Regardless of what business a person works in, it almost always pays to be friendly with the people in charge. For decades now, the people in charge of pro wrestling have been the McMahon family, led by patriarch Vince and also including his children Shane and Stephanie. In the year 2000, a fourth key member of the family was added when Stephanie married Triple H, who has become exponentially more powerful ever since.
Being a friend to one of the McMahons doesn’t necessarily mean that a wrestler is going to be WWE Champion, but it definitely helps in guaranteeing their job security. Whether or not they reach the peak of the industry, anyone who becomes close to Vince or his offspring can be assured they’ll remain protected so long as they stick with WWE. Obviously, this is the sort of perk any wrestler could easily use to their great advantage.
Not all people who hang out with Vince, Shane, Stephanie, or even Triple H are necessarily doing so for political means, let alone any ulterior motive other than friendship. The closer they get, though, the more suspicious fans will become, calling into question any success they go on to earn and wondering how they achieved it. To find some answers, keep reading to learn about 15 wrestlers you had no idea were close to the McMahon family.
15 Brie Bella
Considering Stephanie McMahon has worked exactly one match in the past 14 years, the fact she chose Brie Bella as her opponent spoke volumes about how the McMahon family feels about the Bellas. Not only have Nikki and Brie been the face of the women’s division for several years now, revolution be damned, but the McMahons also obviously trust them in the ring, Brie especially. Part of it could be that Brie has long praised Stephanie as a performer, boss, and woman, offering a great admiration for her abilities and even admitting having a “girl crush” on her employer. Oddly enough, the whole reason Stephanie and Brie were squaring off on television was that the McMahons weren’t being particularly kind to Bella’s husband Daniel Bryan, making whatever issues they had appear exaggerated at best.
14 Kevin Nash
Long before Triple H himself became a McMahon, his good friend Kevin Nash was setting the tone for how the boss would let his friends get away with almost anything. Back in the 1990s, the main talk of the wrestling world was The Kliq, and how they influenced Vince McMahon and the way he booked WWE. Considering Diesel was WWE Champion for a full year during this era, it’s easy to figure out that he was probably one of McMahon’s closest allies, and now that Triple H has found his way to power, Nash has doubled down on his friendships with the bosses. It says a whole lot about how HHH and McMahon feel about Nash that they let him walk back into the company in his 50s in a main event role, and it says even more that they still greatly respect him after that situation blew up in their faces.
13 John Cena
First and foremost, Vince McMahon is a businessman, and like most businessmen, his best friends are the people who make him the most money. As the face of WWE for over a decade now, it’s safe to say John Cena has made McMahon and his family a boatload of money, and they’ve become pretty close because of it. Granted, even without the money element, Cena has made it extremely easy for McMahon to like him by completely buying into every bit of WWE corporate branding the company attempts to shove down fans' throats. It probably isn’t a stretch to imagine Cena’s personality would make him just about any employer’s favorite. McMahon has paid Cena back for this loyalty and support by always lending his ear and listening when Cena wants other wrestlers pushed or punished, plus a long-rumored sway over any storylines involving Nikki Bella.
12 Chris Jericho
Practically every wrestler to work for WWE has at one point complained about the company’s nonstop travel schedule, which is severe enough some talent choose not to work for the McMahons because of it. Other talent have reached a certain level, and/or place in the McMahons' hearts, and are thus able to circumvent it, i.e. part-time rock star Chris Jericho. While Jericho’s relationship with the McMahons had a rocky start, his loyalty and innovations over the past decade have more than made up for it and turned him into one of Vince’s most respected employees. Very few full-time wrestlers are allowed to come and go as they please, and yet Jericho tours with Fozzy whenever he feels like it, always welcomed back to the top spot WWE keeps warm for him in his absence. On top of this flexibility, McMahon also shows his respect for Jericho by allowing him freedom in a tightly scripted era, as with his self-created List and other ad-libbed catchphrases.
