Former pro wrestler wants to pin down a seat on Select Board

  • Dan Vinal, a former professional wrestler named Irish Tubby Muffet, looks at his phone on Tuesday. Vinal is now legally blind.

  • Dan Vinal, 55, is now running for the select board in Tilton, where he’s facing six opponents for two spots. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Dan Vinal walks gingerly down Main Street in Tilton on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff


  • Dan Vinal, once named Irish Tubby Muffet, at his top weight of 705 pounds, holds his daughter when she was a child. She is now 19. COURTESY—

  • Dan Vinal, once named Irish Tubby Muffet, at one of his events. COURTESY—

  • Dan Vinal in his first high school wrestling match. COURTESY—

Monitor columnist
Published: 2/28/2021 2:47:54 PM

Unlike the old days, Dan Vinal will not use his Muffet Mash to squish his opponents on Election Day.

Instead, the former professional wrestler – once named Irish Tubby Muffet, once wrestling at 400 pounds, once mentored by the world famous Killer Kowalski – will rely on his ideas and loyalty to his hometown, hoping those attributes and some street smarts will convince voters to put him on the Tilton Select Board on March 9.

“We do not want to be translucent, we want transparency,” candidate Vinal, 55, declared. “You have to be the eyes and ears for the community when the doors are closed. I have no agenda. I’ll be the guy who watches and holds people accountable.”

He’s had that man-of-the-people presence for decades, a blue-collared guy who wrestled at Winnisquam Regional High school, winning the state championship in 1985, beating a fellow 300 pounder and telling me, “That was a lot of horsepower inside that ring.”

Vinal’s plans and paths over many years, since his high school graduation, were tied to radio personality Konrad Kane, the longtime voice in the Lakes Region who currently works at 104.9 The Hawk.

They bonded at a Killer Kowalski show, held at Winnisquam Regional in 1985. Kane began guiding Vinal. He taught him the ropes in radio, both as a producer and an on-air personality.

They promoted and coordinated wrestling shows with Kowalski and raised money for good causes.

Vinal did other things, too. Minor league wrestlers don’t make a lot of money. He had his own hometown business, Big Dan’s Family Pizza, and that created a nice fan base for later. He worked for a car dealership.

Recently, he and his uncle fixed up an old-fashioned hot dog cart, allowing Vinal to go into business and reach one of his dreams.

Asked why selling hot dogs from a cart was a dream, Vinal said, “Life is simple and hot dogs are a simple thing and people like them.”

Banana kettle corn?

Vinal has since expanded to a flat grill so he can sell more food and a wider variety. He’s introduced 20 flavors of kettle corn, including taco and banana.

He’s a throwback, to days when a gazebo and music and games filled the town park. He serves food at Old Home Day, craft shows, softball tournaments, anywhere you want him.

“I got a cotton-candy maker and now I make popcorn, too,” Vinal said.

This is a giant contrast to Vinal’s former life, of course. Popcorn and kettle corn? Old Home Day? Once, Vinal had a better chance of eating a chair than popcorn.

His wrestling career and monster size always towered over much of Vinal’s life. At 6-foot-4, he weighed about 325 pounds in high school. And he had quick feet.

He had competed in the throwing events for the Winnisquam track team. He wasn’t just a big young man. He was an athlete as well.

“He was a big boy, but he moved, ‘Whoosh,’ Kane said. “He was fast, and that is what got the attention of Killer Kowalski.”

Kowalski was a world champion in the 1950s and ‘60s. His name meant something, seeping into pop culture references over the decades and becoming synonymous with pro wrestling, perhaps more than any other wrestler in history.

Kowalski had schools in Boston and Malden. Vinal learned how to land hard, fall, throw punches, work the ring.

“There is a system,” Vinal said. “A scientific system so everyone is on the same page. What I am is a glorified stuntman.”

Meanwhile, Kowalski, a key New England promoter at the time, soon came up with a shtick for Vinal. Pro wrestlers need a shtick.

Kowalski dressed Vinal in denim overalls decorated with a shamrock, creating the Irish Farm Boy Tubby Muffet, also billed as the Largest Living Leprechaun in the world.

