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Make Wrestling Great Again: Why Mixing Nostalgia, Politics Works So Well

“Wrestling is a morality play. It’s good vs. evil. Politics are essentially the same thing”.

The election season has tried to take over every aspect of our lives. We’re bombarded with commercials on television, it’s hard to go to work without talking about whatever the latest twist and turn is, you might check the polls obsessively and, as with all years, wrestling has found ways to comment on the election.

Wrestling has a long-standing relationship with politics. Whether it’s wrestlers riffing on the current events in politics, angles to mirror society, or wrestlers, like Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Linda McMahon and even Rhyno in this campaign season, the two have somehow gone hand-in-hand for years. And with the election coming up, 2016 has been no different. Wrestlers in companies across the country (and even around the world) have taken part in gimmicks and angles that are certainly meant to keep the election in mind to various degrees.

Somewhat surprisingly, WWE, for the most part, has stayed out of the election business during this cycle. It’s kind of surprising considering a presidential candidate is literally a member of the WWE Hall of Fame (no, it’s not Jill Stein), but considering the candidate, maybe it’s not actually all that surprising. However, there have been some nods towards the election over the past year. The most notable is of course Darren Young’s gimmick. While it’s not outwardly political, the “Make Darren Young Great Again” slogan is clearly from Donald Trump. And it’s not a coincidence that of all people, Bob Backlund, who used to make children name every president before he would sign an autograph, is his manager.

While it didn’t make it on TV, at many house shows Patrick Clark started showing up and wrestling as a Donald Trump supporter. It started with simply wearing American flag trunks, but then he started echoing some Trump talking points on Twitter. Finally, Clark even started wearing Trump campaign shirts to the ring. Whether it was because the gimmick wasn’t clicking, or because it was starting to spark some controversy across the internet, it was soon dropped.

Ring of Honor is the main American wrestling company that has dipped into the election waters. In June, The All Night Express (Kenny King and Rhett Titus) joined up with Caprice Coleman in a quest to “Make Wrestling Great Again.” They dubbed themselves The Cabinet, and began to intertwine their storylines with various political events going on around the country.

“It was an idea from someone in the front office to do something political,” Coleman says. “It wasn’t going to go as far as it turned out being. But Kenny and I, we got together and we wanted to make the best of what we were given.”

While it started with the “Make Wrestling Great Again” slogan, it grew out farther, with The Cabinet talking about how they wanted to bring values back to wrestling. They started to reference a different political hot button topic every week, before they finally hit on an aspect that truly got the crowd buzzing: kneeling in protest as their opponents reached out for the handshake that represented the Code of Honor.

“I actually felt that it was a way to express our actual opinions on [Colin Kaepernick and other football players kneeling], and bring it to Ring of Honor,” Coleman says. “I don’t like how it was seen upon as a heel move. In a way, it was a little disheartening. I think it affected our spirits more than the crowd. When you do something like that, and it’s booed or it’s looked at as a joke, then you think ‘Wow, people take this as a joke.’ When we first did it, it hurt my feelings a little bit, that they viewed it as a joke. This is not a joke; this is a real thing that happens that Kaepernick is taking a stand for. It became very real for us.”

America isn’t the only place you can see election politics mesh with wrestling. In CMLL (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre), arguably Mexico’s biggest wrestling company, there’s an American wrestler who is injecting the election into the company. Sam Adonis, the younger brother of WWE’s Corey Graves, recently joined the company. While he’s portraying the loudmouth American heel you often see in international companies, his added twist is that his character is a supporter of Donald Trump.

“It was my idea,” Adonis explains. “My father was a promoter, so I always knew how to push people’s buttons. As soon as I got the opportunity with CMLL, I knew Trump would be the right way to go.”

The second Adonis walks through the curtain, fans immediately see the big image of Trump that is emblazoned on his tights. That’s not all though, as he’s made sure to learn enough Spanish that he’s able to tell the crowd that Donald Trump is their new boss, and the future of the world. Needless to say, that hasn’t made him the most popular guy in CMLL.

“[Trump] is hated more than Satan down here. I swear to god. It’s insane how much people are wrapped up in it.”

Adonis is in a bit of unique situation. It’s easy to bring American politics into an American promotion. But bringing it to another country, one that the candidate has routinely pointed to as a problem for the U.S. is an entirely different thing. After all, it’s not like you see WWE making references to the Canadian prime minister very often.

“The one thing I’ve learned in wrestling around the world is that no matter where you go in the world, American politics is mainstream media. Everybody on the planet pays attention to what we’re doing, because what we do affects the rest of the world,” Adonis says.

As to what these guys will be doing after the election? Well, that’s still up in the air. One thing that has to be said about political gimmicks is that they tend to not last long after the election, and the wrestlers know that.

“One of the main factors of The Cabinet was doing something around the election,” Coleman admits. “After the election, where do we necessarily go from there? Will things be the same? It’s something we’ve definitely thought about.”

So what, exactly, is it that connects wrestling and politics? Whether it’s making a guy from Iran or Russia the top heel (Iron Sheik in the eighties, Rusev in his earlier incarnation a few years back), to this recent election season, the two things regularly mix. Often times when politics hit another avenue of life, whether it be sports, or entertainment, people are quick to tell someone to stay in their lane. However, when it comes to wrestling, it’s more or less accepted.

“Wrestling is a morality play. It’s good vs. evil. Politics are essentially the same thing. Democrat vs. Republican isn’t good vs. evil, but it’s a story that writes itself,” Adonis says. “This year that’s the case more than ever. It seems like Republicans full-blown hate Democrats and vice-versa. I don’t think it’s ever been this strong. Because of that, you can prey on someone’s core values just by saying you represent one person or one side. I don’t think mainstream society gives wrestlers enough credit for being the masterminds of the human psychology that we are. I know how to get 15,000 people in a frenzy just by putting some guy’s picture on my tights. And lots of wrestlers are like that. They know how to work people up, and politics will always do that to a crowd.”