The Journey of Vince McMahon
This is a story. It's a story of humble beginnings, trials through error, heartache and ultimately, global dominance. This is the tale of a man who had a desire to create something that would cross boundaries, and who set standards which an entire industry would one day strive to emulate. This is the journey of Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Born in 1945, in rural Moore County, North Carolina. Vince was raised by his mother, Vickie Lupton. He was brought up as Vinnie Lupton, taking the name of one of his stepfathers, Leo Lupton. Vickie would actually go through a series of several failed marriages, before marrying Leo. Later in life, Vince spoke of Leo, but not in a normal, loving, fatherly manner.
During his time with Vickie, Leo would often abuse her and while doing so, Vince would attempt to protect his mother, but would end up on the abusive end of Leo's rage in the process. Following the passing of Leo Lupton, Vince mentioned that he regretted not being able to be the cause of Leo's death, stating "It's unfortunate that he died before I could kill him. I would've enjoyed that." Needless to say, there was a deep rooted hatred towards Lupton, one that Vince hasn’t managed to put behind him, to this very day.
Vince's father left while he was very young. In fact, it wasn't until he was 12 years old that he finally met his father. However, when he met his dad, there was an immediate bond created and Vince was able to look beyond the hurt and neglect he felt, opting to seek a better future with his biological father, now that he had finally met him, face-to-face.
While he was extremely happy to have his father in his life, he wasn't oblivious to the past, making the statement during an interview with ESPN, "When I met my dad, I fell in love with him. We got very, very close, but we both knew we could never go back. There would always be something missing between us, but there was no reason to discuss it. I was grateful for the chance to spend time with him."
The young Vince immediately became enamoured by his father. He loved the way his father carried himself, the way he walked, the way he talked and the way he commanded respect, at any venue. Vince was now witnessing first hand, the iconic nature of who his father was, not only to him but to his peers and to those who strived to be like him.
Most importantly, he saw the passion Vince Sr. had for the industry of professional wrestling and even at such an early era in the profession, Vince Sr. was setting trends and evolving the sport in ways no one had ever seen. Quite frankly, Vince wanted to be like his father, he wanted to one day fill the shoes of the man who was completely changing the perception that what people had, for the industry.
Unfortunately, his father wanted a different life for his son. He knew the struggles, the deception and the disappointment that his boy would face, so he strongly encouraged Vince to seek another life for himself. While Vince still had a strong desire to enter the professional wrestling world, he would take heed to his father's advice and had his sights set on furthering his education, then see where his life would take him.
Meanwhile, at 16 years old, Vince would meet his now wife, Linda. At the time, Linda was only 13 years old, but the two still grew close together and when Linda graduated high school, Vince would propose to her and in the summer of 1966, Vince and Linda would wed, setting off on what would prove to be a historic, lifelong run together.
In 1968, Vince would indeed get that education his father so badly wanted for him. He graduated from East Carolina University, with a business degree and set off on a career as a travelling salesman. Keep in mind, this was during a time in which it was common to have random salesmen knocking at your door on a daily basis.
After all, this was long before the birth of the information super highway and the most efficient way to get your product into homes, was by introducing it, in person, at a prospective consumers doorstep. Even though it was an honest living and for some time Vince was doing okay with it, he still, however, had a strong urge to follow in his father's footsteps.
Following in his father's footsteps
Vince was hell-bent on not only getting into the wrestling business but more than anything, he wanted to prove to his father that his desire to follow in his footsteps wasn't just a knee-jerk attempt to gain fame. In fact, he wanted to show his father that he could succeed and that he would keep his father's legacy intact.
After a lot of discussions, Vince Sr. finally gave in and decided to give his son a chance to prove his worth in his business, so in 1969, Vince became an in-ring announcer for the World Wide Wrestling Federations All-Star Wrestling program. Over the next few years, he would prove his worth with his assigned position and by 1971, Senior felt comfortable enough to take the next step, he gave Vince his own territory to run.
Vince took over a small territory in Maine and he did well, exceptionally well, much to his father's delight. Not too longer after, a major commentary role became available and at last, Vince found a way to get involved with a more socially interactive aspect of the business and he became an on-air television commentator, which was the breakthrough that would put Vince on a path that he would set out on and never look back.
