Several names had been thrown around for the representatives for McMahon and Trump, including Vince’s son Shane McMahon and Hulk Hogan. WrestleMania 23 marked the twentieth anniversary of the iconic Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant match, the finish of which is still shown in WrestleMania highlight packages to this day, and there were plans for Hogan to replicate that success with The Big Show, a legit 7ft athlete who could act as his “new” Andre. However Big Show was in rough shape and needed to take time off, so in his place was set to be The Great Khali, another 7ft monster who Trump claimed was called “Hindu” on the same show he forgot Bobby Lashley’s name. But with Khali being groomed to take on John Cena for the WWE Championship in a few months’ time, it didn’t make sense for “The Punjabi Nightmare” to lose to the aging Hogan for the sake of nostalgia – even if it was a backdrop for The Battle of the Billionaires. Furthermore, arguments over money stopped Hogan from signing up for the event, feeling he should get the biggest payday out of all the stars on the show because of his iconic status, clearly forgetting that this PPV was being headlined by McMahon vs. Trump with one of them getting their head shaved bald. Even without Hogan’s name, the match was going to draw huge numbers, which only grew when they announced Stone Cold Steve Austin as the special guest referee. Hogan needed them more than they needed Hogan.
In March 2007, leading up to WrestleMania 23, Donald Trump appeared live on Monday Night Raw to sign the contract for their match. It was the first time Trump had been on television to promote the match, which was a shame as the reveal of Bobby Lashley as his choice created an all-out brawl between him and Umaga which would have looked so much more effective if both Vince and Trump had been there. The contact signing ended in the only way it could in a WWE ring, with Trump shoving McMahon over the table in spectacular fashion. The result was exactly as you’d imagine, with the image of Trump pushing McMahon all over news outlets the following day.
Just before the event, McMahon and Trump held a press conference at Trump Towers in New York with Lashley, Umaga and Steve Austin. Although some of the press there were plants by WWE, there were legitimate real members of the press looking for quotes and soundbites from Donald Trump. They also drew in a huge crowd, who bore witness to Trump slap McMahon hard across the face as the conference came to a close. Trump also did several interviews to promote the show, but couldn’t hide his disappointment that WrestleMania 23 was running head-to-head with The Apprentice, and admitted he’d rather watch his own show than wrestling’s Super Bowl.
Finally, the big day arrived. April 1st, 2007. WrestleMania 23. The Battle of the Billionaires where one of them would be shaved bald.
The match was a surprisingly decent affair mostly down to the surreal visions of Donald Trump squaring off against Vince McMahon, and the workrate of those involved. Lashley and Umaga worked well together, and Austin as referee added a little salt and pepper to the affair. It all built up to the finish, however, which saw Umaga attack Austin allowing for Shane McMahon to announce himself as the new referee. As they double-teamed Lashley, it looked like Trump was going to get his head shaved, when Austin came back in and decked Shane and Umaga. With Vince on the outside looking concerned, Trump rushed at him and speared him out of his boots and threw some punches on the floor. It was quite the sight. Lashley then picked up the win, meaning Vince McMahon would be shaved bald by The Donald on PPV in front of thousands of people in attendance and millions watching at home.
With McMahon fleeing back up the ramp with his new buzzcut, Austin and Lashley celebrated with Trump in typical Stone Cold fashion, with plenty of beers and posing. However the highlight came when Trump, who threw away the beers given to him by Austin, was given the Stone Cold Stunner and he took an amazingly bad bump for it. It was so bad it couldn’t be saved by editing, but that wouldn’t stop it being used over and over again by WWE. Austin would tell a Q&A at a screening of his film The Condemned that Trump was a “nice guy but a shitty athlete” and added on his podcast in 2013, “Donald Trump’s number one advisor, his right hand guy at the time, gave him every single reason why he does not need to take the Stunner: ‘hey, man, this is not a good idea; you don’t need to do it; you’re doing enough by being here.’ Donald looked at Vince and he goes, ‘sure, I’ll take it.’”
The show overall had some pretty strong matches, with both Batista vs. The Undertaker for the World Heavyweight Championship and John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championships both standing out, but WrestleMania 23 was all about The Battle of the Billionaires. Not only did they set an attendance record of 74,687 (although announced as 80,103), they smashed previous WrestleMania PPV buyrates. The show drew 1.2 million overall, up from the 930k of WrestleMania 22 and 980k of WrestleMania 21, and it would remain the most purchased WrestleMania until WrestleMania 28 which saw the in-ring return of The Rock taking on John Cena. McMahon and Trump earned around $5 million each for the event, all of which was donated to charity.
Perhaps the biggest shame to come from such a high-profile match was that it neither Lashley or Umaga got a rub. The pair would continue their feud over the next few months, but Umaga was little more than McMahon’s puppet as he faced off against Lashley over the ECW Championship. In June and July, Lashley was involved in title matches for the WWE Championship against John Cena, but an injury put him of the shelf for six months and he was eventually released in 2008. WrestleMania 23 was his final WrestleMania for the company. Umaga, having now lost most of his mystique following the loss to Lashley and John Cena at Royal Rumble, faded into obscurity. His final WrestleMania would be the following year in a losing effort to Batista, and he was released in 2009 following a Wellness Violation. He passed away in December that year.
In 2013, Donald Trump was inducted into the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame, which he shares with the likes of Mr. T, Snoop Dogg, Mike Tyson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Trump was unmercifully booed by the crowd in New York, and he smartly kept his speech short. In an incredibly ironic moment, Vince McMahon said in his induction speech for Trump, “When you think about it, second only to me, Donald might very well be a great president of the United States.”
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.