The Quiet and Sad End of The Vince McMahon Era

Vince McMahon, former CEO and Chairman of WWE

My journey as a professional wrestling fan began sometime in early 1988 when I was in the eighth grade. It was in the lead up to WrestleMania IV. André the Giant won the WWF championship from Hulk Hogan in controversial fashion. Hogan appeared to kick out before three, but referee Earl Hebner counted the pinfall. André surrendered the title immediately to The Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase. Due to the controversy, DiBiase was stripped of the title, and it was put up for grabs in a 14-man tournament to be held at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ.

I did not watch WrestleMania IV live on pay-per-view, but I managed to get a copy on VHS.  I feel like I watched it at least 100 times. A cast of colorful characters including future Hall-Of-Famers Hogan, André, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Ravishing Rick Rude, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts fought it out for the WWF championship. After four grueling victories, Savage defeated DiBiase in the finals and was crowned the new WWF Champion.

I was hooked.

In that era, the WWF would drip programming to you for free on Saturday mornings. Feature talents would compete in “squash matches” against nobodies who were hired to lose. It was all a commercial for the live events in your area and for the broadcast pay-per-views throughout the year.

The announcing team on Saturday mornings was the duo of Jesse “The Body” Ventura who always sided with the bad guys, and Vince McMahon who looked and sounded like a strait-laced sports play-by-play guy.

A friend had a subscription to Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter. It was an inside view of world of professional wrestling that your typical fan would not be able to find anywhere else in the pre-consumer Internet world.

Much to my surprise, I learned from the newsletter that Vince McMahon wasn’t just an announcer, he was the owner of Titan Sports which was the holding company for the WWF. Having that newsletter put me slightly ahead of my time. In subsequent years the curtain was peeled back and most of wrestling’s secrets were revealed, including Vince McMahon’s role as owner of the WWF, now WWE.

Thirty-four years later, I am still as much of a professional wrestling fan that I was in 1988. The big difference is that I am no longer in the eighth grade. Now I am a middle-aged Wall Street professional. I also am a WWE shareholder. My perspective has changed a bit.

Between the mid-90’s and the present day, the WWE has grown exponentially, and Vince McMahon has been the driving force behind all of it. Most wrestling fans think of Vince McMahon as the gregarious on-screen character known as Mr. McMahon, and the man behind the scenes who makes all the creative decisions. We cheer for him when he enters the arena, but we make negative comments on social media when we believe that he didn’t give a “push” to one of our favorite stars that we believe deserved it.

But that does not nearly paint the whole picture of who Vince McMahon is. He has a third dimension as and the leader and the visionary of the company. He is a hard-charging businessman, and a very successful one at that. Here are just a few of his accomplishments that I can think of without even having to research them:

  • He muscled all the regional wrestling promotions out of business and took over North America, and then brought WWE to the rest of the world.
  • He fought off fierce competition from Ted Turner’s WCW, ultimately leading to him buying out WCW and leaving the WWE with no legitimate competition.
  • He took the WWE public in 1999.
  • He signed countless television deals and expanded WWE programming offerings to the point that your average fan can barely keep up with all of it.
  • He stayed ahead of the media and technology curve by offering WWE content on every nascent platform including cable television, close circuit television, pay-per-view, video games, VHS, DVD, 1-900 phone lines, Internet, social media, and over-the-top streaming.

You do not grow a branded media empire by being a nice guy. You must ruffle some feathers, step on some toes, have conviction in yourself and your beliefs, and have an extremely thick skin. McMahon has never faltered over the years, maintaining a tight grip on his company no matter what trials and tribulations came his way. He was often quoted as saying that he would never retire because he loved what he did.

That all came to an end when his run with the WWE came to an end with a solitary tweet late on a Friday afternoon. Vince McMahon would be quietly retiring from the WWE.

As shocking as it might feel like to a decades-long WWE fan like myself that Vince McMahon is gone from the WWE, the announcement was hardly a surprise. For while all this was happening throughout his tenure with the WWE, there were always indications that he was a really bad guy. And those indications turned out to be true when the Wall Street Journal reported that McMahon had been paying hush money to women who worked for the WWE to remain quiet about his sexual misconduct with them.

The Journal story may have been a bit of a shock to some who were not paying attention, but McMahon had similar allegations levied against him in the past but managed to keep them from damaging his career. The most prominent one was made by a former WWF referee Rita Chatterton in the early 1990’s.

Chatterton brought her story public on the Geraldo show in 1992. She alleged that McMahon lured her into his limousine under the guise of talking about her career, only to proceed to rape her and then go on to fire her from the company.

As was customary before the #metoo movement, Geraldo and the audience mainly blamed her for what happened, and some did not believe her story. This video remained hidden in plain sight for the last thirty years. But it appears that Chatterton finally is going to get people to believe her story given the current allegations against McMahon.

While McMahon has not publicly addressed the allegations against him, his lawyer did admit that McMahon had made the payments. That is very damning evidence against McMahon. Why would he pay millions of dollars to multiple women if they were just shaking him down and he was innocent? That does not sound very Vince-like.

The twists and turns in this story got my attention more as a Wall Streeter and a share holder than as a fan. It is now being alleged that McMahon used WWE funds to pay these women off, and that the WWE is now going to have to re-state past earnings. The SEC is investigating the situation because it is illegal to intentionally misstate earnings.

That is not to mention the messed up corporate governance structure of the WWE that allowed this to go on for so long. It might have even enabled McMahon to continue to misbehave had the Journal not reported the story. McMahon owns a majority stake in the company, so he controls the voting rights. The WWE board is supposed to be his boss, but they effectively report to him.

Allegedly, one of the victim’s friends e-mailed the accusation to someone on the WWE board. The board investigated the situation, but they were powerless to do anything about it. Apparently, this frustrated a board member to the point that they leaked it to the Journal to make it public. McMahon remained defiant at first, but after a few weeks he had to give in and quietly step away.

Just like that, the man who could not be stopped by any outside forces on his way to building a global content empire was done in by his own bad behavior.

From a fan’s perspective, this looks like a sad ending to an amazing career. But from a corporate standpoint, and from a human decency standpoint, this is good riddance to a monster. McMahon is a sexual predator who abused his position of power to force himself on women who worked for him, then tossed them aside and illegally covered up his hush money payments.

As a life-long fan it is impossible to imagine WWE without Vince McMahon controlling every aspect of the company with an iron fist. But I am also glad that he was forced quit so I do not have to be conflicted about remaining a fan of a company controlled by a horrible human being.