For some reason, after retiring from the ring, a large number of professional wrestlers make attempts to get involved in politics. Even stranger, many of them end up being quite successful at it! It turns out, there have been former wrestlers in nearly every level of government, from local to federal, with many others still who have tried and failed. What is it about politics that seems to attract people who made their living in a shady business that takes pride in deceiving their customers for profit? We haven’t a clue, but for some of the following wrestlers, their battles in the political arena may have been more fierce than those they faced inside the squared circle!
10. Abraham Lincoln
Okay, so professional wrestling didn’t truly exist back in the 1800’s, but the concept of shoot wrestling as an entertainment option did exist, as well as the idea of purposely throwing fights in order to make some money and avoid injury. And there is documentation to show that the man who would become the 16th President of the United States did enjoy a successful career as a wrestler in his youth. In fact, his proficiency as a wrestler was used as part of his political campaign, giving him a reputation both as a fighter and a man of the people. In the modern era of wrestling, the National Wrestling Alliance would claim that their World Title (which was briefly unified with the WCW World Title) had a lineage back to a title held by Lincoln, which wasn’t entirely true (actually, it was almost completely false), but at least it sounded good.
9. Nikolai Volkoff
WWE Hall of Famer Volkoff, one of many “evil Russian” (technically, Lithuanian, a point which would become important during his post-Cold War face turn) characters that made their way through wrestling in the 70’s and 80’s, was actually born in Croatia, then emigrated to Canada, where he was trained by the legendary Stu Hart. After a notable career which saw Volkoff win titles all over North America, including winning the WWE Tag Team titles at the first WrestleMania, Volkoff retired to Maryland and began getting involved in local politics. Volkoff is a registered Republican, who said that he supported the party because they helped liberate his former homeland. In 2006, Volkoff attempted to make the jump to the larger American political scene, entering the Republican primary for State Delegate in Maryland, but was, sadly, defeated. He continues to remain active at a more grassroots level in his state.
8. Rick Steiner
The Dog-Faced Gremlin, and the man responsible for unleashing Scott Steiner upon the wrestling world, has had quite a successful career post-wrestling. The Steiner Brothers were considered one of the best tag teams in the world during the 80s and 90s, and while Scott would go on to a successful singles career, Rick was no less accomplished than his brother, winning titles all over the world. After retiring from the ring, Steiner got involved in real estate, and runs a successful operation in the Atlanta area. In addition, he attempted to become a member of his local school board in 2006, but was disqualified due to using his wrestling name, as opposed to his real one, on the ballot, which is a problem that can only exist when you’re talking about pro wrestlers. Fortunately for Steiner, he was still able to run as a write-in candidate, and won. To be fair, though, he was technically running unopposed. Apparently school board elections aren’t quite as high drama as we were led to believe.
7. Ludvig Borga
Tony Halme had a moderately successful wrestling career in Japan before debuting in WWE as evil Finnish environmentalist Ludvig Borga. He was actually pushed very strongly, even ending Tatanka’s year-long undefeated streak in the process, with the intention that he would have a main event feud against Lex Luger. However, a massive ankle injury ended both Borga’s push and his WWE tenure, and he retired from wrestling shortly afterwards. Moving back to his homeland of Finland, Halme was elected as a Member of Parliment, and went on to become one of the most controversial political figures in that country’s history. Among his notable indiscretions were calling the President of Finland a lesbian (Halme later apologized, saying that he hadn’t meant it as an insult, because he believed she actually was a lesbian), a battle with alcoholism that saw him committed to a mental hospital, and ultimately, committing suicide near the end of his term.
6. Jerry Lawler
Lawler has spent decades claiming that he is the real King of Memphis, Tennessee, and with all due respect to Elvis Presley, he might be right. After all, while Elvis might have been a huge influence on popular music, Lawler was so well-liked in his hometown that he almost got elected mayor! But seriously, there is no doubt that Memphis does have a soft spot in its heart for Lawler, who was a prominent figure in the area for years, most of them spent running the Memphis wrestling territory. And in 1999, with WWE at the height of its popularity, Lawler put himself on the ballot to run for mayor of Memphis. It was mostly seen as a publicity stunt, and perhaps it was, but Lawler, running on a platform of education, safety, and city beautification, earned 11.7% percent of the vote. Unfortunately, that was only good for third place, although Lawler did finish higher than twelve other candidates. He would try again, in 2009, finishing fifth, which seems to have ended his dreams of mayorship. For now, anyway.
