This R.I. state rep is lord of the ring
Known for his progressive politics, Providence lawmaker David Morales wins his first “real” fight.
Rhode Island Rep. David “Commissioner” Morales, on top, warms up with one of his “Pumpalicious” crew, Johnny Motta, at a Renegade Wrestling Alliance night on March 26 Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in Providence. Photo by Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current
PROVIDENCE — A lanky man in multi-colored spandex and a light-blue sports coat raised his arms high in triumph as he entered the basement of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Providence.
No matter if 200 people were booing him.
Meet Commissioner Morales, a bombastic type who never misses an opportunity to let people know he is the best thing that ever happened to them. And this Sunday night was no different.
“It has been 377 days since I became your commissioner!” he cried out to the not so adoring crowd after stepping into the ring.
Egged on by his black clad three-man crew, Pumpalicious, the commissioner continued to shout at the spectators of the Renegade Wrestling Alliance, a local wrestling organization that hosts monthly matches.
“To celebrate my one-year anniversary,” the commissioner told the crowd, “you all have the honor of witnessing my in-the-ring debut!”
“Shut up, Morales!” the crowd responded.
For David Morales, the jeers may feel similar to others he has handled as a state legislator now serving his second term in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. Morales represents the Mount Pleasant section of Providence.
— Kevin Gomes Andrade (@KevinGAndrade) March 26, 2023
But some of the things people have said on social media about him in the political arena don’t register in this one.
“The comments on Facebook tend to be more colorful,” Morales said in an interview before the first fight of his wrestling career. “Those are political insults whereas the insults from the fans tend to come from a warmer place. My goal is to go out into the crowd and generate as much fan opposition and heat as possible.”
Morales, 24, is considered one of the state’s most progressive Democrats. His wrestling alter ego follows a passion Morales developed growing up in Soledad, California, in the Salinas Valley, an area known as a center of leafy greens cultivation from April through November. His mother, a native of Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, worked in the fields to help support a sister and her special needs nephew.
Morales graduated from Soledad High School in 2016, followed two years later by a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from the University of California Irvine. He came to Rhode Island to pursue a Master’s in Public Affairs at Brown University, which he completed in 2019. He became the youngest Latino state legislator in the country when he was first elected to the General Assembly in 2020 at the age of 22.
Morales said his working class upbringing gives him “the opportunity to engage and entertain a crowd that very much reflects the community I grew up in.”
The theater of the ring
Morales knows wrestling is like performing theater. He said his commissioner alter-ego lets him play an obnoxious role people might expect to see at the national level.
“I am playing the egotistical politician the crowd has become accustomed to seeing over these last several years,” he said.
The commissioner is what in wrestling is known as a heel, a person who acts in an exaggeratedly obnoxious and malicious manner to generate energy and conflict. Their counterpart, the good guy, is called a face.
Morales said he picked up an affection for the craft from his siblings and cousins. Among them was Elliott León who flew in from Soledad for the occasion.
“He’s always been outspoken,” León said. “So, I think this very much fits him. What he does [in politics] compared to this, is somewhat similar.”
Commissioner Morales initially selected Johnny Motta, one of his Pumpalicious crew flackies, to fight for the HYPE title belt. After winning that match easily, a large man appeared dressed in blue and wearing a cape.
“If you want to do this, you’re going to do this right,” The Mighty Bosch bellowed as the crowd cheered him on.
The match did not go well initially for Morales. His first blows bounced off Bosch before the commissioner went to the ropes and flew into Bosch’s chest in an attempt to knock him down.
Morales’ body bounced off Bosch’s and he flopped onto the mat with two bounces. The crowd laughed at his predicament. After getting up, Morales’ opponent offered him a free hit and the commissioner put him in a headlock.
“I got him now!” Morales shouted.
When picked up by his opponent and placed daintily on top of a turnbuckle — with a pat on the head — the crowd laughed at him.
Once he came down, Bosch pinned Morales, prompting the referee to hit the mat once, twice ….
The referee paused as he went for the third, inciting jeers and taunts from the crowd.
Shortly after the referee turned away, members of Pumpalicious entered the ring and forced Bosch off the commissioner. When the ref turned back, he made sure to count to the full three, granting Morales — to a chorus of boos — the victory and the title belt.
In the booing crowd was Morales’ partner, Andrea Rojas. She expressed pride in his accomplishments in the ring, even if he was technically the bad guy.
“I’m just really excited and proud of all the training that he’s done,” she said. “I think that David is just the most charismatic character RWA has.”
Morales said that even though he plays the bad guy and said he tries not to politicize his wrestling role, fans reached out to him last month after he introduced legislation that would temporarily extend additional support for individuals and families who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“They initially saw me as just another politician at the State House, and that was more than enough reason to boo me,” he said. “But I was shocked at the amount of wrestling fans that reached out to me after I put out legislation to stop cuts to SNAP benefits and Medicaid.
“It’s a nice feeling to see those two worlds intersect.”
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