“Donald Trump is a ‘WrestleMania’ institution.”
That’s how Vince McMahon began his speech inducting The Donald into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013, and while “institution” may have been pushing it (at least judging by the response Trump got when he took the stage), there is no doubt that both sides have had a long – and interesting – relationship, one that stretches back nearly 30 years.
It began long before Trump was a presidential candidate, or even the guy who fired people on reality TV, but as his bid to become the Heavyweight Champion of the Free World heads into the cage match that is the Iowa Caucus, we figured now was a good time to look back on the history that lead him to becoming a WWE Hall of Famer. And probably taught him a few tricks he’s using on the campaign trail.
Trump and the WWE first crossed paths in 1988, a few years after the opening of the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. In an attempt to turn AC into a true destination, Trump brought in WrestleMania IV (“Everybody in the country wanted this event, and we were able to get it,” he boasted at the time). It went well enough that Trump made a successful push to bring WrestleMania V back to Atlantic City. It remains, to this point, the only time a city has hosted WrestleMania in back-to-back years. The Trump Plaza closed in 2014.
Trump would show up at several WrestleManias as a member of the audience, and was even interviewed in the crowd by Jesse “The Body” Ventura at WrestleMania XX in 2004. Ventura started things off by complimenting Donald’s hair (it should be noted “The Body” was wearing a bandana atop his head), then the former Minnesota governor teased a return to politics by asking Trump if he’d support him on a run for the White House. This prompted Jerry Lawler to wonder if we could someday see a ticket that included Trump. And we all just laughed.
Of course, you can’t talk about Trump’s involvement in WWE without mentioning the Battle of the Billionaires. In 2007, Trump’s feud with McMahon became a featured storyline at WrestleMania, but its seeds were actually planted months earlier (who says WWE can’t do continuity?) In late 2006, Trump was engaged in a war of words with The View‘s Rosie O’Donnell, and in an attempt to capitalize, WWE soon hyped a match between the two on Raw. Two independent wrestlers (one of whom, Ace Steel, would sign a WWE developmental deal soon after) portrayed the celebrities in a segment that would quickly become one of the worst things WWE has ever aired. However, it was a sign of things to come.
Three weeks after the horrific Trump/Rosie segment, Raw held “Fan Appreciation Night,” where McMahon would use the opportunity to deride ungrateful fans for their lack of respect, only to be triumphantly interrupted by Trump, who showed up on the TitanTron. Previewing his 2016 presidential bid, he said that McMahon wasn’t giving the people what they wanted – and he had a plan to make WWE great again.
Using his powers of capitalism, Trump then proceeded to dump money – some of it actually real – on the audience, embarrassing McMahon in the process (“Donald Trump, you son of a bitch!” he bellowed). This segment would serve as the kick off to the feud known as the Battle of the Billionaires. A few weeks later, Trump would return to Raw, this time in-person, to challenge McMahon to a match at WrestleMania. Vince wouldn’t accept, saying a doctor had advised him never to wrestle again due to previous injuries.
Instead, McMahon proposed that both men find others to fight for them – which wasn’t enough for Trump, because, as he pointed out, “You’re a rich guy, and I’m a richer guy.” The only way he would accept the match was if the stakes were raised significantly, and, in the wrestling universe, that meant only one thing: A hair vs. hair match. Yes, Trump would put his iconic locks on the line if McMahon would as well, and Vince accepted after a little bit of goading.
The heelish McMahon picked the monstrous Umaga do to his dirty work, while Trump countered with ECW champion Bobby Lashley, and all was going swimmingly until a promotional appearance by Donald on Imus in the Morning, when he was asked about his supposedly hand-picked representative in the ‘Mania match. He stumbled over his words, and then managed to answer “Bobby Lindsay… [a] Black gentleman, and the strongest man I’ve ever seen.”
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