There are many people who play the game. Then there are some who change the game. Even fewer are more audacious. They dare and try to make a game on their own. And then there emerges the rare someone who succeeds in the same.
The owner of WWE, Vincent Kennedy McMahon Jr. belongs to the iconic fourth category.
He is an icon, a legend. He has been visionary, dynamic, stubborn, suave, rigid and controversial, all at once. A galore of adjectives can be used to describe him, but in the end, it's his deeds that truly define him.
It has been almost forty years since he joined Capitol Wrestling Corporation, the promotion of his father, Vince McMahon Sr. in the early 70's.
In 1980, Vince founded Titan sports, the parent company of WWF/WWE. He went on to purchase Capitol Wrestling Corporation from his father in 1982.
It was then that the most fascinating journey began, which has completely changed the landscape of pro wrestling industry ever since.
In the last 31 years, Vince McMahon has systematically annihilated the competition from United States. NWA and AWA were the first two competitors of Mr. McMahon.
Riding on the wave of Hulkamania and wrestling’s golden era of the 1980s, Vince solidified his position on the top. A flurry of acquisitions from these two behemoths further strengthened the roster of WWE. But it was still not so easy. It took many right decisions from Vince, and a lot of wrong ones from NWA and AWA to establish the monopoly of WWF.
This whole period lasted for a short while. It was a period of late '80s and early '90s. It also happens to be one of the lowest points of pro wrestling as an industry. It was a slump in the business, and something extra ordinary was needed.
WCW was that “something extra ordinary”.
WCW’s owner, Ted Turner, accepted one seemingly outlandish suggestion from Eric Bischoff, which ultimately went on to change the landscape of the industry forever. The suggestion was to introduce Monday Night Nitro. Introduction of Nitro led to the Monday Night War between the two behemoths. Thanks to its realistic and intense stories, showcasing of various wrestling styles such as cruiser-weight division, Lucha Libre and the NWO, Nitro soon overtook Raw in the ratings. It compelled Vince to usher in the infamous attitude era.
Monday Night Wars was perhaps the greatest time in wrestling history, where two promotions enjoyed immense prominence on television. From the year 2000 on, WWE has had a tight grip on this market. Even today, competitors still seem like leprechauns compared to the giant created by the vision of Vince McMahon.
Eric Bischoff posed a serious challenge to Vince. Bischoff had some personal traits similar to Vince McMahon. He was indeed someone with a vision, drive and mighty ego. He was abrasive, ruthless and daring. He had his finger on the pulse. These qualities proved to be the catalyst behind WCW’s rise in the future. What he lacked was the dynamic instinct of McMahon. He has never understood when to change, and when to stop.
These are the same qualities that had led to the demise of many promotions such as NWA and AWA in the past. They were too stubborn for their own good. They lacked a leadership that had a vision and direction. They were static and could not read their viewers. They were creative, but they often lacked purpose. They were risk takers, but they misjudged the calculations. They knew very well how to create a product, but they seldom understood how to sell it.
Vince McMahon had each one of these quality to varying extent. Along with the innate sense of business and impulsive intellect, he has had extra ordinary marketing skills. At every point, he smelt money and caught the drift of the wind. It is solely because of his dynamism; WWE is still in business while the rest are history.
His audacity paved way to some of the greatest phenomena of pro wrestling. WrestleMania, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, HBK, Stone Cold and attitude era, John Cena the list goes on. These all are the creations of Vince McMahon, and were amply backed by the marketing machine of WWE.
Therefore solely on this account, we know that Vince has essentially created a large portion of modern industry on his own. Without him, there is no chance that this industry would have been same, leave alone better.
We have just seen at the business side of Vince so far. But, it would totally inappropriate to ignore some other aspects of this story. To be particular, they are social and personal.
When we talk about the social aspect, the first issue is steroid scandals.
In the early '90s this scandal rocked the industry like an android. Subsequent trials put Vince in a precarious position. In the coming years, deaths of several wrestlers aggravated the situation.
I will not defend Vince here and proclaim that he has nothing to do with this. He indeed has a lot of strains on his linen. But considering the history of pro wrestling, which has consumed a lot of blood and souls, I will just say that Vince is by no means the biggest evil.
The move he took in response to the immense political and social pressure will be remembered as his biggest contribution to this business. I know very well that he did not do it willfully. This step was, however, revolutionary.
I am talking about health and wellness policy. The health and wellness policy is not perfect by any means; however, WWE is trying to improve it. We have to cut some slack where it is due. There are loopholes, there are problems, but above all there is a concrete policy. This ensures that the life of pro wrestlers is better than before.
Secondly, to improve the image of WWE he undertook some other initiatives as well. A tie up with Make a wish foundation and WWE shows in Iraq are some examples of it. There are many more, but I have chosen two representative initiatives.
This whole aspect reflects upon Vince McMahon as a person in a big way.
It is well known that Vince has monster greed, but unlike many, he has remorse. All the nice initiatives that WWE has taken till this date, has had an element of honesty and class. We have known Mr. McMahon as a person who carries hard grudges. But we have also seen that he has a class that very few possess.
For all his lust for success, he has an undying passion for the business. Mind you, pro wrestling is not an easy business to be in. The ruthless environment can drive a tough mind crazy, so just imagine, what it must have taken to be "Mr. McMahon".
We also have to acknowledge that Vince put all on the line to be in this business and to succeed. He started out as the ring announcer and then a commentator. After the Montreal screw-job, he went on to become “Mr. McMahon”, probably the greatest heel of all time. In the ring or out of it, he often crossed limits, many times for good and occasionally for bad. He did not spare himself; he did not spare his family. Heck, he did not even spare his own butt.
Vince, as we have seen so far, is a one-of-a-kind person, entrepreneur and icon. He is a palette full of a contrast of colours. But probably, that is why he is so successful.
In the end, let me revisit my title. What would be the place of Vince McMahon in the history of pro wrestling?
Vince will be remembered as someone, who did not only change the game, but successfully created a new one, too. He gave this business a whole new life, bigger and probably better.