Throughout the 1970's Vince became more and more well known amongst not only his peers and others in the professional wrestling industry, but also with the fans. His presence was growing by leaps and bounds and his career was on the verge of skyrocketing into levels he'd only dreamed of.
He eventually became more involved with the inner workings of his father's WWWF and was assisting in major roles, such as syndication and making sure the product was being seen by as many eyes and heard by as many ears as possible.
Meanwhile, Vince was strongly urging his dad to change the name of the company, by simplifying it to the World Wrestling Federation, a name which the company would obviously become known as. By 1979, Vince and Linda had worked together to form Titan Sports, which would prove to be one of the most pivotal points, not only in his career, but in the entire industry as a whole. Little did they know at the time, but Titan Sports would one day evolve into the sports entertainment juggernaut that we have all come to know and love today.
Tragedy and Triumph
Vince McMahon was steamrolling along. His personal life, as well as his career, were going better than ever. It was now the early 80's and along with a thriving company, Vince and Linda had two children of their own. Their oldest, Shane, was born in 1970 and their baby girl, Stephanie, was born in 1976.
Even though things seemed to be going well, the patriarch, Vince Sr. was very ill and his overall health was deteriorating. Sadly, Senior passed away in 1984, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Suddenly, Vince had lost the only man he'd ever truly loved and the man he'd promised himself that he would strive to be like.
This was a very tough time for Vince, for obvious and it really took a toll on Vince, for obvious reasons. However, rather than drown in sorrow, Vince turned his focus towards continuing to make sure that his father's legacy would always be held in the highest regard.
Following the passing of Vince Sr., Vince took complete control of his father's Capitol Wrestling Company and was determined, more so now than ever, to make sure that his company, combined with his newly acquired father's company, would collectively take over the entire wrestling world. Little did anyone know what was right around the corner, by way of the 80's wrestling explosion.
Vince had his company growing at an astounding rate. More and more people were becoming fans of professional wrestling, a notion that at one time was laughable by the mainstream public. However, thanks to programs such as Rock-'n'-Wrestling, more notable names from the pop-culture world would begin openly discussing how they enjoyed watching wrestling and were becoming more in intrigued by the storylines and the larger than life characters.
By doing so, this opened the floodgates for an entirely new breed of fans who started watching professional wrestling on a regular basis. This was the beginning of something big, much bigger than what anyone would've ever anticipated. By this point, Vince was looking pretty good. His family life was intact and his collective businesses were thriving and most importantly, growing.
While Vince knew his brand of wrestling was something unlike what any of the remnants of the territories had to offer, he still felt like there was something holding him back from truly pulling ahead of the others, there was something missing, and intricate piece to this ever growing, already impressive puzzle known as the World Wrestling Federation. That piece of the puzzle would prove to be the Immortal one himself, Hulk Hogan.
The one thing many fans fail to remember about Hulk Hogan and his relationship with the WWF is that he was actually with the company in late 1979 and early 1980. However, at the time, things were still going the way of the glorious territory era. The WWF was not quite the company it would grow to be and quite frankly, just wasn't the most attractive option to many top name wrestlers.
After leaving the WWF in 1980, Hogan would test the waters with New Japan Pro Wrestling. This was a popular choice by many stars at the time and Hulk Hogan would go on to have a strong run in Japan. Once Vince took over in the early 80's, things changed and it was very apparent to the wrestling talent, all over the world.
Vince had a different vision than his father had. While respecting the legacy of his father, Vince had a desire to see the company outgrow all of the competition and to put his company ahead of everyone. That's when Hulk Hogan came back into the picture and in December of 1983, Hogan made his return, defeating Bill Dixon during a WWF television taping in St. Louis.
Hulk Hogan had grown into more than just a top name in the wrestling world. He had a new found popularity within the mainstream public, after filming Rocky 3 and had suddenly become a true top level draw. Hogan had spent most of his career as a hated heel, but everyone knew it was time for a face turn, as this would simply be best for business.
