From the heyday of Hulkamania in the 1980s to his era-defining “Hollywood” heel turn in the 1990s, Hogan long ago established himself as the most recognizable (and marketable) wrestling star in the world, putting together a career that went well beyond the squared circle and not only spanned decades and promotions – but came to define them.
Which is why his latest gig as a judge on WWE’s returning reality competition Tough Enough – premiering Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on the USA Network – makes perfect sense: Who knows more about what it takes to be a superstar than the Hulkster himself? In anticipation of tonight’s debut, Hogan spoke with Rolling Stone about building a brand, why he’d never mess with Kevin Owens and how Hulkamania would’ve dominated Twitter in the Eighties.
As someone who has been in this business for nearly 40 years, what were your initial thoughts about Tough Enough? Can a reality competition really take the place of years of training?
If you would have told me ten years ago that this was an avenue to make it into this business, I would have said you were nuts. When I came up, it was riding in the car 2,000 miles a week, wrestling for 15 bucks a night, paying your dues and learning your craft on the road. But the Performance Center has turned out some of our top stars; it’s proven that this formula works, so I’m excited that I’ve been reeducated to find the next WWE Superstar or Diva.
I’ve had to reinvent myself several times over the past 35 years; I’ve had to learn to roll with the punches – it’s not swallowing your pride, it’s being reeducated. And to see how this works, and how efficient the Performance Center is, it makes sense to me now. I go “OK, this is a much better way to do it.”
We’ve heard so much about the success of WWE’s Performance Center; in your opinion, what’s the secret to that success?
It’s pretty hardcore, brother. There’s several rings in the building, these kids are well protected and safety is the top priority – there’s doctors and therapists and trainers on staff; it’s not like when I had my first day and they broke my leg on purpose. And then there’s the art form; before Dusty Rhodes passed away, he was teaching a drama class, because you need to know how to tell a story, paint a picture with your face and your body. There’s interview rooms, where you learn how to talk on the mic, sell tickets and get your character over. It’s total one-stop shopping over there.