Headlocks and moonwalks

‘King of pop’ impersonator wrestles with two careers 

Courtesy of Bally’s Atlantic City Brooklyn-born Santana Jackson has spent the past couple months starring in “MJ Live,” a tribute to Michael Jackson that continues through Labor Day weekend at Bally’s Atlantic City.

It’s not unusual for someone to hold down two jobs. But the two jobs Santana Jackson holds are definitely out of the ordinary.

The Brooklyn-born Jackson has spent the past couple months starring in “MJ Live,” the flashy, high-energy tribute to Michael Jackson that runs at Bally’s Atlantic City Tuesdays through Sundays through Sept. 3.

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And when he returns to his current home, Las Vegas, Jackson will not only continue to perform as the king of pop, he will also resume his other career as a professional wrestler. The 36-year-old said the dual roles have taken him on parallel paths for most of his life.

“I had a passion for wrestling since I was a kid,” he explained during a recent, backstage pre-show chat. I used to watch The Rock, Hulk Hogan, Sting, Goldberg – I can name a whole bunch (of wrestlers).

“But I loved Michael [Jackson] as well,” Jackson added. “I heard his music as a kid. I didn’t really understand the lyrics to the songs, but the music always moved me. I would go to school and my show and tell was dancing to ‘Billie Jean.’ 

“I’ve been doing the (Michael Jackson) ‘moonwalk’ since I was 6 years old.”

Show business beckoned first for Jackson, whose stage name is a combination of his real last name and that of his immortal subject.

“I was living with a friend of mine who told me about a talent show with prize money,” he recalled. “I was young at the time. I was trying to make any bit of money I could make. And I was already dancing to Michael Jackson’s music and kind of trying to imitate him.

“I eventually (competed),” Jackson added. “I did a ‘Billie Jean’ routine and got pretty good at it. I started doing more songs and being on the stage, getting more familiar with the crowds and what they like. That’s when I really pursued it a little harder.”

Santana’s talent as a Jackson impersonator – he describes his act as completely self-taught – took him out of New York and ultimately to Clearwater Beach, Florida, where he began to seriously hone his craft.

“I was performing there nightly on a pier,” he remembered. “I was always learning from other entertainers. And of course, I watched Michael on YouTube.”

Jackson eventually left Clearwater for Las Vegas, where he was certain stardom awaited. While his early days there were less than successful, they did put him on the wrestling track.

“I was homeless in Vegas for a year, working off tips and donations, doing charity events,” he noted, adding that he also served as a companion for special-needs people. Eventually he found his way onto the radar of the producers of “MJ Live.”

“‘MJ Live’ pretty much took me off of the street,” the performer said, “and I was able to get my own apartment. When I got that going, my brother moved in with me.”

One day, his brother informed Jackson about the existence of a wrestling school. 

“I never knew there was such a thing,” the wrestler observed, but he decided to check it out. “So, I went one day and started training with these guys, and my brother and I signed up, and we started training.”

The school’s owner eventually learned about Jackson’s performing talents and approached him with an idea: to imitate Michael Jackson while wrestling.

Jackson hesitated at first, afraid of making the real Michael Jackson “look bad.”  But he accepted the offer, and today, he’s known in wrestling circles for his “moonwalk DDT” – DDT being a wrestler’s move that forces an opponent’s head into the mat.

Although Santana works in two dramatically different areas of the entertainment business, he noted there are some similarities.

“Performing as Michael takes a lot of work and passion and the heart to put it together with the dancing,” he reasoned. “And you have to get into that ‘zone.’

“And with wrestling, it’s the same thing,” Jackson added. “You have to really be in the zone and, of course, you’re gonna take a lot more hits wrestling. You’re gonna get hit a little more; you’re gonna hurt here and there.

“But I get hurt and I still come into work and dance the next day.”

For tickets, go to www.casinos.ballys.com/atlantic-city.

Hard Rock gets funny – in triplicate

Tickets are on sale for a Sept. 10 bill showcasing three of the comedy realm’s brightest lights at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

Jon Stewart, John Mulaney and Pete Davidson are scheduled to bring their “Jon, John & Pete” mini-tour to The Rock’s Etess Arena for performances at 3 and 7 p.m.

Actually, to call the series of dates a “tour” is probably stretching it: The only other dates the trio are doing are Sept. 8 in Springfield, Mass. and the next evening in Bethlehem, Pa.

For tickets, go to www.ticketmaster.com.

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