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We Are the Characters We Choose To Become

Billy Pratt

We Are the Characters We Choose To Become

For long-time wrestling fans, the recent sexual misconduct allegations against Vince McMahon—as told in tremendous detail by the Wall Street Journal—were only scandalous insofar as the juicy details were finally revealed. The allegations themselves, the idea that a billionaire owner of a sports-entertainment corporate conglomerate might be an unrestrained, over-the-top sexual deviant, were par for the course. We’re talking about Vince McMahon, after all. We always knew he was crazy. This was simply a case of filling in the blanks.

To understand why wrestling fans were nonplussed hearing that, among other things, Vince owned a dildo collection named after wrestlers in his employ, that he pawned off women to those wrestlers he named his dildos after—that he shat on a woman’s head during a threesome and demanded she finish the sex act she was performing on his friend—one must understand the Vince McMahon wrestling fans have gotten to know over the past forty years.

Vince McMahon’s father, Vince McMahon senior, was the original owner of the WWE (then the clunkily titled WWWF or World Wide Wrestling Federation), who left the family when his son was a baby. Vince first met his father properly at the age of 12 and, after graduating college, became a ring announcer and television personality for his father’s wrestling promotion.

After buying the WWWF from his dying father, McMahon renamed the promotion the sleeker sounding World Wrestling Federation and immediately violated the gentlemen’s agreements McMahon Sr. had with his wrestling promoter buddies. Before the WWF, wrestling was promoted regionally and the Regional promoters respected territorial lines. McMahon wanted a national company, and with a combination of Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, Cindy Lauper, and an absolute disregard for others, McMahon achieved just that, putting all of his father’s friends out of business. The WWF became a household name.

But enough Wikipedia summation, what you need to know about Vince is that he always wanted to be a wrestler. Vince McMahon wanted to be a wrestler and his father forbade it for reasons never specified. Maybe McMahon Sr. sensed his son’s arrogance and wanted to take him down a peg or two. Maybe McMahon Sr. was a controlling sadist, a domineering father who enjoyed crushing the dreams of his son. Maybe McMahon Sr. was jealous of his roster of wrestlers—the attention and fame, the recognition that these guys were certifiably tough alpha males. Even as the owner, the guy who hires and fires and has final say, you’ll never be the toughest guy in the room in a room full of hulking bruisers. Vince McMahon Jnr.—an epithet he always refused to allow people to use—would learn this himself.

So Vince McMahon didn’t get to train as a wrestler and become a wrestling superstar, but, like his father, he got to tell wrestlers what to do. He got to hire and fire. Vince had final say, a control that only grew as the WWF came to monopolize the industry. There were competitors, like Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, but from a business standpoint, they hardly mattered. McMahon’s vision for wrestling dominated the public consciousness so much that the average person considered it to be a Platonic form.

McMahon’s wrestling was simplistic—he enjoyed bad comedy and human cartoons. He enjoyed colorful characters loaded with gimmicks (an Elvis impersonator, a guy with a snake, an evil dentist).

If you close your eyes and think of a wrestler, you’ll see a bodybuilder. This association is a product of Vince McMahon’s dominating vision for professional wrestling. Vince loved bodybuilders and bodybuilding. He loved gigantic men who had muscles upon muscles, who could hardly navigate the ring with any degree of agility. This lay in stark contrast to what professional wrestling was before Vince McMahon: muscular men, yes, but athletics always came first. In-ring action came first. McMahon favored Barnum-and-Bailey-style spectacle. The actual wrestling in the ring was an afterthought—phony-looking punches and kicks were usually enough to get the job done.

McMahon loved bodybuilders so much that he started the World Bodybuilding Federation, thinking he could take bodybuilding to the same spectacular pseudo-sport heights as professional wrestling. The idea bombed. Vince did at least win a measure of bodybuilding legitimacy in March 2015, when he featured on the cover of Muscle and Fitness, jacked and roided to the gills at 69 years old.

But if you want to know why the allegations against Vince come as no real shock to wrestling fans, it’s not enough to know that Vince always wanted to be a wrestler and that he loves hugely muscular men, even becoming one himself. You need to know about the character Vince became in the WWF. Because Vince wasn’t just the owner of the WWF. He was also part of the cast, and under conditions that he himself had created, he became a gross distortion, a twisted caricature of himself. Or you could also argue that he became the person he was truly destined to be—the real Vince McMahon that was just waiting to come out.

