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Fighting For Attention

Cory Vaillancourt
Nearly 300 people attended a wrestling match at the Jackson County Rescuse Squad building earlier this month

They’ve been fighting over your attention on the internet and the television for what seems like forever now.

They’ve got their slogans and catch phrases, their soundtracks and color schemes, their gimmicks and gags, their die-hards and their haters.

Yes, professional wrestlers.

If you thought we were talking about politicians, you’re right too. The worlds of politics and professional wrestling collide, more often than you think.

On an October Saturday night during the height of campaign season, nearly 300 people packed the four-bay garage of the Jackson County Rescue Squad in Sylva to witness a high-stakes struggle between two fierce competitors.  Few if any guidelines were being followed to limit the spread of the Coronavirus.

In the ring, one’s a hero, the other’s a villain. Countless hopes ride upon the outcome but in the end, there can be only one winner.  This ethos is part of the allure of professional wrestling.

“To me it's, it's suspension of disbelief. If it's done right, it's an art form,” said event promoter and Sylva native Chad Jones, who wrestles as the Outlaw Randy Wayne. “It's definitely entertaining for people, you know, they, like to come out, they have a good time and get engaged with the guys in there working for them, and, you know, get a little rowdy.”

Outlaw Randy Wayne was talking about wrestling – around here, wrasslin’, - but admitted it could also be applied to politics.

“[Laughing] Well, I mean, it can be dirty, you know, people can play dirty,” Jones said. “As far as politics and wrestling go, they go almost hand in hand.”

As Chad Jones, he’s become active in the Jackson County debate over the Confederate statue lording over Sylva’s picturesque downtown. The town wants to get rid of it, but Jones and the county want it to stay.

Another Sylva native, Frank Huguelet, wrestles as Heavy Metal Ric Savage. Savage has also been active in the statue debate, pushing for compromise while appearing at events across Western North Carolina in support of Republican candidates like Kevin Corbin and Mark Robinson.

“I've seen that the only difference between wrestling and politics is there's no physical attacks,” Huguelet said. “There's a lot of verbal attacks. You create a character, you come up with a slogan, you've got a catch phrase and you go out and you get your character over to crowds. It's no different. The only difference in wrestling is, we have to actually fight.”

“People get passionate about both, and people get emotionally and mentally invested in both and I think that's what you're seeing right now in the climate politically in the entire country, not just in Jackson County,” Jones said. “Wrestling is good versus evil. You know, you got a good guy, you got a bad guy you're in there telling a story, whatever the story may be, you're in there telling the story. And it's the same thing. I mean, politics, there's good versus evil. It just depends on your perception of who's good and who's evil.”

If you ask most voters, President Donald Trump is definitely one of those things.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Trump may be the only U.S. president to make an appearance in a professional wrestling event.

It was WrestleMania 23, held in 2007 at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan before more than 80,000 spectators. Tensions between Trump and World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon had finally culminated in a match called “The Battle of the Billionaires.”

Wrestler Bobby Lashley fought in Trump’s stead, and Umaga fought for McMahon. Trump and McMahon were both ringside and the loser agreed to have their head shaved by the winner.

During the match, Trump charged McMahon with a running clothesline, knocking McMahon off his feet. Trump then jumped on McMahon, landing several blows to his head before disengaging. Here’s WWE legends Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jim Ross, on the call:  “The hostile takeover of Donald Trump on Vince McMahon has happened at Wrestlemania 23! I didn’t think he would do it but …”

Bobby Lashley, Trump’s wrestler, won the match, and with electric clippers Trump took the first locks of McMahon’s mane.

Heavy Metal Ric Savage explains Trump’s crossover appeal.

“He's a master entertainer,” he said. “He knows how to work a crowd. He knows how to relate to a crowd. It's just a personality thing. Some people can do it. Some people can't.”

Plenty of others can – Vince McMahon’s wife Linda was appointed head of the cabinet-level U.S. Small Business Administration by Trump in 2016. She left in 2019 to run a huge pro-Trump PAC. Her husband Vince, ten years after having his head shaved by Trump on live television, now serves as one of his economic advisors.

Jesse “The Body” Ventura was elected mayor of a small Minnesota town before winning Minnesota’s gubernatorial race in 1995.

WWE superstar Kane, the Undertaker’s half-brother, is now mayor of Knox County, Tennessee.

In Western North Carolina, former Macon County Commissioner Ron Haven may be the last wrestler turned politician.  But if Heavy Metal Ric Savage and Outlaw Randy Wayne don’t change their minds in the next few years – and voters agree – Frank Huguelet and Chad Jones may be just one seat away from having a pro-wrestler majority on the Jackson County Commission.