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Hulk Hogan returns to St. Louis with TNA Wrestling for a live show, "No Surrender," at Chaifetz Arena on Thursday. The Hulkster talked with us about his current role in TNA, the wrestling industry, his favorite wrestlers, his movie career and more.

Why did you decide to officially sign with TNA in 2009? I talked to Dixie Carter (president of TNA Wrestling) a couple of times. A lot of it was timing. I lot of it was I could live without the wrestling business but pursuing other projects, trying to reshift gears and move in a different direction business-wise, I realized no matter what I did, I was always thinking about wrestling.

It's kinda like when you get addicted to chocolate or cigarettes or something, you gotta have your fix. It's almost like wrestling is in your blood. ... I got to the point where I got hooked on watching the TNA show.

I finally called Dixie back and told her I understand where I fit in. It was being addicted to being around the business. I thought I could shake it, but I'm still addicted to it. I just love being here. And the choice was made because I finally figured out that I could add to the mix, I could contribute and I could wrestle on a limited basis because I'm in the twilight of my so-called wresting career.

I knew I could bring my brand and bring awareness to the company and then behind the scenes, creatively, I could contribute and basically keep the art form alive with the timing, instinct and help the young guys.  

What obstacles did you encounter when you started working for TNA? Communication was tough. The creative people were kind of a wild card. It was a situation where we all sat in a meetings and agree on creative directions. ... We would agree on stuff, then I would sit back and watch the show and it was completely different than what we talked about earlier in the production meetings. ... Those were the biggest hurdles I had in the beginning was why this perfect little unit wasn't functioning as planned. The biggest obstacle was keeping people from going into business for themselves. 

What is unique about TNA's product today? The majority of our time we stay consistent with storylines. I think we are really, really consistent with delivering the action and keeping the business in the ring as much as possible. There are certain times where you can watch a quarter hour and minute-by-minute and see where the girls are on there and doing certain things in the background, having a certain conversation. That works. We try not to go against the grain. But the majority of the time the people want the action in the ring and we try to be really consistent with that, and that's what we are trying to do. 

Which TNA young talent has the most star potential? I'm pretty much torn between Jeff Hardy and AJ Styles. They both get it. They both have the "it" factor. It's a toss-up because they both shine and they outshine each other certain times. I think either one of those guys has the potential to go on to greatness. 

Have much creative control do you have over the company? I do not control creative at all. I'm kind of like the last pass before we go out in front of the cameras. I will be here during the day listening to ideas and contributing, but at the end of the day, the decision lays in the hands of the writers and Spike TV because they have equal say in direction.

Creatively I'm not involved. I cannot even begin to tell you the direction of a story six months from now backwards. But I do, on a weekly basis, get very involved with development and make sure 'OK you guys, you have to mention that Chris Sabin is having personal problems and he is not here this week' and mention that Rampage Jackson wasn't supposed to touch Tito Ortiz this week. I make sure that we stay within the parameters of that we've drawn for ourselves. 

Pick your final four Bound for Glory participants to wrestle at "No Surrender" in St. Louis on Thursday. It's anybody's call at this moment. At the end of the day, I don't want to get into (picking a final four) because things change because it's a bunch of moving parts. All I know is that whoever comes out on top at "No Surrender" will be in San Diego for a shot at the (World Championship) belt. You have to be able to call an audible. And certain things happen when you are out there in the ring and certain people rise to the top. 

What is unique about watching TNA's Impact Wrestling show live versus watching on television? I'm a huge wrestling fan. I got hooked on it very, very early. I was probably 8 or 9 years old when I got hooked on wrestling — when my father took me to the first live wrestling match in Tampa. When I heard the roar of the crowd, I heard guys throwing punches that sounded like cannons were going off in the building.

When you get to see it live, you get sucked in. ... It's just the experience of being in that building and the energy from the fans which makes the talent perform even better. The more electric the fans get about the matches, the harder the talent works. 

