Barry Saunders

Politics and rasslin’ share a lot in common – Saunders

What better way to celebrate our nation’s birthday than by watching good triumph over evil in a rasslin’ match?

Of course, “good” and “evil” are subjective terms, so your idea of the good guy in this scenario may differ from mine.

Me? I’m putting my money on the guy in the Hillary Clinton shirt.

Most people who come out to see Dan Richards, who fights under the moniker “The Progressive Liberal,” are hoping to see that shirt and him ripped to shreds. Richards dispenses suplexes, flying mares, half-Nelsons and insults in rings in high school gymnasiums these days, but in this hyper-politicized age, he’ll probably soon be selling out Madison Square Garden.

Politics, dear comrade, have entered the squared circle with the force of a flying dropkick off the top turnbuckle to the solar plexus.

When Murray Happer isn’t teaching at South Johnston High School, he sometimes pulls on the tights, clambers into the ring and wrestles under the name Otto Schwanz or “The Big Schwanz.” He and a partner recently, though, teamed up as a tag team and rassled as a shirtless Putin – “I was Putin,” Happer said, laughing – and Trump. The reaction the pair receives varies depending upon where they’re fighting. “The best way to get ‘heat’ ” – to rile up the fans – “in the Raleigh area is to say something good about Donald Trump,” he said. “Just say, ‘Make America Great Again.’ 

It’s not that way everywhere, as the Progressive Liberal is discovering. Praising Hillary is the quickest way to fans’ ire – and money – in coal mining country, especially when you lecture West Virginians, as he does, to give up on coal, or suggest to booing Kentucky audiences, “I want to exchange your bullets for bullet points. Bullet points of knowledge.”

When he’s not styling in his shirt festooned with Hillary’s pictures, he’s wearing one that says “Not My President.”

Chutzpah, thy name is The Progressive Liberal.

In a Sports Illustrated interview, Richards said he knew prior to the election that he had hit upon a winning strategy when he told a jeering crowd that instead of building a wall around Mexico, we should build one around West Virginia “so they couldn’t infiltrate the population... Even then, those fans were chanting ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’ 

Happer/Schwanz said he knew prior to the election that Trump had hit upon a winning strategy despite committing what appeared to be yet another politically fatal faux pas.

“A friend of mine said, ‘He’s through, now,’ ” he recalled. “I told him, ‘No, he isn’t. If his ship hasn’t sunk by now, it ain’t ever going to sink... (World Wrestling Federation President) Vince McMahon or somebody has been advising him, because he knew what he was doing.’ 

Wrestling and politics are similar, Happer/Schwanz said, because “both involve demogoguery, promising people more than you could ever deliver.”

Wrestling has never been a safe space, a haven for political correctness. Remember Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones and his unfortunately named brother, Burrhead Jones?


Politics and rasslin’ go waaaay back. During the Cold War, my favorite heel – bad guy – was Ivan Koloff, the Russian Bear. One of the major disappointments of my life – aside from finding out at age 23 that Santa Claus was really my Uncle Sweet William in a fake beard – was boarding a plane from Charlotte to New York in 1978 and seeing Koloff playing cards with Nature Boy Rick Flair a day after I saw them on television trying to decapitate each other in the ring.

Not only that, dear readers, but turns out Koloff was about as Russian as my big toe: Dude was Canadian and lived in Winterville, where he died last February. I can’t believe he was that close and I never made a pilgrimage down there to shake his hand and learn how to apply his finishing move, the Russian bearhug.

Speaking of finishing moves, every successful rassler needs one, a coup de grace he applies to subdue his opponent. The Liberal Progressive has one of the best: It’s called “the Liberal Agenda.”

Happy Birthday, America, because that appears to be as close to a liberal agenda as we’re going to get for awhile.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9