He Hates Me?
I am always baffled at this perception of Vince McMahon:
Vince is the only billionaire in the world that hates the very thing that made him rich.
There is nothing concrete to support this claim outside of wrestling journalists surmising that Vince doesn't like being known for wrestling, which is the reasoning behind him trying to start other ventures. Many fans, wrestling observers and wrestlers, argue that Vince destroyed the business by ending the territory system, engaging in underhanded and slimy business tactics like blocking other companies from pay-per-view (PPV) and locking out arenas with exclusive deals. They argue that wrestling is a monopoly today versus being the territory system under the NWA banner that saw a global ecosystem thrive, which is proof that Vince McMahon indeed hates wrestling. However, this view is partially an uninformed opinion because some fans don't know or ignore that the NWA was a monopoly too.
Crystallized in the annals of professional wrestling are the glory days of the National Wrestling Alliance, once standing as the most powerful organization in the sport’s history. Formed several years after the end of World War II, the nwa bloomed from a modest Midwestern trade agreement into an exclusive syndicate, and its members demonstrated a newfangled methodology and foresight in the hopes of enhancing the industry. Cooperating to define a layered doctrine, regional circuits or "territories," and the streamlining of titleholders, nwa members improved all aspects of grappling. The group appeared to be an honest collection of people serving wrestling’s best interests, which, in turn, left the nwa with few detractors.
Over the course of several years, the NWA morphed from a well-intentioned, localized union of promoters into an international conglomerate with an estimated 500 affiliates. Effectively pulling the strings of wrestling’s biggest superstars, while providing exceptional entertainment for legions of fans worldwide, the Alliance soon controlled wrestling and its $25 million-a-year revenue. On the surface, there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with the nwa’s practices.
But by allowing their imaginations to spiral recklessly out of control, NWA members created complex fortresses that steadily punctured holes in the law. Persistent complaints about an illegal monopoly eventually attracted the attention of the Department of Justice, and set the table for a Federal Court case that was supposed to have ended the NWA’s exclusive reign. The coalition was shaken to its very foundations, but found a way to survive. Through the hard work of the organization’s major supporters, and the dedication of the thousands of wrestlers who traveled the world to meet the astronomical demand for pro wrestling, the Alliance endured.
Quoted above is an excerpt from Author Tim Hornbaker's 2007 book published by ECW Press National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled Professional Wrestling. The book details how the NWA operated in a fashion that deterred competition, bullied and paid it's workforce paltry sums. How many promoters in the NWA engaged in racist, sexist and often criminal activities that went unchecked for decades. The NWA promoters were not a harmonious group, they fought each other for wrestlers and territories despite being under the same governing banner. The NWA had made a Code of Conduct agreement with the Department of Justice but that didn't stop Toots Mondt and Vince McMahon Sr. from blocking a competing NWA promoter from using arena's he regularly booked.
An excerpt from Tim Hornbaker's book tells a familiar tale on the demise of NWA promoter Rudy Dusek:
For more than 20 years, Rudy maintained offices at 1650 Broadway in Manhattan, and booked wrestlers to shows from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. When Curley died in 1937, it was the Dusek-Johnston faction that seized the city’s wrestling scene. Rudy was involved in the final Garden show on March 30, 1938, and when they restarted the heartbeat of the Eighth Avenue arena on February 22, 1949, with brother Ernie as a headliner. The National Wrestling Alliance opened their doors to secondary associates in Chicago and New York City in 1951, and the membership committee accepted Leonard Schwartz and Dusek.
The curtain closed on the Duseks in New York City right around the time Joe was taking the reigns from the late Max Clayton in Omaha in 1957. But the end of Rudy’s booking office didn’t come as a result of a preplanned retirement, but at the whim of a new configuration run by Toots Mondt and Vincent McMahon. The rise of Capitol Wrestling eliminated many promoters, among them, Dusek and Edward Contos of Baltimore. Eleven months after Contos’s death in March 1959, his family filed a $300,000 civil suit against Capitol, alleging antitrust violations. Rudy was a little more willing to step aside.
Dan Parker, the kayfabe breaker for the New York Daily Mirror, wrote about Dusek in his October 5, 1957, column: "Does the Department of Justice know that, although the wrestling promoters signed a code of conduct after entering a ‘no defense’ plea in the Antitrust suit brought against them by the government, they are up to their old monopolistic tricks again, with Toots Mondt and his accomplices freezing Rudy Dusek out of all the arenas where he used to operate and refusing to let him use their wrestlers, in violation of the agreement filed with the U.S. Government?"
The history of wrestling doesn't absolve Vince McMahon from his transgressions and business practices that have cost lives and continued to seemingly engage in a singular vision of greed over the well-being of the in-ring performers, without whom the WWE business would be worthless. Still, many of the tactics Vince used to build WWE were used by the members of the NWA against each other and certainly against any competition not aligned with the NWA. There is little difference between Vince McMahon and any other wrestling promoter in history, so why is Vince perceived to hate wrestling and the others held up as bastions of the art?
It's the product. The NWA promoters specialized in providing their audience a product tailored for that fan, 'super-serving' them and gave them a satisfying experience. Vince McMahon has been at odds with his fanbase. Calling wrestling 'sports entertainment' is seen as a slap in the face of the sport and the fan regardless of the business implications of globally marketing WWE entertainment vs. wrestling. The fan wants Vince to forego the money and be more authentic to the art and sport of wrestling. Booking decisions in recent years don't help Vince's case when you look at Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and many other wasted opportunities to make stars out of fan selected favorites instead of the 'corporate' pushes of John Cena and Roman Reigns. Is Vince's current inability to listen to his audience and make an organic superstar a sign that he hates wrestling?
Some point to the various failed business ventures McMahon has tried to make successful as a sign that Vince McMahon desperately wants to be known as a great business man, not a great wrestling promoter. Reviving his biggest public monstrosity, the XFL in 2020, doesn't help Vince's case. Once again though, I find that wrestling promoters starting other ventures outside of wrestling is common. The Crockett's, Jim and Jim Jr for example, were involved in multiple ventures outside of wrestling, including the Charlotte Orioles, a double A minor league baseball team that played at Crockett Park in Charlotte. There was no claim that the other ventures under the Crockett Promotions umbrella were signs that they hated wrestling and didn't want to be known as wrestling promoters. So why does this follow Vince McMahon?
Fans often forget that Vince loved wrestling so much, he didn't want to promote it, he wanted to wrestle. Had Vince Sr allowed his son to wrestle, perhaps there would be a different view on Vince himself from wrestlers, writers and fans. Still, I find it hard to believe that a man that has spent the majority of his adult life getting very little sleep, refinancing his home in the mid 90's to fund the company, taking unprotected chair shots to head again and again. Allowing his son and daughter and wife to be involved and often put in dangerous positions for his company. Vince McMahon at 72, took a headbutt to put over a guy with a body he supposedly finds disgusting, supposedly doesn't love his business, which is wrestling.
In my opinion, Vince doesn't hate professional wrestling, he hates the professional wrestling most of the ardent fans want to see. The promoters who gave those fans what they wanted are held in high esteem and their failures and unsightly business tactics are largely overlooked. Paul Heyman immediately comes to mind, NJPW isn't exactly protecting its roster from head and neck injuries but the product is magnificent, so the warts we know are there or will be there are ignored. Until the WWE provides a product to love, Vince McMahon will be seen as a wrestling promoter that hates his product and its fans.
The complaints and assumptions are loud and sometimes unfair when you're the biggest but also the least liked.