The jury compensated Hulk Hogan further on Monday by awarding him $25.1 million in punitive damages
Credit: Dirk Shadd/The Tampa Bay Times/AP

One word comes to Hulk Hogan’s mind when he thinks about the moment a Florida jury ruled Gawker Media had violated Hogan’s right to privacy when they posted his sex tape: Overwhelmed.

“I was relieved that people actually finally believe me,” Hogan tells PEOPLE about the verdict. “So many people thought I was making a sex tape to sell as entertainment.”

According to Hogan, a video of him having sex with his best friend’s then-wife, was secretly recorded.

It was only after he left the courtroom, went upstairs and had a team meeting where “we were all hugging each other,” that he found out he had also been awarded $115 million after the jury found that Hogan had suffered “severe emotional distress” since the tape was released in 2012.

“I heard them say the number and I said, ‘What? What are the numbers?'” says Hogan, who was in disbelief.

His Mission

Money aside, Hogan – whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea – says he went forward with the lawsuit to “let people know what Gawker is all about, come what may and that means no matter what.”

“I think I accomplished that, whether I win or lose or get rewarded with some type of financial assistance or not,” he says. “At the end of the day, I accomplished my mission and that was to let people know what Gawker is doing and that they’re not legitimate journalists and this is not trying to destroy the First Amendment – we’re trying to protect the First Amendment.”

While some testimony he heard “chilled to the bone,” he prayed that the jury would understand the case and put themselves in his shoes.

“It was an invasion of privacy and it was just something I wanted people to know that this is not right,” he says. “It was never about trying to destroy – it was about trying to make things the way they were supposed to be.”

Gawker Media issued a statement the same day as the verdict.

“We’re disappointed the jury was unable to see key evidence and tear testimony from the most important witness,” it reads. “So it may be necessary for the appeals court to resolve this case. Hulk Hogan’s best friend Bubba the Love Sponge – who made the tape and offered up his wife in the first place – originally told his radio listeners that Hulk Hogan knew he was being taped. The jury was only able to hear a questionable version of events. Bubba should have been required to appear in court and explain what happened.”

The statement goes on to say that “there is still more to the story.”

“We expect the upcoming release of improperly sealed documents,” the statement continues, “evidence that the jury should have been able to see, will begin revealing the true facts that the jury deserved to know about during deliberations.”

Moving Forward

Before Hogan knew it was a video and thought still images might have been released, he sat down his two children, Brooke and Nick, and his wife, Jennifer McDaniel, and tried to “explain myself and let them know what the situation was.”

Once he got past that experience which he calls being the “toughest part” of the ordeal and knew that his family was behind him, he had the courage to move forward.

But at end of the day, he says, “I will be naked forever on the Internet.”

When he shakes someone’s hand or meets a kid with their parent, he thinks about the video.

“What do they think of me? What is the dad really thinking?” he says are two thoughts that come to his mind when he’s in public. “Or has the kid pulled up the Hulk Hogan video? Gawker has made it so it’s available everywhere and forever. So I always worry what people think of me and it s different than it used to be.”

While Gawker moves forward with an appeal, that isn’t stopping Hogan from moving forward with his life.

“It’s great to be coming out on the other end of this dark cloud because behind this dark cloud the sun is really shining and it’s a huge blessing,” he says. “I’m just glad to be able to get this behind me and let people understand what happened so I can move forward with my life.”