Vince McMahon has been the preeminent figure in professional wrestling since he rebranded the genre as sports entertainment in the mid 1980s. He became so by being one of the most ruthless businessmen in American history, aggressively forcing his competition to go out of business only to buy the scraps at a low price and turn whatever was left into massively successful enterprises. Perhaps related, Vince is also a man who regularly boasted on television about having “balls the size of grapefruits,” and everything about his public persona points to the fact he simply doesn’t give a hoot about what people think about him. Vince has gleefully crushed his enemies while building his empire, and though he occasionally tries to brush it under his rug, the rise of the Internet means most fans are aware he’s hardly a saint when he’s sitting in the executive office.
Vince might be the most beloved and respected figure in sports entertainment for his indelible contributions to the medium, but he’s also one of the most controversial and maligned figures in all of popular culture in general thanks to his business acumen. For every young wrestler Vince gave an opportunity and every talent he helped develop into superstardom, there’s another wrestler he destroyed and a promotion he purposefully drove into bankruptcy. The word of business isn’t a particularly pretty one, and coupled with the mindset of a man who literally lives professional wrestling his entire life, it can get downright ugly. Keep reading to learn about 15 questionable business moves that prove Vince McMahon doesn’t care what anybody thinks about him.
15. Standing By Pat Patterson
The early 90’s were an extremely tumultuous time for Vince McMahon and WWE in general. He and his company suffered two serious legal scandals, the second of which nearly landed McMahon in prison, and the first of which revolved around one of his most important employees. WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Pat Patterson was accused of sexual misconduct with young and potentially even underage talent, along with WWE ring announcer Mel Phillips and road agent Terry Garvin. Phillips and Garvin were more or less proven guilty by the stories of a number of first-hand sources, but it was eventually revealed that all of the accusations against Patterson were completely made up, inspired by the fact most people in the industry knew he was gay. Despite that revelation, many within the mainstream press still associated Patterson with the scandal, and rumors persisted he was more involved than was being said.
Vince couldn’t completely ignore the allegations even if they were baseless, and briefly released Patterson as a result, but McMahon hired him back as early as only a few months later. While the larger incident speaks to a terrible history of homophobia in the wrestling industry, the fact McMahon was willing to immediately right the wrongs of the situation despite still facing seriously bad press shows he was willing to put that press aside and respect Patterson for his talents despite what people were saying about him. There were even rumors that Vince continued secretly working with Patterson throughout the entire scandal, and that the alleged firing was a publicity stunt.
14. Repeatedly Mocking And Firing Jim Ross
Jim Ross is a WWE Hall of Famer, and most wrestling fans consider him the greatest play-by-play announcer in the history of sports entertainment. JR covered most episodes of Monday Night Raw during the Attitude Era, and was a mainstay of WCW and Mid-South Wrestling before then. He stuck around for a few years performing increasingly reduced duties despite fans still believing he was the best person suited for his job, until McMahon himself personally fired Ross in 2013. WWE social media framed the event as a retirement, but JR himself vocally dismissed that phrasing, explaining in no uncertain terms that Vince forced him to leave the company.
Lying about the terms of JR’s departure is shady enough, but the reason Ross was fired in the first place only makes Vince look worse. During a press conference promoting WWE 2K14, Ric Flair was noticeably drunk, and although Flair is an adult responsible for his own actions, McMahon fired JR for not being able to keep The Nature Boy in line. After JR went public with the full, true story, McMahon stood with his company lie anyway, doubling down on the retirement story and claiming Ross told him he wanted to spend more time with his family. To his credit, Vince says he still respects JR, but his actions prove the exact opposite.
13. Firing The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior is a WWE Hall of Famer and former WWE World Champion who inspired countless young fans to become wrestlers in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Warrior was one of the fastest rising and unique stars in WWE history, with loudly emphatic fans loudly supporting his World and Intercontinental Championship reigns. However, Warrior was well known for being difficult to work with, and Vince only has so much patience with employees who aren’t willing to do things exactly the way he wants them done.
