WWE has been described as Vince McMahon’s personal toy box, and like most people playing with toys, Vince regularly seems like he’s living out fantasies through the talent he employs to do battle in the ring. McMahon is the owner and CEO of WWE, but more importantly, he’s the person who gets to make the final booking decisions, and is the ultimate "pen holder" in sports entertainment. As the main writer for WWE, Vince gets to literally create perfect archetypes of characters he wishes he could be—in some cases, he actually thinks they’re exactly like he is. It can be argued how much Vince had to do with the creation of these characters versus how much the wrestlers brought to the table on their own, but there’s no doubt the success of these sports entertainers is based on McMahon’s personal connection to them.
Vince McMahon is a loud and bombastic person, but elements of his life are still mysterious and enigmatic. Other wrestlers have speculated enough about Vince’s favorites that we think we have a pretty good idea who Mr. McMahon wishes he could emulate, but we have to admit a few of these assumptions are being made based on the WWE Chairman’s personality and public persona. All of these superstars were some level of success in the company McMahon and his family have owned for decades, though, so it’s not like there’s a chance he hates any of these wrestlers; he was enough of a fan to make them champions and Hall of Famers. McMahon went on to become the most successful wrestling promoter of all time, but when he first started learning about the business from his father, his dream was to become a wrestler. That dream faded, but keep reading to learn which superstars he might have stolen certain ideas from. Here are our 15 wrestlers Vince McMahon wishes he could be the most.
15 John Bradshaw Layfield
Vince McMahon had a bit of help from his father’s connections, but he likes to frame himself as a completely self-made billionaire. John Bradshaw Layfield had help from his uncle in the wrestling world, but as many fans know, JBL has a side career as a financial investor and analyst that actually did make him extremely independently wealthy outside of WWE. Bradshaw debuted with WWE in 1995 and floundered in the midcard for several years with various iterations of the cliché “tough Texan” gimmick. He teamed with Barry Windham in honor of their family members as The New Blackjacks, but it wasn’t until Bradshaw’s second team with Faarooq as The Acolytes that he actually achieved championship success.
Starting with his 2003 self-help book Have More Money Now, Bradshaw earned arguably greater acclaim for his investments outside of WWE than he had for his accomplishments in the ring up to that point. His team with Faarooq split up soon after and he morphed into John Bradshaw Layfield, a wealthy Texas investor. Aside from the means in which they came to their fortunes, there’s really not that much different between Vince McMahon and the JBL character, and several specifics make them an obvious match. Both are rich and outspoken "patriots" with a knack for bullying and xenophobia, and both love to humiliate their enemies in the ring, only to end up getting humiliated by them in comeuppance down the line. Vince is known to micromanage his announcers an excessive amount, and the fact that JBL gets to sit in the booth every Monday night must mean he’s not too far from the boss as is.
14 The Rock
The Rock is the most electrifying superstar in sports entertainment history and has truly transcended WWE, so it’s really a no-brainer Vince McMahon wishes he could be The Great One. As early as Rocky’s debut at the 1996 Survivor Series, Vince was fawning him with praises from ringside, and quickly named The Rock his Corporate Champion by 1998. This played out on television as a heel move, but there’s no doubt the future success of The Rock is everything Vince wished a corporate champion could be and more. While The Rock has natural charisma for miles, nothing is more corporate and fake than a constantly smiling Hollywood movie star, and Vince McMahon wishes he could achieve that level of mainstream fame.
WWE hasn’t had any particularly successful ventures into the film industry, but the existence of WWE Films is proof they’d really like to. Vince is too busy to be a leading man in the films, but he does have a major role on the WWE Network cartoon Camp WWE, showing he loves to be the center of attention on whatever screen he’s on. The Rock actually gets to be the center of attention in movies and TV shows watched by exponentially more viewers than ever watch Vince’s programming, and as a result Vince is jealous enough to beg Rocky back on TV in untouchable, ultra-cool roles whenever his agent decides he’s available.
13 Dr. Jerry Graham
Despite the fact this list is based on the perception of WWE as Vince McMahon’s personal toy box, Jerry Graham is one wrestler who never was part of his collection. Graham was, however, one of McMahon’s father’s favorite toys, and as a result he became the favorite wrestler of a young Vince McMahon Jr., as well. It was watching Graham that Vince Jr. decided he wanted to be a wrestler, and although Vince Sr. put that idea to rest, the younger McMahon never let the dream die and wound up inspired by Graham in other ways—Graham has been cited as one of the potential sources behind McMahon’s famous strut.
