Even people who have never watched a single professional wrestling match know the McMahon family have controlled sports entertainment for the better part of the past century. Especially since Vincent Kennedy McMahon purchased the company from his father in the early 80s, WWE has been the number one promotion in pro wrestling, and even before Vince, Jr. took it national, Vince, Sr. was constantly expanding and increasing the success of his small, territorial wrestling promotion, as well. In fact, Vince, Sr. wasn’t even the first McMahon to get involved in the wrestling business, as his father Jess McMahon likewise promoted wrestling as far back as 1915, although he got his start as a boxing promoter before moving into the more scripted forms of sports entertainment.
The McMahon family aren’t in general people who lead their lives like open books, but thanks to his fame and relative importance in the entertainment world, most wrestling fans know a decent amount about Vince, Jr. by now. However, the older generations of McMahon’s are more of a mystery, even to people who have been watching wrestling for many years. Perhaps he’s best known as the man who founded WWE, but even that is at best a half-truth, showing just how cloudy the average fan’s perception of this still very important figure in WWE history. Keep reading if you need to know what we mean by that, and plenty more about the man who helped lay the foundation for what pro wrestling is today, in our list of 15 facts you didn’t know about Vince McMahon, Sr.
15 His Father Created The Company That Would Become WWE
This first one is such a big one we blew the surprise already in our intro, and the fact we had to do that for the very first entry just goes to show how little most people know about Vince, Sr.’s life. Enough is known that we’re going to tell you all about him as this list moves on, but first, we’ll focus on a person who even less is known about, despite the fact he could be even more helpful in unlocking the mystery that is McMahon: Vince, Sr.’s father, Jess McMahon.
Jess McMahon’s parents were Irish immigrants living in Manhattan when he was born, and early in life, he and his brother Roderick actually co-promoted the first shows financed by McMahon’s shortly after the turn of the 20th century. They started by promoting boxing, and though most of their shows were regional New York events only, they at least once promoted a huge match featuring then boxing world champion Jack Johnson. The McMahon’s also sponsored a basketball team for a short while, but Jess would eventually split from his brother and start promoting wrestling shows around 1915. Although wrestling waxed and waned in popularity until television was invented, McMahon kept his territory running for several decades, and was known as one of the best bookers in the area. He ultimately teamed with Toots Mondt to form the Capitol Wrestling Corporation in 1952, but died two years later, leaving everything to Vince, Sr.
14 He Co-Founded The WWWF With Toots Mondt
Jess McMahon passed away in November of 1954 and left his shares of the Capitol Wrestling Corporation to his son, Vince. Vince took over all of his father’s duties while still teaming with former wrestler-turned-promoter Toots Mondt, which included the fact the company acted as an NWA affiliate. In 1963, they had a dispute with their NWA connections, and decided to form a new company called the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Mondt eventually left the company in the late 60’s, and McMahon rejoined the NWA shortly thereafter. The WWWF would again splinter with the NWA in the early 80s, by which point they dropped one of the W’s, ironically around the same time they actually became worldwide by having their World title defended in a series of matches held in Japan. Vince, Jr. was also in charge at that point.
While it’s true Mondt left the company fairly early on, and therefore McMahon was in fact solely in charge during the first pieces of expansion in company history, many feel his contributions are being overlooked by modern day WWE. As of 2016, Mondt still isn’t even in the WWE Hall of Fame, despite having been equal partners with McMahon in founding the company. Mondt is absolutely never mentioned on TV, and sadly he passed away in poverty in 1976.
13 Vince, Sr. Left His Wife and Vince, Jr. Shortly After Jr. Was Born
Vince McMahon, Sr. never became anywhere near as wealthy as his son eventually would, but he was pretty successful for his time. Therefore, it’s strange that when Vince McMahon was a baby until he was 12 years old, he lived with his mother and a string of stepfathers in virtual poverty. Unfortunately, the McMahon family story isn’t always a pretty one, and the fact is Vince, Sr. left his first wife Vickie Askew when Vince, Jr. was only a baby, taking their other son, Rod, along with him.
We may never know why Vince, Sr. left his family, but we do know that Vince, Jr.’s life was pretty horrible as a direct result of said departure. Vince, Jr. suffered through a series of increasingly abusive stepfathers, one of which he hated so much he wishes he could have killed him in retrospect. Vince, Jr. can at least take two pieces of solace from the ordeal, in that his desire to escape the abusive environment is what gradually led him into the arms of his future wife, Linda, and the fact that when he finally did get to meet his father, he would instantly be welcomed into a world the young Vinnie Lupton could only have dreamed of.