In July of 1991, Warrior sent Vince a harshly worded letter demanding a salary on par with Hulk Hogan, which Vince initially agreed to. Less than one month later, Vince reneged on the deal, instead choosing to suspend Warrior indefinitely. Warrior responded by attempting to quit. The story only gets crazier when Warrior returned a few months later, but it was only a few months before he was fired again, this time for allegedly failing a drug test. Flip-flopping on the contract status of a major star confused and annoyed fans, and left critics wondering why Vince was willing to work with someone he clearly found unreliable only a few months early. Vince is used to ignoring his critics, though…
12. Telling Off Critics
Vince McMahon is the most important name in wrestling, and that means wrestling critics like to talk about him more than anybody else. Sportswriter Phil Mushnick of The New York Post is probably his most vocal opponent, but that’s only because most other mainstream news outlets are extremely dismissive of sports entertainment’s controversial nature in general. Those that do follow the industry are generally with Mushnick in his feeling WWE and Vince specifically contributed to the early deaths of hundreds of former wrestlers under his employ by promoting a blatantly unsafe lifestyle.
Vince has responded to these critics by regularly calling them out for daring even speak about him, often in an explosive and public manner. When Mushnick first started his crusade against the McMahons, Vince responded by calling him a “self-righteous, egotistical, miserable son of a bitch,” and had announcer Jim Cornette go on a tirade elaborating on those comments. When WWE came under criticism from the Parents Television Council, he similarly created the Right to Censor gimmick to mock and lambast them for daring speak out against his product, too. Critics outside of the company aren’t the only targets of Vince’s wrath—when he appeared on The Stone Cold Podcast and was asked why he wasn’t pushing Cesaro, who Stone Cold thought was the most talented person on the roster, McMahon did his best to tell Austin he was wrong in the most diplomatic way possible.
11. Snubbing Former Legends
The WWE Hall of Fame has inducted several names over the past few years that most fans thought never had a chance of reconciliation, proving this trend might not still be part of Vince’s business strategy. For a long time, though, Vince would completely ignore and even do his best to downplay the contributions of virtually any WWE legend not presently signed a WWE contract. Former WWE Champions like Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund were ignored for decades, despite being some of the most integral ingredients to the success of WWE before Vince took the reigns. Even today, Vince is doing everything he can to make fans forget about Hulk Hogan in light of racially insensitive comments made by the Hulkster in 2015.
Vince’s logic behind ignoring and forgetting his former stars makes business sense, if it kind of makes him a bad boss at the same time. If there’s no longer any money to be made from promoting a past superstar, discussing them is a waste of time that could be spent creating new stars. At the same time, the extent of his snub has lead to heavy criticism from long term fans of the product, as they feel it denigrates the past through this willful omission of history.
10. Stealing Everything From His Competition
Vince and his family have done everything they can to establish the McMahon’s as self-made media moguls who earned their stake in the wrestling business through tenacity and creativity alone. Understandable though it may be, this ignores the fact that the biggest and most successful eras of WWE were all founded on stealing absolutely everything from the competition and putting a spotlight on it that the smaller federations couldn’t afford. Prior to the rapid expansion of WWE in the 1980’s, Vince signed dozens of established stars to long-term contracts, successfully intending to build his empire on the work other promoters already did.
Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, and plenty of others were all established stars before Vince hired them to lead the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Era. It could and often is easily argued Vince made them bigger stars than ever before, but it doesn’t account for the fact he claims they would’ve been nothing without him—he only hired them in the first place because they already were something. WWE has also stolen endless ideas from music, TV shows, music, and other wrestling companies, and always presented their ideas as groundbreaking and original with a smile on their faces, even when fans know exactly where the ideas and wrestlers who had them actually came from.
9. Black Saturday
In addition to stealing all of the top stars in the 1980’s in order to go national, Vince also engaged in a decades-long project to buy out every popular regional wrestling TV show and fill the remaining time slot with WWE programming. It generally worked, which is how Vince ended up the only major promoter left, but in at least one incident, it spectacularly failed and made WWE look inept and cartoonish in front of a wide audience of hardcore wrestling fans.
TBS ran wrestling on Saturday nights for nearly 30 years, starting with a promotion called Georgia Championship Wrestling and a program they called World Championship Wrestling. This WCW was the first wrestling program to reach a national cable audience thanks to their deal with Ted Turner, and McMahon soon followed by forcing a deal with USA Network. That wasn’t enough for Vince, so he purchased GCW altogether and used the timeslot for his WWE programming. GCW focused on old school, traditional style wrestling in stark contrast to WWE’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling of the era, and fans of the old show hated what WWE was producing so much they refer to the initial WWE broadcast as “Black Saturday.” Eventually, the timeslot was sold to the NWA, and gradually morphed into the company now known as WCW. Obviously, Vince got the last laugh on that one.
