In a recent column about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s TV show Young Rock, SlamWrestling.net Hollywood Headlock editor Dave Hillhouse speculated as to whether fiction would mirror reality and Johnson might actually run for President of the United States at some point in the future.
It’s not as outlandish an idea as you might think. Indeed, as reported in Newsweek this past week, a recent poll indicated that 46% of US adults would support Johnson if he actually did take a run at the White House. This tweet he posted in response doesn’t quite confirm his interest – but it’s clear he’s not ruling it out in the future.
Not sure our Founding Fathers ever envisioned a six-four, bald, tattooed, half-Black, half-Samoan, tequila drinking, pick up truck driving, fanny pack wearing guy joining their club – but if it ever happens it’d be my honor to serve the people 🙏🏾💪🏾🇺🇸 https://t.co/6Xd9ADzqX7
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) April 9, 2021
While the move from the wrestling ring to the White House has been explored in fiction – shame on you if you’re not familiar with Terry Crews’ brilliant portrayal of President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in Idiocracy – nobody has tried to make the transition from Squared Circle to Oval Office.
Well, in real life, that is. Of course, there have been storylines where a wrestler has declared he was running for President. Most famously, during the Monday Night Wars, “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan made such an announcement about doing so on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and later repeated the claim on the Larry King Show, but that seemed to be a case of Hogan going way off-script. And we’ll never be able to forget Mr. Bob Backlund’s amplified Tea-Party-esque campaign rants in 1995 (“I have never eaten marijuana!”) no matter how much we try.
But while the Presidency is still a brass ring that hasn’t yet been grabbed, a lot of wrestlers have held other elected positions. Here’s a look at some of the wrestlers that did – or tried to – become a champion of the people.
Glenn Jacobs (aka Kane)
In WWE, Glenn Jacobs played a number of roles: Isaac Yankem DDS, Fake Diesel, and in his most famous character, Kane, for which he first donned the mask in 1997. The evolution of that last role saw him go from masked monster to corporate stooge, and even gave him his first position of authority as the company’s Director of Operations.
Perhaps it was that experience that prepared him for his role as Mayor of Knox County, Tennessee, a position he’s held in 2018. Despite his new job, Jacobs hasn’t completely hung up his boots, winning the 24/7 Championship under his real name in 2019 and appearing as a surprise entrant in this year’s Royal Rumble. As Mayor, Jacobs has likely not settled disputes by hooking up a City Council member’s genitals to a car battery and electrocuting them like he did to Shane McMahon – but that would undoubtedly make those meetings much more interesting.
While his name may not be as familiar to modern wrestling fans as many others on this list, Slam Wrestling producer Greg Oliver made no bones about Drake’s credentials, calling him the “Greatest of all Wrestlers Turned Politicians” in Drake’s 2017 obituary.
With success in both amateur and professional wrestling, Drake actually started his political career while he was still active in the ring, holding a seat in the Alabama legislature – a seat which he’d hold for 32 years, including acting as Speaker of the House. As a wrestler, he received major accolades as well, having been inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2001 the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008, and being awarded the Iron Mike Mazurki Award by the Cauliflower Alley Club in 1997.
Even though he was crowned the “King of Wrestling” in 1974, that wasn’t good enough for Lawler, who ran for Mayor of his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee in 1999. Despite being a villain for much of his career, Lawler ran on a definitively babyface platform, including on creating more parks, reducing crime, and decreasing property taxes.
While the idea of electing a non-career politician was a key selling point for Lawler, as he told Slam Wrestling during the midst of his campaign, only about 11% of voters agreed. It was good enough to come in third place. But the throne – or, rather, the Mayor’s seat – eluded him.
Perhaps as a way to one-up Lawler, his long-time rival Austin Idol told Slam Wrestling in 2011 that he was planning to run for Mayor of Tampa, Florida. Alas, we’re not even sure if he ever did file the necessary paperwork. Too bad, because if he’d have won election, it may have been the first step on a Presidential bid – he certainly had the campaign theme for it!
Jesse Ventura was a successful wrestler, but it was as a commentator where he really defined himself, showing that in addition to “The Body” he also had “The Mind” and “The Voice.” Ever-opinionated, Ventura was always unafraid to buck the system, trying to band the WWE roster to form a union during his in-ring days, and being on the winning end of a lawsuit against the company for likeness royalties. After defeating Vince McMahon, winning the election for Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, which he did in 1990, must have been a piece of cake. But that wasn’t enough for Ventura, who then ran for Governor of Minnesota in 1998 as the Reform Party candidate – and won. “We shocked the world,” he declared during his victory speech.
