Luke Owen looks at the history of the 45th President of the United States of America headlining professional wrestling’s biggest show…
Before America decided he was the man to run the country, Donald Trump was a billionaire business tycoon, a reality TV star and – more importantly – a WWE Hall of Fame inductee.
Trump always had business dealings with WWE (formally WWF) owner and promoter Vince McMahon long before The Donald was a regular character on television. In 1988 McMahon used Trump Plaza in Atlantic City for WrestleMania IV, headlined by Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase for the vacant WWF Championship, and the event was such a success that Trump requested he host WrestleMania V in the same venue the following year. To this day, Trump Plaza is the only home that has hosted two WrestleManias back to back. Trump would appear again at several WrestleMania events in the crowd, including being in the front row of WrestleMania XX where he was interviewed by the Guvnor of Minnesota and former WWE star Jesse “The Body” Ventura. This was at a time when Ventura himself was looking to run for President and used the event to ask Trump to support him in his endeavours. The irony of this segment, looking back in hindsight, is colour commentator Jerry “The King” Lawler quipping about Trump being on the presidential ticket. “A wrestler in the White House?” his broadcast partner Jim Ross asks, “Yeah – and a billionaire as Vice President,” Lawler retorted.
Towards the end of 2006 and the start of 2007, Donald Trump got into public spats with Rosie O’Donnell, with the two calling each other out using shows like The View and several Fox News outlets. O’Donnell had been vocal about Trump endorsing Miss USA Tara Conner to keep her title despite allegations that she had been seen drunk and disorderly around bars and clubs as well as testing positive for cocaine, and Trump had fired back by calling O’Donnell a “stupid fat lesbian”. In reality, this was all done for publicity as both of their shows had been declining in the ratings with Trump’s version of The Apprentice having its worst season yet and O’Donnell was looking to bolster her collapsing viewing figures for The View. This led to a segment on the WWE show New Year’s Revolution where McMahon announced the following episode Monday Night Raw he would have an in-ring confrontation between Trump and O’Donnell.
The segment didn’t actually feature the real-life celebrities, but instead two independent wrestlers portraying them having one of the worst matches in Raw’s long history. Trump, played by ROH star Ace Steel (who also trained CM Punk and Colt Cabana), took on former NWA Women’s Champion Kylie McLean in a segment that had the crowd chanting, “bullshit”, “we want wrestling” and for rival promotion TNA. McMahon himself was at ringside, watching the whole disaster unfold in front of him with a look of abject shock and horror. “Trump tried a bodyslam and Rosie fell on top of him, and when he kicked out the boos were louder than ever because it meant the match was continuing,” Bryan Alverez wrote in issue #603 of Figure Four Weekly.
While the segment was a disaster (those inside the company were appalled at the whole thing), it did get mainstream attention – which was the whole point – with TMZ and several other news networks running stories about it. For the first time in years, people were talking about professional wrestling, and Trump vs. O’Donnell had done far better than the publicity attempt from a few weeks earlier with rap star Kevin Federline beating WWE Champion John Cena. Not only that, but this skit was the first step towards something bigger. O’Donnell had never been contacted to appear on WWE television, but Donald Trump had. The idea was to build towards the Royal Rumble which was a couple of weeks away, but those plans changed and it was moved to WrestleMania.
The following weeks of Monday Night Raw saw Vince McMahon come down to the ring to call out Donald Trump for his failing ratings on The Apprentice. In storyline, McMahon had received a letter written by Trump that threw shade on the ‘match’ between himself and O’Donnell and told the owner of WWE that he didn’t know what the people wanted. McMahon, on the other hand, disagreed telling him that he didn’t give people what they wanted, he told them what to like. It was this weird meta-angle where Mr. McMahon, the character, was openly admitting that Vince McMahon, the promoter, was out of touch with wrestling fans in 2007 which is why John Cena was still the number one babyface even though Shawn Michaels was far more popular, and why the WWE Champion had been pinned by the aforementioned Kevin Federline.
After the Royal Rumble, McMahon would be in the ring once again calling out Trump when The Donald appeared on the big screen. Although the crowd didn’t react as much as they probably expected, they did cheer when Trump rained thousands of dollars from the ceiling into the audience. This wasn’t fake Monopoly money either, this was real cash. The following week, McMahon challenged Trump to a Battle of the Billionaires at WrestleMania 23, in which each billionaire could chose a wrestler to represent them and the loser would have their head shaved bald on PPV.
The match and stipulation got exactly the coverage they wanted. Sites like Yahoo!, MSN and the Associated Press ran stories about the possibility of Donald Trump losing his trademark hair, and it quickly became the biggest marquee match in WrestleMania for some time. But while WWE did their part to promote the match and event, Trump wasn’t quite as good. McMahon revealed that he had picked the racially insensitive “Samoan Bulldozer” Umaga as his representative while Trump announced on Don Imus’ radio show a week early than he was supposed to that his choice was ECW Champion Bobby Lashley. The problem was that he didn’t call him Bobby Lashley or even his FCW name Blaster Lashley, and instead called him “Bobby Lizzy” and “Bobby Lindsay”. When he couldn’t remember his name for a third time, he simply called him, “a black gentleman who happens to be the strongest man I have ever seen.”