A thumb in his opponent’s eye! Raking his nails across an adversary’s back! Signature bad guy tactics from the legendary Jesse Ventura. Though “The Body” originally made his mark in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest as a prominent wrestling villain, most fans will recall his transition as aggressive in-ring performer to acerbic WWE TV announcer as the true source of his fame in the industry. Debuting with the company in October 1981, Ventura had a swift rise in becoming a recurring challenger to Bob Backlund for the latter’s world championship. Though Jesse’s bid fell short, he remained a competitive force in battles against top favorites like Tony Atlas and Ivan Putski through 1982. Also, he and ex-AWA “East-West Connection” partner Adrian Adonis reunited to contend for the WWE tag-team titles.
Ventura toured other territories during 1983, but returned to the WWE in May 1984 with the organization’s national expansion in full swing. His flamboyant yet tough-talking presence was strongly compatible with the promotion’s aims and audience. Though experiencing periodic health setbacks which he attributed to exposure to “Agent Orange” during his years as a Navy Seal, Jesse kept fighting. Resuming a feud with Putski re-inserting him in the spotlight and led to title shots against premier attraction Hulk Hogan. Soon, Ventura parlayed his notoriety into another forum, finding a niche on telecasts with his interview segment “The Body Shop.” Bigger developments followed.
Though he continued to wrestle part-time into 1986 (including a silly but entertaining interlude against a trio of hillbilly grapplers), it would be his weekly heel commentary that resonated with sensational impact. Further, Ventura’s charisma as a television fixture supplied his career with an ongoing communication platform and a new show biz direction. He even appeared in mainstream action films such as “Predator” and “The Running Man” with Arnold Schwarzenegger. More movies and TV roles came his way.
But he was just getting started, leaving behind bothWWE and a subsequent TV position with WCW.
Celebrity exposure enabled Ventura to pursue political opportunities. He served a term as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn. However, he surpassed that achievement, and perhaps even his own expectations, by being elected as the state’s governor in 1998, campaigning on the Reform Party ticket. Ventura occupied the office until 2003. Not one to cease the quest for showmanship and characteristic of his non-conformist image, he raised a few eyebrows by consenting to referee a 1999 Summer Slam main event at the Target Center in Minneapolis involving Triple H, Mick Foley and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Certainly, The Body proved to be an unconventional individual over the decades, too unique to categorize.
- Kenneth Mihalik