As Governor, Ventura’s record was met with mixed reviews. While some people enjoyed his non-traditional views, his third-party status wasn’t always able to plough through the quagmire of politics as usual within the House of Representatives who clung to Republican and Democratic party lines. Citing concerns over his and his family’s private life, Ventura declined to run for a second term. Since leaving office, Ventura has remained a popular political commentator – or as some critics say, a crackpot conspiracy theorist – and has said that he has not ruled out running for President. Indeed, in the 2020 election, was on the ticket in Alaska as the Green Party candidate, receiving nearly 1% of the votes cast.
After more than 20 years of combat in the ring, the Canadian legend went on to have even bigger battles as the leader of the Mohawk nation on the Kahnawake reservation in southern Quebec. As leader, Two Rivers played a key role in the 1990 Oka Crisis, a historical conflict between First Nations and the Canadian government.
“I’m outspoken with my responses to federal and provincial policies,” he told Slam Wrestling in a profile story we did on him in 2000. “(People) know me also from taking some proud stances to defend our rights.”
Even as an octogenarian, Two Rivers’ fighting spirit hasn’t waned one bit. In 2017, he sued singer Van Morrison for using a photograph of the legendary wrestler on an album cover without first seeking permission – the cover art was subsequently changed as a result.
The Great Sasuke
With all of the criticism levied at politicians these days, it wouldn’t be surprising if all of them wanted to wear masks in public, so as to not be recognized by disappointed constituents. But only one of them has done so: Japanese legend the Great Sasuke. While not the first Japanese wrestler to hold public office – Antonio Inoki, Hiroshi Hase, and Atsushi Onita all preceded him in this regard – none of them reached as high an office as Sasuke who was elected to the country’s Iwate Prefectural Assembly in 2003.
As one of the most popular wrestlers in Japanese history, Sasuke effectively became synonymous with the mask – and this was such a trademark that he actually wore the mask in the legislature. In 2007, Sasuke ran to become governor of Iwate territory, but lost the election. We think he may have been embarrassed or angry by the loss, but we couldn’t tell from looking at his face.
Like many organizational leaders, the past year has been one of turmoil and one in which hard decisions had to be made. The AWA/WWE superstar Blair was no exception when, as the President of the Cauliflower Alley Club, he had to make the hard decision to cancel last year’s reunion event.
While anyone else may have suffered “masked confusion” in taking everything into consideration, Blair was able to weigh all alternatives and make the right call. Undoubtedly it was the same type of leadership he exhibited as the County Commissioner, District 6 for Hillsborough County, Florida, a position he won in 2004, shortly after talking with Slam about his campaign.
Trained by the legendary Verne Gagne, Finnish strongman Tony Halme had huge star power in wrestling, and made a big name for himself in New Japan Pro Wrestling, before joining WWE in 1993 as Ludvig Borga. Playing a villainous foreigner – who could forget the historical bad blood between the US and Finland, right? – he was positioned near or at the top of the card for most of his WWE stint, which ended in 1994 after he was injured.
In 2003, Halme was elected as a member of the Finnish Parliament as a member of an ultra-right-wing party (How right wing was Halme? On one of his podcasts, Jim Ross said that Halme had a Nazi symbol tattooed on his calf that he covered up with his boots). Even there, his heelish ways continued, including police finding illegal steroids in his government office. His political career ended in 2006 when he went on disability due to medical problems caused by his alcoholism. Reportedly, he had planned to write a book about his political exploits, but it never came to pass before his suicide in 2010.
Other wrestlers who have dabbled in politics:
- Matt Morgan (currently, Mayor of Longwood, California)
- Rhino (unsuccessfully ran for Michigan House of Representatives in 2016 and for the Monroe Township Board of Trustees in 2020)
- Ray “Big Boss Man” Traylor (ran for Commission Chairman for Paulding County, Georgia)
- Linda McMahon (unsuccessfully ran for Connecticut State Senator in 2010 and 2012, appointed as the Administrator of the US Small Business Administration 2017-2019)
- Bob Backlund (unsuccessfully ran for a Congress seat in Connecticut in 2000)
- WWE Hall of Fame Celebrity Wing inductee Donald Trump wasn’t a wrestler, but did feud with Vince McMahon in 2007, leading to the Battle of the Billionaires at WrestleMania 23, which saw Trump shave McMahon’s head (US President, 2016 – 2020)
- Though best known for his legendary wrestling and acting careers, Dara Singh was also the first athlete to be elected to the Upper House of India’s Parliament.
- In addition to the above, a number of US politicians have made appearances on WWE programming, including Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and late Senator John McCain in 2010. A number of look-alikes too, but those were universally awful.