Interviewed by Jackson Ellis and Jerry Giammattei on November 21, 2002 in Madison, Connecticut.
Jerry: What was it that attracted you to the sport of wrestling when you were a kid?
Well, I don’t know brother, I just have been a fan all my life. Just ever since I can remember. In Tampa, Florida, wrestling was like a hot topic, you know, so I was entranced with it. I mean, since day one… (Hulk’s cell phone rings)…man, I was just a big wrestling fan, but I never dreamed I’d actually become a wrestler. (picks up cell phone). I just want to check this one message, its my daughter calling.
Go ahead brother.
Jerry: Do you still have a residence in Connecticut?
No, man, I moved away in 1994. I lived there from ’78 till ‘80 in West Haven off exit 42, and then from like ’83 till ’94 I had a house in Stamford, so I was right down the road from Vinny Mac watching his every move, you know.
Jackson: Just to satisfy my own curiosity, it’s been a rumor for a long time in Vermont where I’m from — does your brother own a restaurant or ever own a restaurant in Rutland, Vermont called Suds South, by chance?
No, my brother passed away, man. I don’t have a brother.
Jackson: Oh, I’m sorry.
No, that’s cool, but no. No brother with a restaurant.
Jerry: There’s a lot of rumors going around up there.
Well, there’s another guy in Lakeland, Florida, man, who’s got the bald head, you know, and the long moustache, and he tells everybody he’s Larry Hogan, my brother. Hogan’s not even my real last name. (laughter) This idiot’s been saying he’s my brother for like 20 years and everybody still believes him, and I keep saying, “He’s not my brother.” But even in the paper it said that he’s going around getting free meals and free car washes, and he’s about five-foot-six, you know?
Jerry: Whatever works, right?
Really, I don’t blame him.
Jerry: When you were young and first got into wrestling, was the sport as choreographed as it is today?
Well it’s not choreographed, number one. It was the same sport, predetermined, you know, the guys that are good go out and dance with each other. It’s like playing guitar or riding a bike. I don’t need to talk to you if you’re like, The Rock or, like, Rikishi — I don’t have to say a word to you, just tell me whose gonna win or lose. We’ll go out there and wrestle forever and make it work. And the guys that do try to choreograph it, you can see it looks fake as hell. Like the Mexicans that run in and knock three guys down at once or flip them around and wait to catch each other, you know? But the guys that really have their shit together, they don’t choreograph. If you talk, and you’re like, “Okay, 10 minutes into the match, pull my headband off and bite me on the head”…what if you do it and there’s no reaction? Then what?
Jerry: So you all you know is who’s going to win, and you just go out there?
Yeah, yeah, You kinda listen with your heart. If you’re good, brother, you listen to the crowd and go, “You want me to hit him? Okay!” You kinda play with the crowd to be good at this thing.
Jerry: And that’s how it was when you first started watching and wrestling?
Yeah, oh shit, man. When I first started, brother, wrestlers would [separate themselves]: the “bad guys” would be in that end, and the “good guys” would be in this end, and they wouldn’t even talk to each other.
Now they’re walking back and forth down the halls, talking, you know. It’s a whole different business. But the guys who really have their act together, and the very, very few guys that actually draw money, they don’t talk, brother. They don’t sit there and talk over stuff, because they know it has to work out there on the spot. You gotta do what the crowd wants, not what you want to do.
Jackson: I was reading the interview you did with Larry King a few years ago, and you said something to the effect that in 1977 when you got started in the professional ring, that if you went up to someone and said “Is this fake?” they’d punch you right in the face, on the spot.
Oh, yeah. I grew up in Florida when there was guy named Eddie Graham who was real protective of the business. There were eight or nine guys that lived there and little did I know, all the good guys — called the “baby faces” — lived in the area. [There was a] “revolving door” of all the “bad guys,” and they’d last two or three months, they’d get beat, and then they’d leave. And all the good guys, they’d protect the business so much that if you said, “Hey, man, nice show” — Bam! Oh shit. There were no lawsuits and stuff like that back then, so if you went down and wanted to be a wrestler… Like with me: they broke my leg the first day.
Jackson: Wasn’t it your trainer that broke your leg?