8. Actually Faking His Death
Wrestlers do lots of crazy things as a part of their job, and a famous Vince quote claims he would never ask a wrestler to do something he wouldn’t do himself, so long as he were physically capable of doing it. Some wrestlers also have an arguably crazy commitment to kayfabe—the notion that what they do in the ring is for real, and that their real lives are heavily influenced by their careers in the squared circle. To some, this means wearing a fake neck brace or being careful about what other wrestlers you associate with in public, but to Vince, it meant actually faking his death.
In June of 2007, an episode of Monday Night Raw ended when Vince entered a limo and the limo promptly exploded. It’s one thing to do it for sports entertainment, but WWE.com reported that McMahon was actually missing and presumed dead, not to mention that police and the FBI were heavily involved with investigating the case. His daughter Stephanie and other board members took things a step further by running board meetings without Vince present, and sources claim he would’ve even gone further with the fake death had the Chris Benoit tragedy not rendered the whole thing a moot point only a few weeks later. Of course, Vince was fine the entire time, no police were interested, and all skipping out on executive meetings accomplished was a significant dip in WWE stock.
7. Hiring Eric Bischoff And Paul Heyman
Vince bought out dozens of his competitors, stole their top stars, and did everything he could to run them out of business, but more shocking than any of that is the fact he turned around and hired the people who most aggressively tried to put him out of business, too. Eric Bischoff was the Executive Vice President of WCW during the Monday Night Wars, and it was Bischoff’s ruthless and aggressive business tactics that made him such a threat to Vince in the first place. Paul Heyman was the owner and executive producer of ECW, which wasn’t anywhere near as big a competitor as WCW, but it had a pretty big cult following made of people who vocally hated Vince and his company, inspired by Heyman’s wrestlers telling them to do so.
Heyman and Bischoff ended up working for Vince in 2001 and 2002, respectively. The decision to hire Heyman wasn’t that shocking, but the image of Vince and Bischoff hugging remains etched in many fans minds as the most surreal moment in wrestling history. While many of the items on this list show Vince in a negative light, this example proves that sometimes not caring what people think about you can be mutually beneficial for everyone involved.
6. Re-Hiring Vince Russo
Vince Russo was the head writer of WWE during the Attitude Era, and as a result he gets a lot of the credit for some of the most successful ideas and storylines in company history. He was also the head writer of WCW during late 1999 and mid 2000, and as a result he gets a lot of the credit for some of the worst ideas in sports entertainment history, and often gets called out for being directly responsible for the downfall of that company. The fact Russo left WWE citing burn out only to turn around and sign with WCW a few months later only makes him look worse throughout this ordeal, and the fact he hasn’t stopped talking about wrestling and treating himself like a genius since then hasn’t helped him make any friends, either.
Russo’s reputation for killing WCW was pretty firm, and it started as soon as he debuted on television, when he gave himself a graffiti laden celebration on Nitro before he even did anything of note with the company. Russo’s tenure portrayed some of the worst egomania in wrestling history, and when he wasn’t making himself the focus, he was mocking every wrestler on the roster by demanding they perform the dumbest gimmicks of their careers. Despite this, McMahon hired Russo back in 2002. McMahon changed his mind only a few days later, but that he would even be willing to work with the most maligned figure in the industry at the time should say everything you need to know about his fearlessness in business.
5. Suspending Titus O’Neill
Titus O’Neill entered the WWE Universe in 2009, competing in the developmental Florida Championship Wrestling for a little over one year before that company morphed into NXT. In its early days, NXT was still a competition show, and O’Neill lost Season 2 but returned to Season 5 and fared much better. The second time around, O’Neill formed a tag team with Darren Young called The Prime Time Players, and the duo was called up from NXT to join SmackDown after only three months as a team. The PTP were never the most important act in the tag division, but they were decently popular, and briefly held the WWE World Tag Team Championships in 2015.
Unfortunately for O’Neill, a strange and unique incident nearly cost him his job and growing fan base. Shortly after Daniel Bryan’s retirement speech in February 2016, O’Neill grabbed Vince on camera in order to let Stephanie McMahon leave the stage first in accordance with “ladies first.” Vince was unharmed and little was thought of the moment until it was revealed O’Neill would be suspended 90 days because of it. Amidst allegations of racism and general questions about his decision-making abilities, Vince reduced the suspension to 60 days. The fact O’Neill remained suspended shows even when Vince cares a little bit what people say about him, he makes sure he’s in charge and does what he wants, anyway.
