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News & Features
Ventura Returns to the Ring
By Eric Jansen
July 14, 1999
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

Wrestlers Triple H (left) and Chyna (center) played supporting roles at the news conference to Governor Jesse Ventura (right).
Photo: Eric Jansen
Details of Governor Ventura's much-hyped return to the wrestling ring emerged at a carnival-like news conference in Minneapolis. Ventura will referee the title match at the World Wrestling Federation's "Summer Slam" August 22 at the Target Center. Wrestling insiders estimate he'll make at $1 million in the deal. He says he'll donate $100,000 to charities.

HUNDREDS OF WRESTLING FANS filled Target Center with cheering and shouting even before official activities got underway. A string of World Wrestling Federation wrestlers helped get the crowd riled up before Governor Ventura appeared - among them the native Minnesotan who goes by the name X-Pac.
X-Pac:: And you know, there's some media people out there, and I'm sure some politicians who are scoffing at the fact that Jesse "The Body" Ventura is going to take part in Summer Slam. But you know what? If you ain't down with Jesse "The Body" Ventura being here at Summer Slam, we got two words for you.
WWF officials introduced Ventura as the referee of Summer Slam after days of speculation about whether the governor could possibly be fit enough to wrestle. Ventura said he would bring his authority to bear in the ring.
Ventura: I'm not stepping back in the ring to wrestle. I'm stepping back in the ring to be a referee, and there will be law and order. This will be a title match like no other title match they've ever seen before. Because I have the power.
Hear It Here
Listen to a portion of the news conference.
Ventura says he's the most out of shape physically as he's ever been in his adult life, since he ran for and became governor. But he's started running and pumping iron, he says, to get in good enough shape to keep today's top wrestlers in line for next month's event.

Ventura says he'll be paid $100,000 up front for his guest-referee gig and will donate all of that to charities. Half will go to Roosevelt High School in south Minneapolis, his alma mater Half to a foundation he'll establish for abused children.

But wrestling and entertainment sources estimate his earnings will be at least ten times that.
Keller: I have zero doubt in my mind that Jesse Ventura will come out of this with between $1 and $2 million.
Wade Keller is editor and publisher of the Pro-Wrestling Torch, an international weekly trade publication based in Bloomington. He says Ventura's million-plus income will be in royalties from the pay-per-view event, and subsequent video sales. Keller says it's clear Ventura is trading off his status as governor, but also says Ventura has been consistent in his position on profiting from his image.
Keller: He said "I was a celebrity before I was governor, I'll be a celebrity after I'm governor. And I'm going to take advantage of that celebrity status while I'm governor because I'm a private citizen and have that right." There is no doubt in my mind that Jesse Ventura would not be refereeing Summer Slam if he lost the governor's election. He is capitalizing on the votes of Minnesotans to profit enormously from this.
When reporters asked tough questions at the news conference, they were booed by fans, who would shout "sit down".Ventura had his own response.
Ventura: It's interesting how the media wants to grill me on what I'm making and all this and all that. Maybe somebody should turn the tables around and ask, how much money have I brought to the media? Because it's the media that chooses to cover everything I do, whether I stub my toe, whether anything else.
Minneapolis public school officials certainly weren't being critical. They say even if Ventura makes $2 million off the event, they consider five percent generous. They say they're happy to receive half of that for college scholarships, and because the governor is so visible, his philanthropy might encourage others to follow suit. School officials say ...good example