If you have been in the journalism business even for a little while, you know that companies generally release the bad news late on a Friday afternoon.
So what to make of the announcement that Vince McMahon is retiring late on Friday, July 22nd?
It came out of the blue yet wasn’t unexpected, exactly. He’s under investigation by the World Wrestling Entertainment board of directors for paying off women. As the public face of the company, he was dead weight, cancerous even.
However, I can’t be the only one with a mish-mash of emotions.
He took professional wrestling to new heights in the 1980s, and, while there were plenty of others who deserve credit — Pat Patterson, George Scott, Hulk Hogan, Dick Ebersol — for their part in the ascent of the then-titled World Wrestling Federation, it was ultimately a gamble by McMahon, his money, his reputation, his cold-hearted elimination of his father’s colleagues. (Promoter Ed Francis, who ran the show in Hawaii, once told me, “His father was a great guy, but Vince was a bad actor.”)
Don’t discount his timing either, as McMahon took advantage of a new thing called cable television, maybe better than anyone else in the entertainment business. He was bold and brash, paying stations to run his program in syndication even, at times knocking the local product off the air. And pay-per-view was just on the horizon in all homes.
I wasn’t a wrestling fan until Hulkamania ran all over me, for that, I have to credit Vince McMahon.
Initially, I was in awe of WWF and his larger than life characters. Then I grew and learned more about what else was out there, through newsletters, the wrestling magazines, tape trading, and found myself less interested in the cartoonish WWF product. But still I watched.
When the next wave of cable television’s growth helped the Monday Night Wars happen, Vince McMahon was in his element, in a war, and, when circumstances that he made — screwing Bret Hart out of the WWF World title — resulted in the on-screen Mr. McMahon character, he was off to the races.
From afar, I often wondered how different the real McMahon was from Mr. McMahon. Did he, like so many wrestlers, begin to believe his own hype?
I only ever met him once, at a premiere for Blade: Trinity, in Toronto, which starred his son-in-law Paul Levesque / Triple H. Never interviewed him.
Then, as I became more of a wrestling journalist and no longer just a fan, I learned and learned, and there was mad respect for the, ahem, grapefruits on Vince for his bold moves, his shrewd business decisions, and maybe as importantly, his ability to overcome things that went wrong, like the World Bodybuilding Federation, the XFL football fiasco (twice), the tragic death of Owen Hart during the Over the Edge pay-per-view and so much more. The man was Teflon, nothing seemed to stick.
I heard from people who were treated poorly by him, berated, humiliated, fired. I heard from people who loved him and would go through a wall for him — and some did. His style of management is archaic and WWE was long overdue for a massive shakeup.
Take this quote from Paul Heyman in 2008, to The Lilsboys in the Sun UK: “Vince is such a control freak that if he sneezes, the next 10 minutes of any meeting are ruined because he is so p***ed at himself for not being able to control the sneeze.”
It was such a complicated legacy before all the allegations came out about him paying off employees after sexual favors.
What happens next? Is it all a ruse? I mean, he still controls the majority of WWE stock and will have an ultimate say whether the company is gobbled up by a bigger media conglomerate — which seems far more likely after today’s news.
I find myself saying thank you to Vince for being my entryway into pro wrestling, for being entertaining for so many years … yet on the other hand, it’s a distinct “good riddance.”
TOP PHOTO: A 1999 Vince McMahon WWF promotional photo by Nick Cardallichio.
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