As It Happens

How pro wrestling prepared Raymond Rougeau to be a Quebec town mayor

The newly elected mayor of Rawdon, Que., says he learned a lot from professional wrestling that’s helped him in his political career.

Former member of the 1980s tag-team duo The Fabulous Rougeaus elected mayor of Rawdon, Que.

On the left, Raymond Rougeau is seen in the ring during his pro-wrestling career in the '80s. On the right, 66-year-old Rougeau smiles for the camera. (Submitted by Raymond Rougeau, Équipe Raymond Rougeau Pour Rawdon/Facebook )

Story Transcript

The newly elected mayor of Rawdon, Que., says he learned a lot from professional wrestling that's helped him in his political career. 

Long before Raymond Rougeau became mayor of the town just north of Montreal, he was one half of the legendary 1980s tag-team duo The Fabulous Rougeaus, alongside his brother Jacques.

"There are some parallels. I mean, the wrestling ring was a lot of wear and tear on the body," Rougeau told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"In politics, your body is OK, but you get attacked on different levels, you know? You have to have a layer of protection."

Rougeau won the mayoral race on Sunday with 60.87 per cent of the vote. His political rival, Chantal Grenier, secured 39.13 per cent.

'I'm going for mayor or I'm going home'

Before becoming mayor, the 66-year-old wrestler-turned-politician had been a city councillor in Rawdon since 2002, and deputy mayor since 2013. When incumbent mayor Bruno Guilbault announced he would not be seeking re-election, Rougeau threw his hat in the ring. 

"That's where I decided, well, either go big or go home. So I'm going for mayor or I'm going home," he said. "And so basically, well, now I'm the mayor."

Rougeau, left, and his brother Jacques, right, hold American flags while propping up their manager Jimmy Hart. (Submitted by Raymond Rougeau)

But years before he was shaking hands and winning hearts on the campaign trail, Rougeau was using his Quebecois heritage to provoke and enrage American pro-wrestling fans.

When he and his brother debuted in the the World Wrestling Federation — now called World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) — in 1986, they were known as The Rougeau Brothers, and played good guys, a.k.a. "babyfaces" in wrestling lingo.

"But the thing was, we wrestled in the United States," Rougeau said. "Americans are very patriotic and it was difficult for them to want to cheer [for] Canadians — and even more French Canadians."

That left the tag-team duo in a "grey space," he said, where about 60 per cent of the crowd would cheer for them, and 40 per cent would boo.

In the dramatic, over-the-top world of professional wrestling, there's nothing worse than being stuck in the mushy middle. 

"You want to either be hated or loved. Because if you're hated, you're going to create interest. It's going to sell tickets. If you're hated, they want to pay to see the good guys come in and beat you up. If you're the good guy, they want to pay you to come and see you ... beat the bad guy," Rougeau said.

"But when you're caught in between, well, it's like nobody really cares." 

Hugely successful heel-turn

The Rougeaus were in a rut. And their plight caught the attention of WWE CEO Vince McMahon, who flew them to his office in Connecticut one day, and made a proposition. 

"He says, 'Hey, guys, what would you think about turning heel?'" Rougeau said, using wrestling terminology for transitioning their characters into villains. 

"My brother and I looked at each other and we laughed, because the week before my brother and I were talking exactly about that, you know, perspective, maybe that would be the best thing if we turned heel."

Raymond, left, Jacques, centre, and Hart, right. The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers would often go on radio shows and talk about how much they loved America, all while leaning into their Quebecois qualities. (Submitted by Raymond Rougeau)

Slowly, the brothers transformed their characters, renaming themselves The Fabulous Rougeaus. They taunted American audiences by calling themselves "all-American boys" and waving tiny American flags — all while leaning into their Quebecois identities, speaking French on stage and decorating their spandex with fleurs de lys.

"Within a couple of months, we became the most hated team in the WWE," Rougeau said.

Rougeau says his days as a heel are some of his most cherished memories from his wrestling career. The crowd loathed him, and he loved every minute of it.

It also helped him grow the kind of thick skin required for a life in the public service.

"The funny thing is you'll meet, let's say, 2,000 people [on the campaign trail]. And out of 2,000 people, 1,995 are going to be very nice and great. Five are not so great. But it's the five that you remember," he said.

"You have to always, like I said, not take it personally. Sometimes it's difficult not to take it personally, but you know, you go out and you're honest, you do your best and you know, you hope for the best."

In a lot of ways, he says, it was easier playing the bad guy. But he was still able to tap into his inner babyface during the mayoral race, campaigning on a promise to balance Rawdon's recent rapid development and growth with policies that protect its natural beauty and small-town feel. 

"Fortunately, you know, this is my sixth consecutive election that I've won," he said. "I guess I must have done something right."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Lisa Bryn Rundle.

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