‘Vincent Kennedy McMahon is the most successful wrestling promoter on a financial basis who has ever lived.’ Love him or hate him, this statement is inarguable. The WWE enjoys a worldwide distribution with which it broadcasts its brand of professional wrestling, dubbed ‘sports entertainment’ from the US all the way to Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. With this worldwide distribution network McMahon has made himself a vast fortune, not necessarily as large as it was during the WWE’s ‘Attitude Era’ boom period between 1998-2001, but still far and above anything anyone else is making or has made in wrestling. Whilst McMahon did not start the WWF, his brash tactics in poaching talent, running shows in territories associated with other promotions and straight-up, no-nonsense threats to cut programming to television providers carrying his competition has grown the WWE to titan size and, as said, made Vincent Kennedy McMahon the most successful wrestling promoter, if you measure success on a purely financial basis.
Vincent K. also happens to be one weird dude. Like, the weirdest of dudes. Like his disdain for sneezing. Sleeping only four hours per night. His preference for bulky, muscular men. His newfound hatred of ‘lazy millennials’. His seeing himself – millionaire/former billionaire, white old man who literally called John Cena the N-word, as a major supporter for black rights. The time he attacked Kurt Angle – completely removed from wrestling – because Vince McMahon believed in his heart of hearts that he needed to pin an Olympic Gold medallist – Vince McMahon is a weird, weird, weird weird character of a man. I could, and probably will, end up writing many, many articles just listing out some of the oddest things about this guy, because I haven’t even scratched the surface of Vince McMahon. A man whose quirks and eccentricities have led him to writing (or rather, hiring someone else to write) necrophilia, incest and a series of incidents where people in his employ must literally kiss his arse. He once had a gorgeous woman get on her hands and knees and bark like a dog in an arena full of people for no reason other than it would entertain him, so it must entertain the people watching.
But that’s the thing – entertainment. That’s what wrestling is; and at it’s best, it is the best entertainment. Wrestling is way of conveying a message or telling a story. Unfortunately, with such an oddball at the helm, sometimes the focus on ‘storytelling’ gets infused with Vince’s odd and sometimes very unsubtle opinions on things. Here are five of those times.
5: Burying most of your roster because you hate Unions
You can skip the next two paragraphs if you have no interest in legal-y type business.
It’s no secret that the Vinnie Mac doesn’t have the most favourable opinion of unions. The WWE has gone to great legal lengths to make abundantly clear that their wrestlers are not ‘employees’ but rather a separate class of worker, known as ‘independent contractors’. Even on television, Authority figures like Triple H and Stephanie will refer to their wrestlers as employees, which is a flagrant misnomer, but it probably sounds better on TV. Employment law is a really complex topic, but in short an independent contractor is a worker who is independent of the organisation employing them, but at the same time, contracted to them for a particular reason – in this case wrestling. The independence of these contractors is somewhat negated in spirit by the fact that WWE wrestlers aren’t really permitted any more to work for other promotions (unlike, say, TNA, where wrestlers can wrestle independent shows so long as they are not on television). Nor can they work for another organisation (wrestling or UFC) for a set period if they leave the WWE. Whilst this wouldn’t really hold up in court, the very fact the WWE could take a wrestler to court on this proviso is hindrance enough – going to court can cost a lot of money, something the WWE has a lot of, and most ‘independent contractors’ can’t afford to lose.
Why make WWE wrestlers independent contractors then? There are loads of advantages for the WWE – employees generally get stuff like salaries, pensions and health benefits, whereas the WWE can bypass those things by simply contracting their wrestlers as independent contractors. That means when Kevin Nash tears his quads, it’s Kevin Nash paying for those injuries (though Nash, a genius at contract negotiation, seems like the type of guy who would include that kind of stuff in his contract). Furthermore, Independent contractors do not have the same collective bargaining power as employees. Collective bargaining is a bit of legalese which basically means unions. Whilst employees AND independent contractors both have the right to unionise, employees are more protected by law and therefore they don’t have to fear for their jobs as much as independent contractors.
The concept of a wrestler’s union has floated by before. In 1984 future Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura tried to start a wrestler’s union, only for Hulk Hogan spill the beans to Vince, who quashed any such union. John Cena has gone on record as saying “I believe that professional wrestlers, WWE-specific and across, they all know what they’re getting into. Nobody is forcing them to get into the ring. It’s a job that they all want to do.” He went on to brush off the topic, stating the question of unions in wrestling “won’t ever be answered, because I don’t think it’ll ever be asked.”
