ANNANDALE, Va. — A foreboding bass line ripples across the Annandale Volunteer Fire Department social hall, temporarily silencing the rowdy crowd. The beat drops, and a shirtless man bursts through black curtains. An announcer calls out: “Introducing. From a gated community, inside a gated community. In Great Falls, Virginia. Your champion of the 1 percent: Logan. Easton. LaRoux!”
LaRoux circles the ring with an index finger held high. A few dozen spectators in suits leap out of their folding chairs and start chanting, “1 Percent, 1 Percent!” They are answered by a larger group of casually dressed fans shouting, “Sucks!” after each “1 percent!”
This scene, or something like it, plays out once a month under the auspices of NOVA Pro Wrestling — a local, DIY answer to the WWE that’s been staging events just outside Washington since 2015. Over the past few months, however, something strange has happened: Politics have crept into the ring, and it’s really resonating with fans, says NOVA Pro co-founder Mike E. King III.
“Our front-row seats have been selling out really fast lately,” he says. “We’re becoming a watercooler-type thing, especially these days with The Gated Community.”
Separated from the hoi polloi by velvet ropes that they set up themselves, the fans who call themselves The Gated Community sip champagne and cheer for LaRoux and any other wrestler with an upper-class persona. The leader of group is a man named “Teflon Don.”
Since real multimillionaires aren’t usually found on folding chairs in community centers, this is just an act, right? Not so, says Teflon Don.
“Having worked for the Trump administration, as I do in real life, I will tell you that I am a person of privilege,” he says. “Where the red carpet is, that’s where you’re not allowed to be.”
It’s unclear if Teflon Don is being serious. His real name, he says, is Ed Dao — and though it’s not quite a position in the White House, someone with that name does work at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a public affairs specialist.
“This is not a gimmick, this is my real life,” he insists.
LaRoux, whose real name is Logan Wait, readily admits that his wrestling persona is an act. It actually predates President Trump’s political career and NOVA Pro Wrestling.
“I got the idea for it right as the Occupy Wall Street stuff was going on. I figured it would be a great villain character,” the Fairfax resident says. “I’m like the bad guy from the ’80s movie with the Corvette — a super yuppie preppy douche.”
A mild-mannered PE teacher by day, Wait, 27, usually plays the bad guy, getting booed at matches put on by other independent pro wrestling leagues, like Philadelphia’s Chikara Pro. Since the founding of NOVA Pro, Wait has wrestled at every match, but it wasn’t until March that people started showing up in suits and cheering for him.
“It is kind of strange to have a bad guy get a following like that, but I take it as a compliment,” Wait says. “It speaks to the strength of the character.”
Before LaRoux’s match on this late-October night, fans from both sides of the aisle are riled up by another partisan pairing: Daniel “The Progressive Liberal” Richards vs. Ethan Alexander Sharpe, a wrestler from North Carolina who sports a Monopoly-guy mustache and a smoking jacket emblazoned with dollar signs.
While Sharpe is clearly cartoonish, Richards, 37, actually is a progressive liberal. His real name is Daniel Harnsberger, and he works as a real estate agent in Richmond.
“I brought my political beliefs in the ring because I predominantly wrestle in the Bible Belt, and I knew it would generate a reaction over there,” he says. He’s wearing his usual uniform: a shirt covered in Hillary Clinton faces and underwear emblazoned with Democratic donkeys. “Northern Virginia is the only place I get cheered.”
When Richards bursts out of the black curtains to “Hail to the Chief,” he bypasses The Gated Community and high-fives his fans, some of whom are waving old Hillary Clinton signs.
“I’m with him!” shouts a man in a “Daniel Richards 2020” shirt.
The bell rings, and the two wrestlers tumble and tussle. At one point, Richards throws Sharpe clear over his head. Then the tables turn, and Sharpe jumps up and lands horizontally on Richards’ shoulders, mugging for the audience. Richards’ fans are bereft. “Resist! Resist!” they chant.
The Progressive Liberal summons his strength, throws Sharpe off his back and takes the rich kid down with his signature finishing move — a cross-armed neck-breaker he’s dubbed The Liberal Agenda.
If this seems like a tidy storyline, that’s because indie pro wrestling is basically theater, albeit with a lot of improvisation and great stunts, King says.
“I usually come up with the overarching storylines,” the Falls Church resident says. “I might tell them how they win and ask them to do one or two particular moves, but after that, it’s on them to string it together and have it all make sense.”
In real life, most of the wrestlers have typical jobs — ideally ones that allow them the time they need to train and travel to independent events put on by a patchwork of leagues like NOVA Pro around the country, hoping to catch the attention of the WWE. They all stand for something, but only a handful are specifically political. One emerging star, Faye Jackson, has styled her character as a proponent of sexy, strong, plus-size women. Another popular wrestler, “Safety First” Tim Donst, wears a construction hat and a bright yellow vest. His fans chant, “That’s not safe!” when he’s in peril.
But the politically motivated characters get the biggest rise out of Washington-area crowds, King says. It’s a poetic turn of events: Since politicians are now taking cues from pro wrestling, the Washington area’s local pro wrestling league is returning the favor.
Perhaps that’s why, when LaRoux enters the ring, the crowd goes wild.
“Tonight I issue an open challenge because I’ve accomplished everything there is to accomplish in NOVA Pro Wrestling,” LaRoux says.
An undercard wrestler named Sage Philips answers the call and climbs into the ring. He’s a full head shorter than LaRoux, who looks Philips up and down and seems unimpressed.
The wrestlers circle each other — LaRoux looks relaxed, while Philips bounces anxiously on his toes. Philips lunges at LaRoux, and LaRoux tosses his opponent over his shoulder like a bag of potatoes. That exchange sets the tone for the next 10 minutes. Like a lion playing with a half-dead jackal, LaRoux toys cruelly with his prey. Finally, Philips hangs limply over the ropes, apparently beat.
“Get up, get up!” shouts Owen, 9, a boy sitting in the front row with his parents and brother.
This is the Manassas, Virginia, family’s third time attending a NOVA Pro Wrestling match, says Owen’s mom, Erika Bukva.
“For a whole Friday night’s worth of entertainment, it’s better than a movie,” she says. “We look forward to it all month.”
“My mom thinks it’s fake, but there’s blood, so I know it’s real,” Owen says.
“It’s about as real as actual politics,” Bukva quips.
The kids drop the debate when Phillips suddenly springs up and pins LaRoux.
“AAAH YEAH, YEAH, YEAH,” the kids scream.
A commentator shouts triumphantly: “Never be afraid to take the challenge! Never be afraid to fail! Because Sage Phillips just proved that with heart and fighting . you can accomplish your dream against impossible odds.”
Phillips’ win, however, is short-lived. After a brief intermission, LaRoux contests the referee’s decision with the help of his “personal attorney” Teflon Don. “He fast-counted me,” LaRoux whines. The match is officially erased from the record, and Phillips reluctantly returns LaRoux’s championship belt.
“This isn’t over!” Evan shouts.
Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com