Hogan saved Bob Backlund from an attack by The Wild Samoans, during a taping of WWF Championship Wrestling in January of 1984, thus solidifying his official babyface turn and the crowd went absolutely bonkers. During this time, The Iron Sheik was the top guy in the company and the WWF Champion.
Vince wanted to groom Hulk Hogan into a top babyface, have him take the title off of Sheik and hopefully, this would ignite the spark needed to carry the WWF into a whole new realm. Little did Vince know, he was right. However, neither he nor anyone else had any clue what was ahead.
Three weeks after his babyface turn, Hogan was set to challenge The Iron Sheik for the title. It's also important to note that all along, promoters from other territories were in Sheikh’s ear, wanting him to go against the storyline and bring the title to their promotion.
During The Iron Sheiks documentary, he talks about how Verne Gagne told him to "break Hogan's leg and bring the belt to the AWA and that he would pad his pockets with $100,000 dollars." Unfortunately for Gagne, Sheik had a lot of respect for McMahon and was extremely loyal. With that said, Sheik declined the offer and on January 23, 1984, he dropped the belt to Hulk Hogan, giving birth to what became known as Hulkamania.
After winning the title, not only Hulk Hogan, but the entire company set sail to a new era of higher success than any company had ever seen in professional wrestling. In March of 1985, the first Wrestlemania took place at Madison Square Garden, which was a sellout, capacity crowd and viewed by the masses, via closed circuit television.
Following the massive success of Wrestlemania, the names got bigger, the storylines became more intriguing and the sport itself transformed into a spectacle which no one could've ever dreamed of.
With names such as Piper, Studd, JYD, Slaughter and all the others accompanying Hulk Hogan and the success of Hulkamania, the WWF was officially far beyond what anyone else could possibly keep up with and throughout the 1980's, the World Wrestling Federation was being seen by more people than ever and drawing crowds much larger than they'd ever seen.
Hulkamania had indeed run wild and the pageantry known as Wrestlemania, had taken the company to a place of dominance in the industry.
Changes and a new Attitude
With the Golden Era behind him, Vince was still doing well from the success of what the 80's had brought him. Vince had his sights set on the future. He wanted to not only expand within the WWF, but he wanted to seek success outside of professional wrestling and that's where the World Bodybuilding Federation came into play.
In 1990, Vince founded the WBF, in hopes of creating a sector of bodybuilding that would rival the already established IFBB. Vince hired well-known names from the bodybuilding industry, such as Tom Platz and Lou Ferrigno, hoping the name recognition would help kick start his brand of bodybuilding into a respectable brand amongst those within the sport. Unfortunately, this business venture would prove to not be as lucrative or as easy to get over as his brand of professional wrestling was, so the WBF folded in 1992.
By the mid-1990's, Vince was able to get his programming into more homes than he had previously been capable of. In 1993, WWF Monday Night Raw was born. At first, Vince would shy away from letting the viewing audience know about his role as owner of the company. He was able to do so by masking himself as nothing more than an on-screen commentator.
While the popularity would become sort of stagnate, Raw was still a successful program, because there was nothing else competing with it in the prime time slots. That was until WCW came along with their Monday Night alternative, WCW Nitro. As we all now know, the ratings war would grow into something that may have been complicated from a business standpoint for both companies, but for fans, this new breed of competition would create a truly compelling type of wrestling programming.
While WCW offered Sting and Flair in some of their greatest feuds, Vince would combat with the Attitude Era. The Attitude Era offered more than the normal, family friendly, cookie-cutter brand of wrestling. In fact, the company strongly urged fans to put the kids to bed before watching their Monday night option. Regardless of the styles, fans didn't just have one choice, but now they had options and it made for fantastic television. The Monday Night Wars was something that both companies would fight for, as far as supremacy until Vince did the unthinkable, he bought the competition.
In the midst of all this competition, Vince was compelled to test the waters with yet another business venture. This time, Vince wanted in on the popularity of football and in 1999, he founded the XFL. As far as the XFL is concerned, it was Vince's extreme version of American football, but despite the initial surge in popularity and high ratings, the average football fan didn’t end up buying it. In fact, the league would tank and completely disband in 2001.
