Although US government officials and pundits alike loudly proclaim an era of US-China rivalry, their calls to arms struggle to mobilize the American public. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll indicates that Americans see China as a negligible problem among those they rank as the most important facing the country today.

The reason for this gap is simple. China has not entered the popular imagination the way that Nazis, Russian communists, and Middle Eastern terrorists did. This gap is embodied, and perhaps even worsened, by one simple observation: professional wrestling does not feature an evil Chinese Communist Party wrestler.

Hear us out.

Of course, we are aware our influence over the powers that be of professional wrestling is limited, and even if we could shape the course of professional wrestling’s character development, the long history of often problematic portrayals inside the ring would make doing so a risky proposition. Still, however, it is a truism that war is a continuation of politics, and society and culture frame threats and thus shape politics. There is no better place to witness this display than the wonderful, colorful world of professional wrestling. And that world shows a different threat landscape than that of the strategy class in Washington. Unlike the Cold War era, which thrived on turning America’s rivals into ringside villains and heels, modern professional wrestling has yet to embrace China as a threat.

As security analysts who believe that the American public should understand the growing threat from China, we believe it’s a useful thought experiment to consider what it might look like if this strategic rivalry were represented in wrestling’s particular corner of American pop culture. It might just aid American diplomats should they need to give the Chinese Communist Party a steel chair to the back.

Geopolitics, Wrestling Style

Wrestling and politics are longtime companions. Indeed, wrestling shows the divisions in America that undermine the ability of leaders in Washington to forge a strategic consensus. Modern wrestling has bandits from south of the border with mottos like “I lie, I cheat, I steal” while continuing a class warfare theme started long ago about evil rich people—from Vince McMahon to Ted DiBiase—who are out to pull one over on a working-class hero. Today, race and class appear to loom larger than strategic rivalry in modern wrestling. And while taunting feminists through acts like the Pretty Mean Sisters and the LGBTQIA+ community through acts like Gorgeous George, Adorable Adrian Adonis, and Goldust is on the decline, it is still ever present.

Yet wrestling has a long history of villains also drawn from foreign policy adversaries. After World War II, Hans Schmidt (in reality, the Canadian wrestler Gary Larose) was a supposedly Teutonic bully whose wrestling style involved dirty tricks. Nikolai Volkoff represented the evil of the Soviet Union, and he even teamed up with the Iron Sheik, who embodied post–hostage crisis Iran. Known for his “Camel Clutch,” the Iron Sheik had legendary matches with Hulk Hogan and lost to Sgt. Slaughter in the Boot Camp Match. Sgt. Slaughter himself, however, turned heel, supposedly sympathizing with Saddam Hussein, and even had a (photoshopped) picture of himself with the Iraqi leader, leading to real-world threats that led him to don a bulletproof vest. The list went on, with updates including Rusev and his manager (and eventual wife) Lana—who, though from Florida, regularly used a Boris Badenov Russian accent, and received real criticism after going too far and appearing to dismiss the MH17 plane crash during a promotion with fans.

Enter the Dragon . . . or the Wolf

If professional wrestling’s history of borrowing from international politics to develop its characters were extended to today’s strategic rivalry, what might a Chinese Communist Party heel look like? Four options stand out, each embodying a different aspect of competition with China: ideological, economic, technological, and geopolitical. Each in turn creates a morality play in which a sage plays out in the ring that visualizes and describes larger social and political currents.

First, ideological competition enters the ring. Imagine a heel called “the Chairman”—a character that pretends to be a member of the Chinese Communist Party sent to teach America a lesson. He would wear a Mao-like suit and lecture the audience that America is in decline, that its children are dumber than their Chinese counterparts, and, true fighting words, its men are getting weak.

The Chairman would claim that America is a decadent mess. His arrogance would whip the crowd into a frenzy as he lectured onlookers on the greatness of modern China, a point already on display in Chinese Communist Party propaganda and United Front activities. The rivalry would be a war of ideas more than a clash of military force.

