One of the highlights of Wrestlemania XXIII, held at Detroit’s Ford Field on 1 April 2007, was the “Battle of the Billionaires” between Donald Trump and World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon.
Earlier that year, Trump had challenged McMahon to a fight. McMahon claimed that previous wrestling injuries meant he could never fight again, so the two men reached a compromise. Each would nominate a champion: whoever’s champion lost would have his hair shaved off by the victor.
Trump chose Bobby Lashley, an athletic African-American wrestler, as his champion. McMahon chose Umaga, a huge, tattooed, Samoan wrestler.
After a close bout, during which Trump sent McMahon to the floor with a clothesline, Lashley was victorious.
Trump, Lashley and guest referee “Stone Cold” Steve Austin strapped Vince McMahon to a chair in the ring, and shaved his head in front of 80,000 delirious wrestling fans.
This all happened, and was seen to have happened by millions in the United States and around the world.
But wrestling isn’t real. We know this. So did it happen at all? Or if it did happen, then what if wrestling is real, and the world of people like you and me, people who have spent our lives telling people “wrestling isn’t real”, is the fake world?
Wrestling is the ultimate scripted reality. While the soap opera plots and twist turns are outlandish to say the least, it is unavoidably true that the core of the entertainment, the actual wrestling, is a display of physicality and athleticism few can match. Non-fans point out that the wrestlers are fighting to a script, but people do still get hurt, and sometimes even killed.
Clothesline on McMahon aside, Trump only ever really took part in the soap opera end, with a strange frenemy/bromance relationship with Vince McMahon. He would turn up and brag about having more money than McMahon: at one point, in 2009 he “bought” WWE Monday Night Raw: the language of this takeover was interesting, and instructive: McMahon had “never really showed his appreciation to the RAW audience”; Trump would do things that had “never been done before, never been seen before”. For the first time in history, Trump would broadcast RAW without commercials, as a reward to the loyal fans who had been taken for granted by McMahon in his relentless pursuit of wealth: Earlier, Trump had literally showered a WWE audience with “McMahon’s money”: the same unlikely Robin Hood schtick that propelled Trump to the White House.
Donald Trump’s longtime association with wrestling was rewarded in 2013, when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Now, in 2017, he has returned the favour: Linda McMahon, former WWE Chief Executive and wife of Vince, will become head of Small Business Administration under President Trump. If pro-wrestling wasn’t part of the “real world” before, it certainly is now.
Trump’s recent press conference, which took place shortly after the publication of a dossier alleging that Russia had all sorts of Kompromat on him, was another example of the WWE world taking over the real world: this was not a press conference in the sense of journalists asking for information and being given it or not: this was a performance, a la WWE, where grievances were aired, boasts made, challenges issued, smackdowns delivered.
As Trump dismissed CNN as “fake news” and BuzzFeed News as “garbage”, it was impossible not to think of the internet-famous moment of January 2014, when wrestler Fandango sneered at ringside reporter Renee Young: “I thought you were a decent lady...you’re not even a real journalism.”
To imagine, then, that the office of president will somehow tame Trump (a fast-fading hope), or that his pronouncements on social media, in press conferences or in sycophantic interviews with foreign politician/columnists are designed to “distract” us from his real politics (a still-present idea), is to sit smugly and announce “wrestling isn’t real” as if that’s a smart, or insightful thing to say.
It’s not, and never has been. No one cares.
And besides, it’s no longer even true. Donald Trump is president, and wrestling is real.