Just like Vince McMahon, Jerry Graham sold out Madison Square Garden on a record number of occasions, and created his own wrestling empire out of his Graham family. Although the Graham family wasn’t a real family, they did end up as successful as the McMahon’s relative to their era—“Superstar” Billy Graham would become a WWE World Champion, and Jerry held the United States Tag Team titles a record 6-times with his “brothers” Eddie and Crazy Luke. Curiously, McMahon has yet to induct his childhood favorite into the WWE Hall of Fame, but we stand steadfast in our belief that he would have loved the chance to switch lives with him at one point.
Current WWE fans are growing increasingly dissatisfied with Vince McMahon’s apparent infatuation with Roman Reigns, but this is hardly the first time McMahon took a shine to a tall, muscular man with great hair and forced him to play a character that didn’t fit him in the slightest, thereby making the fans hate him. Over 20 years ago, virtually the same thing happened when Kevin Nash broke through in WWE as Diesel. Diesel became popular in early 1994 as Shawn Michaels’ destructive bodyguard, absolutely dominating multiple wrestlers at a time while Michaels looked cool and made jokes at ringside. When he won the WWE World Championship in November of that year, everything that was edgy about him was immediately stripped away in favor of Vince McMahon’s archetype smiling babyface.
It’s always been pretty clear what Vince McMahon likes in a wrestler. He should be tall, muscular, have long hair, love to kiss babies, and always shake hands with children. After a year as a take no prisoners badass, Diesel instantly turned into a smiling goofball when he was deemed the face of the company, and the only logical explanation is that the smiling goofball is what Vince thinks a champion should be. Since Vince is the ultimate wrestling champion in his own mind, he must want to be a whole lot like he booked Diesel to be that year, despite the fact that it almost drove his company into the ground.
11 "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair
Vince McMahon has a reputation for not allowing wrestlers who proved their value outside of his company to success within WWE, as evidenced by his treatment of former WCW and NWA stars like Scott Steiner, Booker T, Sting, Harley Race, and Dusty Rhodes. An exception to this rule is “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who holds the record for the shortest time between his official WWE debut and winning the WWE World Championship, and with good reason. Flair is a limousine riding, Lear jet flying, wheelin’-dealin,’ kiss-stealin’ son of a gun, who just so happens to be everything Vince McMahon wishes he was.
Ric Flair always had a dozen beautiful women on his arms, two drinks in his hands, and was telling the best story in the bar. And by all accounts, Ric lived his character, which is why Vince loved him from the moment they met, even though Vince had nothing to do with the creation of “The Nature Boy.” The fact Vince and Ric have been working together for decades now despite Ric’s regular problems with his behavior should show there’s still a lot of mutual respect between the two, and Vince probably still wishes he could be living life like he was Space Mountain.
10 "Ravishing" Rick Rude
Vince McMahon has hired an endless string of gorgeous women in their early 20’s to treat him like he was a sexual dynamo, fawning over his every move, but he never got thousands of women to actually scream while he removed his robe. “Ravishing” Rick Rude called himself every woman’s dream, and although we do have the knowledge that there are different women with different types, it’d be hard to picture a woman who didn’t at least understand why the rest of them were dreaming about Rick. Rude was blessed with arguably the best physique in WWE history, and as a man who still works out for several hours every day despite a monstrously busy schedule, Vince McMahon knows a thing or two about how hard it is to build that kind of body.
Vince has been on the cover of multiple athletic and bodybuilding style magazines even as he reaches his 70s, so it’s not like he’s particularly jealous of his wrestlers for their bodies. However, there’s a point that even Vince would have to be jealous of, and Rude’s ability to get women in the audience screaming for him every night pushes him past that point. Of course, when it comes to Vince wishing he was a wrestler due to the women that come along with the fame, there are a few other routes he could go…
9 Val Venis
Even with WWE’s track record of the most fantastical and idiosyncratic gimmicks somehow finding their way to the top of the card, Val Venis remains one of the most unlikely successes in wrestling history. Venis was a talented wrestler, but his big breakthrough came as a very literal wrestler/adult film star, with his introduction to Raw audiences coming by way of his films, co-starring the likes of Jenna Jameson. What sounds like a silly joke actually became extremely popular, and Venis turned into one of the more decorated WWE superstars of the '90s, winning Intercontinental, European, and Tag Team championships.
