Absolute power corrupts absolutely, or at least that’s how the saying goes. One rarely reaches the top of an industry without a little help from their friends, though, and therefore most magnates aren’t as bad as their reputation would hold. In particular, fans seem to view WWE CEO Vince McMahon as a ruthless and cutthroat businessman who can barely differentiate right from wrong. While we acknowledge Vince doesn’t always seem to have his finger on the pulse of reality, that doesn’t mean some of the things his audience has said about him isn’t completely insane.
There’s no doubt Vince has brought himself a great amount of controversy over the years, and it’s only natural that wrestling pundits are going to weigh in on his each and every move. Critics tend to be especially harsh on McMahon, perhaps a little bit in part due to his brash onscreen persona making him seem like an unscrupulous character even when he’s basically doing the right thing. One of the harsh realities of business is that not everybody can succeed on the same level, and Vince needed to make dozens of difficult decisions to reach the top of the mountain. Considering how long he’s been there, a few of those decisions had to be the right ones.
On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to think Vinnie Mac is as bad as he seems, too. If that’s your read on the guy, chances are we aren’t about to change your mind. That isn’t what we’re seeking out to do, anyway—we’re simply trying to present both sides of the story and let fans decide on their own whether or not the most powerful man in wrestling deserves his sometimes negative reputation. Keep reading to discover 10 times Vince McMahon made the wrong move, and 5 times he did the right thing.
15 WRONG MOVE: Suspending Titus O'Neil
February 8, 2016 should have been entirely about Daniel Bryan’s retirement ceremony, and yet most wrestling reporting that night was focused on a seemingly irrelevant incident that occurred immediately after Bryan’s speech. Vince McMahon had come out to congratulate Bryan, as did most other WWE superstars, including Titus O’Neil. McMahon was leaving the stage near the end of the segment, and O’Neil grabbed his arm, apparently to allow Stephanie McMahon to leave first. The grab was far from malicious, looking friendly and playful when caught on video, but for some reason McMahon reacted by suspending O’Neil for 90 days. Given the timeframe, this would have guaranteed O’Neil was off the card at WrestleMania, the biggest payday of the year for WWE superstars. Fans were outraged McMahon would overreact so harshly, causing him to reduce the suspension to 60 days, although many felt that hardly fixed the problem. O’Neil himself was pretty much the only person to defend his boss, taking the suspension in stride and not making any public complaints.
14 WRONG MOVE: Cutting Lord Alfred's Pay
When business is bad, executives need to make tough decisions that occasionally come to haunt them should business start to get good again. WWE was rapidly losing money throughout the mid ‘90s, and a series of cost-cutting measures were required in 1995 so Vince McMahon could keep his company afloat. One such money-saving effort was cutting the pay of Lord Alfred Hayes, then a 13-year veteran employee of the company. Though Alfred’s role in WWE had been diminishing for some time at that point, Vince and his other executives nevertheless saw him as an important part of the company’s history thanks to his jovial personality in backstage skits and interviews. Because of this, they had hoped Alfred would be understanding about the pay cut, while in fact he found himself seriously insulted and decided to quit on the spot. Granted, there’s some question as to why exactly Vince and his executives felt Alfred was so important to the company at this point in time. No offense to his talents, but he hadn’t been on TV in a regular role for some time at that point. However, the point remains, if Vince wanted to keep Alfred, he shouldn’t have treated him so poorly, and doing so remains a black mark on his record as a businessman.
13 WRONG MOVE: Ignoring Daniel Bryan Until It Was Too Late
It’s amazing how quickly the WWE Universe has forgotten just how terribly Vince McMahon and company treated Daniel Bryan in the two years or so leading up to his retirement. There’s almost no denying Bryan was the top babyface in wrestling the entire time, and yet old names like John Cena and Randy Orton were continually pushed ahead of him, sometimes in a manner that blatantly disregarded the crowd’s loud, vocal wishes. Bryan finally reached the peak of his fame at WrestleMania XXX when he won the WWE World Championship, only to get sidelined with a neck injury less than two months later. He made his return to wrestling the next year, only to once again get injured in a matter of months, ultimately deciding to retire rather than keep hurting himself after brain scans revealed just how bad the injuries were. Obviously, McMahon had no way of knowing Bryan was wrestling on borrowed time, but it still makes the whole thing look even worse in hindsight. From the day the “Yes” Movement began and practically every segment of every show was hijacked in Bryan’s honor, WWE should have started pushing him to the moon. Instead, Vince wanted to wait a few months, and by the time he finally acknowledged what he had, Bryan’s time in the ring was virtually over.