Yeah, it was. It was the very first day. I was playing in a rock and roll band — I had my hair down to my ass, all my mother’s jewelry on and make-up — and I went down, like, “Hey, I can do this stuff,” and [they were] like, “Okay, come on in here, brother.” It was whole different mentality back then.
Jerry: Do you feel that you are the reason that wrestling is what it is today?
Nah. I think I had a hell of a lot to do with it, you know? They handed the ball to a lot of guys. They gave the ball to me, and they gave the ball to Piper, and they gave the ball to The Ultimate Warrior when he beat me. They gave the ball to a lot of guys, and you see where everybody ended up. It took two to tango. It took Vince McMahon to have enough guts to finance his house and to put everything he owned on the line to make a go of it, and it took me to go Kansas City where Howie Race was the man, the champion, and walk in and put a gun to my head and say, “I’m gonna kill you” and burn the ring down. It took a couple of guys to venture into unknown, uncharted waters, but I couldn’t have done it by myself.
Jerry: Where do you think wrestling would be today without Hulkamania?
I don’t know, brother. I guess they would have made Ricky Steamboat your world champion, and you’d have seen 20 years of Steamboat-mania … Of course I don’t know if you can pick him out of a crowd.
Jerry: What displeases you the most about the state of wrestling today?
The story lines, brother. The shock value.
Jackson: Do you think morality is compromised for ratings?
Yeah, the morality sucks. I mean, they basically want to have sex with dead bodies. I don’t want my kid watching that shit, you know? They want to go out there and do the Jerry Springer stuff, and try to have all these guys writing the shows that know nothing about the business … It’s great if you get more people to watch…and you do something that’s dynamic, but I don’t think it’s that great to have everybody watching the “hot lesbian action,” and you freak people out so they won’t turn it back on.
Jerry: And make them not let their kids watch it.
Yeah…ah, it’s just ridiculous.
Jackson: I remember when I was a little kid, wrestling seemed like it was quite harmless, and it was less like what’s going on today.
If you’re a kid and all of a sudden Hulk Hogan came out and started humping a dead corpse and pulled the brains out and went up to the camera and said, “Hey, I screwed your brains out, brother!” that might have changed the way you thought about stuff, you know?
Whatever. Maybe I’m wrong.
Jerry: Were the wrestlers fraternal outside of the ring back in the late ‘80s?
Outside and in, yeah. There’s an unwritten code of camaraderie; an unwritten code of ethics that we try to live by, and that’s why we take care of each other’s bodies. That’s why people like Bret Hart, who say, “Well, I’m not losing the belt in Canada” [don’t get away with it]. And that’s why Vince McMahon did what he had to do, and had Shawn Michaels roll him up real quick.
There’s an unwritten code of honor and stuff that we try to uphold in this business, and even if I hate your guts — just like Macho Man can’t stand me — I would never cheap-shot him, or pull his eye out, or knock his teeth out, because that’s not what the deal’s all about here. It’s a business. [We have] families and [this is our] livelihood.
Jerry: Who are your favorite and least favorite wrestlers to work with?
My whole opinion’s changed about a lot of things since I came back, but my most favorite wrestler to work with is The Rock. This guy’s a pro. I’ve never seen anybody that can handle getting booed out of an arena when it wasn’t supposed to happen and not lose his composure, and roll with me for 20 minutes. I had a couple of broken ribs; he ended up talking me through the match when I couldn’t go anymore, so I’ve got the utmost respect for him.
The guy that I least like to work with is a guy named Randy Savage, because he thought he was a superstar, and he’s just he’s not what he says he is. He’s not one of the guys that has a lot of respect for this business…like he makes everybody think he does.
Jerry: Was Rocky III your first acting experience?
Yeah, it was.
Jerry: What was that like?
Oh, it was cool, because, you know… (laughs) It was a situation where the Rocky thing was already out — Rocky I and Rocky II — and Stallone was like 100 feet high, and I used to sit in the theater and go “Oh my God.” I remember watching Rocky I and it was one of the greatest movies I’d ever seen. I was the biggest guy going, “Holy shit, man, this guy’s my hero.” He was bigger than John Wayne, bigger than anybody, and I never would have dreamed that he would call me to be in a movie.
Jerry: He called you personally?