5. Bob Backlund
During the 70’s, Bob Backlund was one of the biggest stars in the then-WWWF, even winning (what would come to be known as) the WWE Title and holding it for over 2,100 days, one of the longest single reigns in WWE history (Backlund would win the title a second time, in 1994, but only held it for 3 days). In 2000, with his in-ring career winding down, Backlund began threatening on TV to run for President, playing off the tight race between George Bush and Al Gore. In reality, Backlund actually was running for political office, although obviously, not for President of the United States. Backlund attempted to win a seat in Congress in Connecticut as the Republican nominee, but was soundly defeated, earning only 29% of the vote. Backlund continues to maintain his “Presidential” persona to this day, and has been quite publicly vocal about his belief in and knowledge of the American political system.
The man-beast Rhyno, who was one of the hottest prospects in wrestling when he debuted in ECW (and was technically the last ECW Champion when the promotion went under), never quite reached his full potential in the ring, although he had a solid and lengthy career for several different wrestling organizations. These days, Rhyno has spent some time as a trainer and part-time wrestler in NXT, helping to develop the new generation of Superstars. However, in 2016, he took a break from his wrestling duties in order to run for a seat in the House of Representatives in his home state of Michigan, a decision which was even featured on WWE.com. Rhyno’s platform involved improved education through increased salaries for teachers, road improvements, and fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, despite a fairly entertaining campaign and the additional attention he got by being Smackdown Tag Team Champion while running, Rhyno lost his bid for a seat fairly convincingly.
3. Antonio Inoki
Inoki is one of the most famous Japanese wrestlers in the entire world, a multiple time World Champion, the founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling, and a WWE Hall of Famer. He originated the concept of “Strong Style” in pro wrestling, now popularized by Shinsuke Nakamura, and his biggest match was likely the infamous “Boxer vs Wrestler” match against Muhammed Ali in 1976. He also headlined two shows in North Korea that hold the record for largest pro wrestling audience in history, claiming over 150,000 and 190,000 fans in attendance. With that much fame and fortune at his command, it should be no shock that Inoki was easily elected into Japan’s House of Councillors in 1989, while still an active pro wrestler. During his term in office, Inoki took place in a special diplomatic mission to Iraq, where he successfully negotiated the release of several Japanese hostages from Saddam Hussein, just before the first Gulf War. Inoki was defeated for his position in the House in 1995, but was re-elected in 2013. Due to his close ties with famed North Korean wrestler Rikidozan, Inoki has worked tirelessly to attempt to open diplomatic ties with North Korea, even getting temporarily suspended from his position for taking an unauthorized trip to the country on the anniversary of the end of the Korean War.
2. Linda McMahon
Vince McMahon’s wife might not have ever been an active wrestler (although she did kick several people in the crotch on WWE TV, including her husband, which we feel counts), but she was one of the driving forces behind WWE’s success. Then, in 2009. she was appointed to the Connecticut Board of Education, a position which many saw as a springboard for a attempt at getting into federal politics. And indeed, she would quickly resign from that position when she announced her candidacy for Senate later that year. McMahon spent a large amount of money (reportedly as much as $50 million) to become the Republican nominee, but was soundly defeated in the election. A second try for a vacant Senate seat in 2012 went equally poorly, and she has not attempted to run a third time as of yet. More importantly, Linda’s Senate campaign caused shifts within WWE itself, as the company openly began moving towards a more family-friendly, PG-rated product after years of skewing towards a more mature audience. In addition, WWE began running advertisements during their programming, exhorting fans to “Stand Up For WWE”, which were seen as thinly-veiled political ads for the McMahon Senate campaign.
1. Jesse Ventura
In the top spot, a man who could legitimately make a claim for being the most interesting man in the world, Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Ventura has basically done everything you can imagine. He was a main event Superstar in the 80’s, and once injuries took their toll, he transitioned into a role behind the announce table, becoming one of the best color commentators in wrestling history. Oh, and while he was starring in wrestling shows, he managed to catch the attention of Hollywood, appearing in a series of roles in major motion pictures, including Predator and Demolition Man. After a bitter lawsuit with WWE found him on the outside of the wrestling business, Ventura moved into the political arena. His bluff, no-nonsense style, star power, and charisma allowed him to get elected as major of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, in 1990, a position he held for a full term. Ventura’s political aspirations were higher than just mayor, however, leading to a shockingly successful campaign that saw him elected Governor of Minnesota in 1998 while running as an independent candidate. Ventura served as Governor for a single term, and has remained visible in politics ever since, publicly supporting gay rights, standing in opposition to both Republican and Democratic parties, and even openly considering running for President in 2016 on the Libertarian ticket.