Southern states heavyweight champion Daniel Richards is no MJF or Roman Reigns, but in his element he has as much heat as anyone working in pro wrestling these days.
Richards, “The Progressive Liberal,” had to bring home a recent game early after the crowd in Stickleyville, on Route 58 between Duffield and Jonesville, three hours southwest of Roanoke, an hour east of Bristol, into the sticks, as they say, broke into a brawl.
Richards, who has been working on the “Progressive Liberal” gimmick since 2017, tried to work the crowd in the small town where Donald Trump received 84 percent of the vote in the 2020 presidential election, but was unable to raise his voice above the crowd.
Fights broke out among those present. A fan was hit with a chair. The fight spilled over into the parking lot.
Richards and SSW promoter Beau James, who helped Richards develop the “Progressive Liberal” gimmick, had to wait it all out after the show in a cramped dressing room, like the old days when the heels needed police protection to move from town to town.
However, in the 70s and 80s, fans did not know that wrestling is a work, that is, staged, the results predetermined, the wrestlers they watched on the gimmick, trying to rise from the crowd for the entertainment value.
Most fans today know the secret, making it more important that Richards – real name Daniel Harnsberger – is able to pull the kind of heat he does on weekend nights.
“I think if I never existed, they would feel the same way,” says Harnsberger, a Midlothian resident of the Metro Richmond area who began training to become a professional wrestler in 2003 after graduating from Concord University in Athens, W.va.
Harnsberger worked as a journalist at the Bluefield, W.Va., Daily telegram before leaving journalism to work for Appalachian Mountain Wrestling, an indy promotion run by Beau James, who gave Harnsberger the ring name Daniel Richards.
Harnberger’s first run as Daniel Richards was completely unremarkable, to the point that he retired from wrestling in 2009.
His return was a one-off to fill in an indy show in 2014, which got his juices flowing. Trump and Hillary Clinton took center stage.
Also run by James, Southern States is nothing like the wrestling you see on TV these days. It’s more of a throwback to the ’70s and ’80s territory era, without the glitz, the glamor – without jumbotrons and fireworks intros, no big stars to entice fans into buying tickets.
SSW’s big show this month is at the Kingsport Farmer’s Market, where Harnsberger, as Daniel Richards, will take on Skylar Kruze in a special challenge match on the 6 p.m. Sunday card.
Front row tickets are $20, with general admission $10 at the door.
James, the promoter, is also asking fans to bring a shelf-stable food item for Hunger First or Kingsport and/or a new unwrapped toy for a boy or girl to receive at Christmas.
It’s local wrestling as it used to be.
But it’s also in Trump Country, and a liberal disposition is the perfect heel for this mob.
It’s a trope wrestling has used for generations. After World War II, the villains were cast as Germans and Japanese.
At the height of the Cold War, the focus shifted to Russians as heels.
In 2022 pro-Trump red America, the heel is the man in the briefcase with the phrase “Ridin’ with Biden” saying, “We’re coming for your guns.”
Even as most fans know that wrestling is a job, the heat he gets is real.
“The mob has taken a more violent approach to me,” Harnsberger told CNN. “Rocks were thrown at me. A lady pulled out a lighter and tried to set fire to my bags while pointing at me. And had someone else pull out a stiletto.
Which means, it works.
The CNN report noted that Harnsberger once had a fan flash the 9mm pistol on his hip with a challenge to him trying to get it.
“The heat you want is the heat where people are mad at what you’re standing for, and they want you to get kicked,” Harnsberger said.