In Mex­ico City, U.S. wrestler Sam Ado­nis dons a black hat and chan­nels Trump.

Chan­nel­ing Trump, Amer­i­can be­comes the wrestling star that fans love to hate

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MARISSA PAYNE marissa.payne@wash­post.com

Pro wrestler Sam Ado­nis is limp­ing to a cof­fee shop in Mex­ico City when he answers the phone. He has just fin­ished train­ing for his next gig in the cap­i­tal city, where for the past four months he has been one of the most in-de­mand per­form­ers in the coun­try’s com­pet­i­tive Con­sejo Mun­dial de Lucha Li­bre, or World Wrestling Coun­cil.

Ado­nis, who grew up in Pitts­burgh as Sam Polin­sky, is one of the few Amer­i­cans to have carved out a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in the CMLL. The 27year-old is tall and blond, which makes him stand out in the lucha li­bre com­mu­nity, but he didn’t be­come a su­per­star un­til this past Novem­ber, when he be­gan play­ing upon Mex­ico’s anger at Pres­i­dent Trump.

“Wrestling al­ways kind of plays off what’s hap­pen­ing in the main­stream [me­dia], so I was think­ing about it and I said, ‘Yeah if [Trump] wins I’m get­ting my­self a flag with his face on it,’ ” Ado­nis said. “And once [the fans] see that big or­ange spot on the flag, you can just in­stantly, in one mo­ment feel the room change. It’s a fever pitch.”

When de­cid­ing to cul­ti­vate his in-ring per­sona as Trump’s big­gest fan, Ado­nis said he drew in­spi­ra­tion from pro wrestling days of yore, par­tic­u­larly the Iron Sheik, the Ira­nian-Amer­i­can WWE Hall of Famer who used the Ira­nian flag to taunt au­di­ences in the 1980s when he fought Hulk Ho­gan.

Hop­ing to recre­ate the pas­sion and emo­tion that pro wrestling au­di­ences used to feel four decades ago when many still thought the com­pe­ti­tion was real and the Iron Sheik re­ally was an enemy of the state, Ado­nis re­calls think­ing, “Why not? Let’s play this up. Get a pic­ture of Don­ald Trump in­stead of the Ay­a­tol­lah and the peo­ple will be just as pissed off.” It worked. “The en­ergy in the arena is al­ways great, but when I’m out there, it’s just ab­surd,” Ado­nis said of the 16,500-seat Arena Mex­ico. “The ha­tred. It’s al­most a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment. I’m sure there’s places in Afghanistan more tran­quil than this.” He was only half kid­ding. Dur­ing Sun­day night’s show, when Ado­nis teamed up with two other “rudos,” the Spanish term for heels, to take on three pop­u­lar Mex­i­can stars, some spec­ta­tors chanted “Get out!” at Ado­nis, some threw popcorn and beer, and some screamed ob­scen­i­ties in his di­rec­tion as they watched him lose to leg­endary luchador Blue Pan­ther and his part­ners, Tri­ton and Drone.

“There is a lot of ill will for Trump’s char­ac­ter, and be­cause of that, ev­ery time they hit him, we en­joy it,” wrestling fan Ger­ardo Romero told the As­so­ci­ated Press at the show.

Ado­nis called the at­mos­phere in the arena “un­com­fort­able,” not­ing that even his girl­friend, who is Mex­i­can, feels that way when she at­tends his matches. He said that it some­times verges on dan­ger­ous, which has led his col­leagues to urge him to be care­ful.

Yet Ado­nis said that the re­ac­tion he gets out­side the ring is al­most al­ways jovial.

“Peo­ple are en­am­ored . . . that I put them through such a good show,” he said. He likens his role to that of a comic book vil­lain and said most peo­ple see him that way, too.

“In or­der to have a good good guy, you need to have a good bad guy,” Ado­nis said. “I’m just do­ing my job.

“Wrestlers don’t get enough credit for be­ing masters of hu­man psy­chol­ogy. I know how to take peo­ple on an emo­tional roller coaster, so the fact that I can get peo­ple in such a frenzy and con­trol them the way I want to, there’s an artis­tic pride be­hind that.”

Trump has given Ado­nis plenty of ma­te­rial. Dur­ing his cam­paign, the Repub­li­can ac­cused Mex­ico of send­ing its “rapists,” “crim­i­nals” and “bad hom­bres” to the United States. He promised to build a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar wall along the bor­der, with Mex­ico pick­ing up the tab.

Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto can­celed a visit to the White House be­cause of Trump’s rhetoric, and Mex­i­can lead­ers have said re­peat­edly that they will not pay for a wall. On Sun­day, thou­sands of pro­test­ers — spread across a dozen cities in Mex­ico — ral­lied against Trump and crit­i­cized Ni­eto for ap­pear­ing weak in con­trast.

Ado­nis did not vote in the gen­eral elec­tion but said that, de­spite his por­trayal of Trump, he would have con­sid­ered vot­ing for him. Ado­nis the Amer­i­can hopes the United States and Mex­ico will work out their dif­fer­ences. Ado­nis the wrestler, mean­while, has some re­spect for the 45th pres­i­dent.

“I re­spect the fact that he’s kind of a vil­lain. He’s kind of em­braced his po­si­tion, as ‘You like me or you don’t, but I’m not chang­ing,’ ” Ado­nis said. “It is al­most a pro­fes­sional wrestling men­tal­ity, and I have a sym­pa­thy for that.”

And if Trump — him­self in­ducted into the WWE Hall of Fame for hav­ing played op­po­site Vince McMa­hon in sev­eral pro wrestling bits in the 1990s — wants to check out his al­ter ego, Ado­nis has a sug­ges­tion.

“Get him a lucha li­bre mask and hide him in the au­di­ence as one of the fans,” Ado­nis said. “That’d be great.”

ED­UARDO VERDUGO/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pro wrestler Sam Ado­nis has surged in pro­file in Mex­ico by play­ing upon the coun­try’s fer­vent anti-Trump sen­ti­ments.

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