Hulk Hogan on WrestleMania 32, and why WWE champion Roman Reigns should embrace the boos and turn heel.
Leave it to the biggest star in wrestling to find the solution to the chorus of boos that hits Roman Reigns every time he enters the ring.
“If I was Roman Reigns, I would just listen to what the people want,” said Hulk Hogan. “If they want to boo me, then it’s like Razor Ramon would say–‘I’ll be the ‘Bad Guy’ for you.’ Roman Reigns should be as evil as he wants. If they’re booing him, then that’s what they want to see.”
WrestleMania and Hulk Hogan are forever intertwined, but Hogan was one of the few major stars not at WrestleMania. Despite appearances from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, as well as Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair, there was a void on the card without his presence.
Hogan’s absence was not unnoticed. Social media networks first buzzed over a potential Hogan return before lamenting the fact he was left off the show.
“The ‘Maniacs are pretty loyal, brother,” remarked a grateful Hogan. “I think that’s really, really cool.”
Hogan watched WrestleMania, fittingly, on the WWE Network. He was particularly impressed with the work of Triple H in the main event.
“Triple H has stood the test of time,” said Hogan. “When he is in the ring, everybody loves watching him wrestle. His work goes back to DX and the NWO–the more evil he is, the more the people cheer him. Wrestling is in his blood, and people know what to expect when he gets in the ring, so people cheer his a--.”
Hogan, who headlined WrestleMania III in front of a reported 93,000 fans against Andre the Giant, immediately identified with both Triple H and Reigns while watching the main event. He revealed that the mental aspect to headlining a show of such magnitude is critical.
“Once you get there in front of 100,000, the final element is how you respond to the people,” explained Hogan. “Usually by the time you get to a crowd that big, you already have your act together. With a crowd that big–even if you bodyslam a giant–the signals come back awkwardly. It’s such a sea of people, you need to be able to read the crowd and roll to it. That’s why you see Triple H perform on a different level to connect with the crowd. That’s the mental aspect, and that shows you who the masters are out there.”
Fourteen years after their epic encounter at WrestleMania 18, Hogan agreed that The Rock remains the most electrifying man in sports entertainment.
“I expect greatness out of The Rock every time he steps in the ring, and he always delivers,” said Hogan. “He’s still in his prime. My God, look at him. He could run through a brick wall right now. He can still go in the ring whenever he wants.”
Old is new in pro wrestling, and the WrestleMania street fight between Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose brought back memories of Hogan’s own past. He saw similarities between Ambrose and the late “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, as well as a personal connection between the team of Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar.
“Dean Ambrose is definitely Piper amped up times ten,” said Hogan. “Ambrose is a lunatic, he’s on fire.
“Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar remind me of Fred Blassie and a young, powerful 330-pound Hulk Hogan,” reminisced Hogan. “Think about how evil Fred Blassie was–Paul Heyman has that edge on him, and Fred Blassie had a really sharp edge. And when I was 27, 28 years old, I was pretty bullet proof, too, so that’s who those two remind me of.”
The WWE is dealing with an influx of talent who have emigrated from TNA. AJ Styles shined in his match with Chris Jericho, while Samoa Joe and Austin Aries are now both part of the NXT roster.
“I’ve been dying, dying for AJ Styles to come to the WWE,’ said Hogan. “Now it’s game on. And I’m just so excited to see Austin Aries go up there, because I know what he’s going to bring.”
Hogan was close in TNA with Samoa Joe, and predicts nothing but success for the 6’2”, 282-pound monster once he hits the main roster.
“I know Samoa Joe well,” said Hogan. “Joe is a good man and quality person. He’s kind and gracious, and he always makes the right decisions. He’s on track, brother, and going to be a force to be reckoned with.
“Joe has stayed true to himself and true to who he is from day one. He’s as solid as they come. If I ever approached with a few really crazy ideas–which I did–he was smart enough to know who he really was. Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, and AJ Styles can turn this whole thing upside down. There is a whole bunch of talent coming in and ready to take over, so it’s going to be very interesting to watch.”
The psychology, storytelling and athletic prowess displayed in the Jericho-Styles match particularly resonated with Hogan.
“Chris Jericho is a main event every time he walks in the ring,” said Hogan. “He’s always on point and so talented. For Jericho and Styles to have that kind of match at WrestleMania and rock the house, it’s just amazing and it is a true testament to how good they are.”
Shane McMahon and the Undertaker also combined to deliver the most memorable match of WrestleMania 32, and Hogan admitted that the image of Shane McMahon flying off the top of the Hell in a Cell cage was an unforgettable moment.
“I was just praying for Shane when I saw him go up there,” said Hogan. “I didn’t know if the Undertaker was going to be there to get hit with that impact, or if he was going to get out of the way, and that’s a heck of a choice to make. You see those tables when they come apart. There are no pads, no buildup, there is just plywood, beaver wood tables, and they go right through it.
“I saw Vince [McMahon]’s back once when he fell about halfway up – I think Stone Cold ran his head in the cage and Vince went backwards, and his whole back and legs and butt turned purple. Shane was up twice as high, and I was just praying for him.”
The fearlessness of the McMahon family also reminded Hogan of Vince McMahon’s leg drop off a ladder–onto Hogan on a table–at WrestleMania 19.
“Vince is a crazy man,” said Hogan. “I saw the blood in his eyes and he scared me a little bit. I didn’t know if he could see me down there.”
Hogan also praised the work of the Undertaker. He remains in awe that the two wrestled at the 1991 Survivor Series, and the Undertaker is still as talented as ever twenty-five years later.
“The Undertaker just keeps coming,” remarked Hogan. “I don’t know what he’s made of. That cell he just climbed in is very, very unforgiving. If you just accidentally stick your pinky through the cage in the wrong way, you’ll break your finger. He’s amazing, and he’s going to do this as long as he wants.”
Sting was the face of World Championship Wrestling during the 1990s, so it was only fitting that he and Hollywood Hogan put together an unforgettable feud in the late 90’s. Hogan was grateful to see his friend inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I’ve already sent him my thoughts, and I’m excited to see him in the Hall of Fame,” said Hogan. “When we wrestled, every time I would see him, I’d always tell him, ‘You don’t know how good you really are.’ When he was on top of the world, he was still so humble but still so great. Every time I would get in the ring with him, it was so easy it was just ridiculous. I can’t even explain how easy he was to work with, and it was so much fun working him.”
Hogan thought the show was a success, and only reinforced the popularity of the WWE.
“These big shows come off once in a while,” said Hogan. “The last one like this was WrestleMania III, and that was thirty years ago. It was amazing to see how strong the WWE is, and see the following. It is mindboggling to see a monster crowd that big. It was just a huge success, and shows you how strong and powerful the brand is when you see that building full with all that energy.”
Although his legal matters are nearly finished, Hogan remained mum on whether he would be present for WrestleMania 33
“Never say never,” said Hogan.
Justin Barrasso can reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.