Mixed martial artists Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Tito Ortiz signed with TNA recently. Has that increased TV ratings and attendance at live events? I think they're intriguing. Some people watch wrestling and want to see wrestlers. Some people watch MMA and only want to see MMA. These guys have a chance to cross over like Brock Lesnar did. They have a chance to bring a new demographic to Bellator and bring a new demo to Impact Wrestling.

I talked to Tito (over 10 years ago) about wanting to be in the wrestling business. He's been a fan. He's had the passion for such a long time. And "Rampage" has national sneakers ads and the movies he's done and his exposure, I think it brings a lot to the table because these guys are passionate about the business.

I think it translates into a different demo into a larger audience. I think it makes the ratings shift. At the end of the day, it's not an overnight process. I think the more "Rampage" and Tito train in the ring for professional wrestling, I think the more interested the fans will get. We are going to have them hooking horns here soon.

How has their transition from MMA style to wrestling been? So far, so good. Being that they both have a great presence in front of the crowd and the fact that the fans know who they are makes it much easier to translate that energy from being an MMA guy to stepping into the wrestling business. They are not no-name guys. I think they've been in the ring on a pretty darn consistent basis trying to learn, to shift gears from the MMA ground and pound to the performance in the ring as wrestlers to becoming entertainers and mixing and matching both.

Everything I see is on the right track. Timing is an issue. Sometimes it takes five or 10 years to find your niche in professional wrestling. The fact that they've been in the ring doing a different type of competition doesn't take away from what they are doing, but it gives them a chance to find a difference really quick and make quick adjustments.

For St. Louis, they better be ready. 

TNA has parted ways with some talent recently. Any plans to fill those vacancies? That's a Dixie Carter question. I'm not involved in any talent development or talent leaving or coming, but it's the nature of the business. You look at other companies, and every couple of months they start to clean house. Then the herd thins out.

What you mean to the company is basically what the numbers, attendance and what the crowd and fan reaction means to (the company). I think there is a certain point where you need to reshuffle the deck. It's a normal transition period that is only a temporary situation. 

How is your relationship with Carter, and how much does she rely on you to help make decisions for the company? It's pretty good. She listens to everybody. At the end of the day it's her company. She makes the final, final (decision). We talk about everything from wrestling to direction to media exposure.

This company has been up and running for 10 years now. We've made leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. It usually takes 10 years to develop a character. Dixie is open ears, and she is not afraid to take a good idea from anybody. 

How is your relationship with Eric Bishoff? It's solid. He is one of my best friends in the world ever since he believed in me back in the day when I went to work for World Championship Wrestling. We not only work together, but we have other business ventures together. 

Compare your babyface Hulk Hogan character to WWE's John Cena babyface character. I don't think you can compare the two. Everyone has their time and their moment, and the business changes on a daily basis. What we're talking about today might not be relevant a week from now.

The John Cena I watch on TV, and know, started out being a Hulkamaniac when he was a kid. He said he fell in love with the wrestling business and had certain favorites and at the end of the day, simply because he is such a great performer in the ring and that he has been around so long. The last time I was in the WWE, he was just starting, which was about 10 years ago. It's taken that long to develop his character — for him to be the man — for him to be one of the biggest leaders of all time of this business. And whether the fans boo him or whether the fans cheers for him, at the end of the day, they are loyal to him because he is a constant. They know he will deliver. He is going to always be there, and he is going to outperform anybody else around.

I think there is a lot of respect involved and whether (the fans) like him or hate him, they believe in him and respect him. 

How is your relationship with Vince McMahon, owner of the World Wrestling Entertainment? On a personal level we are fine. Business is business with Vince. At the end of the day, I'm not working there. Basically, Vince does what's best for business for him. ... On a personal level, Vince will give you the shirt off his back and I know that. 

WWE character Darren Young told TMZ that he is gay. What do you think about having an openly gay wrestler in the locker room? We'll, its not the first time. It's just become socially acceptable or it's just social awareness now. One of the guys that started me in this business 35 years ago is gay and is still a very good friend of mine. It's his personal choice if he wants the world to know what his sexual preference is. I respect that. ...

