MEXICO CITY (AP) — He's the guy Mexicans love to hate: An American pro wrestler has become a sensation in Mexico City by adopting the ring persona of a flamboyant Donald Trump supporter.
Sam Polinsky, aka Sam Adonis, revels in being a target for "luche libre" fans who use him as a stand-in for the new U.S. president, whose pledges to step up deportations, build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and lure jobs back to the U.S. have earned the anger of Mexicans like no president before.
The crowd at the capital's Arena Mexico erupts in screams, boos, jeers and sarcastic whistling when Adonis appears wearing a Trump-esque orange tan, his blond locks streaming from a head band and waving an American flag emblazoned with a photo of Trump.
"Out! Out!" the crowd screams.
The native of Pittsburgh came to Mexico last year and the Trump campaign gave him the unparalleled chance to play the ultimate ring villain.
"Right now, I would be considered by the Mexican public as the most malicious bad guy they have," Polinsky said with a smile before a match Sunday that — spoiler alert — he predictably lost.
Polinsky is happy to endure the boos in pro wrestling's high-camp show of good vs. evil — and Mexico's "luche libre" has the added long tradition of foreign villains.
"I'm very proud of the fact that I am able to evoke a genuine hatred, a genuine hate which is generally lost in professional wrestling due to the fact that most people realize that it is what it is — it's more along the lines of a show," Polinsky said.
There is little doubt he gets a rise out of the crowd.
Wrestling fan Gerardo Romero was among those booing Sam Adonis. "There is a lot of ill will for Trump's character, and because of that every time they hit him, we enjoy it," Romero said.
But it's all about the show, as Trump himself knew during his involvement with U.S. pro wrestling in the 1990s and 2000s.
"It's no different than Spiderman or Batman. You need a very, very bad villain in order to invoke the sympathy for the hero," Polinsky said. "As I see it, the more malicious, the more evil I can be for the Mexican public, the happier the Mexican public are when they see their Mexican heroes destroy the enemy."
Which is just what happens, of course. Wrestlers working under the names of Blue Panther, Triton and Drone took apart Sam Adonis and his trio of allies with a battering combination of flying kicks and "back breakers."
Fan Rafael Martinez, who wore a white-and-gold mask to the match, explained the crowd's reaction. "What a lot of people think is that if they're expelling Mexicans from the United States, then why do we want them (Americans) here."
But even though Sam Adonis has had vile epithets, popcorn and beer thrown at him in the ring, it's all show in the end.
"The truth is, we Mexicans are very open to foreigners," Martinez said. "We are a warm people."
Polinsky attests to that.
"I can honestly say I'm pretty surprised how the Mexican public comes to me after each event," he said. "Those same people that can't scream enough, can't get their emotions out enough, are the first ones to come up to me and ask for a picture with their kid, or the first ones to shake my hand and say, 'Hey, great show.'"
In the end, he adds, he is helping the fans.
"I can whip up a frenzy in the arena that no other wrestler can, getting people to forget about their jobs, forget about their problems at home for that 25 to 30 minutes in the ring. All that they care about is getting their frustrations out on Sam Adonis in the ring, and for that I'm proud," Polinsky said. "What they want to say to Donald Trump they can say to me and feel good about it."
As for the president, Polinsky said he doesn't agree with all of Trump's pronouncements, particularly his criticisms of Mexico, but he still admires aspects of the leader's approach.
"I embrace the fact that he is a villain," the wrestler said. "He's going to do what he has to do and what he thinks is right. If you don't agree with him, that doesn't really bother him. He's going to push forward with what he thinks is right, and the fact that he's embraced his public perception, whether it's good or bad, I have respect for that."