It’s funny, earlier this month I was looking at old pictures of my first day of school. I had on a nice shirt, well-fitting jeans with the bottoms cuffed up, and a belt with a WWF belt buckle. My great-grandma had given me a Hulk Hogan toy that she found in the second-hand store. And from that moment on, I was hook. A 5-year-old child would now enter the world created by Vince McMahon. Rock N’ Wrestling, Superstars, Prime Time Wrestling shaped my opinion on how wrestling was supposed to be.
I found WCCW, Jim Crockett Promotions, and the AWA when my dad got cable. My issue was production. It was so noticeable, that my young mind saw WWF as superior and the other promotions as small. Yes, my dad took my to the local minor league baseball games, but it was nothing compared to driving to the big city to watch the Major League Baseball (MLB). That’s how I saw wrestling then. Vince McMahon just captured another life long customer.
I admired Vince McMahon, and all my friends knew it. He presented himself as an untouchable character. I remember in 1994, when Hulk Hogan went to WCW, my cousin asked what it would take for my to be a WCW fan. Without knowing Vince owned the company, I told him, “I wouldn’t leave the WWF until Vince McMahon leaves.” Not even my childhood hero could make me leave Vince and his company. I bought into everything WWF.
Behind the scene, Vince was not exactly who I thought he was. To me, he was the straight man, the one arguing with Jesse Ventura. He was a stand up person. Behind the scene, Vince was a completely different person. I was not aware of Nancy Argentino, and Rita Chatterton. What I’ll always remember is that Vince McMahon was the voice of my childhood. Yes, Gorilla Monsoon called WWF Challenge, but Vince was the voice of Superstars, or Saturday Night Main Event with Jesse Ventura. And the more I learned about Vince, my opinions of him only got stronger.
How the Territories Were Won
It started with the territories, and finally concluded in 2001. From the moment he bought WWWF from his father, Vince McMahon was out to rule wrestling. Being younger, Vince had fresh ideas and new ways to make money. Starting with cable, Vince knew the time to expand was now. For decades, wrestling promotions depended on syndicated television to reach their customers. This allowed the territory system to thrive. If you are only on local TV, then you can run angles in your territory, while another promoter could run angles in their territory on their TV stations. But cable changed everything.
Yes, some promoters already were on cable, but none of them knew what to do with it. Vince McMahon had All American Wrestling on USA. He already saw the future. The USA Network broadcast across the country. It was seen beyond New York, like California, Texas, Chicago, and other large markets. Vince got tape from other territories, with the promise to expose their stars to a larger audience. The exposer that talent received on All American Wrestling raised their profile nation wide. Vince then sign that talent, and tour them nationally. No talent was more obvious than Hulk Hogan, who’s AWA matches were shown on All American Wrestling throughout 1983. Cable was always going to kill the territories, but Vince pulled the trigger.
All American Wrestling was the first shot in the territory wars.
In a business of promoters known to backstab each other, no one could have seen Vince coming. In the Godfather, once Vito passes, the older dons think Michael is weak and they could take him out. Little did they know, Michael had been planning all their deaths for years. Vince is Michael. Like the 5 Families, the NWA would fight be using strategies that had worked for them. But they were not ready for Vince’s marketing machine. When Verne Gagne gave Vince his tapes on Hulk Hogan to show nationally, he wouldn’t think Vince would take Hulk Hogan from him. Promoters did cross each other all the time, none of them could have imagined doing what Vince did.
The next phase of Vince’s take over was partnerships. Yes LJN games suck, but the partnership with LJN gave WWF both toys and video games. The other partnership was with MTV, the hottest channel on cable. MTV featured the newest stars of the 80’s, and this partnership helped spread the now WWF to millions of young people. Immediately, WWF was cool, it was new; it was not the old dusty, boring wrestling you dad watched on syndicated TV. Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper’s feud that started on MTV would soon get a Saturday morning cartoon. Also WWF would be on Network TV on NBC. Many territories now had two companies to watch, their local territory on local syndication, and WWF on cable and NBC. Local territories were feeling like minor league baseball, and WWF was the MLB.
Thanks to Vince giving wrestlers a percentage of their toys, wrestlers made more money than ever before. This became a huge recruiting item for getting top stars from other territories
There will be a LOT written past this point on Vince’s legacy. Killing the territories, winning the Monday Night Wars. My goal is to put everything into prospect. You see, Vince had a vision. But what his vision lacked was actual concern for people. When Vince upped the game, other promoters started to push their talent as well. Wrestling already pushed their talent, but now everyone was running on 30 matches, a month, double matches on Sundays. Life on the road was hard on their bodies. Vince ran his wrestlers with little regard to their futures. It’s very telling that over time, many of our heroes from the 80’s and 90’s are no longer with us. Many died of substance abuse, addicted to pain medications, or heart issues from steroid use.
You cannot deny wrestlers were paid well, but at what cost. Yes, Hulk Hogan has generational wealth that will keep his children, and any future grandchildren, provided for. But many wrestlers end up broke with run down bodies. There was once a column which just focused on wrestlers dying. Over time the now WWE created a wellness program, designed to help wrestlers prolong their lives. But it is Vince’s workaholic nature which pushed these people to begin with.