12 He Reconnected With Vince, Jr. When Junior Was 12
Vince, Jr. finally met his father when he was 12 years old, and the two connected instantly and powerfully, instantly forgetting the 12 years of mistakes that may have preceded them getting together. Vince, Jr. especially loved his father’s job, and would accompany him to shows at Madison Square Garden almost every weekend he got the chance. Vince, Jr.’s favorite wrestler was Dr. Jerry Graham, but he liked to imitate all of his father’s top grapplers, and no doubt admired his father and the fact he was in charge of all of these behemoth men, as well.
Vince, Jr. also loved his father for the fact that despite the gruffness of his profession and the initial distance between them, Vince, Sr. never beat or hurt Vince, Jr. like his various stepfathers did. Vince, Jr. essentially spent every minute of his life with his father or engrossed in his father’s profession after they met, aside from the times he decided to spend with the still teenaged Linda, instead. This greatly echoed Vince, Sr. himself as a child, who would often play in the halls of Madison Square Garden as his father promoted boxing matches before him, and the McMahon’s would go on to continue matching each other’s life stories as time went on for decades.
11 He Felt Promoters Shouldn't Be Part Of The Show
Every WWE fan today knows who Vince McMahon, Jr. and Sr. are today due to the countless efforts of Vince, Jr. and his many employees to remind us who’s in charge of sports entertainment in what sometimes feels like dozens of times per week. This is in stark contrast to the philosophy of Vince, Sr. and many other promoters at the time, who strongly believed that wrestling promoters should never have anything to do with the actual product, and in fact, they should almost never appear on camera in the first place.
We’ll explain the few times Vince, Sr. broke his own rules in a little bit (you had to see that coming—McMahon’s can’t resist the camera), but for now, we’ll talk about the business strategy. The idea was that since wrestling is entirely for entertainment and not a legitimate athletic contest, the inclination someone is booking and writing the show could completely blow the lid off the joint. Since this was long before Vince, Jr. shattered kayfabe and admitted wrestling was fake, it was easier just to pretend there was no booker altogether, and hide them behind the scenes without making up some fake job to keep them on camera.
10 He Forbid Vince, Jr. From Wrestling
Obviously, Vince, Jr. would stand in stark contrast to his father’s decision to stay off camera, but he naturally wanted to go even further with it than he eventually did. Very shortly after he met his father and learned about the family trade, Vince, Jr. had dreams of himself becoming a professional wrestler. He thought about it so much he came up with a gimmick for himself, and started to get into the incredible shape that he maintains to have even at his advanced age. Vince, Jr. might have been ready from a young age, but he wouldn’t actually debut in the ring until 1998, and it was his father who stopped him from debuting for has long as he did.
Vince, Sr. not only felt promoters themselves should stay off camera; he clearly thought this should extend to the promoter’s entire family, as well. There was also the fact that Vince, Sr. knew he would one day be giving his company over to his son, and that couldn’t happen if his son was on camera all the time, since it would break his cardinal rule. Ultimately, Vince, Sr. would break that rule anyway when he caved in and allowed Vince, Jr. to debut as an announce in the late 60’s, but he still made his son promise not to step into the ring…at least for a couple decades.
9 He Still Wound Up On Camera On Special Occasions
Vince McMahon, Sr. might seem like a pretty cut and dry businessman so far, but he’s also a McMahon, so here’s the part where he becomes hypocritical and confusing just like his many progenies. Vince, Sr. said he thought the promoter should never appear on camera or as part of the wrestling show, but there were at least a handful of major, historic matches in WWE history where he went so far as to be seated at ringside as one of the officials overseeing the match. Most notably, McMahon can be seen during a Madison Square Garden “Alley Fight” between Pat Patterson and Sgt. Slaughter.
