Scholar packs a punch in the wrestling ring as ‘Mr Canada’

Liberal arts professor Dan Mathewson uses his wrestling alter ego to explore the politics of the working-class American South

February 13, 2019
Daniel Matthewson as Mr Canada
Daniel Mathewson as Mr Canada

With his love of strict gun laws, public healthcare and Celine Dion, Mr Canada is one of the stranger bad guys to step into the wrestling ring.

However, the most bizarre thing about the hockey stick-wielding masked villain is not his crowd-enraging gimmicks, but his real identity. When not brawling in front of baying fans, Mr Canada is known as Dan Mathewson, associate professor of religion at Wofford College, a private liberal arts college in South Carolina.

The 45-year-old academic – one of just three known active scholar-wrestlers – first stepped into the ring six years ago as part of an experimental month-long course in which students were invited to train as wrestlers and stage their own “January Smackdown” show, featuring their own cartoonish characters that inhabit the sport popular in small town America.

Having promised his wife that he would only compete for one bout in 2013, however, Dr Mathewson has recently made an unlikely comeback – thanks to the election of Donald Trump, whose bombastic political style and populist messaging have similarities to the showmanship of professional wrestling, many believe.

“Our president is actually in the WWE Hall of Fame and famously appeared at Wrestlemania 23 [in 2007],” Dr Mathewson told Times Higher Education. “When we put on the show again last year, it had many different resonances, so Mr Canada came out of retirement.”

In the bout staged with a local independent wrestling company, Wofford students performed an action-packed evening of tag-team fights, one of which saw the much-mocked Mr Canada hit the canvas thanks to an acrobatic ‘clothesline’ from a lumberjack shirt-wearing female competitor, forcing him to make a cowardly retreat.

The biggest boos of the night, however, went to another villain called President Ronald Drump, played by a student parodying the US president, said Dr Mathewson. “He was booed off stage – we have a wildly unpopular president, even among our students who are mostly Republicans,” he said.

While obviously fun, the wrestling class helps students to analyse what Dr Mathewson, whose research centres on the sport, describes as “poor white Southern live theatre”. “We are unpacking wrestling as a cultural form and what is happening in the ring where characters are often battling against elites or government forces trying to keep them down,” he said.

Mr Trump’s decades-old love of “character creation” – be it his playboy millionaire persona of the 1970s, the ruthless boss in NBC's The Apprentice or the political champion of blue collar America – have strong echoes in wrestling, Dr Mathewson said.

Mr Canada will return to the ring, he confirmed. But he has resisted offers from local promoters to perform on bigger stages outside Wofford, again on the advice of his wife. He explained: “I want to be taking body slams, but I know I’m not the guy to do that.”


Print headline: Scholar-wrestler packs a punch

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