How Vince is Still Old School
There is no question that pro-wrestling is a business is a game full of con-artist, cheats, carnies, crooks, and criminals. Since at least 1919, and even longer, promoters and wrestlers have worked the public. Using deception and manipulation, promoters across the nation have found ways to get hard working people to spend their money to watch fake fighting. And the names of these promoters are legendary.
Jack Curley who led “the Trust,” Billy Sandow and the Gold Dust Trio, Paul Bowser, Tony Stecher, Jack Pfefer, Paul George, Sam Mucknick, Verne Gagne, Vince J. McMahon, Fritz Von Erich, Mike LaBell, and Jim Crockett are some of the most legendary promoters in wrestling history. I can write a column on each on and their contributions to the business, and the research would take me weeks to get everything on just one of them. There is still a promoter who eclipses them all.
Without question, Vincent K. McMahon is the greatest promoter of all time. There is no wrestling promoter who influenced the business more than he has. Vince McMahon is at the same time, the last great territory promoter, while also being the first modern wrestling promoter. It’s Vince’s upbringing in the WWWF that laid the foundation. Like Michael Corleone, Vince learned from his father.
Vince learning the business from his dad
I never cried for the NWA when Vince took them out. In many ways the NWA acted like they were a mafia, down to calling their group the Commission. Backstabbing plagued wrestling. Yes, there were some upstanding men who ran certain territories, but the same cannot be said for all the men.
Screwjobs were common in the 20-40’s. Promoters ordering their refs and wrestlers to screw another wrestler happened a lot. On top of screwing Bret Hart, Vince did the same to Wendi Ritcher 14 years earlier. On top of that, stories of Vince being able to twist his talent with his words to get what he wants is also common. He even was able to twist Steve Austin himself. Vince was so good, Ritcher and Hart have since comeback to the WWE. Vince was the last throwback promoter.
There were some good sides to this as well. From handshake deals with only the promise of opportunities, to payouts based off ticket sales, Vince operated his WWF like a large local territory. What separated him from the rest was the different ways he found to make more money for the wrestlers. Verne Gagne tried to sell Hulkamania T-shirts and keep the money for himself. Vince found a way to mass produce t-shirts and split the profits with the talent. Not even Turner Media could do this for talent, despite being a global company.
The Flawed Personality
News of Vince came out in the Wall Street Journal. I am not sure what is real and what isn’t. I usually reserve judgement for when I get more details. So I want to put that out there. With that said, I couldn’t help but think of all the MeToo movements in wrestling. I wrote about it here. Revisiting that article in light of the accusations against Vince, was just how much was there that applies to Vince. From rumors of talent talking about Vince approaching them, to office workers getting more for non-disclosure agreements, Vince sounds a lot like those in wrestling history.
One thing to note is just how much Vince works. The allegations against Vince are not random people outside of work, they are people inside his work. For many people, they find relationships at the most convenient places. If you are always at church, more than likely you’ll find a partner in church. Many find partners when they are at school. Vince, being a workaholic, seems to find his partners at work. Only problem, as mentioned above, he’s married. Which in itself is not against the law, but due to Linda’s political career, it seems Vince wanted to keep these affairs private. Hence the NDA’s.
Vince ruins his own legacy by repeating the sins of promoters past
Sometimes you have to wonder what is wrong with wrestling promoters. Dark Side of the Ring made it seem that the Fabulous Moolah was basically running a ladies wrestler escort service for the promoters. Now, I’ve read enough on Moolah and other women’s accounts to guess that this wasn’t the case. I do believe Moolah trained those ladies to not sleep with wrestlers, and be ladies at all times. But powerful men in wrestling history never seemed to care about ethics.
I am not here to guess about consent, but I will say that I train about power dynamics in relationships. This is a huge problem in the work place. From the US Military, businesses, to Hollywood, and wrestling; people in power used their influence for sex. Vince McMahon, being a workaholic, seemed to have done the same. It shows poor judgement, terrible ethics, and above all, complete disrespect for the women. Even if in the moment, he might think he has consent, the other person might view it as coercion. Without question, this is troubling.
How to Remember Vince
I will have found memories of Vince McMahon. From bantering back and forth with Jesse Ventura, to taking Stunners from Steve Austin, to even now and his Golden Egg, Vince always entertained me. But with all those great memories, there has to be this reminder. He exploded all the people around him so that he could become a billionaire. The only reason WWE acted to protect the talent was because of Public Relations.
Vince McMahon will be seen as the most consequential figure in wrestling history. Maybe only the Gold Dust Trio comes close to matching his legacy. With that said, Vince abused his power. You can argue his whole career he abused his power. He found multiple ways to make money, make hundreds of wrestlers rich, but at what cost? Vince McMahon brought wrestling into the modern era, but he never left the old school era. He was willing to throw out his own children in order to keep power in his last years. You can love the entertainment that Vince McMahon provided over the year, I know I will. But we must always remember the unethical person that also is Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
(I want to acknowledge that I didn’t even touch on Vince’s proposed incense angle with his daughter, Katie Vick with his son-in-law, continuing a show after Owen Hart’s death, forcing women into sexual angles for him and degrading them in public, saying the N-word, and mocking JR’s Bell’s Palsy. These are all examples of the character Vince has which contributed to his downfall.)