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MEXICO CITY — Everybody’s always mad at him.
“I’m just an old school wrestling fan,” he says. “That’s been my job, what I’m supposed to be: make the people as angry as possible.”
He’s hardly bothered, though. This was his goal all along. He is Sam Adonis, an American pro wrestler for Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) in this mammoth city who came up with the idea to plaster the image of Donald Trump on his tights. He is possibly the most reviled man in all of Mexico.
The idea struck him in the middle of the U.S. election campaign last July, and he knew it was a winner as soon as he appeared in the ring and heard the roar of disapproval.
“People were so angry!” Adonis recalls. He was happy to be a target of the venom that arose in this country when Trump suggested a border wall built by Mexico. After Trump won the presidential election in November, he supplemented the custom tights with a U.S. flag emblazoned with the new leader’s face.
“Most people here hate Donald Trump without really knowing why,” Adonis said. “Nobody knows anything about him. They don’t read his policies, or anything he believes. It’s the blind leading the blind.”
Like all great wrestlers, it’s hard to tell where the person ends and where the persona begins. Sam Adonis looks the part of a heel or “rudo” — tall, blond and handsome — and he inspires envy and resentment in the tradition of unctuous pretty boys like “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels and “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. (The tights are a nod to “Ravishing” Rick Rude.)
“I’m a flamboyant loudmouth,” Adonis said. “I’m willing to shove my president down your throat. I’m just such an ass that I want to be Trump. I’m the high school quarterback that picked on you.”
He is, of course, not quite the same in real life. Sam Polinsky, 27, was raised in a wrestling family. His father was a Pittsburgh-area promoter and his brother, known as Corey Graves, was a terrific wrestler and now works as a commentator for the WWE. Polinsky got his start in a Florida development league, but he got injured in 2011 and ended up floating around Europe before moving to Mexico. The winding journey hasn’t hurt his confidence.
“I’d probably be at the top of the game in the WWE [if I stayed healthy],” he said. “Their top guys might not be at the level I am. You can be in the system and not that good. It’s like if a good prospect played basketball in Israel; I can be better than LeBron but not seen yet.”
He certainly studies the game like LeBron. Instead of traipsing around the city instigating small riots, he spends most of his time studying film. He is learning from the old legends — the WWF-era guys like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “The Magnificent” Don Muraco (the original “Rock”), and yes, Adrian Adonis.
“I watch so much wrestling it’s stupid,” Adonis said. “I’m addicted to ‘80s wrestling.”
A lot of people miss that era, even though it was not exactly politically correct. There was a good vs. evil narrative that often touched on patriotic fervor. Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik were easy targets for fan hatred, while Hulk Hogan paraded around to the tune of “I Am A Real American” — even though there really wasn’t anything more American about him than, say, King Kong Bundy.
Sam Adonis is the anti-hero in that regard, turning the old jingoism on its head. He stands in the ring, sings the U.S. national anthem off-key, and tells the crowd, “This city has the ugliest kids and the poorest men!” It works.
He’s not quite a celebrity around town, but he does get asked for autographs on a fairly regular basis. Recently he was with his girlfriend in the mall and she went into a store while he waited outside. A couple of pretty ladies came up to him and struck up a conversation. He entertained them for a few minutes before his girlfriend returned and conveyed her dismay. “But you went into the store!” he pleaded. He now calls it “a big to-do,” both lamenting the situation and selling the drama.
Adonis likes Trump, too. “I think he’s a good candidate for the position,” Adonis said. “He’s not in corrupt politics. He’s more of a ‘We The People’ than other candidates.”
That is indeed Trump’s gift, showing millions of regular people that a New York City billionaire can be completely in tune with them. Some of that image was honed in the wrestling realm, as Trump’s character took on evil overlord Vince McMahon in a feud that ended up with the WWE boss’ head being shaved in the middle of a ring at WrestleMania 23 in 2007.
Trump was a natural, looking anything but elitist yet at the same time showing the wares and wiles of a rich person. He was relatable and he knew how to play up the with-us-or-against-us dynamic. He is still adept at it now.
So is Sam Adonis.
“My best qualities are the ability to control an audience, and I listen to them,” he said. He wrestles up to 25 times a week, sometimes in bigger arenas and sometimes in independent outlets. “The shows are better when I’m in them,” he added.
At some point it’s likely he’ll return to his home country. He is good at his job and the best don’t usually stay out of the highest tier for long. He’s still in his 20s, just entering his prime. The question is, if and when he does come back, will he come back in the same tights?
“I would prefer not to,” Adonis says. “I wouldn’t do this character in the U.S.”
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