Both Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair have opened up about the influence of "Superstar" Billy Graham on their pro wrestling careers.
Graham passed away last week at 79 years old after decades of declining health and tributes poured out afterward for how influential he was to the wrestling business and some of its biggest stars and influencers including Hogan, Flair, Jesse Ventura, Vince McMahon and countless others.
Talking to Sports Illustrated, Hogan said Graham "was decades ahead of his time" and that even when he was a heel, Graham drew fans 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 said he and Graham became friends in Hogan's early days riding the roads and became close even though their friendship "had its share of twists and turns over the years.
"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.”
Like for Hogan, Graham's impact on Flair's career was also massive. He said Graham's look "changed the whole perspective of the business" and that "Superstar" was often imitated, but never duplicated.
Flair talked about driving Graham early in his own career and how his wife was the first person to bleach Flair's hair — a signature for the "Nature Boy."
“I tried to be just like Billy, but there’s only one Billy,” says Flair. “I have so many fond memories. I was his chauffeur, driving him around in that white El Dorado with red interior. I loved that. His wife was the first woman to ever bleach my hair. He and Dusty (Rhodes) were the two biggest influences on me, ever, in this business. They were so damn charismatic. It was a gift."
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