Trump is modelling his diplomatic dealings with North Korea on the wrestling matches he once backed

Whichever type of bout the Donald Trump vs Kim Jong-un matchup proves to be, Rocket Man vs Tangerine Huckster – as cancelled by the latter last week – may take place after all

Matthew Norman
Tuesday 29 May 2018 15:49 BST
Top North Korea official arrives in Beijing ahead of Trump-Kim summit in Singapore

The template for the on-off US-North Korean summit, which at the time of writing seems on again, is one of the two combat ring sports.

The question of which – boxing or professional wrestling – may have incalculable implications for global security, and who can see through the chaotic fog that surrounds both combatants to answer it?

Whichever type of bout the Donald Trump vs Kim Jong-un matchup proves to be, Rocket Man vs Tangerine Huckster – as cancelled by the latter last week – may take place after all on its scheduled date of 12 June in Singapore, or soon after.

In a frantic exchange of what passes in the geopolitical asylum du jour for diplomacy, North Korean matchmaker Kim Yong-chol, a former spy chief, is en route to New York to iron out terms, days after a US delegation flew to Pyongyang to do the same.

Such was Trump’s excitement about this that on Sunday he relapsed, and succumbed to RUCDS (Random Upper Case Derangement Syndrome) once again. “I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial nation one day,” he tweeted. “Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!”

Until recent days, this match seemed modelled on one of those Las Vegas title bouts between two heavyweight belt holders who crave the attention and glory, but are too brittle and egomaniacal to agree crucial details such as who gets to enter the ring last.

Huge money fights of that kind take months, and even years, to negotiate. They are frequently called off and rearranged. To boost pay-per-view traffic, the melodramatics are ramped up as the big night approaches, with the fighters threatening to pull out again before engaging in the ritual fake scrap in a press conference.

In some ways, this summit feels so closely modelled on an event in the MGM Grand car park that you wonder why Don King isn’t around to flam up the theatrics with his wondrous hyperbole. Then again, perhaps this match isn’t in urgent need of an extra legendarily crazy hairstyle.

The problem with championship boxing, so far as blueprint for what may be the most significant summit in decades, is its unpredictability. At the highest level, fights are not fixed.

The result of a top level summit, on the other hand, has to be decided before the first bell. Such a bout relies on intricate choreography, with both combatants sticking rigidly to the preordained moves. It is styled, in other words, after professional wrestling.

I wouldn’t imagine Kim Jong-un has followed the meandering storylines of WWE attentively, but Donald Trump famously has.

He sponsored a couple of Vince McMahon’s extravaganzas in the late 1980s. In 2007, giving an early hint of the dignity demanded of a commander-in-chief, he actually “fought” the WWE supremo. The script favoured Trump at Wrestlemania 23. After slamming his opponent to the canvas, he did to McMahon what he might have been well advised to do to himself long ago, and shaved his head.

He even followed the traditional path of the WWE superstar by having a crack at acting. Despite following the method far more assiduously even than the young Brando – in all 22 of his IMDB credits, he played himself – that career didn’t take off like those of Hulk Hogan or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

But if the persona that led him to star in The Apprentice and then to the Oval Office is built on anything, it is the compelling vulgarity and histrionics of the WWE showman.

He understands the form and its reliance on endless vendettas quite brilliantly. The most vicious and sincerest of those, the one against Barack Obama’s legacy, led to him withdrawing the US from one nuclear deal with Iran. If there’s a trifling irony in his keenness to strike another with North Korea, it will not concern a man whose notion of geopolitical diplomacy is lifted straight from the WWE promotional playbook.

The pressure to freshen the plotlines means the alliances are constantly shifting (one minute he’s trying to break Emmanuel Macron’s hand, the next he is praising him to the skies, the one after he’s brushing alleged dandruff from his shoulder). His on-off feud with Kim has oscillated wildly between cartoon insults and laughably extravagant praise, and there is no predicting where the pendulum will settle in the weeks ahead, if it settles at all.

If the summit takes place, who knows, he might immediately instigate full diplomatic relations with North Korea, and have Dennis Rodman installed as US ambassador to Pyongyang by the start of Wimbledon. Equally, his indiscipline might cause it to end quickly and explosively, and pour petrol on a situation that is already incendiary enough for many tastes.

Well, you can’t say it’s not exciting. Who’d begrudge Sky Box Office £16.99 for the pay-per-view coverage, though what you’d be paying for wouldn’t be clear in advance? That would depend on many factors, the most influential being what suits Trump’s yearning for self-glorification on the day – the instinctive desire for a heavyweight punchup, or his time-honoured affection for the well-rehearsed certainties of WWE.

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