“Superstar” Billy Graham passed away this past week following a series of serious health complications in the hospital.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, WWE Hall of Famers Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan credited the late Graham for inspiring them in their respective wrestling careers.
You can check out some highlights from the interview below:
Flair on Graham’s style: “His clothes were considered outlandish back then. He had the earring. He gave those incredible interviews. He had that body that was second to none. ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham influenced a whole generation of wrestlers, myself included.”
Hogan on being influenced by Graham: “He was decades ahead of his time. When I saw him, he was a bad guy, yet he drew you to him like a magnet. He looked like a superhero, but when the good guy put his fist up and acted like he was going to punch him in the face, Billy Graham would drop to his knees and start begging and pleading. I modeled ‘Hollywood’ Hogan after that. Watch Hogan-Sting from WCW, and you’ll see a lot of the way Billy Graham carried himself in the ring. Even as a babyface, I did that, too. He was really something special.”
Hogan on being inspired by Graham: “The first thing that connected with me about ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham was the physical aspect. I was eight or nine when my father started taking me to wrestling in Tampa. Years later, when I started playing in a rock-’n’-roll band and my dad had retired from working construction, I remember telling him, ‘You took me to the wrestling matches. Now I want to take you.’ We were so excited to see the matches in Tampa, which were in the [Fort Homer Hesterly] Armory. I still remember ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham standing on the second turnbuckle and doing the double bicep. That was the moment for me. I told my dad, ‘I want to be just like that guy.’ I was already a huge Dusty Rhodes fan, but ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham took it to a whole new level.”
Hogan on being a wrestling fan at the time: “I wasn’t even in the wrestling business yet, but I’d look for the wrestlers at the Imperial Room on Armenia Avenue. Every Tuesday night after the matches, all the wrestlers would go there because it was the best country Western bar in Tampa. Billy Graham would sit on one side with all the bad guys, and Dusty Rhodes, Mike Graham and Steve Keirn would be on the other side. I finally got the nerve one night to talk to Billy Graham. It lasted only a moment, but I can still remember my excitement.
“When I got into the wrestling business, I was there the night he had the bench-press contest against Jos LeDuc. I rode to the Bayfront Center, which was a venue in St. Petersburg, and I was in the car with Sir Oliver Humperdinck and Billy Graham. I was shaking like a leaf the whole time. Years later we became friends. We became close, though our friendship had its share of twists and turns over the years. We made peace after we both found God. He was a marvelous person, and I’m grateful I had the chance to know him.”
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