And while you can poke fun or scoff at a sport that relies on scripts and plot lines, one undeniable fact remains: Pro wrestlers punish their bodies, combining strength with athleticism to launch themselves from the top rope and soar above the ring, landing squarely on a helpless opponent, already dazed on the canvas.

Vinal didn’t spring from the top rope, as he was approaching 400 pounds. But he still left his feet and splashed down on his opponent, using all his weight to mash him. “You were down and I would swan dive on you,” Vinal said.

That was the Muffet Mash, of course. In fact, although Vinal never made it to the big leagues of the WWF, now the WWE, he emerged from the stable that produced Triple H and Rocky Johnson, father of Hollywood megastar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and experienced a snapshot of the life these pro wrestlers lead.

Crowds and pain

There was good stuff. He wrestled on a New England circuit and once got to perform at the Old Boston Garden. Sometimes he had to chase the promoter after the show to get paid. Sometimes he had to find the promoter days after the show to get paid. Call it an occupational hazard that accompanies the lower rungs of the sport.

He won something called the International Wrestling Federation championship belt, and if you Google IWF, you’ll see it carries some credibility. After all, Triple H had been champion of that very same federation.

He wrestled in front of thousands at arenas and huge gyms. Sometimes he made $300 in a night. He did lots of fundraisers and implemented his Muffet Mash in the ring for as long as he could do it.

The Mash took its toll, though. Wrestling took its toll. At Kowalski’s school, Vinal had learned, essentially, how to transform himself into a shock absorber. He learned how to anticipate an offensive attack, prepare for it, then move with it.

He got hit with metal chairs and thrown down hard on long tables. He visited Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to dull pain from a crushed vertebra.

Asked what it felt like to land hard and break a table, Vinal said, “If I picked you up and threw you onto a table, that’s what it felt like. “If you were on the ground, I would do a swan dive on you.”

Then there was the issue of his weight.

An ally and an enemy

Vinal was always a big boy. This worked as an ally when he hammed it up and gained a following in the late 1980s and into the ‘90s as goofy Tubby Muffet; but his size was an adversary as well. He hit 705 pounds, leading to diabetes and legal blindness.

Vinal, of course, couldn’t wrestle at that weight.

“You’re on the road and there’s no time to eat properly,” Vinal said. “So I’d go to McDonalds to get a bag of hamburgers, about a dozen, and a dozen Cokes.”

He had a heart attack and open heart surgery last spring and spent a month in the hospital. His fingers, racked with arthritis, bend with a mind of their own.

“Way back, my health did not matter,” Vinal said. “I had a superhero complex and then (the heart attack) happened and now you have to think about it. Now I do.”

His wife at the time, the mother of his two children, fed him healthier food and he worked out on a stationary bike, nearly crushing it each time he pedaled.

He’s down to 380 pounds. He said he feels pretty good.

This is not his first foray into politics. Vinal lost his bid for the House in 1997 by 1,300 votes. He’s returning after some health setbacks. He’s legally blind, yet he wants to serve on the select board, look inside the people in the only town he’s ever lived.

He’s passionate when he speaks about change. “Why be a career politician in a small town?” Vinal wondered. “People are stale.”

Vinal says he likes to think outside the box. He did that a long time ago as Irish Tubby Muffet, after former Monitor sports editor Gerry Davies had written a column claiming cheerleading and pro wrestling didn’t belong on the sports pages.

Davies regretted it right away, after snail-mail letters to the editor crushed his viewpoint like a Muffet Mash. Then Vinal, in vintage form, challenged Davies to a match, with proceeds, Davies and Vinal agreed, helping the Concord High School cheer team.

The match was scheduled for Everett Arena, ticket sales were brisk and Davies was scared out of his mind.

He rejoiced when the event had fire safety issues and was postponed. Vinal told me this week he would have coasted, let Davies win. No Muffet Mash.

Vinal did those kinds of things. Benefits. Shows. Mashes. He was a showman, and a good one, and now he wants to take his act to local government.

He’s facing six opponents for two spots on the select board: Robert Yanity, Anna Yasharian, Patricia Consentino, James Cropsey, Scott Ruggles and Brad Walther.

They have no shtick. Not like Dan Vinal did, posing as Tubby Muffet, the Irish Farm Boy.

The Muffet Mash is no more.

“I have ideas,” Vinal said. “We need new blood in there and term limits. We need something different, and I’m different.”

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