Second, economic competition enters the ring in the form of “the Boss.” True to the history of wrestling as a morality play about class relations, the true villain would be a Chinese business tycoon connected to the communist party that brags about how many American jobs he stole by setting up a global network of factories. He would mock middle-class and blue-collar tastes as cheap and burn dollar bills to show his contempt for the continued preeminence of the US currency and treasury markets. And he would be sneaky, constantly cutting deals with other wrestlers, especially Europeans, and turning even some good guys bad with his deep pockets and willingness to bribe his way to the top.

The Boss would capture the audience’s eye outside the ring. During interviews and backstage video he would be seen cutting shady deals. In the ring, he would use money and power to humiliate his opponents. The heel would swagger into the ring with expensive clothes and flare, indicative of China’s status as an economic superpower.

Third, technological competition enters the ring. This time, the heel is called the “the Dragon.” Building on thousands of years of Chinese learning, the Dragon is wise and, in today’s era, empowered by the latest technologies. He would use AI, biotechnology, and other emerging technologies to gain advantages over his foes.

The Dragon would wear a modern, nano tech–enabled outfit that might camouflage him in the ring while offering him greater resistance to the blows of American wrestlers. US strength and power would be neutralized, at times sneakily, with the latest in bioweaponry, and AI would enable new training regimens targeting each of his major muscle groups. Similar to Ivan Drago, chief antagonist of Rocky IV, he would likely be portrayed as using advanced science to train and hone his combat skills.

Last, geopolitical competition enters the ring: “the Wolf.” Building on the smash action hit from China, Wolf Warrior, this heel would wear military fatigues and swagger his way into the ring. He would dazzle audiences with acrobatics and defeat larger, ripped American wrestlers playing on a David vs. Goliath theme.

The Wolf would focus on the military dimension of great power competition. In place of the war of ideas would be the threat of a new superpower embodied in one man. In some ways, his character is less complex leaving the audience to crave his finishing moves more than his entrance and antics. The rivalry would be performed in the final minutes of the battle inside the ring, distinguishing him from the endless speeches and intrigue associated with the Chairman or the morality plays of the Boss.

Who Is the Next Hulk Hogan?

These villains are, in a campy way, terrifying, and an accurate wrestling depiction of the US foreign policy process would at times involve Uncle Sam headbutting the Great Wall. However, it’s important to recognize that these villains’ American, free-world counterparts would have several advantages that could, and even should, lead to triumph in the long term.

The first is that US wrestlers would be superior on allies. They should have more friends willing to lend a hand—or a chair—when needed. This was always an American strength and China has few powerful friends, at least compared with the United States. The allies, however, should represent new realities. “The Mate” from Australia and (for once, please sweet Jesus, nonracist) representatives from India, Japan, and South Korea would be important partners in the fight. It could also see the famed British Bulldog resurrected.

Second, many of China’s advantages are American advantages too. Ideology is an American strength, and US core tenets of freedom and opportunity remain popular worldwide, despite the malaise at home. Although the United States does not bribe its way to access as China does in its foreign policy, America’s economic power is still massive, while China’s economy is sputtering (would one of the Boss’s credit cards max out?). Although China is making great strides in technology, so too is the United States, and America’s open society gives it many innovation advantages. Cunning has never been a strong suit of American foreign policy, but dedication and learning are—we might not out-trick the Wolf, but we can persevere in the face of trickery and eventually turn the tables.

Although the Chairman, the Boss, the Dragon, and the Wolf may never grace the professional wrestling stage, pop culture will always reflect the real world—and in turn shape how we see the real world going forward. If pop culture does so intelligently, engagingly, and even humorously—if the characteristics of America’s rivals are clearly conveyed—a more informed public gives policymakers in a democracy the backing to respond to these rivals and compete effectively.

Daniel Byman is a senior fellow with the Warfare, Irregular Warfare, and Terrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and a professor in the Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service.

Benjamin Jensen is a senior fellow in the Futures Lab at the CSIS and the Petersen Chair of Emerging Technology and a professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps University, School of Advanced Warfighting.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.

Image credit: Adam Schultz, White House