Although he appeared at ringside on a few occasions, it would be fair enough to claim that he was never named when he did so, and his appearances served more as a historical curiosity than any sort of kayfabe admittance he was an actual WWE official. However, in a much stranger move, Vince, Sr. also appeared in a film called The Wrestler. Filmed in 1974 and nothing like the Mickey Rourke classic from 2008, The Wrestler starred actual wrestler Verne Gagne, and a slew of other well-known grapplers of the era. Vince, Sr. appeared practically as himself, one of several NWA promoters, all played by their real life counterparts. This’ll get even more confusing when you hear about Vince, Sr.’s biggest faux pas…
8 He Forbid Hulk Hogan From Appearing In Rocky III
Vince, Sr. was clearly a traditionalist in his wrestling promotion tactics, as we’ve seen again and again thus far on our list. His most steadfast rule was that promoters shouldn’t appear as part of the wrestling product, but he also felt that wrestlers should remain wrestlers and athletes only, as opposed to the multifaceted actors/singers/dancers/superstars of today.
Therefore, one of his last acts as promoter of WWE before handing the company over to his son was telling one of his top heels, Hulk Hogan, that he couldn’t take time off to co-star in Rocky III. Hogan did the film anyway and become a huge star, causing Vince to fire him and the Hulkster to work for the AWA during his first few years of mega stardom.
Luckily for WWE, the AWA and its leader Verne Gagne was even more inept in recognizing star power, and Hogan left that company to return to McMahon-land in only a few short years. However, this shortsighted business move was the first sign it could soon be time for McMahon to give up the company to a younger generation, as even he had to see that he made a mistake when the movie was a huge hit and everybody wanted to see the real Thunderlips.
7 He Was Friendly With His Competition
While we’ve focused on what happens in front of the camera when discussing Vince, Sr.’s traditionalism, another important aspect of how he dealt with the wrestling world around him differed from how his son would handle things in the future. While Vince, Sr. would exit and rejoin the NWA on multiple occasions throughout his career, he always held a general degree of respect for his competitors in that he never directly attempted to put anybody out of business. Before Vince, Jr. changed wrestling history, companies generally worked together in terms of dealing with workers' contracts and schedules, making sure everybody could maintain a certain degree of success in their own little areas around the country.
Vince McMahon, Jr. was able to destroy this network the second his father handed him the company because he outright admitted he didn’t have that same respect for his competitors that his predecessor did. In fairness, Vince, Jr. did seem to have a small amount of regard for his competition when he first started out, in that he has since inducted some of them into his Hall of Fame as noteworthy pieces of wrestling history. By today, however, Vince, Jr. can’t have the same respect for his competition that his father did—he put them all out of business, so there’s nothing left to respect.
6 He Was Sued By Bruno Sammartino
Thanks to Vince, Jr. breaking all of Vince Sr.’s rules and appearing on television almost nonstop since he made his announcing debut in the late 60’s, we all know full well about Vince, Jr.’s many run in’s with the law. Not only has Vince, Jr. had a few problems with the IRS and been under suspicion of steroid distribution, but he’s also been taken to court by his former employees dozens of times, and amazingly, this is another thing that he had in common with his father. Most WWE fans know Bruno Sammatino had a long standing feud with the company until he made good and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in in 2013, but few people probably realize the legal troubles between Sammartino and the McMahons actually goes back generations.
Sammartino first sued the company that would become WWE in 1979. Sammartino was alleging Vince, Sr. owed him a pretty substantial amount of money for a large number of television appearances he was never paid for. Sammartino lost the case, but surprisingly he somehow made up with the McMahons to become an announcer only a few short years after the incident. Of course, he would leave the company even more infamously once again not long after that, complaining about an increasingly violent and family unfriendly product.
5 Vince, Jr. Isn't His Only Offspring
We mentioned this one really quickly earlier, and it might have turned some heads, so let’s dive into the story a little bit more. Vince McMahon, Sr. didn’t only have one son in Vince, Jr., but he also had another son named Rod McMahon. Rod is slightly older, and perhaps it’s for this reason that Vince, Sr. took Rod with him when he left the infant Vince, Jr. with his mother. Whatever the case, after Vince, Jr. reconnected with his father, he also reconnected with his brother and claims that the two get along reasonably well to this day. Despite the fact they maintain a solid brotherly relationship, Rod has only been mentioned on WWE television a small handful of times in throwaway comments by announcers, and wide portions of the fan base still don’t know he exists to this day.
We don’t know much about Rod, either, but a little bit about the illusive McMahon brother has come to light over the years. He apparently works in the steel industry, where he is moderately successful, and though he has yet to appear on WWE as we just mentioned, there actually was once a plan for him to do so. When Vince, Jr.’s limousine infamously blew up on Raw, Rod was supposed to attend his funeral, but of course, that whole idea fell apart a few weeks later during pro wrestling’s darkest saga.