In 1998, Vince accidentally became a pro-wrestling bad guy on his flagship cable wrestling show, Monday Night Raw, and his character, Mr McMahon, became one of the best pro-wrestling bad guys of all time. It was the evil owner’s feud with the ass-kicking Texas Rattlesnake “Stone Cold” Steve Austin that propelled the WWF to heights previously thought impossible. Stone Cold vs. McMahon became the hottest feud of all time in professional wrestling. Off the back of this now immortal feud, Vince was able to take the company public in 1999, retaining the majority of shares.

At the time of writing, Monday Night Raw is in its 31st season with an incomprehensible 1,655 episodes. Mr McMahon made his on-screen debut as the asshole boss in 1997 and was a regular fixture on the show for the following twenty years.

On screen, McMahon came to behave like no actual human would actually behave, even by professional wrestling standards. He walked with giant swinging arms, talked about his “genetic jackhammer,” and infamously had Trish Stratus bark like a dog in a segment so bizarre and uncomfortable it was used in a political attack ad during Linda McMahon’s 2012 US Senate bid. There were no limits to the Mr McMahon character. The character became a neverending power fantasy. And what always stuck out were the sexual overtones McMahon wrote into the character. Like a woman writing a novel where everyone praises the protagonist for her poise and beauty, Vince always had his sexual bravado on display. Sexuality was a built-in part of the Mr. McMahon character.

But while Vince got to live out the wrestling superstar fantasies he had as a younger man, something was still missing. Vince would probably tell you this himself if you caught him at the right moment. Yes, he got to wrestle every big name on his roster over his decade of in-ring action. Yes, he got to do a few of those big wresting stunts like jumping off a ladder through the announcers’ table. Yes, he got to have his head knocked off by a steel chair and got to bleed buckets. He even made himself world champion once. But one thing was missing: Vince was never really a winner. Vince was never a real tough guy.

Mr McMahon saw a ton of in-ring action as the evil, old owner of the WWE—who hired people, and fired people; who was feared and respected but literally everyone in the industry—but when the bell rang, Mr McMahon was never more than a kind of comedy relief. Even if he came to the ring looking as muscular as anyone on the roster, it still wouldn’t make sense for him to stand toe-to-toe with Stone Cold or the Undertaker. Vince wasn’t a wrestler at the end of the day, and everyone knew it. So when the bell rang, Mr McMahan was an awkward geek who got his ass kicked. Vince was a beta.

Vince did everything he could to prove that wasn’t the case, at least in private. On one occasion, at some point in the 1980s, Vince was at a bar with the wrestlers—no TV cameras—and he challenged each of them to give him their finishing move right there, on the hard wooden floor. Yeah, I know, wrestling is phony bullshit and these moves are “sold” by the wrestlers performing them, but they’re still performed in a wrestling ring, with padding and a floor that has give. And yet, he was fighting a losing battle against himself, and especially against Mr McMahon, the wide-walking caricature he was to become. Whatever insecurities Vince had way back then were only magnified when the TV cameras were on and he was in an actual ring, being chokeslammed or stunnered or made to piss his pants by Stone Cold Steve Austin shooting him with a pistol that turned out to be a pop-gun.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many of Vince’s alleged perversions included his wrestlers and seemed to play on humiliating questions about his own potency?

Take, for example, the implied involvement of Brock Lesnar in the allegations. Vince was allegedly determined to set his accuser, Janel Grant, up with Lesnar, using sexual access to Grant as part of McMahon’s negotiations for a new contract with Lesnar. McMahon texted Grant after the meeting, telling her Lesnar said “She’ll be ruined after me and leave your ass!” Vince added, with evident glee, that Lesnar said Vince’s “tool won’t fit anymore.” Most men would keep such jibes to themselves, but not Vince.

It’s hard not to reach the conclusion that Vince developed a full-blown cuckold fantasy, with his wrestlers doing the dirty work he always wanted to—but never could. And if they wouldn’t do it in person, what’s the next best thing if not a series of sex toys named after them? That way, John Cena or the Ultimate Warrior would always be at the ready, night and day, to expose his physical limitations.

So maybe your parents were right, after all. Maybe wrestling really does rot your brain—especially if you’re the one who presides over the whole sorry show.

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