My Complicated Feelings on Vince McMahon

On Friday, Vince McMahon announced his retirement from the position as CEO and head of creative of WWE. I remember a few decades ago  with other wrestling friends, joking that McMahon would never officially retire and have to die as the head of the then WWF and now WWE. But the announcement that I never thought would be made has revealed that I was wrong. 

Of course, McMahon is retiring after the company shaking controversy regarding hush money given to several women to keep affairs and potential sexual misconduct quiet. It has enough weight to it that McMahon temporarily stepped down as head of the company while an internal investigation took place. I don't think it is a coast-to-coast leap to connect that this retirement announcement was motivated by the investigation and controversy with the idea that at his age it is better to just remove himself as a visible part of the company. 

It may be my decades of watching wrestling or being conditioned to largely not believe a single thing that comes out of the WWE machine, that leaves me viewing this as a publicity move and that in a year or so, it will be revealed McMahon never really left and has been secretly passing on instructions to new co-CEOs his daughter Stephanie McMahon and Nick Khan.

Am I being cynical? Yes. 

But again, I have been a fan of WWE (or more WWF, if we're pinpointing when I was religiously watching it) for far too long to accept much as truth. Pro wrestling was founded in the carnival business, which was about seeking out suckers to part with their money. While everyone who has grown out of childhood knows that the action in the ring is staged and choreographed, many have been tricked into believing everything else spouted out by the WWE.

If we want evidence that a healthy distrust of all information from WWE is warranted, we just need to look at their in-house produced documentaries, their collaborations with A&E, and what they try to blast out as facts on their programming. If one looks at actual historical fact and consults respected non-WWE employed wrestling historians and experts, then we quickly learn the WWE version of most events is far more fake than what they present in the ring on their shows. Actually, the MCU currently is presenting a better glimpse of reality than most of the ridiculous propaganda pieces labelled as WWE documentaries.

I may have annoyed several people who enjoy those documentaries, and I will admit they are well produced and sometimes even contain a few accurate facts, but they are evidence that when a business was built on trying to persuade an audience that the staged thing that they are seeing is real that it is hard to shake when they're supposed to stop lying. Just take five minutes of any interview with an old school wrestler from the 1980s, when they were supposed to 'live the gimmick', and see how often they wrestle with presenting actual facts or not constantly contradicting themselves.

I don't trust anything Vince McMahon says, and so I am not yet entirely convinced he is actually retired, especially when he remains the majority stock owner of the company. But maybe it is true that he will no longer be hands on with the creative and day to day operations, and his daughter and Khan will be the driving force now. If it is true, then one of the consistent things in life like the sun will always rise, water makes us wet, and McMahon will always run the WWE has ended. Maybe this means eternal darkness is right around the corner.

I have been a fan of wrestling since 1987. More specifically, I've been a fan of the style of wrestling presented by Vince McMahon's WWF/WWE.  It was the WWF in 1987 that stoked a flame of love for pro wrestling that even now motivates me to show Everett older wrestling shows and matches. It is that love that inspired me to try out WWE's rivals with WCW in the 1990s and now AEW, which recently brought back my wrestling love. It is also the reason that even today I still PVR WWE Raw and Smackdown, even if I usually delete it every week without watching anything. 1987 sparked a lifelong interest even if not to the same degree now.

This starts my rather complicated relationship with former WWE CEO Vince McMahon. Some praise him for turning wrestling into a mainstream entertainment and the cause for its popularity. WWE produced documentaries have touted how the noble McMahon took wrestling out of smoky bars and public television into big bright arenas and national networks. He made wrestling is what we were fed for decades. Except that is like saying McDonald's made restaurants, because they are the biggest and most well-known. Or that we need to all praise the fast-food giant for burgers.

Wrestling was very popular before McMahon and WWF started what is now known as the national expansion in 1984. Actually, even before 1984, there were a few wrestling promotions that were nationally televised. The whole idea of wrestling not being popular before 1984 WWF is a total myth. Wrestling was huge in several parts of North America to the point that big arenas sold out on a monthly basis. Jim Crockett Promotions had its huge closed circuit event Starrcade two years before the first Wrestlemania. The difference was that each region had its own major promotion that catered to the tastes and style of that area, so we had AWA in Minnesota area, WWWF in the New York region, Maple Leaf Wrestling in Southern Ontario, Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, Jim Crockett Promotions in the Carolinas and so on.