4. Appearing On The Record With Bob Costas
Bob Costas is one of the most respected names in sports journalism. He has called or at least had some level of broadcasting experience in virtually every mainstream sport in America, and although he never sat at the commentary desk, his interest in sports collided with WWE in an extremely loud and bombastic fashion. Costas mostly works for NBC, but he also hosted a short lived show for HBO called On the Record, which McMahon was a guest on in March of 2001. Costas came at Vince hard during the interview, grilling him over sexually suggestive and potentially offensive content WWE was making a main event focus en route to WrestleMania X7.
While most billionaires worried about their image would try to be as respectful as possible, Vince went in the opposite direction, mocking and berating Costas throughout the interview like a bullying child. He was being called out for perhaps not being the most moral businessman around, and he responded with a level of unprofessionalism so extreme people weren’t even concerned with the moralism anymore. Amazingly, Vince and Costas eventually repaired their relationship, and Costas even helped promote WrestleMania XIX only two years later. That didn’t fix the ill will from the initial interview, though, and Vince rarely appears on camera outside of his element anymore as a result.
3. Creating Survivor Series To Kill Starrcade
We’ve covered before how the ultimate wrestling Pay-Per-View, WrestleMania, was actually an idea Vince stole from the NWA’s earlier event, Starrcade. That’s not the only way the competition inspired Vince’s event schedule—in fact, virtually every major WWE Pay-Per-View was in some way a reaction to shows being promoted by other companies. Stealing a basic show format is a logical business move in order to survive in a changing market, but from the very beginning Vince was going a lot further than that, trying to destroy the very people he got his ideas from the very day he adapted them as his own.
Starrcade was celebrating its fifth year in 1987, and as such, it had been built, for months in advance, around a pre-planned airdate of Thanksgiving. This same year, and in fact this very same night, was also the first ever Survivor Series, and that was very much by design. Fearing the NWA fan base could grow wider on Pay-Per-View than on television, Vince forced companies to choose between which event they could offer to subscribers, and most went with the proven success of WWE. A few months later, the NWA ran Clash of the Champions I on the same day as WrestleMania IV, showing this ruthlessness can easily go both ways.
2. Firing CM Punk On His Wedding Day
The destruction of the relationship between WWE and CM Punk has been one of the most hotly debated stories on the Internet since it took place over the summer of 2014. Punk had walked out of WWE in January citing a series of injuries and creative problems with the company, but he firmly believed that he would one day be welcomed back to discuss a potential return after he felt healthy again. Punk’s fiancé AJ Lee was still working with the company, and fans were hijacking shows to loudly support him, so it certainly seemed like forgiving and forgetting wasn’t out of the question. Instead, Vince officially fired Punk on his wedding day.
Vince tried to play it off as an unfortunate coincidence, but that story is almost impossible to believe. It’s hard to imagine Vince didn’t know about the upcoming wedding, especially when the bride was still working for him. And that brings up another layer of not giving a hoot to the equation; firing an employee on their wedding day is one thing, but only firing one person on the wedding day of two employees? That stops being ruthless and starts looking like a vindictive effort to mess with the new couple. Vince has since claimed to be open to reforging a relationship with Punk, but showing the side-effect of tough business decisions, it seems like Punk isn’t so willing to reopen that relationship.
1. Loudly Lying About Everything
The whole list tiptoes around it, but Vince’s most ruthless tactic as a businessman is also the oldest trick in the book, and virtually every person in business has probably been guilty about it at one point or another: Vince McMahon lies about his business all the time. It’s one thing to lie to investors about being dead, or to lie to talent about respecting them when he secretly hated them, but Vince and WWE loudly lie to their audience about what the audience itself is thinking, and that’s the kind of behavior that only comes from not caring about the audience at all, while also caring an incredible amount about one’s own ego.
Vince brags about certain body parts being the size of grapefruits, but his ego is surely the biggest thing about him. This is why, now that fans have rejected his choice of Roman Reigns as the top star of WWE, Vince has his announcers repeat ad nauseum every broadcast that the fans in the arena are wrong and/or just acting silly when they boo Reigns, because he’s actually the most popular guy around. They’ve been doing the same thing with John Cena for years, and while it works with the child audience WWE is catered to, adults are finally getting fed up with this and all of the other shameful business moves McMahon continues to make.