An article by Mike Mooneyham

Published Nov. 1, 2009

Here’s three words not many saw coming.

“Hulkamania is back.”

And not only is the Hulkster back, he’s thrown down the proverbial gauntlet, and he did it in Vince McMahon’s backyard.

Hulk Hogan, one of the most recognizable figures in the history of professional wrestling, drew a line in the sand Tuesday when he announced that he was signing with Total Nonstop Action at a press conference at Madison Square Garden, smack dab in the center of the wrestling universe.

“It’s so nice to be back in New York City — in the house that Hulk Hogan built,” he said at the conference.

“There is no single name that defines an industry more than Hulk Hogan. He is a pop icon,” said TNA president Dixie Carter. “I can tell you today, on behalf of everybody in TNA Wrestling, we are so thrilled to have (Hogan) join our company. Here we are today at Madison Square Garden announcing the biggest acquisition you could possibly have.”

Hogan (Terry Bollea) declined to give specifics concerning his role with the company, but he said enough to send a signal to McMahon, with whom he has shared a love-hate relationship over the past two decades.

“Brother, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing,” he said at the conference. “I’m not planning anything right now. I’m just walking into this situation with Dixie Carter and Spike (TV) as my partners. My focus is to make this the No. 1 sports entertainment company in this business.”

Hogan, behind McMahon’s promotion, helped usher in a new era of wrestling 25 years ago when he first won the World Wrestling Federation title. The relationship, however, has soured in recent years. Hogan floated the idea of joining TNA several years ago as leverage in his on-again, off-again negotiations with WWE. McMahon has shown little interest in working with Hogan and didn’t even bring him back for the 25th anniversary of Wrestlemania earlier this year.

Hulk HoganHogan, during an appearance Tuesday night on “Larry King Live,” said he’s going to take the business “to a whole new level.”

“I’m going to check out the Hulk Hogan sea legs,” Hogan said. “It’s been a great career, and the fans have stuck behind me through thick and thin, and they have been loyal … I just decided I had to get busy living or get busy dying. And I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do, but I’m going to contribute as much as I can.”

A company that heretofore had seemed comfortable as a distant second to World Wrestling Entertainment in the pro wrestling landscape, TNA now seems to be positioning itself as a viable competitor, springing the biggest coup in the seven-year history of the organization.

While the company has a long way to go to match WWE’s weekly TV ratings and pay-per-view buy rates, the acquisition of Hogan is by far TNA’s highest-profile catch to date.

“I’m thrilled to be jumping back into the world of professional wrestling,” Hogan said. “My fans have been asking me to return to the business for many years on a full-time basis, but the timing or the opportunity has never been right until now. TNA Wrestling is a great company with an already excellent fan base, business and broadcast partner. I firmly believe now is the time for some change at TNA as they are positioned to jump to the next level in their development, and I’m here to work with Dixie (Carter) to help make that a reality.”

Hogan, who is expected to begin his TNA run in an authority role, reportedly was granted major concessions and has creative control. Major changes are expected to be instituted.

“He doesn’t work for Dixie, he works for her dad,” said one source, referring to Bob Carter, chairman and CEO of Panda Energy International, which has a controlling interest in TNA.

The deal was negotiated by longtime Hogan associate, former WCW executive Eric Bischoff, through Hogan’s partnership with Bischoff Hervey Entertainment Television. Bischoff and actor Jason Hervey (“The Wonder Years”) have produced a number of non-wrestling projects together.

“Additionally, BHE TV has inked a first-look deal with TNA and will be working with the organization to develop new programming extensions of the TNA brand,” according to TNA.

One immediate change could happen within TNA’s creative department. It’s no secret that neither Hogan nor Bischoff are fans of TNA creative head Vince Russo, dating back to the dying days of WCW. Sources say Hogan, who will bring in his own stable of talent, will have talks with the creative staff, which now includes longtime Russo crony Ed Ferrara, and will work with them on a trial basis.

Hogan told Time magazine that he chose TNA over WWE because he wants to help the “young wrestlers.”

“When I woke up and realized I should be my own man and be responsible for being happy, I realized I still have a lot to contribute to the wrestling business,” Hogan said. “And jumping into TNA and being a part of that company is huge. I have a chance to give back and help these young wrestlers who don’t understand the business and the art form.”

Hogan, 56, says the signing won’t affect the November tour of Australia where he will meet Ric Flair in a series of matches. Both Hogan and Flair, incidentally, have been removed from the “Alumni” page on WWE’s Web site.

Hogan told the New York Times last week that he’ll “try to get the old fake knee and fake hip cranked up again” during the Aussie tour to get a better read on whether he might be able to work some matches in TNA.

“Instead of being around somebody saying you’re too old for that or you’re going to look ridiculous out there, I’m switching gears,” Hogan told the Times, alluding to former wife Linda saying he looked “silly” in the ring during his last WWE run.”

Hogan also spent last week promoting his new book, “My Life Outside the Ring,” in which he reveals he came close to suicide until receiving a timely phone call from “American Gladiators” co-host Laila Ali. Hogan said he hit rock bottom following the break-up with his wife of 23 years and coping with his son Nick’s accident which left a friend brain-damaged and Nick Hogan being indicted on reckless-driving charges.

Hogan said Ali, the daughter of boxing great Muhammad Ali, prevented him from committing suicide in 2007 after he had downed a cocktail of Xanax and rum, picked up a gun and put his finger on the trigger. She called after noticing he had been looking distracted at work.

“There were times when I thought that a whole bottle of pills would go down easy . . . Then I noticed the gun in my hand. I was careless with it . . . I kept my finger pressed right to that trigger . . . and if I moved that finger an inch in the right direction . . . I would have blown my brains out.”

Hogan says he was distressed about his marriage failing.

“I practically begged her, ‘Please, don’t file,’” Hogan writes in his book. “Our son’s just had this accident — if we do this now, it’ll make us look like the Britney Spears family. Please don’t file for divorce.”

Hogan also claimed that his ex-wife was an abusive alcoholic who once threatened to beat their son with a wine bottle.

“In public, we were all having the time of our lives, but that public image only further masked the problems that were growing behind the scenes … There were plenty of times when Linda would lose it, but no one wanted to see that kind of ugliness on TV,” writes Hogan.

- Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Raw’s guest hosts last week fit in the latter category.

Once again, a celebrity fumbled through a mispronunciation of a wrestler, this time the victim being Kofi Kingston.

NASCAR’s Kyle Busch, who co-hosted the show with fellow racer Joey Lagano, referred to Kingston as “Kofi Johnston” before correcting himself. Not a major miscue, of course, but it came right after Busch declaring what a “huge WWE fan” he was. The auto racing pair looked completely out of place on the wrestling set.

- Ozzy Osbourne and wife Sharon Osbourne will serve as celebrity guest hosts for this week’s Raw.

Roddy Piper is expected to host a Raw in the next month or so.

- Matt Striker has replaced Jim Ross on the Smackdown announce team while Ross awaits more news on his health.

Striker debuted on the Smackdown announce team with Todd Grisham at last week’s Smackdown TV.

Ross is awaiting test results after going through a series of tests to “eliminate issues” that caused his latest attack of Bell’s palsy.

“I do not have the test results back but hope to hear something in a day or two,” Ross blogged last week. “We are in the process of trying to eliminate issues that could be causing my problems which gets a little dicey when one doesn’t know and is told to ‘be patient.’”