4 Ways Donald Trump's Pro Wrestling Experience Is Like His Campaign Today At least none of Trump's political opponents have been strapped down and had their heads shaved by him.
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4 Ways Donald Trump's Pro Wrestling Experience Is Like His Campaign Today

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4 Ways Donald Trump's Pro Wrestling Experience Is Like His Campaign Today

4 Ways Donald Trump's Pro Wrestling Experience Is Like His Campaign Today

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you have watched any cable news over the last few year, you've probably heard Donald Trump's fighting words described in somewhat martial terms. His style has been compared to the swagger and spectacle of pro wrestling. But this is not just a metaphor. Trump was actually a recurring character on WWE. From member station WNYC in New York, Stephen Nessen reports that the experience may have helped lay the foundation for Trump's current success as a presidential candidate.

STEPHEN NESSEN, BYLINE: In 2007, Donald Trump appeared on Wrestlemania XXIII.

(SOUNDBITE OF WRESTLEMANIA XXIII)

VINCE MCMAHON: Why are you here?

NESSEN: That's Vince McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.

(SOUNDBITE OF WRESTLEMANIA XXIII)

DONALD TRUMP: Let me put it very simply, Vince. I'm taller than you.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: I'm better looking than you.

(CHEERING)

NESSEN: Trump is a longtime friend of McMahon's. Trump made previous appearances on the WWE and hosted two Wrestlemanias at one of his casinos. But on this occasion, he challenged his rich friend in the ring.

(SOUNDBITE OF WRESTLEMANIA XXIII)

MCMAHON: What? Oh, I get it. It's the Battle of the Billionaires.

TRUMP: That's right.

NESSEN: They weren't literally wrestling each other - not exactly. The plan was to have wrestling surrogates stand in for the businessmen.

(SOUNDBITE OF WRESTLEMANIA XXIII)

TRUMP: If I lose, you get to shave my head. Now...

MCMAHON: What?

TRUMP: Now, it's not going to happen, though. I damn well better win.

NESSEN: Back in 2007, Trump was still on "The Apprentice," which was a hit on NBC, and the network wanted to cross-promote the show on other NBC properties. Court Bauer wrote the Trump storyline for WWE. He says that was one of the first times Trump engaged with and fed of an unruly audience.

COURT BAUER: You go in the wrestling crowd, anything can go down. You know, they just throw stuff at you. They can just totally hijack the show, and you can't speak over what they're saying 'cause there's 20,000 of them and one of you with a microphone.

(SOUNDBITE OF WRESTLEMANIA XXIII)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I don't believe - uh oh. It must be go time.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Look at this.

NESSEN: In the matchup, Trump was the good guy, goading the crowd to boo McMahon, who was the bad guy. While Trump taunted his opponent verbally, he did get physical, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF WRESTLEMANIA XXIII)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, my God. Mr. McMahon just got shoved on his billionaire butt.

NESSEN: Bauer says Trump was game for anything. He was even willing to yank on his own hair to prove it was real. It didn't come to that. But when it came to the live show, Bauer says all guests handle the crowd differently.

BAUER: Some people thrive off of it. Some people, it eats them alive. And he can - he certainly did not have any anxiety over going out there. He seemed very confident whenever he'd go out there.

NESSEN: And hurling graphic insults goes with the territory.

(SOUNDBITE OF WRESTLEMANIA XXIII)

TRUMP: Your grapefruits are no match for my Trump Towers.

NESSEN: Scott Beekman is an associate professor of history at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio and an expert on the history of wrestling. He says when Trump attacks his political rivals, it reminds him of a promo. That's when a wrestler gives a monologue that insults his opponent before a match.

SCOTT BEEKMAN: I think he's best when he's riffing off of an opponent and has an opponent right there that he can try to knock down a few pegs.

NESSEN: There are other parallels between Trump's campaign and professional wrestling, like when Trump offered to pay the legal fees of a supporter who punched a protester. Another classic wrestling trope is to take out a bounty on an opponent or his ongoing and public feuds with other candidates and other members of the media, and then there are the fans - historically, a blue-collar crowd. Wrestling expert Scott Beekman.

BEEKMAN: The traditional wrestling crowd is your - somebody's grandmother and your plumber. And that's the sort of folks that he seems to be getting in enormous numbers at his rallies.

NESSEN: While Trump may still be slinging pro wrestling quality insults at his rivals, the outcome of this match is not predetermined. For NPR News, I'm Stephen Nessen in New York.

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