Class of 2014
Inducted by Mazza and Maverick
Maverick: For the first six or seven years of my wrestling fandom, when I thought of Vince McMahon, the guy I thought of was the goofy announcer with the insane chemistry with Jesse Ventura, Bobby Heenan, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, the straight man amidst a kaleidoscope of larger than life characters. I always loved McMahon’s commentary, the way that he raised his voice in that distinctive way when he became excited, the ridiculousness of him yelling “what a maneuver!” for something as simple as a back body drop, the dignified way he took the jibes of the colour commentators by his side. He was simply one of those lynch pins of the product you took for granted. Watch this video of him and Ventura reprising their partnership during the guest host era of Raw a couple of years back and you can see how much fun Vince truly had as a play by play guy; he was a fantastic voice and a huge part of my childhood.
Much as with Father Christmas, I can’t clearly remember when I first realised when Vince McMahon was no mere announcer but the legitimate owner of the World Wrestling Federation. Just as with Santa, I think I probably tried to deny the truth for a little while, because it felt like a curtain being ripped down that couldn’t soon be put back up. I remember distinctly when Kevin Nash began to shoot on McMahon’s true identity in his final feud as Diesel, ripping on Shawn Michaels as “Vince’s boy”. Bret Hart’s foul-mouthed tirade at McMahon in March 1997 was another watershed moment, and I also recall Stone Cold’s rise in 1997, recently covered by Maz and myself in the ATTITUDE series, and the way that the “first Stunner” on McMahon actually took place a lot sooner than most people think it did, in the aftermath of Summerslam. Of course, no matter how much the owner of the company’s true identity had been kept under the radar up to 1997, there was no way that the genie could be put back into the bottle after Montreal…
Mazza: Vince’s shift from announcer to onscreen owner was without a doubt a game changer. His action in the most infamous moment in wrestling history in Montreal lead to him becoming the biggest heel in the industry. He used that to heat to start arguably the biggest and most important feud in wrestling history. Stone Cold vs Mr McMahon was the storyline that turned the Monday Night Wars in the WWF’s favour and essentially saved the company. And once Vince got started you had to wonder what took him so long. Unlike Mav, I wasn’t overly enamoured with Vince as an announcer but as an on-screen authority figure it was a totally different story. The heat from Survivor Series ’97 definitely helped but Vince was a natural bad guy. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that he clearly has a great mind for the business. It’s as if the talent was in his blood, and that is proved by the fact that his children also seem to be a perfect fit for the world of pro-wrestling too.
Whilst his battles with Austin will go down in history as Vince’s main rivalry, he didn’t stop there. Over the next fifteen years he feuded with pretty much every top level star going. From Triple H to The Rock. From Shawn Michaels to Bret Hart. From The Undertaker to Mick Foley. From Hulk Hogan to John Cena. From Randy Orton to CM Punk. From his wife, to his son, to his daughter. From Donald Trump to God (and not forgetting Zack Gowen to Hornswoggle). Some were more memorable than others of course. Some were better than others. One of them even had him playing the good guy. What makes things even more impressive however is McMahon’s willingness to physically commit to his art. When it comes to leading by example, Vince is a Chairman of the Board like no other. He will not hesitate to make himself look a silly as he needs to get his character over. We have already celebrated McMahon the announcer and the character. It’s time to look at Vinnie Mac the wrestler, a man with his own streak going on at WrestleMania.
Maverick: I remember being sceptical about the idea of McMahon wrestling at first, but the brilliant storyline that underscored the 1999 Rumble totally won me over; with Vince vowing that Stone Cold had “no chance in hell”of winning the event and going on to Wrestlemania, he and the Rattlesnake ended up entering at numbers one and two, with the Chairman of the Board ultimately winning due to the interference of Corporate Rock, with Cole famously intoning “somebody slap me in the face!” McMahon went on to face Austin in a steel cage at St Valentine’s Day Massacre that showed his storytelling ability yet further, as well as his ability to take a total ass whuppin’.
Following that initial burst of in ring action, McMahon would put on that weird gear he always wore on a semi-regular basis. His Wrestlemania in-ring debut came against his son Shane in a terrific balls to the wall brawl filled with weapons and soap opera grime (the story behind the match was that Vince had Linda sedated and put in a nursing home so he could bang Trish Stratus!) and a couple of years later, the boss took on his biggest ever star Hulk Hogan over the issue of who truly created Hulkamania. During that match, McMahon drops a leg off the top of a ladder through a table, and if you’d told me back in 1990 when I started watching wrestling that Vince would be doing any such thing, I’d have laughed at you. The next time the owner of the whole damn business wrestled at the Show of Shows was at Wrestlemania XXII, where he got pummelled by Shawn Michaels in a bout that Michaels allegedly requested so that he could “have some fun at Wrestlemania” instead of being expected to come up with the match of the night; there was also a fun follow up where Shane and Vince tagged against Michaels and “God”! A year later, McMahon was being shaved bald after his man Umaga failed to defeat Lashley in the Battle of the Billionaires.
As Maz pointed out, Vince won none of his Wrestlemania matches, although his Royal Rumble victory is certainly a feather in his cap. Just as he was a peerless storyteller on the mic, he was almost as good at telling a story in the ring. The bumps he took, the blood he shed, the employees he put over…McMahon in the squared circle ensured eyes on the product and dollar bills in the bank account. Speaking of greenbacks, Vince McMahon, it should be remembered, is the man who turned what was essentially a carnie industry into one of the world’s foremost entertainment products. No wrestling promoter has ever had the vision McMahon did, as he still manages to prove to this day.