What Vince McMahon did was actively poach major talent from each of the promotions, and used various tactics to run the promotions out of business. WWF became a national promotion and was very successful, but wrestling was popular before that rise. Actually, for most of the 1980s, some of the places that had a very different style of wrestling did not accept the WWF and it didn't draw there for a decade or more.

McMahon often would claim that he never did anything to hurt his competition, but rather just did things to grow is own company. This may be a shock to promoters like Bill Watts and Verne Gagne who suddenly would learn talent like Junkyard Dog, Hulk Hogan and Jesse Venture where packing their bags and had signed with the WWF without them knowing. After that, he paid off networks and channels to air his shows instead of his competition, thus pushing them out.

The whole reason the WWF pay-per-view, Survivor Series, was created in 1987 was to hurt JCP (later to be WCW). Jim Crockett had planned to air his first PPV that Thanksgiving with his annual Starrcade event. The moment McMahon learned of this, he put the Survivor Series on PPV on Thanksgiving as well, despite there being more days on a calendar. He also then told cable companies they had to choose either his Survivor Series or Crockett's Starrcade, and if they did not choose his own, they wouldn't get Wrestlemania 4 (at the time, Wrestlemania 3 had been one of the most lucrative events on PPV ever). He was warned to never put a PPV on the same day again, so for Crockett's next PPV event, McMahon introduced the Roya Rumble on the same day on the USA Network.

I feel like I am being all negative here, but I do need to note that since McMahon was the creative force behind his company that he played a huge part in entertaining me for many years. Some of my most vivid pop culture moments come from WWF programming. The entire build of Andre the Giant challenging Hulk Hogan was legendary, Ted DiBiase's character as the Million Dollar Man is classic, and Macho Man Randy Savage reuniting with Miss Elizabeth at Wrestlemania 7 still brings a tear of joy to my eye. He could create classic moments, and there is reason WWF became so globally popular.

One of the most memorable wrestling stories of all-time was the evil owner Mr. McMahon battling the blue-collar everyman Stone Cold Steve Austin. It was during that time that McMahon proved his amazing stage presence and put most other talent to shame when it came to charisma and microphone skills. He pushed himself to do more than expected for the sake of entertainment like falling off the top of a cage onto an announcers table. Even if there are many stories about McMahon that have caused me to lose respect for him, I am impressed by his incredible work ethic, and he obviously, put his heart into the WWF/WWE. 

If McMahon really is retired, then it will be interesting to see what will be the future for the company. He clearly had a deep personal connection and spent his entire adult life growing it into an entertainment empire. He was the WWE. It was his life. I don't think anyone will live and breathe the company the way that he did. It isn't as personal for anyone as the way it was for him. There are already rumours that Stephanie and Khan may end up selling the company to NBCUniversal.

Back in my teen years, I would defend McMahon a lot. I loved wrestling and the WWF, and so I felt I needed to see the owner of the company as a good person. I no longer feel such obligation. If I am real with the facts over the decades, while I can say he was a hard-working man with lots of creative ideas, he did end up doing a lot of awful things throughout his life. I won't deny that he did a lot of good from involvement with charities, using his company to raise funds for important causes, and implementing programs like free rehab for past workers, but there is a stain on his legacy.

He may have avoided conviction on a technicality, but it is hard to deny he employed a doctor for the purpose to distribute steroids in the 1980s and that if wrestlers wanted a push in the company that they needed to use them. He both double crossed Wendi Richter and Bret Hart to take titles off them when they didn't agree with what he wanted, and I can write an entire book on why McMahon was not justified in doing it (Hart for one was under contract for another month and could not just show up to WCW with the title despite what the narrative claims). I denied it at the time, but the Attitude Era was still marketing to kids with toys and merchandise despite most of the programming being inappropriate for them. The recent controversy is not the first time WWF and McMahon has been charged with sexual abuse and similar controversies, and there has been a long history of such accusations. The simple fact is McMahon may have provided hours and hours of entertainment for me through the years, but as a human, I can't really respect him too much anymore.

But to be fair to him, that is just the reality of a lot of people in the entertainment business. The more we learn about major figures then the more one seems destined to be disappointed. There is something about the entertainment industries and what it takes to thrive that encourages a dark side in so many. It is why the stories of celebrities like Keanu Reeves and Oprah Winfrey are so inspiring as they seem like people that reached fame with the soul intact. 

This potentially marks a huge end to an era. The first time since 1983 that Vince McMahon is not the mastermind and head of the WWE/WWF. It will be interesting to see how the company changes over the next year and what will be the lasting impact of McMahon going forward.

What did you think about the retirement of Vince McMahon?