There are times when Hulk Hogan, who appeared on Monday Night Raw this week, can’t help but think back to the start of his career in the 1970s – you know, before he pinned Iron Sheik and before he body-slammed Andre The Giant.
“I had about seven or eight rough years where you wrestle 13 or 14 times a week and you get paid $100 and you drive 2,500 miles and cut your head every night with a razor blade,” Hogan said on The Morning Show. “So it was rough the first couple years, sleeping in your car with everything. I got to admit I probably quit four or five times and came back to Florida with my tail between my legs.”
And then, in 1978, Vince McMahon Sr. gave Terry Bollea the name that would define his life – not to mention wrestling – for the next several decades. Hulk Hogan. The Hulkster.
Hogan sold out an event at Shea Stadium in 1980 almost all by his lonesome.
“I was starting to get on a pretty good roll there, and I kind of figured it out,” Hogan said. “It took me a few years to really figure the character out and for us to figure out that we wanted the families there instead of the beer drinkers and cigar smokers. So we pretty much knocked out all the blood and all the heavy, heavy violence and made it more entertaining. Hulkamania took off.”
Hogan was the rare entertainer who both looked and sounded the part. He had giant muscles and an unrelenting energy and passion on the mic, which really helped sell the sport.
“That’s how you sell your tickets,” Hogan said of interviews. “That’s a lost art form in this business – being able to really talk. You got to be able to turn it off and on. There were some guys that were really good.”
Like Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter and, most notably, “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
“He was like 24 hours a day,” Hogan said of Savage, who passed away in 2011. “He lived the part. That was him. He was really good, but he didn’t have to try.”
The key, Hogan said, is being able to jump into character on the turn of a dime or the flip of a switch.
“It’s not something you (can) think about,” Hogan said. “You need to be able to do it right now.”
That’s one reason why Hogan, 61, has stayed in the business for so long.
“Everything in life is a run – depending on how long you keep your job or how long you stay married or how long you stay on top in any business,” Hogan said. “I’ve had this amazing 35-year run. A lot of guys came in and have been main-event guys for three or five years, and either their run ended or they went on to greater things like movies. But I had this crazy run. And to see this business turn into this international juggernaut – it’s a multi-billion dollar business in 174 countries each and every week. I mean, there’s not a place on planet earth where the kids and the older Hulkamaniacs don’t know Hulk Hogan.”
“It’s kind of mind-blowing (considering that I was) getting in the business just to get a job.”