweight title-reign (469 days), and a place in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall Of Fame. But the truly amazing thing about Hogan, the one that sets him apart from his fellow spray-tanned, are-you-sure-you’re-not-on-steroids beefcakes, is that he has gone from being the star of the vaguely homoerotic pantomime that is pro wrestling, to being one of the best- loved household names on the planet.
Which is why FHM is on a train to Manchester dressed in a bandana, a sleeveless T-shirt, stars’n’stripes trainers and a pair of skintight gold leggings. In what seemed like a good idea at the time, when news reached that Hulk Hogan would be visiting our rain-sodden land (his first visit in 18, long, Hulkless years) we decided, as a tribute to the great man, that we’d invent our own wrestling character in true WrestleMania spirit, and attempt a move or two on the man himself.
They say you should never meet your heroes – they’ll only disappoint. But there’s no sage advice as to whether or not you should dress up as your wrestling alter-ego Rusty Trombone (special move: ‘the reach around’) while you meet him. As the train pulled in to Manchester Piccadilly station, amid the first shouts of, “Fuck off home, prick!” from the friendly locals, the fear started to creep in that Hogan would think we were taking the piss.
It doesn’t help when his press officer explains: “The Hulk’s pretty old-school – he’s not going to talk to you dressed like that.” We could only assume that the odds of trying out an affectionate Tombstone or People’s Elbow on the Hulkster were slim to minus-one.
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Hogan’s visit to the UK was set to be a brief one, a three-date tour with his current organisation, Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling – cruising through Nottingham, Manchester and Wembley. And, despite not wrestling on British soil in nearly 20 years, demand was high to catch the man in action: tickets sold out within a minute.
On his last visit, back in 1994, it’s mind-boggling to think the Hulk was 40. He’d already appeared in Rocky III and Gremlins 2, and starred in fish-out-of-water comedy flop Mr. Nanny. Already made millions, squandered them, and made them back again.
Now 58, Terry Bollea from Tampa, Florida, an aspiring baseball player as a youth, is not only the star attraction at the UK’s most popular wrestling organisation, TNA. He’s become considerably more than that: instantly recognised across the globe, a man who’s transcended his chosen sport to become a true superstar and, dare we say it, a cultural phenomenon (shit, we just did).
Ex-professional wrestler D’Lo Brown, who now heads up TNA’s talent development program, sums it up nicely. “Somehow Hogan’s connected to not one, not two, but several generations of wrestling fans,” he says, “and he’s connected in a way where there’s no rhyme or reason to it – it just works. Every time he goes to the ring, I – someone who’s in the business – watch, and wish I was in the ring with him, because it’s that powerful.”
It took years of body slams, leg drops and a hell of a lot of ripped T-shirts, but the moment that Hulk Hogan was confirmed as a superstar was a pay-per-view event captured in front of a live audience of 68,000 and millions more at home, at Wrestlemania X8 in 2002. Having returned to the then-named WWF as Hollywood Hogan with a ‘bad guy’ make-over, he took on the most popular wrestler of his time, The Rock. Hogan was the one the crowd was meant to boo. Only that’s not how it went. The crowd not only cheered Hogan, but actually booed The Rock the whole way through. To this day, Hogan treasures that as one of the most touching moments of his career. The fans were still on his side, and always would be.
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Unfortunately for the crowd here tonight in Manchester, it’s starting to look like they won’t get to see the great man after all. At 7pm, with the second bout of the night underway, the news comes in that the Hulk’s car is stuck in traffic. Hogan may have beaten Andre The Giant at Wrestlemania III, but here he is, facing defeat at the hands of the M1, northbound.
Dixie Carter, the President of TNA, is concerned to say the least. And not just because she has a gold spandex-clad, chicken-legged Englishman standing in front of her. She knows that Hogan is the main man on the bill, which is why she personally saw to it that he would sign on the dotted line, and elbow drop his way onto the good ship TNA in the first place. “It’s unbelievable,” she says. “There’s not a place in this world that you can go where people don’t know him. I have worked with famous actors, musicians, all of that, but with Hogan it’s just on a whole different level.” In other words, the man still sells a lot of Hulkamania T-shirts.