Anybody with a rudimentary understanding of Vince McMahon knows why the WWE CEO is at least a little bit jealous of Val Venis. Vince has made a career out of getting women half his age to treat him like he was an adult film star, and allowing Venis to experience actual adult film stars doing that to him seems like the conclusion to Vince’s fantasies. Virtually every woman working for WWE during Venis’s tenure with the company eventually became infatuated with him, and unlike the ladies' usual infatuation with Vince McMahon (which would mostly be relegated to heavy petting), Venis got the ladies in bed on the first date with an almost flawless success rate. Vince might think adult films are a little beneath him, though…he is a professional, after all. With that in mind…
8 The Godfather
The Godfather is one of the more curious inductees to the WWE Hall of Fame, so perhaps a personal connection with the Chairman of WWE could be an answer to some of the confusion. Charles Wright debuted in WWE as the voodoo inspired Papa Shango, and later spent time as the Supreme Fighting Machine, Kama, neither of which were gimmicks Vince McMahon likely had any sustained interest in becoming himself. During the Attitude Era, Wright gradually morphed from Kama Mustafa to The Godfather, a fun loving pimp who got out of matches by offering his opponents the services of his ladies.
The Godfather wasn’t a huge success in the ring, but he did manage to win the WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team championships on one occasion each. The true success of the Godfather, however, wasn’t measured in gold, but rather by the incredible number of gorgeous women always surrounding him and performing at his beck and call. WWE has been called trashy by some of its harshest critics, and those critics no doubt see Vince as a smut peddler who parades countless young women around in their bathing suits, but there’s no real indication Vince would disagree with this description of him, nor would it particularly bother him. In fact, Vince seems to revel in it, and it’s almost surprising he’s never gone all the way with it and straight up gone into business with The Godfather.
7 Roman Reigns
Like most of the WWE universe, we’re not exactly sure what Vince McMahon sees in Roman Reigns, but there’s no denying that it must be something very special to the Chairman of WWE. Reigns debuted in WWE near the end of 2012, and less than four years later has been anointed as the most important wrestler on the roster, whether the fans like it or not. Reigns has the trademark look of a wrestler, with big muscles, long hair, and a winning ironic smile, but that’s about all he has, and fans aren’t connecting with him like Vince has. This hasn’t stopped Vince from shoving Reigns down our throats, and that’s why we’re so confident that McMahon must want to emulate Reigns in order to treat him like that.
As we mentioned earlier, the WWE Universe already went through this problem when Diesel was WWE World Champion throughout 1995. The crowd doesn’t relate to Reigns on the level that Vince does, and the McMahons aren’t really doing anything to explain their infatuation with him. Reigns is already a 3-time WWE World Champion, and each of his runs with the title was more hated by fans than the last. McMahon has used his announcer avatars Michael Cole and JBL to tell us how great Roman is and how much we should love him, but fans still aren’t biting, making Reigns one of McMahon’s most curious favorite wrestlers.
6 Triple H
Triple H is married to Vince McMahon’s daughter, and despite the truth behind an insane rumor, we don’t think there’s any need to march right into the creepy territory with this one, as the CEO has plenty of reasons he wishes he were The Game, Stephanie McMahon notwithstanding. The Cerebral Assassin has won the WWE World Championship 14 times, and though he’s lost as much as he’s won, Triple H has dominant victories over virtually every major WWE superstar to step into the ring with him. Triple H treats his opponents the way Vince treats his enemies in the real world- with ruthless aggression strong enough to predate McMahon coining the phrase.
Triple H rules with an iron fist over the wrestling empire Vince built, and Vince beams with pride as he watches his son-in-law gradually prove he deserves to sit on Vince’s throne. While Stephanie is obviously the McMahon closest to HHH, Vince and Hunter are also extremely close friends, and propensities for violence and bodybuilding give them plenty of time to share stories and hang out at family gatherings. Oh, and that crazy rumor? Vince wanted to be revealed on television as the father of Stephanie’s child. So, there’s one thing Triple H has going for him that Vince definitely wishes could’ve been him.
5 Shawn Michaels
Any fan with a subscription to the WWE Network needs to look no further than any episode of Monday Night Raw from 1994 to 1997 and listen to Vince McMahon beam with joy at HBK’s every move to know that Vin Man had a serious obsession with Shawn Michaels. Michaels was flashy, funny, cool, and stole the show almost every single night with his showmanship and charisma, which placed him boundlessly ahead of the rest of his competition at the time. McMahon praised HBK’s every move because HBK was definitely his top talent, and one thing we know about Vince is he only pushes people to the top if he personally sees them as a superstar.
HBK is smaller and less overtly masculine than the majority of the wrestlers on this list, but he still has all of the important qualities Vince McMahon wishes he had. Women love Michaels, wrestlers envy him, and fans around the world agree he was at one point the hands down best at what he did, despite his personal behavior making him look like a prima donna at times. Considering Vince is known to look like a prima donna as well and lashes out like a spoiled child if he’s ever criticized for it, he’d love to have Michaels capacity for forgiveness, let alone HBK’s natural ability to draw a massive crowd with his smile (as long as he doesn’t lose it).