It’s easy when you’re at the top of the heap, like Hogan and like Cena, to see unions as fickle troublemakers, protecting only the bone-idle and the lucky-to-be-there. It’s even easier if you’re the man who writes the cheques, like McMahon. After Hell in a Cell 2012, when the majority of the locker room walked out to protect the violence in WWE at the time, leaving only the tippity toppiest of of top tier babyface talent the message was clear – protesting is for whiny little babies. If you don’t like your position in the workplace, it is your own fault for not being top of the heap. Nevermind that the storyline never made sense; calling for someone like CM Punk to drastically change facets of their character and cooperate with a mortal enemy like Triple H just to fit into a hamfisted storyline. Oddly, the WWE had previously created a short lived stable known as the ‘Union’, which was short for the a horrifically bad ‘Union of People You O’ughta Respect, Son’. A team featuring the Big Show, Ken Shamrock, Test and led by Mankind. Whilst this ‘union’ were technically the good guys, they were ineffective and less than the sum of their parts. Maybe that was the point WWF were trying to get across…
4: Vote for my Wife because you like Sports Entertainment
Politics and wrestling go hand in hand like steroid abuse and wrestling, in that they shouldn’t have anything to do with each other, but unfortunately often do. In 2010 Linda McMahon, former CEO of WWE, horrible onscreen performer and wife of Vince McMahon decided to run for senate in the state of Connecticut. During the political campaign, the reason for her enormous wealth, the WWE, came under fire for many reasons. The steroid allegations levelled against WWE in the early 90’s, the string of wrestling deaths of which the WWE’s relaxed drug policies and laissez-faire attitude towards health care may have been a contributing factor, the aforementioned time Vince McMahon had Trish Stratus bark like a dog in front of millions of people. The list goes on, not even mentioning the violence of wrestling which, while not necessarily more gratuitous than most Saturday Morning cartoons – or even many Disney movies, has for many years been a lightening rod for Helen Lovejoy-esque parents who only want to ‘think of the children’.
So, in order to combat this, the WWE started its Stand Up for WWE campaign. This wasn’t bad in theory. While most wrestling fans have made peace with the fact that there are many who just won’t ‘get’ wrestling, and are happy to just enjoy their male-oriented action sports soap opera or whatever, the WWE has to consider its stockholders and its advertisers – they need to be seen as having to contribute something positive to wider society; to justify all those wrestlers they crippled and can’t remember where they live at 45 because they simply wouldn’t pay for their wrestler’s damn health insurance.
So they started this lengthy campaign that is basically responsible or part responsible for a lot of the crappier aspects of WWE today. Be a Star – good in theory, but a cynical attempt to get Linda elected. PG wrestling – not my bag, but it gets them more advertisers and they are a business, I suppose – also it gets Linda some credentials. The ‘Stand up for WWE campaign’, good in theory, if it weren’t simply a cynical attempt to get Linda into office. The proof? WWE fan Appreciation Day, a day dedicated to all those hardworking, blue collar WWE fans who just want to enjoy their wrestling and also have Linda McMahon, who no doubt has their best interests in mind, be seated in the senate. This free event took place mere days before the 2010 election, within the constituency, where fans were told they could, and should, wear WWE merchandise to the polling stations because if you like wrestling, you like Linda McMahon and want her as your politician. An FEC complaint was later filed against this event as an illegal campaign contribution and Linda McMahon went on to lose the 2010 election by 11% and her subsequent 2012 re-run. These races cost around 97 million dollars of her personal fortune; money which could have bought WWE wrestlers a hell of a lot of healthcare.
3: Just because Everyone thinks Someone is Guilty doesn’t mean they’re Guilty
In 1993, Vince McMahon was indicted as part of the steroid investigation being conducted by the FBI against the WWE. There was a lot of evidence against McMahon. Everyone knew McMahon was guilty – or did they? How could they know McMahon was guilty? Y’see, just because there’s a lot of evidence to prove something, does not make it so. Just ask our ol’ friend Lex Luger!
In the summer of 1993, Native American Wrestling superstar and no doubt future Hall of Famer Tatanka told everybody that he knew – he KNEW – that that no good, two timing All-American Lex Luger was in the pocket of that dirty Million Dollar Man Ted DeBiase and his Million Dollar corporation. In this case, the viewing public were themselves, Tatanka represented the US Justice Department, the Million Dollar Man represented steroids and Lex Luger, as Vince McMahon always wanted, was Vince McMahon.
