In 1997, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO Vince McMahon introduced the world of professional wrestling to a 7-foot tall monster by shrieking: “That’s gotta be Kane!” Now, over two decades later, “the devil’s favorite demon” could be the next mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Fifty-one-year-old Glenn Jacobs, hailing from the over the top world of pro-wrestling, is the latest grappler to step into the political ring after capturing the Republican nomination for Knox County mayor in May. Jacobs won his primary race by just over two-dozen votes and, with the county historically leaning red, the “Big Red Machine” is the clear favorite in the general election.
For over two decades (and counting) Jacobs has played a masked giant in the WWE named “Kane,” the more-evil brother of the evil-yet-beloved Undertaker character. But in real life, the mayoral hopeful is polite, soft-spoken, and contemplative. He’s a husband and father of two daughters and the family has lived in East Tennessee since the mid-90s.
Jacobs, of course, is not the first pro wrestler to run for office. Before becoming a full-time conspiracy theorist, Jesse “The Body” Ventura served as governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003. A few years back, Terry “Rhyno” Gerin ran a failed Michigan state House campaign. And President Donald Trump not only became the first reality TV show president in 2016, but he’s also the first WWE Hall of Famer to reach the White House.
Nonetheless, whether it’s his work background or his imposing figure (7-foot tall, 323 lbs), Jacobs remains an outside, even if these days his candidacy rings familiar: A first-time politician, with no relevant prior experience, with a past in eccentric television, launches a run for public office as a Republican.
And similarly to Trump, Jacobs views his outsider perspective as his greatest asset.
The pro wrestler’s first political foray may echo Trump’s 2016 run in some ways, but in others, the pair couldn’t be more dissimilar. Trump injected a combative and brash style of politics into the modern era, an aspect of the current climate that doesn’t sit well with the Republican mayoral candidate.
“People are just fed up,” Jacobs told IJR. “I think just overwhelmingly people are tired of career politicians at every level of government.”
Jacobs talked passionately about the founding fathers never intending for career politicians to become such a norm, arguing that the upcoming elections will prove that Trump’s win wasn’t limited to a single moment.
“I think even if you look at the presidential election, it was really a referendum against the political establishment,” he said.
Jacobs is a libertarian at heart, who’s quick to argue for reigning in the federal government, but what really got a rise out of the former wrestling champion — who’s battled in steel cage matches, been lit on fire multiple times, and once wore his hair like this on national television — is the current state of political discourse.
“I can tell you why good people don’t run for office […] because you become a target, your family becomes a target,” Jacobs said.
While he’s thankful for Trump’s tax cuts and encouraged by how the president has managed the economy and the ongoing negotiations with North Korea, Jacobs is not so hot on the growing popularity of Trump’s brand of politics, which often involves “name calling” and “disparaging remarks.”
“[Trump] and I definitely have different personalities,” he told IJR, noting that while the president is combative, he’s more solution-oriented and willing to work things out. “I try to be a unifier, but the environment is literally toxic,” he said.
“The problem with politics, the problem with government, is there’s just way too much power and way too much money. And everybody’s vying for it,” Jacobs said. “And Washington, D.C., is definitely reflective of that.”
That anti-establishment fervor, the same argument that appears to have helped elect Trump, could give Knoxville a new Republican mayor. At the same time, the irony of running to join the same government that your railing against is not lost on Jacobs.
The possibility of becoming another government cog hit Jacobs during one of his routine gym sessions. The man who can bench over five hundred twenty pounds told IJR that out of nowhere, while pedaling away on an exercise bike, it hit him that he’s fighting to be apart of the group of people he’d been so weary of for so long. And he was worried that it might change him.
“It just hit me as I was on an exercise bike,” Jacobs said. “I actually prayed and I said, “God, whatever happens in the election is what’s going to happen. Just don’t ever let me become one of them.”
“That’s on my mind every day,” he added.
One of his earliest political supporters was WWE boss Vince McMahon, whose wife Linda McMahon currently serves the Trump administration as the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Jacob’s talks glowingly of McMahon, who grew a regional wrestling promotion into a worldwide entertainment juggernaut over the course of a few decades.
“Vince is one of the first people that I talked to because we have a good personal relationship, and I needed his support just as a friend,” Jacobs said, noting that he’s also spoken with Mrs. McMahon about what she learned during her failed 2010 Senate run.
He recalled walking into McMahon’s office and telling him he was considering running for mayor, and while his long-time boss didn’t say a whole lot, Jacobs got a big smile and hug.
“Vince has got a vision. From the very beginning. And you just can’t discount that. And that’s why I think so many organizations fail, is their leader doesn’t have a vision of where he’s going to go. And Vince has always had that. He has that pigheaded determination,” Jacobs said. “And all that stuff has helped me with my business and, really, in my personal life.”
For Jacobs, however, whether it’s running for mayor and being a pro wrestler, he ultimately has the same goal in mind: “I just want to try to have a positive impact.”
“I grew up on a farm in Missouri. When I was a kid I never thought that I’d have the opportunity to be able to do a lot of the things that I’ve done, but I have,” Jacobs said. “I think that’s unique to America, and I think it’s important for those of us that have had those opportunities to make sure that, other people, those opportunities are available to them.”
Running for Knox County mayor may be the start of Jacobs’ political career, but don’t expect the 7-footer to parlay a potential mayoral stint into anything larger. “I just want to do a good job as county mayor, and that’s my goal,” he said.
“I just feel a lot more can be accomplished at the local and the state level than can be accomplished at the federal level,” he added. “I don’t really have any interest in ever [running for president.]”
When asked about his colleague Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s long-rumored campaign, Jacobs says you can cross his name off the list of potential running mates.
“You ain’t never going to see a Kane part of that, I’ll tell you that right now,” Jacobs said.