When I was asked to write a book review about the Donald Trump/WWE connection, I was skeptical. I’ve written reviews for documentaries and pay-per-view specials, but this was unique territory. As divisive as the past few years have been on the political landscape, I wondered if this assignment was more hassle than it was worth. Depending on someone’s political stance, they would either enjoy or despise the tale this book told. In my opinion, the government is more of a work than professional wrestling so I usually subscribed to the wise words of the legendary George Carlin to avoid any high blood pressure.
Still, the similarities between the world of sports entertainment and politics are almost undeniable. Both genres attempt to identify with the audience and motivate them to action. Bill Clinton drew people to the polls the same way that Ric Flair drew crowds to the box office. Regan motivated people to vote, while Bill Watts motivated fans to buy tickets. Another major similarity is that figures from both landscapes attempt to convince the audience that they have the power to impact the results of a particular contest. Barack Obama inspired voters that they cleared the way for “hope and change,” which is the same premise Dusty Rhodes used two decades earlier when he told fans their support helped him overcome “hard times.”
On the flip side, the blunders from government can be equally compared with some of the more infamous moments of pro wrestling. For example, Anthony Scaramucci’s run in the White House was shorter than Al Snow’s stint as the Avatar persona in the WWF in 1995. Former Press Secretary, Sean Spicer verbally stumbled his way through press conferences almost as effectively as Mike Adamle’s run on WWE TV. Plus, the recent announcement of the return of the XFL might be the biggest mistake since Hillary decided to delete those e mails.
However, when Lavie Margolin, author of over two dozen books about various aspects of career building, sent a copy of “TrumpMania,” it was a nice surprise to see the direction the book took on the controversial figure. The author cleverly weaves through the political red tape to trace the origins of the Trump/McMahon friendship in this nonpartisan literary compilation.
So, how exactly did the “battle of the billionaires start?
Margolin goes in-depth with impressive research to give readers solid background information about the way the future President became involved in the sports entertainment game nearly three decades ago. From an extremely wealthy and influential family, Donald Trump always looked for ways to expand his real estate empire. In the early 80s, Trump partnered with Harrah’s for the construction of the Trump Plaza Casino, which opened in 1984, the same year that Hulkamania began to run wild, launching the “Rock N Wrestling” era. By 1986, he bought Harrah’s share of the complex to gain full control of the establishment. But, he needed entertainment to draw gamblers to his tables. As he touts so often today, Trump negotiated a deal. In 1987, he made an umbrella payment of $3.2 million to book the Gerry Cooney/Michael Spinks boxing match for Trump Plaza. Cooney was an underdog ahead of the bout, as his opponent was undefeated at that point. Cooney was dropped to the canvas in the fifth round before the referee stopped the fight, and gamblers dropped an estimated $7.2 million inside the casino that weekend. Clearly, Trump’s “gamble” to use sports to draw players to the tables paid off.
The following year, the WWF rode the wave of momentum of Wrestlemania III, an event that saw over 90,000 spectators in attendance, to fuel anticipation for the fourth edition of the trademark event. As the author explained quite well, the usual procedure to book venues was not the case for Wrestlemania IV. Instead of McMahon’s rental of a building and the collection of ticket revenue, Trump actually paid Vince a base price to bring his premiere event to Atlantic City, and collected the box office money himself. It was a win-win situation for everyone, as the financial risk was reduced for McMahon, who still made his normal percentage of pay-per-view buys. At the same time, Trump received ticket revenue and the increase in gambling at his casino.
From a booking prospective, the event was usually viewed negatively because the highly anticipated Hogan/Andre rematch ended in a disappointing double disqualification mid-way through a tournament to determine a new WWF champion. The tournament format that featured over a dozen matches didn’t lend itself to a live broadcast. But, the most important aspect of the event, the business side of the collaboration, was extremely successful. The 1988 edition drew nearly 20,000 fans and the same event was already booked at Trump Plaza the next year. After two consecutive years of collaboration, the McMahon/Trump tag team certainly proved successful.
