Many years ago, a thing called cable television came. Now this will all sound familiar if you followed the end of territory wrestling. There were three major belts at the time, the WWF title in the North East, the AWA title in the Mid West, and the NWA title which represented the rest of the nation. This was the landscape in the beginning of 1983, just as Vince K. McMahon was about to take over the WWF territory from his father. Over three years, McMahon had been planning for this moment by starting his own Titan Sports company. He even started hiring his own staff, most notably was Howard Finkel who recently passed away. During this time, Vince had studied the landscape of television. He was uniquely prepared to push the WWF above everyone else, including the NWA which had been the top title in the country for decades.
The qualities that catapulted Vince McMahon to the top are the same qualities that hold him down now. In the changing environment we are in today, Vince has failed to evolve. Vince still applies his old mentality to the new challenges.
His Finest Moment
I remember it like it was yesterday, I was in college and my neighbor had his TV on way too loud. Now I go over to his room and ask what’s going on? My neighbor responds by shouting, “A PLANE HIT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER!” At that moment, it was only one plane and the news reporters were trying to see if it was an accident. I stand and I watch, as this looks huge. Out of nowhere a second plane flying really fast crashes into the second tower! I’m in shock, my neighbor is jumping up and down yelling “OH MY GOD,” as he’s beside himself. Me a Christian, him a Muslim, both are standing there stunned at what was happening.
Fast forward to two days later. The threat was very real, sporting events were cancelled across the nation. I myself had questioned if WWF would come on TV. All large gatherings were cancelled. But in what was a show of strength, Vince McMahon led his troops into battle. In Houston, Texas, Smackdown was showing live on UPN, at it’s scheduled time. No one would have blamed Vince for cancelling Smackdown, but ever the patriot Vince wanted to show the world the American fighting spirit. It might have been Vince’s finest hour as leader of the WWF. The old saying in wrestling is, the show must go one, and in this case that show let everyone know we are not afraid of your threats. The first large event following 9-11 was the WWF, and that quality that made Vince who he is was on full display that night.
The Show Must Go On
I’ve never seen Vince, Vince so hard in his life. In the face of losing revenue, sinking ratings, and a global pandemic, Vince McMahon has truly gone to his reserve and brought out everything that’s made him successful. He was still willing to run weekly live shows! Out of nowhere WWE is now considered an “essential business.” Yes, doctors, nurses, grocery clerks, waste management, pharmacies, and Braun Strowman are all essential workers in the battle against CoVID 19.
Was it that important to hold live TV weekly? Each episode of Raw and Smackdown would be live. Imagine had Reigns toughed it out, he would have to weather exposer every week. Vince McMahon was willing to expose a leukemia survivor weekly, just to have his live TV. Knowing Vince, he’s probably saying that he would have showed up every week if he was in Reigns’ shoes. Hell, I can bet you anything he’s justifying to himself because as an older person, he’s also at risk. That’s the way his mind works.
I like to listen to Something to Wrestle With, as sometimes it feels Bruce has been around Vince so much, he can justify almost every wrong decision Vince has ever made. One thing Bruce shared was Vince’s views on Bret Hart before Bret left for WCW. Famously, Vince gave Bret an out of their 20-year contract, and just as Vince found the money to pay Bret, Bret already had a deal done with WCW. Bruce said something that stuck with me, Vince wished Bret would have trusted him enough to make good with the contract. Even when things are looking bad, Vince wants your trust.
I mention this story, because it’s reported that Vince is now ordering people to not mention Roman Reigns. Despite what “conspiracy theorist” think online, Roman Reigns has been fighting leukemia which weakens your immune system. In this global pandemic, the athletes that have been getting CoVID-19 also have been asymptomatic, which is they carry the virus, but it doesn’t seem to affect them. From everything we know of this virus, this is very common. Younger, healthier people between the ages of 15-39 in nations with mass testing show very low hospitality rates and even lower mortality rates. There is some risk though, as many young and healthy medical professionals have been lost to this terrible disease; but that risk remains very, very low. There is one exception…
He Really Wants Your Trust
With this pandemic, there is a theme, if you have some sort of pre-existing condition, you are at risk. It doesn’t matter how young or healthy you are, this virus attacks those that have weaken immune systems. Roman Reigns has been fighting leukemia most of his adult life, his wife is pregnant with twins, and now it seems he has heat with Vince McMahon. I don’t care what anyone says, Vince is a very different type of animal. If he fully supported Reign’s decision to go home and ride out the pandemic with his family, WWE would have at least explained why Reigns had to be replaced. It’s not unheard of for WWE to address an obvious hole in their show and explain what’s going on in real life.
It became obvious to me that Vince is upset with Reigns, as they just bushed it off that Reigns is gone the SHOW BEFORE WRESTLEMANIA. There was no large storyline, they just erased Reigns from the show. That was it, they showed Braun in the graphic and moved on. And this goes back to Vince wanting you to trust him. Vince McMahon always must have control, and he needs you to have your full trust in Vince. But in this case, you cannot trust Vince because Vince doesn’t even know the true danger of this virus. Look, will most of the talent be okay, even if they get CoVID-19? Yes, there is a good chance that many wouldn’t even feel sick. This is why Reigns cannot afford the risk of continuing right now.