12 WRONG MOVE: Pushing Roman Reigns As A Babyface
Part two to how big a mistake it was not to push Daniel Bryan is the person Vince has attempted pushing in his wake: Roman Reigns. Fans likely would have rejected the idea of Reigns as a superhuman hero regardless of whether or not they wanted to see Daniel Bryan instead, because Reigns simply doesn’t have the disposition of a smiling, happy babyface. Sure, he has the physique McMahon likes, and he knows how to make a well-timed comeback, but Reigns' true strengths are in his snide sneering looks—the markings of a great heel. His attempts at being lovable are typically laughable, and rather than endearing fans to his side, he’s only making more and more enemies. All Vince has done to correct his mistake is pit Reigns against more vile and vicious heels, as if to turn him babyface by default. This has works in the short run, but eventually Reigns is left to his own devices and people start booing him again. Vince has decades of experience that shows he knows what he’s supposed to do in this scenario, making it all the more curious he keeps pushing Reigns as a face despite what everyone has been telling him for months.
11 RIGHT THING: Buying His Competition
While some of the actions this list is about to defend may be a little controversial, there should be no such confusion surrounding this one. It’s hard to think of a more definitive ending to any sort of cross-business conflict than one company buying the other, which is exactly what WWE did to WCW to conclude the Monday Night Wars. People may question how he handled things immediately after doing so, but no one denied how brilliant and decisive Vince was being when he decided to purchase WCW, even as the company was rapidly losing hundreds of millions of dollars per year. In fact, Vince is just about the only person alive who could’ve bought WCW and profited off it, which he has since done through dozens of home video releases and by including almost every noteworthy WCW event on the WWE Network. Fans will always complain about the Invasion storyline not living up to expectations, and yet no one has or had anything bad to say about the victory announcement where Vince bought the company, proving that buying out his enemies was one of the best decisions he ever made.
10 RIGHT THING: Standing By Pat Patterson
The 1992 sex scandal that saw a number of former WWE employees accuse road agents Pat Patterson and Terry Garvin and ring announcer Mel Phillips of sexual abuse easily could have destroyed WWE had Vince McMahon not handled it properly. The full story is still a little sketchy decades later, but the end result was Garvin and Phillips getting fired and Patterson keeping his job for decades to come. The main reason Patterson kept his job and the others were fired was that Murray Hodgson, the employee with the most specific claims against Patterson, was later revealed as a habitual conman who fruitlessly tried to sue his former employers for the exact same reason. Apparently, he targeted Patterson upon learning the WWE legend was gay, though still in the closet at the time. McMahon received a great deal of controversy at the time for keeping Patterson on board despite the accusations, but with hindsight proving Patterson was dragged into a horrific scandal only due to his orientation, Vince was actually making a brave statement in standing by his friend and denying he could or would do the things he was accused of having done.
9 WRONG MOVE: Taking On The NFL
It takes a really bad idea for that idea in and of itself to qualify a bad business move, but going head-to-head with the NFL is right up there as one of the worst business decisions of all time. Vince McMahon knows more about running a wrestling company than anyone else, and yet he apparently knew absolutely nothing about running a football league. He gave the idea his best effort in 2001, and wound up losing in the neighborhood of $35 million over the league’s one year of play. NBC was equally complicit in the losses, not to mention instilling Vince with the confidence he could somehow pull the enterprise off. Just about every element of the XFL serves as a horrific business move, from the overemphasis on cheerleader locker rooms, low scoring games, and generally boring television productions. Vince himself would have no choice but to admit the endeavor was a “colossal failure,” and these days the franchise only gets mentioned as the punch line it always was.
