At the NBCU summer press preview yesterday, my day began breaking eggs and bacon with the cast of NBC's "American Gladiator." The show features hosts Laila Ali and all-American institution, Hulk Hogan.
Their second season returns Monday, May 12, at 8 PM on NBC. The show sports a larger new home and two returning champs (Evan and Monica) reborn as Gladiators.
Each episode pits two male and two female contenders who fight for points while the cast of Gladiators lurk in the shadows. The coup de grace for the competition is the famed "Eliminator" obstacle course.
If you had told me yesterday that I would be breakfasting with Hulk Hogan one on one, and talking about subjects that ranged from high school wrestling programs to which celebrity will don a singlet and participate in his new CMT series, “Celebrity Wrestling,” I would have been doubtful at best.
Hogan sat down first in a round robin of Gladiator personalities that included Laila Ali, Jet, Wolf, Phoenix and Toa who each visited individual tables inside the posh, old Pasadena Langham dining room.
Hogan is a large, tanned man, which is an understatement when you are right up next to him. He is also a grateful one too. His jewelry expressed his philosophy about his life; a bracelet that bore the words “gratitude” for a life lived beyond his wildest dreams as a kid.
Sure, there’s a lot of personal life drama going on around him currently, but his strength is more than just what lay in his musculature and imposing frame, it was palpable sitting in his presence and especially visible in his eyes.
Hogan started out as a High School wrestler, a sport dear to my heart as my youngest son has thrown himself into headfirst a la Matthew Modine in "Vision Quest", a film that celebrates the only high school and collegiate blood sport.
“I wrestled for Robinson High School in Tampa, Florida, “shared Hogan. I asked him what weight class and he noted he wrestled as a super heavy-weight, over 195 pounds.
Hogan stuck to business as he told me about his NBC “American Gladiator” show. “The new season is amazing, we have seven or eight new games, and the new venue gives us more momentum for the contestants and Gladiators to work, the contenders all have this incredible motivation, and our returning champions Evan (Rocket) and Monica (Jet) have stepped it up, they are in amazing shape,” added Hogan.
“There is a new game that is turning out to be a favorite of mine is rocket ball, which combines every kind of ball game from football to basketball, the set for it is all red and yellow, my favorite two colors,” Hogan quipped.
Hogan talked about some of the personalities that light up the NBC series. “Wolf brings it, he’s an amazing force of nature, Evan (Rocket) packed on about 20 pounds of muscle. Jet, our soccer mom, I don’t know what she did but when she came back we were all like, whoa, her abs are so ripped, you can stick your thumb in the center of her abdominal muscle group about an inch; she is so defined, and Titan we call the Mariah Carey of the Gladiators, he’s got this porcelain complexion thing going on, he's our diva in the lineup.”
Hogan continued, “There is a camaraderie that has built up, and especially this season. We are fortunate that the contestants that come to our show for auditions aren’t wild kids; they’re a little older, seasoned and level-headed. Even some ex wrestler friends of mine tried out in a few cities”
Hogan talked about professional wrestling and his opinion about a few other popular culture phenomenon.
“Many years ago Simon Cowell produced a record I played on, for a band called Green Jelly in London,” Hogan revealed. “But I stopped watching Idol, I really don’t pay attention to what is going on too much on television, I have my own shows I am busy with...
...And the wrestling today, it isn’t like when I was coming up, the sport has detoured; it’s more exploitive, and nothing like when I started out. But the injuries are still real, even for 'Gladiator.'
People don’t realize how many injuries happen to us that we deal with and have to move on.” As he was telling me this I could only notice his hands which looked like they had done hard time, all his fingers were bent at odd angles and looked like they had been broken over and over.
What about “Dancing with the Stars?”
“I would love to do that show but I am not a graceful dancer, but that show looks like a good time.”
CMT will be the home of Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Championship Wrestling - debuting this fall.
His face lit up as he described some of the celebrities that we may be seeing. “We have talked to Kid Rock, we’ve contacted David Arquette and Danny Bonaduce, none of these people have ever actually wrestled, so it is going to be an interesting show.”
Hogan told me the show will pit the two celebrities against each other, and they are trained for the match by former wrestlers. Hogan himself will act as one of the judges.
For you ex-Hulkster kids out there, Hogan ate a healthy plate of steamed asparagus and scrambled eggs for breakfast.