Back in the early 1980’s one of the most iconic feuds in wrestling history played out in Memphis, Tennessee between Memphis native Jerry Lawler and the Hollywood star (Andy Kaufman) who looked down on the people of “Meym-fis”. Thirty five years later in a town about eight hours northeast of Memphis (Hazard, Kentucky), a new wrestling villain has captivated the South. While Kaufman enraged locals by wrestling and humiliating women, and mocking the lifestyle of the stereotypical Southern hillbilly (“This is a bar of soap…you probably haven’t ever seen one of these before”), “The Progressive Liberal” Daniel Richards, wrestling for the Appalachian Mountain Wrestling promotion, has taken a similar but updated tact for 2017.
Like Kaufman, Richards plays a somewhat narcissistic out-of-towner (he’s billed from Washington, D.C.) who thinks he’s better than the people he’s entertaining. However, Richards picks on the Eastern Kentucky (coal country) audience for their support of the current president, Donald Trump. He chides the crowd for not realizing how stupid they are and that by not supporting the liberal agenda (also the name of his finishing move, a cross-arm neckbreaker) they are voting against their own self-interests. However, he does see the similarities between himself and the president he tells crowds is a “con man.”
“He’s doing what I’m doing, he’s going for heat. It’s all about promoting his own brand at the end of the day,” said Richards.
“My Character Is An Assault On Their Whole Way of Life”
Richards says the crowds view him as an outsider. “I’m telling these people how to live, how to speak. With a smug arrogance. And it sounds very personal. My character is an assault on their whole way of life.”
Although Richards hasn’t ventured out of the South to wrestle very often (save for one West Coast appearance and a trip to Pittsburgh with Tracy Smothers and Bobby Eaton) he says the Southern fans are a distinct group.
“It’s certainly a different crowd (outside the South). Northern fans are more into the big flashy spots, whereas Southern fans tend to appreciate more traditional wrestling. I think people in Kentucky have an idea (that wrestling is ‘just’ entertainment) but they’re not exactly sure, but that’s not exactly everyone.”
“Best Three Week Stretch Of My Entire Life”
Richards’ ascent to the national spotlight came quickly and without warning. On June 26th, sports-website Deadspin posted an article entitled, “The Progressive Liberal is Maybe the Perfect Wrestling Heel.” and his life was changed instantaneously. Richards was never contacted for the original article, so the appearance of the story floored him.
“Someone who knew someone [at Deadspin] saw a tweet about my match. They sent it to them and did some good research. They found my You Tube channel and they put a story together. I had no idea, I was lifting weights. So I was on the treadmill and I Googled the thing. The next interview request was from SI.com (Sports Illustrated). I left the gym. I couldn’t keep myself composed. And before you know it, people from all these networks, radio stations, podcasts, started contacting me. I don’t think its all sunk in yet. I was like on a cloud. Seeing myself on MSNBC was like ‘oh crap.’ But I’m the same guy as I was three weeks ago.”
“We have CBS with us right now (for an upcoming piece on CBS Evening News). That network exposure will really help. I want to go as far it will take me. I have another [national] appearance after CBS airs too. I want to be an opportunist and be smart about it (though he has no plans to parlay his new found fame into a political career). I’m enjoying it. Best three week stretch of my entire life. But if it ended today it’s fine too.”
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