The fact that Darren Young came out and had a reason for expressing his views and opinions, that's great if it helps people which I think it will help understand that we are all the same but completely different and we should have mutual respect for everybody. I applaud him.

It wasn't a big shocker to me because a lot of my friends are gay and they are all good people. I didn't see the big deal, but I understand the media jumping all over the next next top story. I'm proud of Darren.

Would you write an angle based around Young and his sexuality if you were head of the creative department of the WWE? It depends what era we are in. Things change with the times today. At this moment either company wouldn't creatively go down that path because it's not necessary. ...

It's all about the numbers. It's all about business. It's all about where the environment and where the wrestling business is at. Today, I don't think either company would go down that path. Who knows? A week from now a lot of things change.

Yourself not included, name your top five all-time favorite wrestlers. Not in any particular order: Andre the Giant without a doubt. "Macho Man" Randy Savage. You have to put "Rowdy" Roddy Piper in there. You have to go with Jake "The Snake" Roberts because he had such a presence. And I would have to put "The Rock" (Dwayne Johnson) in that category.

Reason why Hulk Hogan vs. Rick Flair main event at Wrestlemania VIII did not happen in 1992? That's a Vince decision. We had a bunch of sold-out shows, and moving in that direction and at the last minute the company shifted gears. I'm sure there was a business reason for doing it. That wasn't my call.

Your match against Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III is considered one of the most important in the industry's history. Are there any matches that compare to that one? I think the match that I had with "The Rock" was a huge statement. I was coming back to the (WWE). I hadn't been there for quite a while. I was doing everything I could to get heat. "The Rock" was the guy with the TV time and the top babyface and the guy who had the big movies coming out.

Obviously, we were doing everything to make him the biggest star possible. So I had to become the most evil person in the world. Between hitting him on the head with a hammer, putting him in an ambulance, chaining the door and running him over with a semi (truck), I thought I had more heat than anyone in the world. But when I went to ring in the SkyDome, the fans made a huge statement. They said, "You can't tell us who to hate or who to love or who to be loyal to." That was a huge moment in my life. 

An opponent you would like to wrestle that you never faced before?

I never wrestled Jeff Hardy, which would be a lot of fun. I never had a mach with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, which would have been one for the history books. Those were two I would relive if I could flash back to when I was in my prime and was injury-free.  

Your favorite match and opponent? The ones I really liked the best were with Randy Savage. He was a consummate professional in and out of the ring. There were no holes in his boat. He was the "Macho Man" 24 hours a day. We never had to worry about him dropping his guard in our out of the ring. He would be walking down the street and talk to a TMZ guy and draw you money by just being "Macho." For me, I knew every time I stepped in the ring with him there was money to be made. I said, "Brother, let's make it and keep running." I've never been in the ring with anybody that was so consistent. 

Best and worst movies in which you've starred? The movie that was best received — none of them were going to win any awards — but "Mr. Nanny." I think the worst movie of all time has to be "Santa with Muscles." I can't even sit through that movie, brother. I get about halfway through it and I turn it off and fall asleep. 

Any memories of wrestling in St. Louis? Kiel Auditorium, the Chase, I mean, my God — I go way back there — the CheckerDome. I remember just sitting in the Kiel Auditorium with Jack Brisco, Dory Funk, Harley Race, the Von Erich kids. Just great wrestlers from all over the country which would migrate from all over to this one place in St. Louis.

It was just a big, big deal. It was Madison Square Garden-huge. It was just as important as Madison Square Garden wrestling in St. Louis. We would be in the dressing room and there were all these world champions and great wrestlers. It was mind-boggling, the wrestling and just what happened in St. Louis. It was legendary what happened in those towns. 


What “No Surrender” • When 7 p.m. Thursday • Where Chaifetz Arena, 1 South Compton Avenue • How much $17-$127 • TV 8 p.m. Thursday, Spike TV • More info thechaifetzarena.com; impact wrestling.com

Santiago C. Ayulo is the Post-Dispatch's assistant managing editor/presentation.