In 2001, Vince acquired World Championship Wrestling and once again, he sat alone atop the mountain of professional wrestling programming supremacy. While fans today look back at what happened to WCW as a travesty and that Vince essentially watered down the product following the buyout, it was Vince's way of putting out the fire that was WCW.
A new millennium and a new vision
After a naming squabble with The World Wide Fund for Nature, better known as the World Wildlife Fund, Vince lost the trademark suit in the UK and rather than continue the fight for naming rights to keep the WWF, he opted to turn a negative into a positive and began a new campaign to introduce his new company name, the World Wrestling Entertainment.
This was known as the "get the F out!" campaign. In 2002, fans were introduced to the WWE and for many, a simple letter was difficult to get over. But, as time went on, fans would grow to accept it and things would go back to business as usual.
Throughout the early 2000's Vince would continue to press forward as the primary on-screen authority figure for the company. However, as time went on, Vince watched closely as his now son-in-law, Triple H was not only one of the top stars on the roster, but his interest in the inner workings of the company was catching Vince's eye as well. Vince would continue to watch his progress, but it would become more obvious with time, that the future of the company he had worked so tirelessly to build, would be in good hands within his immediate family and Triple H.
A lot about the business has stayed the same over the years since Vince took control in the early 80's. However, thanks to the ever evolving mind of the chairman, a lot has also changed. Through it all, Vince has kept a steady thumb on everything and allowed nothing to slip by him unnoticed.
There's been unthinkable tragedy and sorrow, such as the heinous acts of Chris Benoit and the unfortunate incident involving Owen Hart. Vince has had to stand before grand juries and he's had to bury superstars who have passed way too soon. Yet, with every dark day he's faced, he's dug deep and carried on, carrying out the original mission of delivering a quality product, to a grateful fan base.
He's acquired the likes of ECW and WCW and he's seen big name stars like CM Punk just walk away prematurely. Vince has seen the faces of good and evil come through his doors, but the overall integrity of the company has remained solid. As we look ahead for what's next on the Vince McMahon journey, it's important to keep a mindful eye on the past, because it shows a beaten road that has been travelled by a man who grew up modestly, found his way and sought to simply make his dad proud.
If you were to meet Vince today, you'd swear father time has alluded him, because at 71 years young, he looks to be as healthy as many half his age. Nonetheless, it's obvious that one day, time will catch up to the vibrant Mr. McMahon. With that in mind, there's still a large portion of this journey that has yet to be written.
At 71, Vince appears to be strong and healthy enough to keep his company rolling for years to come. One can only wonder what's next for Vince, what tricks he may have up his sleeve, or how many struts down the ramp he has left in him. All we know for certain is that this one man has completely revolutionised everything we know about professional wrestling and there's no doubt that the business as a whole, is better today, due to his efforts over the years.
We are about to enter the thirty-third Wrestlemania season. That in itself is a mind boggling statistic. A lot of today's, actually, the majority of today's superstars were not even born when Mr. McMahon took the helm. As many of them were still in diapers, Vince was making decisions that would pave the way for the career they all enjoy today and I can only hope they all appreciate that fact.
Just to think, he was once set for a career as a travelling salesman. Imagine what the world of professional wrestling would look like today, had Vince just continued to walk from door-to-door. Sure, professional wrestling would likely still be here, but at what level? Would there have ever been the birth of Hulkamania? Would we have seen the first Wrestlemania, or the Monday Night Wars? What would things look like today?
The journey of Vincent Kennedy McMahon is a journey important to us all. As wrestling fans, we don't have to like his on-screen persona. A lot of fans have hated Mr. McMahon ever since he created a certain "kissing" club. But, the fact remains that no one has ever been seen in the world of professional wrestling, quite like Vince McMahon and no matter how many lifetimes you live, you'll never see another one like him.
Love him, hate him, or feel indifferent about him, you simply must respect what he has done to better the industry not only for the talent but for you and I, the common, everyday wrestling fan. The journey of Vince McMahon is an incomplete journey, but it's an admirable one as it stands. That's why it is important to not only remember, but respect the journey of Vince McMahon.