Hulkamania flexed its muscles as 1,000 loyal Hulk Hogan fans crowned the world’s greatest wrestler the undisputed people’s champ - with a Wrestlemania-style reception at Sheffield Arena.
The now 62-year-old larger-than-life living legend - sporting his famed horseshoe moustache, trademark bandana and still ‘the biggest arms on the planet’ - admits to a troubled year. Quite an understatement.
He was banished from his beloved World Wrestling Entertainment and thrown out of its Hall of Fame this summer for racist remarks after using the N-word in a 2007 sex tape, which was unofficially leaked.
The 6ft 7ins cultural icon admits it was a foolish mistake and has apologised publicly to fans, who know the real Hogan is no racist.
But as his so-called ‘Hulkamaniac’ fans, young and old, turned out to support him, with a four hour photo and signing meet and greet, followed by a Q&A then even more photos, he was genuinely overwhelmed.
After climbing into a wrestling ring on the Arena stage, flanked by American and British flags, with dazzling lighting effects worthy of any WWE spectacular, he told his cheering fans: “I’ve been coming to the UK for a long time guys and I have to say, this time, without doubt, has been the greatest - because all you maniacs still treat me like I was the champion. I want to thank every one of you for that.”
Fans had flown in from all over Europe for the one off Rocco Buonvino and Simply Prestige Events promotion. One, from Italy, asked how Hogan has been able to handle his bad news, Hulk quipped: “Bad news? What bad news?”
The cultural icon then revealed he is a religious man and said: “I believe God is doing this for my higher good. To me it’s a test, of faith.
“You guys are loyal. You known I’ve made a huge mistake or said something really dumb. That’s because I was mad or at a low point in my life, but that’s not who I am.
“I’m not done yet, I need to learn another lesson. All this stuff happens to make me a better person. That’s how I look at it.”
Of WWE owner Vince McMahon, who axed him, he said: “There are two Vince McMahons. On a personal level I love him to death, as a business man I respect him. He’s a good guy. He really is.”
Hogan came face to face at the photo shoot with Barnsley’s own Hulk Hogan, look-a-like fan Martin Treece, of Gawber, who was dressed as his hero in yellow bandana, T-shirt, glasses and even has the same moustache. He said: “I always dress like this. Meeting him is a once in a lifetime opportunity. He’s the best. I’ve been a fan 30 years.”
Bobby Klein, from Amsterdam, said: “I came all the way from the Netherlands with a friend for this. It was amazing.”
Hogan, the 12 times world champ spoke of his respect for wrestlers ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, Andre The Giant, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret Hart but described The Rock as “the biggest mega-superstar ever - the best there is”.
Born Terry Bollea, now running his Hogan’s Beach Bar and Shop near his home in Clearwater, Florida, he described the real him these days as more the classic red and yellow Hulk Hogan than his former Hollywood Hogan wild persona. He told how he would like to make Suburban Commando II, loves chocolate ice cream and his chihuahua dogs.
The Star’s digital editor Graham Walker helped to introduce the show by getting fans to observe one minute silence following the terrorist killings in Paris.