I don’t type this lightly. It feels like Vince McMahon’s was willing to endanger Roman Reigns’ to have WrestleMania go on as planned. Had Reigns continued with WrestleMania, and someone traveling was carrying CoVID-19 the WWE would talk about how brave Reigns was and he gave for the business. Vince always respected wrestlers who gave everything, and I mean everything, for the business. But instead, Reign’s chose his health and well being, so instead WWE ignored him. One day Reigns was fighting for the WWE Universal Championship, the next day he was replaced in the graphic and no one mentioned it again. This tells me that Vince fully expected Reigns to be there and now has heat with him.
When you say no to Vince, he never forgets. Apart from your initial character, Vince doesn’t take kindly to no. He is where he is today for this reason, he isn’t looking to promote you, he’s looking to use you as a character in his WWE Universe. He’s playing the ultimate game of “living room wrestling federation.” Many wrestlers get left in the toy box (catering), and others he’ll play with until they are broken. Of course, these are not toys, they are people. And right now Vince McMahon does not seem to care about the people part of this.
You Get a Release, and You Get a Release
Vince always needs to be in control. He has been collecting talent now for years, especially after Cody and the Young Bucks started All Elite Wrestling. A lot of talent were wanting releases, so to prevent them from leaving Vince signed them to long term high dollar contracts. But in wrestling, you will get screwed at the worst time possible. That was on full display here.
Shortly after WWE announced they had $500,000,000 cash on, hand, they then cut a lot of talent. 22 wrestlers, 10 producers, three coaches, two announcers, a referee, a member of the creative team and two on-air talents all released or furloughed. As someone right now facing furlough, I can tell you it sucks. You feel lucky your job is waiting for you, yet you feel anxious as you will not get paid for a while. During this time, this is the worst time for WWE to do this to the people that trusted Vince.
Smaller promotions are paying their wrestlers, making sure they are able to ride out this global event. Yet WWE, the largest game in town has picked this moment to cut spending. Look, given the current trends of WWE, these cuts were inevitable, yet this is the worst possible time for them. Especially when you claim to have $500 million in cash. You are only saving close to $9 million dollars on the year. Would it be too much to ask to just keep people on through the pandemic, and then when it is over you can set them free. Right now there is no wrestling scene to go to, but after the pandemic they would have lots of choices. Vince’s old way of doing business is terrible PR. Even if some were getting paid a lot of money, many weren’t, and WWE just dumped them at the worst time possible.
With all of this going on, the failure to adapt is the cause of many downfalls. You see, in this “new normal,” when you watch the shows it is clear who is adapting and who cannot. I hate to say this, but AEW has made the best of this situation. I say this as someone who doesn’t buy Orange Cassidy and a few other acts in AEW. But when I look at them have wrestlers in the crowd, I feel like they’ve figured out a way to adjust given the situation. They are doing mass tapings, and though their ratings are decreasing, they still are doing well in the demo. This will keep them on air for a while.
WWE on the other hand seems to be pushing on with what they were doing. In fact, it feels like the wrestlers are enjoying not having a crowd. Some are now going through the motions without immediate negative crowd reaction. One of the few bright spots on WWE television right now is Asuka, who seems to use Raw as her own way of getting attention. But outside of that, WWE has seemed lost in their new normal. They do not have a direction other than, keep doing what we were doing. Money in the Bank seems promising, but it also feels like the sequel to the Doomsday Cage Match.
Vince Needs to Stop Being Vince
The year 2020 will be written about for many, many years in the future. When people look back, they will point to this as the year of societal change. What will be those change? I think it’s too early to tell. What I do know is that being Vince McMahon is doing more harm that good. The same man who stood in the face of terrorism and said the show must go on to thunderous applause is now the same man who stands in front of a global pandemic and says, the show must go on. If you were scheduled to be part of that show, but you are a high-risk person we will replace you and ignore you. We wouldn’t even put you over as the baby face you should be in this situation. You couldn’t book a more sympathetic babyface right now than Roman Reigns.
I feel like 40 years of Vince McMahon has played out in the last 4 months. You can pull stories over the last 40 years and find a parallel to 2020. Each time you think a characteristic was positive for Vince, it is the wrong characteristic in 2020. The threat is something Vince never had to deal with. The field I work in, there are articles going around saying many places might close down for good, which would devastate my field. Once this is over, after furlough, I am not sure I’ll have a job to go back to. You can’t predict a global pandemic, they just happen.
With that said, I am also not sure Vince McMahon is the right person to lead WWE through this. Maybe it is not too late, as what could be the best thing for WWE is change leadership right now. A full change in direction. The world has changed, it is time for younger people to lead. People who understand these changing times and will work with talent on a closer level.
With Vince digging his heels in the ground and not moving, the WWE will not grow the way it needs to. After 9-11, the world changed, and WWE was part of that change. From Tribute to the Troops to the John Cena character, WWE was firing on all cylinders then. After CoVID-19, what will WWE look like? Has Vince even thought of that? I hope he is thinking of it, because sometime in late 2020 or early 2021, when fans return to the arenas, what product will be presented to them? How will WWE look as a company after all of this? Is Vince truly the right person to be answering these questions? I honestly don’t know, because the Vince McMahon I have always known and respected is not suited for the changing world of 2020 and beyond.