No, he didn’t, he called the WWF looking for me, and Arnold Scholen was nice enough and straight enough to hand me the note. If it was anybody else in the WWF, I’d have never gotten the note. I actually got fired by Vince McMahon’s dad because I did the movie. [Originally], the mentality was [for wrestlers to be] movie-friendly, then it was like, “You know, brother, you go do a movie and you won’t work here again.”
So I did the movie. It was cool because Stallone had just gotten divorced, and I was single — at the time there was no AIDS, brother, and we were running wild. We hand-picked the girls that walked me to the ring, so we had a blast out there, man. It really was a win-win situation, because I did get to go back to the WWF, then the Hulkamania thing took off, and it did help my career being in that movie. And it did help wrestling, because people were like, “Stallone’s 100 feet tall, and he’s our hero — gasp — who the hell is that? That’s a wrestler? Man, I need to check wrestling out!” So it made everything work. It was cool.
Jerry: I’m just going to ask you one last question, because I know you have to go eat.
Nah, it doesn’t matter. Keep asking, I don’t give a shit.
Jerry: What are your plans for after wrestling?
After wrestling? God, brother, I don’t know, man. Right now, I’m worried about what to do in the near future.
Jackson: I was wondering what your wrestling status is. Are you having contractual disputes or anything?
No, no contractual disputes. My contract’s rolling until the 14th of January, and they asked me to work the Survivor Series last week, and then they wanted me to go from Survivor to Mania. We were talking about that, and then they wanted me to wrestle in Mania, which was pretty cool, but [with] all the stuff in between, I went, “Nah, I don’t want to be involved in the crap you guys are doing.”
Then they came back with “plan B,” which was Survivor Series, then the Royal Rumble, and then Wrestlemania, which was cool, but then we talked creatively about what to do in between. I totally disagreed with what they were doing with me, and so, as they were telling me how badly they needed me, and how the wrestling business needs me, I was kind of like, “Well, brother, I’ll talk to you after the first of the year,” so supposedly on January 1st we’re going to try to get back on the same page.
But I would love to get back with Vince and the WWE and be the “Babe Ruth” there, and end my career the right way. But if I don’t do that, then I’ve already been talking with Japan and Goldberg, and he and I are going to team up over in Japan. I’m getting in shape right now for that, or anything else that may happen, because I haven’t had my last match, and the shit’s too hot, brother, to stop now. I’m still having fun with it. I don’t have to do it, man. I just like doing it.
Jerry: Is it more fun being a good guy or a bad guy?
Well, the more fun part is being the bad guy — but what’s best for me is being the good guy. People know it’s an exhibition, [but] you come out of the ring and [fans] still kind of freak out, and in front of my kids I can’t handle it. “Hey, you suck, Hogan,” or, “You’re an asshole!” (laughter) It’s a lot easier to explain to my kids, that things are cool, instead of fans getting carried away.
Jackson: In regards to the possibility of wrestling in Japan, do you find that when you’re wrestling in foreign countries — where people are trying to make it over there — that they might be more apt to take cheap shots to try to gain fame by saying, “I broke Hulk’s arm”?
Yeah, it’s something to I have to think about a little more than the next guy. If you break Billy Kidman’s arm, that’s one thing, but if you break Hulk Hogan’s arm, that’s a whole different deal; your whole career can roll on that deal. Wrestling Bill Goldberg is cool; teaming up with Bill Goldberg’s a little cooler, because I need somebody there to watch my back, and I’ll watch his.
People can say what they want about this — (holds hand to ear) — but I’ve been in this business a long time and I do know how to take care of myself. I’ve been around for a while, and Japan, I spent almost 10 years over there, so it’s not that I don’t want to go back there. I would love to go, but I’d rather do this with Vince. [This is] my home and I feel this is where I should be, and it just makes a lot of sense. Going to Japan’s one thing, but being part of this big machine is a lot cooler.
But one thing that’s going to happen, brother, is that this is not the end of Hulk Hogan. I just hope I can get back on track, and I will, one way or the other — I just hope it will be with Vince and the WWE. But I’m taking the high road, brother; I’m not into the clown that’s the evil clown, or the Olympic hero that’s the bad guy after 9/11, or the cop that’s the bad cop. I mean, there’s a way to make bad guys without digging in the trenches with Jerry Springer.
Jerry: Great. Well, thank you very much.
That’s it, man? No problem, brother.
Jerry: Sign a couple of books for me?
Whatever you want, brother.