Just as the best pro wrestling characters are based in the performers’ real personalities, but with the volume turned up, the hottest wrestling feuds are usually based in reality.
That realism was one of several things that made Shane McMahon’s return to WWE in February so electric. Yes, we were excited to see Shane O’Mac, and the first thing people shared were GIFs of the daredevil spots he was known for before he left the company, and his family’s business, in 2009.
But there were also immediately questions about what his return meant for the organizational chart of the corporation, and a possible line of succession should/if Vince McMahon ever retire or become forced by nature to relinquish control of his empire. And WWE played into those, as Shane’s return promo included shots at his sister, Stephanie, and her husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque - both of whom have risen in behind-the-scenes power since his exit - of “running this company into the ground”.
What’s got me thinking about this now, ten months after Shane came back, and with him set-up in a performer-only role as SmackDown commissioner?
For one thing, Ric Flair won’t stop talking about how hot a feud between Shane & Trips would be. For two weeks now on his podcast The Ric Flair Show he’s touted it as “the biggest match people want to see”. On episode 22 of his show, Naitch said:
I see Shane vs. Triple H at WrestleMania, that’s what I see, that would really draw money considering the unknown animosity, which nobody seems to understand or know, but clearly there is some.
Well, a new report from Ian Frisch at Vice Sports that looks into the business side of WWE (and is absolutely worth your time, as it reinforces a lot of what the wrestling media has long reported about how the company is run, but presented with sources and data that raise interesting questions about its current standing and future prospects), might provide some timely insight into the “unknown animosity” Flair mentions.
Frisch confirms a 2012 meeting, set-up by Executive Vice-President of Production Kevin Dunn, where Shane & a friend, author & entrepreneur James Frey, pitched Vince McMahon that they’d take over all of creative for WWE. Vince passed on their proposal, but it’s the story of how the meeting was made and received which shed new light on boardroom politics at the company... and issues between the McMahon siblings and Triple H:
"When Stephanie found out Shane was going to be there, she went white in the face," the source told me. "And Paul freaked out." Shane had set up the meeting through Kevin Dunn, WWE's executive vice-president of production and Vince's right-hand man for nearly three decades...
"Kevin Dunn is very close to Shane," the source said. "And there's tremendous tension between Kevin, and Paul and Stephanie. They feel like the company is theirs, but they don't have power to control Kevin." Presumably, if Dunn could figure out a way to get Shane back in the company in a high-ranking position, he would have even more influence with Vince. And Shane, too, could regain control over at least a portion of his family's legacy. It was a win-win for the pair.
There are a lot of angles to this thing, and again - read the Vice Sports piece. But it does give us a way to “understand and know” what’s going on between Shane and Hunter.
Is it too hot to build a wrestling feud? I don’t think Vince thinks that’s true of anything, and WWE believes (not without evidence) that family power struggle angles attract fans to the product.
Whether it’s the Vice story or Flair’s frequent plugs for the rivalry, if the idea that there’s heat between Shane and Haitch gets traction, I expect it to play out at a WrestleMania soon - maybe as early as 2017 in Orlando.
Unfortunately, the real issues for the McMahon family and WWE stockholders won’t be solved with a pinfall or submission.