They came again Friday to the Fort Worth Convention Center: amped-up, loud, confrontational fans, ready to cheer their tousle-haired hero to victory and boo a long list of despised villains.
It was World Class Championship Wrestling all over again, except with Donald J. Trump swaggering onstage instead of a Von Erich brother, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie turning good guy to tag-team against whatever mortal enemies might lie in wait.
The crowd’s hero strode in to cheers and loud rock music, belittled an unseen opponent as a “little frightened puppy” and a “choke artist,” and then taunted critics that he would “sue you like you have never been sued before.”
Bill Mercer, the retired local TV anchor and 1980s host of World Class’ syndicated wrestling telecasts, recognizes it all.
“Good night, yes, it’s just like wrestling — the hype, the yelling, the threats and calling people names,” Mercer, 90, said by phone from North Carolina.
“Any minute, I think somebody’s going to bounce off a rope or a turnbuckle and make a run at somebody. Or put somebody in a chokehold.”
Trump, a frequent casino host for WrestleMania and a supporting actor often enough to make the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame, is using the same show and script to reach independent voters.
“It’s all dramatized. There are storylines. And there’s all the posturing and facial gestures — that’s acting,” said Mercer, the host for a decade as the Von Erichs and a stable of villains built an empire that in its time rivaled WWE’s audience.
The same goes for Trump’s focus on nativist themes and foreign villains, and for his reliance on lawsuits and demands, whether it’s for a wall, to challenge Ted Cruz’s eligibility or to punish some media slight.
“Everybody in wrestling is always threatening somebody or saying they’ll sue — that’s what wrestlers do,” Mercer said: “And they’d pick on me the same way Trump picks on hosts like [Fox News’] Megyn Kelly.”
But unlike one Mercer interview with the late Frank “Bruiser Brody” Goodish, Mercer added: “Trump just doesn’t throw Megyn Kelly around.”
For 33 years, California writer Dave Meltzer has edited the industry’s Wrestling Observer.
“It’s not just that Trump knows wrestling, it’s his personality,” Meltzer said.
“His delivery is very much like a big-time wrestler’s — the taunting, the name-calling and the whole over-the-top show, and then also the expressing disgust when anybody else does it. He makes himself a larger-than-life entertainer.”
Trump’s 2007 WrestleMania appearance drew 1.2 million viewers, the sport’s No. 2 all-time pay-per-view event. He bet his hair against WWE executive Vince McMahon’s, and won.
Meltzer remembered former wrestler Jesse Ventura winning the Minnesota governor’s race.
“Jesse was a great faker, but nothing he said ever scared me,” Meltzer said.
“If Trump turns into a serious candidate — now, that’s scary.”
Get ready to rumble.