Mazza: Whilst Vince’s on-screen persona is Hall of Fame worthy in itself, McMahon the promoter definitely tops him. Quite simply he revolutionised the industry. It all started out when he went to work with his dad’s WWWF promotion after gaining a degree in business. He didn’t take long to put his stamp on things. He was instrumental in a number of moves including the booking of Ali vs Inoki and the name change to World Wrestling Federation and eventually purchased the company from his pops in 1982. That is when his plan for world domination really begun to take shape. The first step was the dismantling of the territory system. For years the industry saw promotions run in specific areas. Vince blew all of that out of the water as he begun poaching talent and muscling in any way he would. A number of things would contribute in establishing WWF as the biggest pro-wrestling company in North America. Hulkamania would be key as he took Hogan Hogan from the AWA and he became a global phenomenon. Rock and Roll wrestling gave Hulk and Vince a huge assist. The idea was simple and effective as the WWF partnered up with numerous pop icons in the mid 80s to broaden their mainstream appeal. This really culminated with the birth of WrestleMania in 1985, an event which would boast names like Mohammed Ali, Cyndi Lauper and Mr T. The success of the first WrestleMania lead to the PPV system that would be the heart and soul of the industry until last month when the Network launched.
The growth of Rock and Roll Wrestling, Hulkamania, WrestleMania and PPV found a perfect place to come together on the 29th March 1987. WrestleMania III saw the Mania concept taken to a new level. It saw Hulkamania run wild against Andre the Giant in front of a live crowd of 93,173 (allegedly). The event was a huge success and the popularity of the WWF spread across the Atlantic as us Brits started to take notice. Over the next few years McMahon continued to dominate with a roster spearheaded by Hogan. But all good things come to an end and the infamous steroid scandal in 1993 really put the cat among the pigeons. McMahon was acquitted of all charges in 1994, however things had changed. Hulk Hogan had gone to WCW and would be joined by Randy Savage. Ted Turner’s pet project wouldn’t be a big problem at first, but WWF soon begun to struggle without their big draws from the 80s. When two of Vince’s newer stars jumped ship in 1996, it would be a different story. WCW had created the New World Order and the WWF were suddenly in deep deep trouble. If there is something we have learnt over the years however is that when his back is against the wall, McMahon is going to fight with everything he has.
Maverick: It’s been fascinating to chart just how early on Vince was actually thinking about an edgier product and what that might do to bring back lost audiences. Put simply, the cartoonish characters, the family values and the traditional matches full of rest holds and simple transition moves just weren’t selling well any more and so emphasis began to put on developing a certain “attitude”. It was a while before the word was used, but what we came to know as the main features of the Attitude Era- the “reality” based storylines, the twists and turns, the brawling, the weapons, the ref bumps- are evident a lot earlier than most people think they are. 1997, as briefly mentioned earlier, was the point where all of those ideas came together, and the match between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XIII was the first act in a more confident, assured WWF which would eventually overhaul WCW’s ratings lead by bravely booking new, assured, high octane character wrestlers to break boundaries and make waves. Add in a veneer of sexual provocation and taboo language and you had the late teen to late twenties demographic pretty much sewn up, to the extent that wrestling became cooler than it ever had been. I’m sure that all of us of a certain age remembering walking down the street, going to college or having a few drinks and seeing a sea of 3:16 and Just Bring It t-shirts.
It’s remarkable really that McMahon managed to not just create one wrestling boom, but to actually create two. On the famous evening that Tony Schiavone gave away the result of Mick Foley winning his first WWF title, resulting in thousands of viewers changing the channel, WWF finally established themselves again as the number one company in the industry, and they never looked back, never coming second in the ratings again and eventually driving WCW out of business, with ECW, the number three company, also running out of money. Vince was able to buy up the tape libraries and talent of both companies and make himself a truckload of money over the next decade, also rolling out the brand extension concept which made the early 2000s a very interesting time for wrestling.
More recently, Vince has switched the product back to a more family friendly one, backed by the enormous merchandise selling ability of one John Cena. However much some have criticised him for this move, it has proven a winner with the PR side of things in the wake of the Chris Benoit controversy, as has the Wellness Policy which is finally making professional wrestling a safer industry for the athletes to work in after years of premature deaths and bankrupt, washed up talent. Not everything the Chairman has tried in business has worked out- the XFL, the WBF, Tout- but more often than not, Vince gets it right, which is why he is such a rich man. The WWE Network has changed the game yet again, solving the huge problem the company had with piracy and decreasing pay-per-view sales, also appealing to lapsed fans who are attracted by every WWF/E, WCW and ECW PPV being available to stream on demand. With plans to roll the Network out internationally over the next 14 or 15 months, you can be sure that WWE are going to stay relevant for a good while yet.
Mazza: That’s right. Vince clearly isn’t ready to put his feet up just yet. The WWE Network will likely be another industry game changer. Not bad for somebody who is often referred to in these circles as “out of touch”. The WWE is still very much going strong under McMahon’s control. He has successfully navigated some bad times business wise and whilst we may not find ourselves in a time period where wrestling’s popularity can match Rock and Roll Wrestling or Attitude, the company continues to grow. At the end of the day that will outweigh any personal gripes about booking, as much as we in the IWC don’t like to admit it. Whether you want to look at him as the shrewd businessman, natural heel, devoted wrestler or over-the-top announcer, there is no doubt that he has “Hall of Famer” written all over him. So everybody stand back and welcome Vince McMahon to the Lords of Pain Hall of Fame.