4 Hulk Hogan
When Vince McMahon decided to take his father’s regional wrestling company and turn it into a global empire, he did so on the back of The Immortal Hulk Hogan. Hogan and WWE have had their ups and downs, but McMahon has never soured on Hogan’s character nor the power of Hulkamania—and both Hogan and Vince have always bled white, red, and blue, at least in their minds, and on their sleeves when it’s appropriate. We haven’t yet touched on Vince’s self-perception as a patriot, but when he and Hogan co-created Hulkamania, there was a reason a love of the United States was deeply embedded into Hogan’s mythology.
Hulk Hogan in the 1980s could be pointed to as Vince McMahon’s archetype for a successful wrestler. Hogan brought plenty to the table on his own with his muscles, height, and ability to cut a promo that got kids to love him, but the unbeatable "never say die" character fueled by love of his country and the support of fans everywhere was highly influenced by Vince. Vince might not have wanted to be the Hogan character as a wrestler, but he definitely would’ve wanted Hogan’s success, physique, and general standing within the mainstream media. And Hogan isn’t the only All-American Vince McMahon wanted to emulate…
3 "Made In The USA" Lex Luger
Lex Luger has gone through several character iterations in and out of WWE, and although Vince McMahon would probably always be a little envious of Luger’s physique, there’s one era of Luger’s career in particular the WWE CEO crafted after his own image of himself. Luger debuted in WWE at the 1993 Royal Rumble as “The Narcissist,” but that gimmick only lasted a few months before he was quickly repackaged as “The All-American” and started a tour of the United States on the Lex Express. Luger immediately was elevated from being a nobody in WWE into being the primarily replacement for Hulk Hogan after he went to WCW, and it was Luger’s love of America that brought him to the top.
Of course, Vince McMahon is the one who really loves America, or at least he says he does. Nowadays WWE holds their Tributes to the Troops and regularly celebrates patriotism with gimmick matches and celebrations whenever a live event or television show overlaps with a public holiday, but prior to constant television, WWE needed ultra-patriotic characters to let Vince’s ethnocentrism shine through on his programming. Luger filled this role on a greater scale than anyone else before or since, draping himself in the colors of the American flag and always standing up for Old Glory for sheer love of his country. Vince would like us to believe he’d do the same, but in reality, we know which character he’s really the most like…
2 "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase
Ted DiBiase is a WWE Hall of Famer and the man who introduced the Million Dollar Championship to the WWE Universe. As many fans know, Vince McMahon wanted to be a wrestler when he was growing up, and the gimmick he invented for himself was that of “The Million Dollar Man.” Blessed with arguably excessive wealth greater than any rational person would know what to do with, The Million Dollar Man always gets his way by paying off the poor and disadvantaged to do it for him. DiBiase was a world-renowned technical wrestler in the late '70s and early '80s, but he went from a great wrestler to a household name when he started wearing ornate suits and throwing money at peasants, and the only difference between that and what Vince McMahon did is that McMahon’s fortune was real.
DiBiase was the cartoon version of evil corporate greed almost a full decade before Vince created the villainous Mr. McMahon character he still portrays to this day. There’s no way to look at the history of WWE and deny the connections, especially considering both of them at one point led their own corporation. Another difference between McMahon and DiBiase is that McMahon actually ended up more successful, actually winning the WWE World Championship that always eluded Ted, but perhaps that’s just a sign the billion dollar man always gets what he really wants, regardless of whether or not he gets to live through his employees. Sometimes, he even plays role reversal for the ultimate wish fulfillment.
1 "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
Vince McMahon has on several occasions referred to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as “the greatest WWE superstar in history.” Austin has also been called The Texas Rattlesnake, The Bionic Redneck, and the World’s Toughest Son of a Bitch, and Vince McMahon wishes he had a single nickname as badass as any of those or the dozens of others bestowed upon Austin over the years. More than anything regarding his wrestling prowess, what McMahon loves the most about Austin is his undying resolve in the face of an oppressive authority. Of course, in WWE, that authority is Mr. McMahon, but in McMahon’s role reversal fantasy, that authority is the entire world, and McMahon is fighting back against people who try to tell him he’s too loud, too violent, or just not good enough to grace their televisions.
McMahon has been taken to court more times than we can count, but he usually wins. That includes a highly publicized extended trial against the United States government alleging McMahon of distributing steroids, but McMahon was able to take down the government, just like Stone Cold was able to take down McMahon a few years later in the ring. While Mr. McMahon is the embodiment of corporate authority, Vince McMahon himself hates big business and sees himself as the eternal underdog. There’s nothing Vince would rather do than flip off the government and give them a Stunner, but he can’t—so he let’s Stone Cold do it to him instead.