Some things are universally accepted by professional wrestling fans. “Popularity is cyclical” and “winning Monday means losing Sunday” are two well known examples. Another thing all wrestling fans know as truth is Vince McMahon is a genius. But much like the first two statements have been proven more theory than fact, there is also plenty of reason to question Vinnie Mac.
The wrestling boom of the 1980s saw the sport reach further heights than it ever had. McMahon is widely credited for predicting the importance of television and PPV. He also made WrestleMania a household name. In reality, the NWA held Starrcade years before. (It also billed its show as the “Grandaddy of Them All” long before the WWF did the same for Mania.) Before that was The Final Conflict and the numerous supercards Eddie Graham promoted in Florida.
McMahon, to his credit, did have the foresight to get ahead of the PPV explosion. Thanks to him, wrestling PPVs became a staple of for many. (Funnily, no one ever called out the WWF for copying the idea of big shows.) When WCW went to a monthly PPV schedule, the WWF had another model to “borrow” from. Of course, nothing was more important to rise of wrestling in the ’80s than the strategic use of television. Many give McMahon credit for making sure his product was seen across the country, but people forget that McMahon paid local television companies to air WWF television. Those who do remember consider this common sense move genius.
Mr. McMahon was also lucky to benefit from the territory system. Homegrown stars were just not something the expansion-hungry WWF had the time for. There were attempts with varying degrees of success (Honky Tonk Man and Outback Jack have two very different places in wrestling history), but the biggest names of the era were plucked from other territories. Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, and Junkyard Dog were all big stars from around the country. McMahon just gave them a bigger platform to work on.
Geography also factors into McMahon’s success. The WWF’s base of operations was located in the most densely populated part of the country. Their unofficial home arena, Madison Square Garden, is so well known it’s commonly referred to as “The Mecca.” New York is also arguably the entertainment capital of the world. Best of all for McMahon, branding is much more important than delivering a good product in New York City. (Case in point: the New York Knicks. And the Jets. And the Giants.)
To objectively evaluate McMahon’s genius, it’s necessary to look back at the post-WCW era. There were no other major companies or territories to take ideas from. Vince and his children were left to their own creative devices. They have created zero crossover stars during this time. The biggest stars they have created in the past few decades have been completely by accident. One was supposed to be a nameless midcard act (Steve Austin) while the other was saved from a career as a bland blue chipper after a fortuitous knee injury (The Rock).
Clearly, John Cena has done very well for himself, and depending on your definition of the word, Roman Reigns is something of a star, but the rest of the roster is filled with midcard geeks who trade wins and losses every week. The general consensus seems to be that Triple H will come in and save the promotion, but why should anyone believe that? Few NXT call ups have connected with the crowd once they are promoted to the main roster. (You can cry all you want about poor booking, but remember that The Rock did clean jobs to Big Bossman and Mark Henry during his rise. Steve Austin didn’t even have a name and was feuding with Savio Vega when he started getting over.)
AEW will be the deciding factor regarding the genius of the McMahons. For starters, it will now let everyone know just how good NXT truly is, as WWE’s in-house feeder system has essentially operated in a vacuum the last few years. People on the main roster have taken to social media to complain while they sit their contracts out at home. Before AEW, no one could truly compete with what NXT was offering. But now that there is competition to sign the hottest indie talent on the market, we will truly see how good Triple H is.
In the meantime, Vince McMahon can do what he does best: Wait for AEW to become hot then copy their ideas and steal their talent. It’s a tried and true plan that has served WWE well for decades.
They may have been born on third base while thinking they hit a triple, but the McMahons have truly done a lot for professional wrestling. They are geniuses at using basic cutthroat business tactics and corporate doublespeak and buzzwords.
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