John Mac Ghlionn

How Vince McMahon became wrestling’s greatest villain

The WWE boss has quit after 50 years

  • From Spectator Life
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Vince McMahon is the godfather of modern wrestling, an American entrepreneur and media magnate worth a cool $2.8 billion. He was raised in a trailer park in North Carolina but went on to turn the World Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE) into a global phenomenon. McMahon is responsible for creating superstars like Hulk Hogan and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He also became a character in his own right, going from a commentator to an in-ring villain, ordering wrestlers around and shouting his Trump-esque catchphrase ‘You’re fired!’

Vince turned WWE into a weird mix of Jerry Springer, sweat and steroids

However, McMahon abruptly stepped down from his role as WWE chairman last week after the Wall Street Journal published a piece accusing him of a whole host of sordid, maybe even criminal, activities. There are allegations of people trafficking as well as disturbing sexual improprieties, which McMahon denies. However, his 50-year career appears to be over. In the course of that career, Vince McMahon the multi-billionaire businessman became the on-screen villain Mr McMahon. As WWE became racier and the absurd show increasingly needed a showman, the line became blurred – until, one day, it no longer existed. And now McMahon, too, has been fired.

His strange behaviour was apparent for a while. After all, this is a man who insisted on running with a storyline where he impregnates his own daughter. His on-screen daughter, Stephanie McMahon, happens to be his real, actual daughter. Yes, some will say, but wrestling is fake; it’s not real-life. No one really gets hurt. I’ve followed wrestling for the best part of two decades and I’m not so sure. Plot twists are arranged in advance, but performers regularly put their bodies on the line, skulls are damaged, bones are broken, and sometimes lives are lost.

Vince has a history of going to great lengths to attract viewers – even exposing himself live on air. In the 1990s, McMahon established the ‘Kiss My Ass’ club and insisted that his stars performed that particular act in front of sold out arenas. There was nothing fake about that. The embarrassment felt by the kissers – or victims – seemed real, as was the smile on McMahon’s face. In many ways, wrestling reflected the broader, US media landscape. The more scandalous the storyline, the better – for the audience, anyway. And, of course, for Vince.

Former staff members, including the legendary announcer Jim Ross and Bret Hart, one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, have spoken about the ways in which McMahon would go out of his way to humiliate people, even those of whom he supposedly liked. McMahon seems to expect respect, even demands it, but rarely, if ever, have it in return. For the workaholic egomaniac, the show must always go on, even after Bret’s brother, Owen Hart, died in the ring. And what a show it became – a freak show. Vince turned WWE into a weird mix of Jerry Springer, sweat and steroids.

In 1993, McMahon faced an indictment from the US Department of Justice for illegal possession and distribution of anabolic steroids. Ultimately, McMahon was acquitted of the charges. Had he been found guilty, he would have potentially faced a sentence of up to 11 years in prison, accompanied by a hefty fine of $1.5 million. However, in 2007, a number of renowned wrestlers such as Rey Mysterio, Booker T, Edge, and William Regal were discovered to be among the clients of Signature Pharmacy. This illicit website was involved in the unlawful sale of steroids and various drugs, primarily painkillers, to numerous athletes who did not possess valid prescriptions. Few of us fans were surprised. WWE demands a hyped-up, unreal performance, even in the muscles of its performers. Now the strangest character in modern wrestling has departed the stage – will his mad, bad, addictive show continue?