Hogan helped lay the foundation for the WWE's success, but the company reached unprecedented success without him. The WWE and its stars who emerged after Hogan left in 1993 have thrived off the foundation he set. Besides The Rock, several other WWE wrestlers make appearances in commercials and talk shows.
"Now that I'm back 10 years later, the structure is a bit different. Things have changed," Hogan said. "They got a bunch of mules. They got Triple H, they got Stone Cold Steve Austin, they got The Rock, The Undertaker, they got [Chris] Jericho. They've spread the wealth. … I could leave the company tomorrow comfortably knowing that someone else will be able to carry the ball."
And Hogan doesn't win so much anymore. Since his return, he has won and lost the WWE Undisputed Title within a month. In addition to The Rock, he has been losing to other popular, younger WWE stars such as Triple H and Kurt Angle. Like an aging quarterback giving approval to a new, younger starting quarterback — or a retiring lead actor passing on advice to his former understudy — Hogan seems to be passing the torch to those who may have watched him while growing up.
"That's probably what's keeping him fresh," The Phantom said. "He seems to be giving everyone the rub. Now, if they had brought him back and he was winning all the time, like before, that might have started to grow old."
Hogan doesn't mind his new role. He's only doing what other wrestling mentors, like the late Andre the Giant, did for him.
"I know my role, as The Rock would say, and I graciously accept my role," Hogan said. "This is all about carrying on this art form. … This is about paying tribute to the guys who helped me. This is all about helping the guys who helped me.
"The wrestlers made me Hulk Hogan," Hogan continued. "I seriously don't think I could have beaten [veteran wrestler] Haku in the ring. I seriously don't think I could have beat [former Olympian and wrestler] Ken Patera, who was the 'Strongest Guy in the World' in '85. These guys made me who I am today. And to not make them [the younger WWE stars] wouldn't make sense."
Hogan's son Nicholas wrapped his arms around his father's waist just before they all left for a pre-Madison Square Garden show dinner. After asking how far the place was from the Garden, Hogan, rubbing Nicholas' head, joked, "I can wrestle [WWE Champion] The Undertaker in my sleep."
Hogan said his wife and children did not mind his return to wrestling and the days away on from their Clearwater, Fla., home.
"Oh, I'm not really out on the road, brother," Hogan said with a wink and a smile. "I'm out one or two days. … I think it's a nice break for them rather than seeing my ugly butt sitting around the house all the time."
Later that night, the Hulkamaniacs proudly wore their red and yellow and chanted Hogan's name just before his championship match. Many of the same fans who greeted Hogan at The World where there to see him at the garden. A World security guard had told fans that Hogan was signing only pictures. But Hogan did not disappoint — some walked away with the letters "H.H" initialed on Hulk Hogan action figures they had collected over the years.