Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan said Gawker Media “picked the wrong guy” when it posted to its website a video of his having sex with his former best friend’s wife, adding that he sued for invasion of privacy because he was determined to hold the company accountable for misusing its power.
“I told my wife, I said, ‘If I had to get my situation where I had to sell everything and borrow money and do whatever, I will not stop. They actually picked the wrong guy,’” Hogan said in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Linzie Janis that aired today on “Good Morning America.” “I don't know how to tell you, I took it real personal.”
He added: “[Gawker] was hoping that, financially, I wouldn't be able to stay in the game with them, and I'd quit or tap out or something,” the wrestler said. “I felt like I had this monster on my shoulders no matter where I went.”
Hogan prevailed, winning a whopping $115 million in compensatory damages plus an added $25.1 million in punitive damages, for a total of $140.1 million. Gawker has said it is appealing.
Hogan -- whose real name is Terry Bollea -- revealed that when the ruling was announced in his favor he was so overwhelmed with emotion that he didn’t hear that he had been awarded more than the $100 million he had sought.
“I went upstairs with my whole crew. And everybody was excited. And I heard somebody say something about, ‘the number was unbelievable.’ And I said, ‘Well, what was the number?’” he recalled. “I didn't hear the number. I was so overwhelmed that people actually believed me, it just -- it was like white noise at that point. I didn't hear anything else.”
'I Knew What We Were Doing Was Right'
The sex taping occurred in 2007, when Hogan says he was separated from his now ex-wife Linda. It was published on Gawker in 2012.
Both he and Heather Cole, the woman in the tape, said they did not know they were being filmed at the time. Cole also testified that she didn't know who leaked the video to Gawker.
Hogan, 62, said he started to cry during the reading of the verdict because he was overwhelmed that people believed him.
He called the trial a test of his faith but said he remained committed to the course, despite feeling “numb” in court.
“I knew we were doing what was right ... And if we would have lost, it would have been good, because everybody would have known what Gawker was all about. Because I exposed them. I exposed them a million times over, and what they do, and then how they, you know, treat people, and how they look at the world. Which, to me, is very, very scary,” he said.
'I Would Never Watch the Tape'
Gawker's lawyer, Michael Berry, alleged in court that Hogan filed his lawsuit in an effort to get “lots and lots of money," adding that Denton wanted “the public to have the simple, unvarnished truth … about public figures.”
Hogan said the suit was not about money. He said his "whole world went upside down" when the tape was released.
Janis mentioned that Hogan had talked about the tape publicly and asked how embarrassed he could have been if he could do that. Hogan acknowledged that he did talk about the tape publicly, including on “The Howard Stern Show,” but noted that sex was a frequent topic on “shock jock shows like that.”
He continued: “Talking about it's a lot different than having something illegally post a tape when you're seen naked in front of seven million people. And the one thing that Nick Denton did get right, that his articles will stand the test of time (for) ... I will be naked forever. You know. Until my children's children's children die, because of the Internet.”
Hogan said he still hasn’t seen the tape in question.
“Well, I saw the still images ... I would never watch the tape,” he said.
The tape was recorded by his then best friend, Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem. Hogan said Clem constantly asked him to sleep with his then-wife, adding that the woman would hit on him as well.
Hogan said he was “just sick” after he realized Clem was behind the tape, and said he begged Clem for an explanation.
“And I was -- you know, just texting and texting, ‘Why did you do this to me? You've destroyed my life. Why did-- please just tell me ... You set me up. You filmed me without my knowledge. Why'd you do this?’” Hogan said. “I never got an answer. Never.”
He said it was tough to have to tell his two children, Brooke and Nick, about the sex tape scandal.
His children have felt the effects and have had to “put up with so much from people,” but they’ve remained supportive, Hogan said.
“They're actually proud of their dad for doing the right thing. I explained to them why I was doing what I had to do, come what may,” he said.
Hogan said his life has changed a great deal, and he’s no longer the man he used to be. He said he writes affirmations to keep himself positive.
'All I Do Is Pray for Linda'
Hogan’s ex-wife, Linda, has said she believes the jury award represents a reward for Hogan's bad behavior. Asked about her comments, Hogan replied: “All I do is pray for Linda. Pray for Linda, constantly ... All I can do is pray for her.”
Hogan, who married Jennifer McDaniel in 2010, has acknowledged that he made a mistake in sleeping with Clem’s wife when he himself was still married to Linda.
“Even when I was there it didn't feel like the right thing to do. But I did it anyway,” he said of the encounter. “That's very humiliating, very embarrassing. And the only thing I can say is I pray to God that people can learn from my mistake. Because I sure did. I sure learned.”
Gawker has said it will prevail on appeal. Whether that happens or not, Hogan said he believes he did the right thing. “If they win the appeal, all I pray is that they change and become actually journalists and legitimate journalists and do the right thing, you know, with their power,” Hogan said.
In a statement after this week's verdict, Gawker’s General Counsel, Heather Dietrick, said, "Soon after Hulk Hogan brought his original lawsuits in 2012, three state appeals court judges and a federal judge repeatedly ruled that Gawker's post was newsworthy under the First Amendment. We expect that to happen again -- particularly because the jury was prohibited from knowing about these court rulings in favor of Gawker, prohibited from seeing critical evidence gathered by the FBI and prohibited from hearing from the most important witness, Bubba Clem.”
Hogan’s image suffered another blow last year when he was accused of using a racial slur. While he admitted to having used the n-word and apologized for it, he has steadfastly denied being a racist, saying he grew up in an environment where all his friends used the word to greet each other.
The WWE – formerly the WWF – took drastic action. It fired Hogan and removed his image and name from its website's Hall of Fame.
Despite that, Hogan said the WWE remains family.
"It would be really nice to be, you know, in the Hall of Fame. But it's not as important as what we did with this case,” he said. “I don't think you can destroy my legacy, you know, because the fans know Hulk Hogan and know what flipped the switch on this industry ... it would be great to be part of the Hall of Fame and be legitimate and be, you know, looked at by the establishment of the WWE as back in good graces. But if it doesn't happen, you know, it'd be sad. But I can look at myself in the mirror and be happy.”