UFC legend BJ Penn has credited professional wrestling icon Hulk Hogan for inspiring his eventual UFC title run.
Penn, 43, originally captured UFC gold in January of 2004 when he shocked the world with a first round submission victory over longtime welterweight champion Matt Hughes.
BJ Penn would later go on to earn the UFC lightweight title in January of 2008, a championship belt that he went on to defend on three occasions with wins over Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.
During a recent interview with his manager Chris Taylor (@CTaylor_96 on Twitter), ‘The Prodigy’ was asked when he first considered making combat sports his career path.
“To be honest it was probably when I was really young,” Penn explained. “You know how it is, everyone has that guy they look up to as a kid and for me that man was ‘The Hulkster’. Hulk Hogan was my hero and such an inspiration for me growing up.”
Terry Eugene Bollea, 68, better known by his ring name of Hulk Hogan, made his professional wrestling debut in 1977, just over a year before BJ Penn was born.
By the year 1983, Hogan had signed on with Vince McMahon and the WWF (now WWE) and began his persona as ‘The Hulkster’, a heroic All-American who propelled the wrestling industry to unimaginable heights.
BJ Penn was about seven years old when he started watching professional wrestling and one of his favorite WWF memories came just one year later when Hulk Hogan infamously body slammed and pinned Andre the Giant at WrestleMania 3.
“I will never forget watching WrestleMania 3 with my brothers. Seeing Hulk Hogan pick up and slam Andre the Giant like that, and you knew he had to hit the leg drop to secure the win. It was such an awesome moment. I just remember jumping up and screaming in joy. Watching Hogan raise up the belt. That was the moment I knew that I wanted to be that guy one day.”
Taylor then asked Penn how his interests eventually shifted from professional wrestling to mixed martial arts.
“Well, you have to remember that at the time (1980’s), there was no such thing as the UFC. To me and my brothers, the WWF was as real as it got. I mean we were really into it. I remember telling my dad to splash a cup of water on me if I fell asleep before the Saturday Night Main event show because there was no way I wanted to miss a second.”
BJ Penn continued:
“After the events were over, me and my brothers would go into my parents’ bedroom and play a game that we called ‘moves’. The game basically consisted of us performing wrestling moves on each other but mainly on the bed, so no one got hurt. That all ended one day when my little brother Reagan decided to climb up on the high dresser and attempt the Macho King elbow drop. If I remember correctly, he pulled off the move, but then proceeded to bounce off the bed and break his arm. That’s why they put up the disclaimer ‘do not try this at home’.”
“Not long after that I remember it was time for WrestleMania 6, Hulk Hogan versus The Ultimate Warrior. I was a fan of the Warrior too, but ‘The Hulkster’ was always my number one so I was pulling for him in a big way. So, going back to me saying how serious I took things, I cried my eyes out when The Ultimate Warrior pinned Hogan. I’ll never forget the sequence of him rolling out of the way of Hulk’s leg drop and then hitting the splash. I was just devastated.”
BJ Penn went on:
“I remember him coming back from injury to beat The Earthquake and then reclaiming the title by defeating Sargent Slaughter. Those are such good memories to look back on. Hulk Hogan was a larger-than-life figure and I hope he realizes how many lives he’s touched in such a positive way.”
Taylor then asked Penn if he had ever got the chance to meet his childhood hero in person.
“Not yet, but that is definitely on my bucket list. We were going to have him come out for my fight against Ryan Hall in 2018. We connected on social media, and I told him that he was such a role model for me growing up and this and that. Anyway, he told me he had seen my fights and was a fan himself, which just meant the world to me, and so I asked if he wanted to come out for that one. We had it planned out but unfortunately the logistics and time of the fight just didn’t work.”
BJ Penn went on to suggest that the one way he would ever return to the cage is if he had Hulk Hogan walking him out.
“Man, could you imagine? When we were talking about having him come out (to my fight), I was just thinking of having him come and sit in the front row. But yea, imagine walking out with him? Geez, I would come back for one more fight to make that happen.”
Taylor then suggested that there was a decent chance that Hulk Hogan will see this interview and asked BJ Penn if he had any type of message for ‘The Hulkster’.
“I would just want to say Thank you Hulk Hogan, for everything brother. And that I hope he and his family have a safe and Happy Holidays. Hopefully one day soon we can finally shake hands and talk shop in person.”
Are you surprised that BJ Penn’s dream of becoming UFC champion started with watching Hulk Hogan in professional wrestling? Share your thoughts in the comment section PENN Nation!