8 WRONG MOVE: Letting The Kliq Control The Mid '90s
Professional wrestling critics are well aware the dangers of letting the inmates run the asylum, thanks to such practices running WCW out of business. Vince McMahon has a small excuse for nearly letting the same thing happen to his company during the so-called New Generation in the mid ‘90s, in that he did so prior to WCW’s failure. What WCW did to Hulk Hogan, Vince did to Shawn Michaels, allowing the wrestler far too much control over his each and every storyline. Michaels wasn’t alone in his control over the direction of WWE storylines, as his good friends Kevin Nash/Diesel, Scott Hall/Razor Ramon, The 1-2-3 Kid, and Triple H all allegedly were able to give suggestions and make persuasive arguments to McMahon at their given whims. The extent to which The Kliq controlled things has been debated somewhat, and if things truly have been exaggerated, maybe Vince deserves a little more credit than we’re giving him. However, the mere fact he let Michaels, Nash, and company book themselves out of losses and into major angles at all was a bad idea, and one that could have destroyed his entire company if he hadn’t lucked into it ending when Michaels was injured and most of his friends left to WCW.
7 RIGHT THING: Ignoring His Father's Wishes
Had Vince McMahon, Sr. not sold the company that would become WWE to his son, it never would have become the worldwide media conglomerate that it is today. If the elder McMahon stayed in charge the whole time, or had he chosen a successor more in line with his own sense of business ethics, WWE never would have branched out of the northeastern United States. McMahon, Sr. was a student of the territorial system of wrestling, which allowed dozens of companies to exist throughout the country on a smaller scale, occasionally crossing over and exchanging stars, but never directly competing. Vince, Jr. instantly put an end to that by aggressively trying to put all other wrestling companies out of business and become the biggest name in the industry, which he ultimately accomplished on the merits of WrestleMania (and all that followed). Vince, Jr. would later flat out admit had his father known what he planned to do, his father never would have sold him the company. Even with all that said, it was a very good thing for WWE fans that Vince, Jr. went against his father’s plans, because he managed to build an empire by doing so.
6 WRONG MOVE: Burying Ricky Steamboat
So many wrestlers have been pushed and shunted by Vince McMahon that it would be ridiculous for us to nitpick over each and every one. The sudden burial of Ricky Steamboat in 1987 immediately after his all-time classic match against Randy Savage at WrestleMania III is such a historical curiosity it needs to get mentioned, though, and the backstory stands as one of the more heinous acts of Vince McMahon as a businessman. Steamboat won the Intercontinental Championship in that landmark encounter, only to discover his wife was pregnant a few weeks later. He asked for some time off to be with her at the joyous time, and Vince responded by having Steamboat lose the title to The Honky Tonk Man. When Steamboat returned from his time off, he was seriously underutilized until he left the company and returned to the NWA. Especially given the circumstance, Vince acted extremely childishly and pettily, treating a handful of wrestling appearances as more important than the birth of his employee’s child. Steamboat’s status in the industry can’t be ignored, either, as the incident came days after one of the best matches in wrestling history, and as soon as Steamboat was back in NWA, he went on to have three more encounters considered amongst the greatest of all time (all against Ric Flair).
5 WRONG MOVE: Screwing Wendi Richter
For all the controversy surrounding the more infamous Montreal Screwjob, the so-called Original Screwjob of 1985 is typically mentioned only as a trivial side note to women’s wrestling. When looking at the facts, though, Vince’s decision to screw Wendi Richter out of the WWE Women’s Championship was significantly more ruthless than his later decision to do the same to Bret Hart with the World Championship. While Hart was threatening to leave the company, Richter merely had an unexplained contract dispute, possibly asking for slightly more money now that she had become a huge star. Make no mistake about it, either: Richter was indeed massively popular, primarily thanks to her partnership with Cyndi Lauper. Instead of sitting down with Richter and having a reasonable discussion about her contract, McMahon had The Fabulous Moolah dress up as the masked Spider Lady and legitimately pin Richter for the title against the planned script. There’s truly no rationale to why Vince would eschew standard business practices and publicly shun his employee like he did to Richter, and it’s no wonder she would never again speak to Moolah for the remainder of her life because of it. She apparently did forgive McMahon, accepting induction into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2010.