BUT IT WAS ALL A RUSE! For you see it was TATANKA that was the turncoat all along, for some never detailed reason! Which means the US Justice department was intentionally fooling the public for some unknown nebulous reason. Didn’t the public feel silly for ever doubting the good guy Lex Luger? Let that be a lesson to never listen to anybody, regardless about how much evidence they have or how convincing their argument is.
Lex Luger would later leave WWF and go on to join WCW where he would quickly become a bad guy. WCW would give him 2 runs with their World Heavyweight title. Today he is a voice against steroid abuse and the damage it causes to young athletes lives. He certainly used steroids during his time in the WWF, as did many others.
2: Millennials. Those damned millennials and their youthful entitlement.
Back in December, Vince mcMahon took part in a podcast with Stone Cold Steve Austin. This was a real veil raising moment for the fans re: McMahon – the time that we learned that Vince McMahon was almost exactly as crazy in real life as his character on TV. One of the biggest takeaways from the podcast was McMahon’s fondness for a well worn philosophy of those who want to absolve themselves of any responsibility for anyone else’s misfortune – it’s their fault, they’re in that position because of their own doing. When asked about the talents of today and why so few were connecting with the audience, McMahon put forward the idea that it’s their own fault – they just won’t grab that brass ring.
Wrestlers who have left the WWE have said that their ideas were repeatedly shot down, or given to other talents. That they were given entire gimmicks as a short lived joke, intended to teach them a lesson, or that weird, arbitrary restrictions were placed on how they conducted themselves in the ring and on the microphone. That they were given scripts they had to rote learn, written by people who have never watched wrestling, let alone have had any experience in any form of combat outside perhaps Digimon or something. The WWE controls every single aspect of their wrestlers, but when they don’t succeed – that’s not the WWE’s fault. That’s the fault of the wrestler. Maybe they should try harder – maybe they should go grab that brass ring!
At the moment of writing we’re watching a feud between Paige and the Bella Twins for the Divas title. Nikki Bella has somehow held the title for almost a year despite being universally panned – people just plain do not want to see these Bellas. NXT has a sterling Divas division at the moment with women who could wrestle rings around The Bellas. However, the WWE feel they have to erase AJ Lee, the longest holder of the Divas title, from the record books because her husband embarrassed the WWE – they’re also helping to sue him in a really frivolous lawsuit. So the title will stay on Nikki Bella until such time as she can say she is the longest holder of the title, in what is really a pitiable honour. And yet, as Paige says – if you aren’t happy with the way you’re living, YOU can make a change. You can do something! Don’t rely on anyone else; you go do it yourself! And if you do take things into your own hands, the WWE will almost certainly move you down the card into oblivion, or future endeavour you, or maybe even sue you.
1: Vince McMahon vs the Denver Nuggets
Back in May 2009 there was a bit of a mix up which led to the Pepsi Centre in Denver to be double booked. WWE hd booked the arena for RAW, but the Denver Nuggets were to also play the LA Lakers in game 4 of the 2009 NBA Western Conference Finals. Whilst this was a silly mishap, and probably did cause a good number of logistical headaches for those at WWE, Vince McMahon saw it as an opportunity – an opportunity to get involved in a feud with a man few had heard of and no one cared about: E. Stan Kroenke.
The WWE often paints itself as an international company, which given their touring is true enough. I even once read an article by an American writer saying the WWE should stop touring in Europe because the fans at the UK RAWs made his head hurt. It was a surreal read, almost as surreal as this Basketball-centric feud. However, as international as the WWE claims to be, I genuinely had to skip the RAW this happened on because McMahon was determined – actually obsessed – with dedicating 2 hours to this man I had never heard of, going so far as to hire a body double of the man just so McMahon could yell at him in an arena of bored onlookers. Who does that? When you have a petty grievance with someone – like say the cashier at the supermarket is a bit short with you, imagine going home and having an imaginary argument with that person so that you could come out feeling like a winner. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Travis Bickle in Taxi driver was doing.
Anyway, the LA Lakers let WWE use their stadium for the night. McMahon got free publicity by going on ESPN and making jokes about the situation and then spent a hundred and fifty years on RAW making fun of Stan Kroenke’s first name: Enos. The main event was a basketball themed tag match where the good guy LA Lakers beat the evil Denver Nuggets in a match notable for basically getting Ken Kennedy fired after John Cena and Randy Orton complained about him. The real losers here? Everyone who had to watch this sad wish fulfilment of an old man. Oh, and Canadian wrestling fans, who had their live events cancelled due to the schedule shuffle. Them too.
You can read Coiré Mc Crystall’s crazy opinions on Twitter. Mostly about video games and pogs.