Hulk Hogan was a one-man armed forces branch inside the ring, disposing the latest lumbering threats from Cold War Russia, Iran and even an Iraqi sympathizer with nothing more than a big boot to the face and a legdrop.
Hogan, the biggest star in WWE history, never lost sight of the work performed by real American troops around the world who served their country in a far more hostile environment than the squared circle.
“It’s amazing to see how brave, how proud and how positive these kids are,” Hogan said.
Hogan has a special chance to thank servicemen in person when World Wrestling Entertainment tapes its annual “WWE Tribute to the Troops” show on Tuesday night at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. The WWE’s 12th holiday troops’ special brings together celebrities from sports, entertainment and pop culture to entertain American servicemen and women. The show airs on USA Network and NBC later this month.
“Without our troops, without these men and women putting their lives on the line, we would not have our freedom,” WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon said. “We would not have the ability to do what we do. It is the least we can do to give back to them.”
Fort Benning supports more than 120,000 active-duty military, family members, reserve component soldiers, retirees and civilian employees on a daily basis and has been the home of the Infantry division since 1918.
Active-duty soldiers at Fort Benning scored free tickets for the show at the Columbus Civic Center.
They’ll get a double dose of sports entertainment when the showcase platform for stars John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt also tapes an episode of Friday night’s “Smackdown” show.
WWE has a full slate of goodwill activities scheduled in the area, including hospital visits, career workshops, elementary school reading celebrations and anti-bullying rallies. WWE performers also will help select military families pick holiday Christmas trees.
“Giving back has always been part of WWE’s DNA,” McMahon said. “It’s really in the last four or five years that we’ve been able to use our platform in a broader way, particularly since the advent of social media, to really get our message out there.”
McMahon, who serves on the board of USO Metropolitan Washington, has topped 1 million followers on Twitter.
The low-key “Troops” taping usually shuns the weekly storylines in favor of simple good guy-bad guy matchups: Good Santa vs. Bad Santa and Kane vs. an Army general in an arm-wrestling match have highlighted previous shows. WWE Hall of Famer “Stone Cold” Steve Austin hit Cena with a Stone Cold Stunner in front of troops waving “Austin vs. Saddam” signs at the inaugural taping in 2003.
The WWE taped “Troops” from Iraq six times from 2003 to 2009 and in Afghanistan in 2005. WWE transitioned the show stateside in 2010 and staged last year’s show at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, and wrestlers Big Show, R-Truth, Summer Rae and Alicia Fox, will travel abroad and visit troops for the fifth straight year on a handshake tour in an undisclosed location. The WWE has yet to release the date of the visit or location, citing security reasons.
“Vince goes right on the frontlines,” the 61-year-old Hogan said. “He doesn’t hide. He goes right where it’s going on. The whole WWE is a monster as far as being partners with the troops.”
“Tribute to the Troops” airs as a two-hour special at 8 p.m. EST on Dec. 17 on USA Network and will re-air as a one-hour special at 8 p.m. EST on Dec. 27 on NBC.
Angelina Jolie, the Kardashians and Alyssa Milano are among the celebrities confirmed to send videotaped messages to the troops.
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