4 RIGHT Thing: Screwing Bret Hart
It might come as a surprise that despite everything we just said about Vince screwing Wendi Richter out of the Women’s Championship, we agree with Vince in his decision to do the same thing to Bret Hart some 12 years later. The difference was the stakes at hand, and the fact Bret wasn’t willing to entertain any ideas that saw him lose the WWE Championship in the ring under any circumstance. While Vince should’ve sat down and talked with Wendi Richter and didn’t, he actually tried to with Bret and failed again and again. Bret wouldn’t budge on the issue Vince cared most about, which was that Bret had to lose at Survivor Series to Shawn Michaels. Bret didn’t want to do so, citing a creative control clause, his personal problems with Michaels, and the fact Canadian fans wanted to see him win. Whether any of those arguments are valid or not, Vince was the owner of the company and the championship belt, and if Bret wasn’t going to accept those facts, Vince had to prove it to him in dramatic fashion, which is exactly what he did.
3 WRONG MOVE: Firing Alundra Blayze As Women's Champion
Arguably even worse than screwing Wendi Richter out of the WWE Women’s Championship, Vince McMahon also made the horrible decision to fire Alundra Blayze while she reigned with the same belt. Only slightly over 10 years after the Richter incident, Blayze was in her third reign as Women’s Champion since having defeated Bertha Faye, and was poised to feud Aja Kong after a highly acclaimed match at Survivor Series 1995. Due to the same financial struggles that caused Vince to fire Lord Alfred Hayes, he made the decision to cut women’s wrestling out of the product entirely and fire Alundra while she was the Women’s Champion. The focus of the story soon shifted to how Alundra responded, which was to show up on WCW Monday Nitro with the belt and throw it in a garbage can. The reality is, Alundra was simply doing to the belt what Vince did to the entire idea of women’s wrestling, something that destroyed the chance of equality existing in WWE for decades to come. Only because of outright revolution has it recently started to recover.
2 WRONG MOVE: Firing CM Punk On His Wedding Day
Vince McMahon has fired more than enough wrestlers in his day, and it would be easy to complain about the details with many of those dismissals. One in particular stands out as vindictive, though, in that he chose to specifically fire CM Punk on the same day Punk married AJ Lee. There’s no way it was a coincidence, as Punk’s exit was the highest profile story of the year up to that point, and his wedding date was a well known fact within the industry. Since then, Punk has made his many complaints about WWE well known, but he claims he still would have entertained a return to wrestling at the time. However, the way McMahon let him go served the straw on the camel’s back and made him decide he was never going to return to wrestling. When Vince later tried to apologize on The Steve Austin Show, Punk stated he believed the apology was an insincere publicity stunt, reaffirming he had no desire to return to WWE. Whether or not Punk would still consider a return to wrestling had Vince acted differently isn’t the issue, though, as intentionally making someone’s wedding day miserable is pretty much never acceptable behavior.
1 RIGHT THING: Firing The Ultimate Warrior
People don’t like speaking ill of the dead, which is why the sins of The Ultimate Warrior were almost instantly forgotten upon his 2014 passing. It isn’t our intention to sully his legacy, but the fact remains Vince McMahon was completely justified in his decision to fire Warrior in 1992. The two had already been having contractual disputes the year prior, with McMahon getting the upper hand by forcing Warrior out of the company for the better part of five months from October ’91 to WrestleMania VIII. Warrior resumed a high profile role until late 1992, when he was fired for experimenting with growth hormone. McMahon initially suspended Warrior for his drug use, later dismissing Warrior outright when he no-showed multiple events in offense. McMahon was in the middle of a steroid scandal that threatened to tear apart his empire, and firing Warrior was not only the right move, but in fact the only logical move McMahon could possibly make. McMahon was similarly making the right move in 1996 when he fired Warrior for again, though at least there were no steroids at play that time. Instead, Warrior simply started no-showing over some other contract dispute, and McMahon again laid down the hammer and proved being a top star wouldn’t always save a wrestler’s job.