However, there were other moments from pro wrestling that are often forgotten from Trump’s Atlantic City empire. GLOW, the original women’s group from the 80s, was booked for a non-televised event at a smaller Trump venue. The show was free for spectators in an attempt to draw more gamblers into the building, and Trump was featured in a hokey taped skit that aired in front of the live audience. There was also the little known attempt at a WCW pay-per-view, that was scheduled for a Trump-owned building, but was later moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Turner event was relocated because Trump had another pay-per-view event planned, a one-on-one game of basketball between NBA legends, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving. While the basketball event on PPV flopped, the more infamous blunder from the same time period was the initial WBF pay-per-view that was held at the Trump Taj Mahal in 1991. The WBF folded the following year, and many of Trump’s buildings in Atlantic City closed since his days of hosting high profile sports there.
Aside from a pair of Wrestlemania events in the 80s, Donald Trump’s involvement in sports entertainment is often associated with his appearance at Wrestlemania 23, where he did a storyline with Vince McMahon for a hair vs. hair match. Margolin highlighted some of the promotional work the real estate mogul did for the event and did some digging to tell an interesting story about Stone Cold’s involvement in the match. The McMahon/Trump showdown did good business, as it was one of the most lucrative Wrestlemania events in the history of the company.
Fast forward to his political campaign in 2016 and the former reality TV star, much as he did during his time on “The Apprentice,” borrowed from the sports entertainment playbook to get his agenda across to the public. With a Hogan-level tan, the orange newcomer to the political scene held rallies that resembled pro wrestling promos from the 80s. He chanted, he had catchphrases, and there were occasional punches thrown in the audience. Basically, Trump played the role of the “pro wrestling villain,” which isn’t necessarily a negative depending on a person’s political stance. Keep in mind, there is always a segment of the audience that wants to cheer for the villain in the movies. Similar to how a heel would break the rules in a match, Trump promised to “break the rules of Washington” with a pledge to “drain the swamp.” He even insulted his challengers with names such as “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” and “Crooked Hillary.”
Raven, the brooding grappler from ECW fame, once explained in an interview that “it’s better to be loved or hated because nobody cares if you’re in between.” Trump certainly found that element of human psychology and exploited it to the fullest. Regardless of the opinion of his claims, Trump’s election debates provided compelling television. In the past, the mild-mannered Bob Doyle generated about as much emotion at the podium as a Verne Gagne promo. When Trump’s rhetoric garnered jeers from the audience, he scolded those in the crowd, similar to a typical wrestling heel. Plus, maybe Nikolai Volkoff did help him win the election?
As the book progresses, it covers Linda McMahon’s appointment to Washington as a member of Trump’s cabinet in a role as the administrator of the Small Business Administration. Margolin detailed Linda’s two previous attempts to win a Senate seat, which costs her an estimated $100 million combined. However, Linda’s contribution of $6.5 million to Trump’s presidential bid was enough to get her a spot in his administration. Ted Dibiase was right, everyone has a price.
In the year since Trump’s victory, the political scene had more swerves than a Russo WCW storyline. Reports of corruption within the DNC seemed to suggest that Hillary might not have been the unstained candidate she claimed to be during her campaign. Several from the Trump team were future endeavored, and Trump appears to be avoiding Robert Muller more than JTG avoids a phone call from Johnny Ace.
Overall, the book is an entertaining look at some of the over-the-top promotions of Trump and the WWE. The only major criticism toward the book is that while its nonpartisan view allows it to be enjoyed by a wider audience, that same approach can lack substance at times. Still, it provides an enjoyable read about a subject that too often results in nonsensical arguments on social media. Maybe Hillary is as corrupt as her critics claim? Maybe Trump’s presidential bid was originally designed as just a publicity stunt? Who knows? I wonder if The Rock is busy in 2020?
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail email@example.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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