4 He Sold His Company To Vince, Jr. In 1982
Vince, Sr. knew that times were changing and his health was in decline, so he sold his wrestling company to his son and daughter-in-law, who absorbed the then World Wrestling Federation into their existing company, Titan Sports. As we all know, that company would eventually turn into what is called WWE today, and sports entertainment hasn’t been the same since Vince, Sr. decided to hand things over to his son.
As soon as Vince, Jr. took over, big changes were in store, but Vince, Sr. was at a point where he was too sick to really enjoy what was happening. His son had rehired Hulk Hogan and was starting to make him into a star, at the same time slowly edging out Vince, Sr.’s “golden boy” Bob Backlund. Vince, Sr. was worried that his son was going to step over his bounds or do something to drive the company into the ground, but nonetheless supported Vince, Jr. from the distance of his hospital bed. Vince started to rapidly expand the company across the globe, and Vince, Sr. could only wince and worry about how risky things were looking, and wonder about the future of his family tradition after he passed on.
3 He Died Months After Hulkamania Was Born
Vince, Sr. was worried about his son expanding his company on a national level, but sold it to him anyway due to his ailing health and developing pancreatic cancer. Vince, Sr. got to see the very begin of his son’s efforts pay off along with the rest of the wrestling world, when in January of 1984, Hulk Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion for the first time. It was the birth of Hulkamania, and although Vince, Sr. had disapproved of the charismatic blonde superstar appearing in Rocky III, even he had to understand that his son was making a logical move when he decided to make The Hulkster the champ.
Unfortunately for the entire McMahon family, just as things were started to look up in a major way, the patriarch succumbed to his disease. Vince, Sr. died of pancreatic cancer on May 24, 1984. His son barely had time to grieve with the rapid expansion of his company, but many wrestlers working for him at the time have stories explaining just how terribly it truly did crush Vince, who was understandably overwrought with sadness for the first few days after he learned his father was gone. Nonetheless, the young Vince, Jr. would take his father’s company to unforeseen heights in his memory, honoring Vince, Sr. as often as he could along the way.
2 He's In Multiple Halls of Fame
Vince, Sr. never wanted to appear on camera when he was alive, and although fans caught him doing so a few times and it’s since been reported endlessly on lists like ours, he practically got his wish while he was alive. That all changed after he passed away, though, after which he almost immediately started getting inducted into every wrestling related Hall of Fame there is. In fact, it was only a few days after his death that he was inducted into the Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame, an honor Vince, Jr. therefore proudly accepted on his behalf in his wake.
Vince McMahon, Sr. has since been inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, and of course, the WWE Hall of Fame. Vince, Sr. surprisingly wasn’t inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame until its third year of existence, 1996, but nonetheless served as the foundation for the marquee entry that still exists with the Hall of Fame ceremonies to this day. He was inducted by his grandson, Shane McMahon. In 2016, WWE would take the concept of honoring its co-founder to yet another level by creating The Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award, which was awarded to his granddaughter, Stephanie.
1 He Would Hate Modern Day WWE
We’ve mentioned again and again that Vince, Sr. wouldn’t approve of this or that thing that his son is constantly doing on television, and also brought up over and over the fact he considered himself a staunch wrestling traditionalist, but we didn’t put the pieces together until the end for the most surprising fact about Vince McMahon, Sr. Based on all of the bits of evidence we have on the man, we can pretty definitively state he would not at all be a fan of modern WWE, and even his son has admitted as much early on after taking the company away from him.
While we admit it’s not really possible to know Vince, Sr.’s opinion on the modern wrestling product for sure, we know that he’d at least require a serious level of adjustment to the fact not only are wrestlers regularly allowed time off for movies, but that movie stars are occasionally allowed time in the ring to wrestle. Not to mention the fact that his family aren’t only promoters/wrestlers, but almost all of his progeny have held major wrestling championships, and there’s likely more to come when his great-grandkids start stepping in the squared circle. Oddly enough, though, we think the thing he would hate most is the fact his own name is plastered all over the product—he couldn’t have been more clear about the fact he didn’t want to be on screen. Except for those few times he was. But then again, he was a McMahon. They’re a strange bunch.