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There have been a lot of stories hitting the press recently about the health of a certain Vince McMahon. I only have one problem with all these stories: they all trace back either directly or indirectly to a tweet put out there by Ryback.
I’m not about to say there’s nothing to worry about – no matter how you look at it, he’s an old man living through a pandemic who’s been working every possible hour he can for over 40 years. As much as he’s earned a good retirement, he’s also a high-risk candidate for health issues.
But ever since he left WWE (and to a certain extent even before he left) Ryback has gained a well-earned reputation for being full of shit. If you read the news articles on the main page, he’s become the biggest running joke throughout the comments section. And the comments section of any news page (what the comedian Dave Gorman likes to call “the bottom half of the internet”) is always a good place to go to get a feeling of what the general public’s sentiment on a topic is. And that sentiment tells me anything Ryback says should be taken with a huge dose of salt. And some pepper. And whatever other condiment you want to throw at it.
Is that the case now though? It’s been confirmed in the recent past one of Vince’s most hated things is sneezing. Apparently, it’s because it’s one of the few things in life he can’t control. And we all know by now what a control freak he’s reputed to be. That tells me that if he did have some serious health issues, the last thing he’d want is for it to become public knowledge.
So do we believe Ryback? Nobody on the inside of WWE is going to make any public statement about Vince’s health if it is an issue. They might however let something slip to an old colleague they’re still mates with. I presume Ryback still has friends there. So we’re essentially in a situation where a guy with a reputation for being full of shit may be the only reliable source of information we’ve got.
Where do we go from here? If, as may be the case, Vince’s health does mean he has to slow down, does he finally retire? I’m not convinced. Most normal people would have retired by his age, but it seems that American billionaire workaholics never retire. Some even become President. And if there’s one thing we know for sure about Vince, it’s that he hates showing any signs of weakness. Having to retire due to his health would be the ultimate sign of weakness so it’s safe to say he would absolutely hate that idea.
But he does have a way out. MizFan pointed something out in the comments of a recent column that I hadn’t considered before. Whilst we’re all waiting for him to retire and hand the reigns on to HHH, that’s not what happened when he took over. He had to actually buy the WWF from his father.
That purchase wasn’t without it’s get out clauses either. Apparently, the initial deal was a long term thing that included ongoing monthly payments, whereby if any single payment was missed Vince Jr would lose control and his Dad would be back in charge. Knowing this, Vince Jr took out all sorts of loans and struck a few other deals to get the full amount paid in under a year.
We all know what happened next with the national & subsequent global expansion etc so I’m not going to get into that. But essentially you had a son that wanted to take over so badly he put everything on the line to achieve it. With the reversion clauses included in the initial deal, it’s probably safe to say Vince Sr wasn’t fully ready to let go either and that the takeover may not have been 100% non-hostile.
So is Vince hanging on for one of his kids to have the grapefruits he had and actually force him out of the business with a takeover? I’ll be honest, I know pretty much nothing about how stock markets work (as he seemed pretty keen on the subject it may actually have been interesting to see Tito cover this one) so I’m not about to investigate how it could happen. But when you consider that it’s what he had to do to take over the family business, it’s reasonable to assume he may be waiting for his kids to do the same thing.
So let’s say it does happen in one way or another, and Vince either retires or is forced out of his position. What happens next?
In another discussion following another column, the question of whether things would actually change came up. Don made the comparison that when Alex Ferguson left Man Utd, the transition to new management took a long time. I suspect the drummer in my band would want me to mention Arsene Wenger as well, Arsenal didn’t exactly thrive once he moved on.
I think it’s a fair comparison. Things definitely wouldn’t improve overnight. They may even get worse before they get better. In fact, I suspect that is inevitable. Things like sponsorship deals may be harder to come by – a strong leader is often a key part of those deals, even if it is others in the organisation who put the work into achieving them.
But from a viewer perspective, can I expect any major changes? I don’t think so. No matter how well we might think HHH is doing with NXT, he isn’t about to just turn Raw and Smackdown into that kind of show overnight. They’re catering to a different audience, a target audience that is actually dictated by the television stations who pay WWE the big money. A lot of that audience simply won’t be interested in a purely wrestling focused show. I’m reminded of the infamous conversation between McMahon and Ted Turner, where Turner said he’s in the wrestling business and Vince congratulated him but pointed out that he was in the entertainment business.
So while HHH may have a greater influence on those main shows, we do have to consider the position his wife will assume. She’s currently the Chief Brand Officer, so she’s already having a big input to how the product looks. She’s also been Senior Vice President of Creative Writing in the past. Not the Head Booker role most other wrestling companies may have. With that experience I suspect she may well put herself in the creative position her father would be vacating, meaning very little would actually change. At the end of the day, everything she knows she’s learned from Vince. She’s never been anywhere else to get experience of other methods of doing things.
But let’s say Stephanie doesn’t get involved and HHH takes over fully. I still find it hard to believe there would be a significant shift in the short to medium term. Not just because he’d be stretching himself extremely thinly. There is still an office full of creative writers who would be there pushing forward all the ideas for him to filter and those people wouldn’t change, only the filter would be different.
And Vince as that filter beings me to the final point that’s been discussed recently. I threw it out there that actually, Vince may simply have made himself the scapegoat for all that people don’t like about WWE. We see constant reports that he re-writes Raw at the last minute, so it could be that he’s actually filtering out a lot of crap that we don’t get to see. Something he’s famously done in the past for his namesake, Vince Russo.
We all know how bad Russo was as booker without McMahon as a filter. You just need to look at the later period of WCW and his run with TNA to figure that one out. But actually, he’s also often noted as being responsible for a lot of the good ideas that came out during the Attitude Era, possibly WWE’s highest ever point. So just as Russo is now known as the scapegoat for everything bad that happened during that era, McMahon is now known as the scapegoat for everything bad that happens during the current era.
Is everything bad that we see on Raw & Smackdown his idea? Almost certainly not. Does everything good come from someone else? Again, almost certainly not.
One thing we do know (as surely as possible) though, is Vince McMahon has surrounded himself with people who appear to be afraid to challenge him. No matter what people now think/know about Vince Russo, if the reports from the time are true that was not the case back in the Attitude Era. Russo may have had a lot of ideas thrown out, but he also wasn’t afraid to challenge Vince’s ideas either.
So when Vince goes and that filter is removed from the creative team, we have to wonder what sort of things will come through. One would hope that the creative team would finally be allowed to get their creative juices flowing without fear of being ridiculed by the old man, but there is likely to be as much crap getting through as there is cream floating to the top.
That’s a lot of words and a lot of possibilities, but at the end of the day, the main thing to remember is that no matter how it happens when Vince McMahon is no longer in charge, we shouldn’t expect things to change overnight.
As a final thought, if those reports from Ryback are true, let’s hope Vince gets better soon. No matter what we think about his character, his booking philosophies or anything else, without him wrestling would not exist in its current form and like it or not he’s the reason we’re all fans. Most importantly, he’s a father and grandfather to people who love him.