In the ring – Hulk or not – the show is cracking on, with the crowd roaring every clothesline, bodyslam and suplex. Good guys Sting and the beer-swigging James Storm have found themselves outnumbered by baddies Kurt Angle, heavyweight champ Bobby Roode, and Bully Ray (now wearing a Steven Gerard Liverpool shirt to really rile up the home fans). The place is in a sweaty, beer-swigging frenzy, and then, in the midst of the madness, the spotlights flash across to the entrance ramp, Eye Of The Tiger rumbles out of the audio system, and Hulk Hogan steps out into the arena.
As if every single member of the audience had realised they were sat on a naked flame, the crowd launches itself to its feet as one. The Hulk slowly makes his way down to his stage, high-fiving the fans who have sprinted down to the barriers to scream messages of support at him.
Walking up the metal steps into the ring and ducking under the top rope he surveys the several thousand elated faces around him, before tearing his vest open from the collar down, as he has done so many thousands of times before. In the stands, the ground underfoot is wet and sticky from the pints knocked over by the grown men hugging each other in unadulterated joy.
Even from the cheap seats, the signs that Hogan isn’t a young upstart any more are pretty obvious: red tracky bottoms pulled up to Cowell-esque heights; back wrinkles enhanced by a few too many sessions under a high-power sunbed; and he walks with a limp so exaggerated that it would almost be funny if it wasn’t a result of three decade’s worth of atomic leg drops and eight major back surgeries. But the charisma, the stage presence and the handlebar moustache are still there, and as powerful as ever they were.
After the show, in the maze-like backstage area at the MEN Arena, Rusty Trombone (we’re still wearing the costume) finally comes face-to-face with the man, the myth, the legend, the incredible Hulk Hogan.
“I like the outfit, brother,” he says, “it reminds me of my fights with Mr. T back in the ’80s.” Proof, if ever any was needed, that Hulk Hogan is one of the nicest people ever to wear spandex. “I got locked into that look for quite a long time, and the one good thing about right now is that if I do climb in the ring, most of the time I’ll wear a pair of blue jeans and a T-shirt, so I don’t have to worry about getting dressed in the locker room with the spandex anymore, or the boots.”
Despite towering over everyone in the building, Hogan manages to put every single person he meets – from the arena employees and PR people, to his fans and the idiot wearing gold leggings – at ease. He speaks in a deep, heavy-metal voice that makes him seem younger than his 58 years, and every time he calls you “brother” – “sweetie” for the ladies – you hold him in just that little bit more awe. “They’re loyal,” says Hulk of his British fans, acknowledging just how long he’s been away. “They made a decision a long time ago to be on my side, and so no matter what has happened in my career, or no matter what has happened in my personal life, they’re with me.”
The emotion in his voice is genuine. “You can walk down the street and just feel the love and the respect that these people have. The energy and how excited people are, it’s just blowing our minds.” But surely, after all the surgeries and all the broken bones, he must just want to have a cup of tea and a nice sit down? “I’ve had that feeling before, but then I’ll drink a beer and that changes my attitude.”
The last remaining fans drag their dog-eared Hulkamania placards out of the building, still pumped from seeing the Hulk beat Bully Ray over the head with an old lady’s walking stick to rack up his latest victory. As the chants of “Hogan, Hogan” still linger in the empty arena, the lad-from-Florida-done-good takes a moment to reflect on his enduring success. “It’s the guys that know their character, the guys like The Rock or like Kurt Angle, that don’t have to do a whole heck of a lot of stuff, but when they do something it means something – those are the guys that are really going to be around.”
Someone like Hogan, he means, who only has to hold his hand to his ear, tear off his vest, or indicate the way to Muscle Beach to turn a room full of sensible people into sectionable Hulkamaniacs. Someone like Hogan who, after a career longer than most stars of sports and entertainment, is still filling stadiums. Someone like Hogan: a gentleman, an icon, a brand, a bloody superhero.
They say you should never meet your heroes. Unless your hero is Hulk Hogan.
Words by Dan Masoliver
Photography by Alex De Mora