11 Mae Young
While the Women’s Revolution may be a relatively new thing in WWE, the McMahon family has always had a very close place in their hearts for Hall of Famer Mae Young. For that matter, they’ve also long been fond of The Fabulous Moolah, although in later years it was Young who seemed an omnipresent force in WWE television and by proxy the McMahons' lives. Obviously, just about everyone in the business had an incredible respect for Young’s toughness and her ability to get thrown around like a wrestler at least a quarter her age, and Vince in particular must have enjoyed her bizarre sense of humor. Unlike Moolah, who always used her relationship with the McMahons to her advantage, Young never tried to get herself over or force the company’s hand in any way, making her more fondly remembered by fans in retrospect.
10 Pat Patterson
Outside of Vince McMahon himself, almost no one has been as integral to WWE booking and programming as Pat Patterson. At one point in time, Patterson was even recognized as the company’s Vice President, although it would be more accurate to simply call him McMahon’s right hand man for many decades. Patterson has also long been one of wrestling’s most innovative minds, inventing match types like the Royal Rumble and coming up with literally countless unique endings to high-profile matches. Through it all, Patterson and McMahon managed to develop an extremely close relationship, with McMahon in fact calling Pat “one of [his] all-time best friends” in a congratulatory Twitter message upon the release of his autobiography. As if that wasn’t proof enough how tight Patterson is with the McMahon family, he’s also Stephanie’s godfather, making it clear the bond between them will never break.
Starting his career as an evil dentist who turned into a poor mockery of a big-name wrestler who defected to the rival company, it almost looks like Kane immediately set out to prove to the McMahons that he would do absolutely anything they asked of him if it meant working for WWE. Over 20 years after Kane initially signed with the company, it appears the strategy has paid off, and his continued presence in main event storylines would indicate Vince and family appreciate what he’s done for them. Looking at the specifics, they better appreciate it, because Kane has gone through a whole lot—he’s burned people alive, he’s been accused of necrophilia and murder, he’s electrocuted Shane McMahon’s testicles…okay, maybe that last one wasn’t so endearing. And yet for Shane to trust a wrestler with a stunt like that nonetheless shows a great deal of trust, something the McMahons only reserve for wrestlers they truly respect.
8 Steve Austin
Professional wrestling is a funny industry where the more performers pretend they hate one another, the more the crowds will buy in to watching them do business together. Nine times out of ten, this means the performers make a lot of money and become friends, and no story makes this more clear than how Vince McMahon came to love and respect “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. As both the owner and the company and Austin’s top rival, McMahon was making outrageous amounts of money with Austin as his top star, and paid him back with undying respect to this day. According to Austin himself, while he and Vince still have their occasional real life disagreement, on the whole their relationship is pretty great despite more than 10 years of retirement on his end. Unfortunately, McMahon still doesn’t always listen, and Austin can no longer simply stun him into doing so.
7 Big Show
Similar to Kane in more ways than one, the Big Show is both a performer who has had incredible longevity in WWE as a living sideshow attraction, and has his relationship with the McMahon family to thank for it. And just like Kane, said relationship seems to have been developed through Big Show’s willingness to participate in absolutely whatever angle, storyline, or embarrassing vignette the McMahons throw at him, such as doing a stupid dance while wearing nothing but a fancy sash, top hat, and diaper. Almost every time an employer has someone willing to do things like that for a quick laugh, the two become close, and the McMahons have been no different to The Big Show. Don’t think it’s all about them mocking him, though, as Show has summarily been rewarded with incredible paychecks and a steady job doing what he loves, something that would make plenty of people dance—or cry, or whatever else the boss may have asked.
For years now, the talk of the wrestling world has been how wrestling fans and WWE officials seems to vehemently disagree on the long-term value of Roman Reigns. Vince McMahon and his executives see Reigns as the unquestionable star of the future, while audiences feel the exact opposite, and loudly voice this opinion at every chance they get. Are the McMahons not listening, or could there be some other issue at play? Well, based on reports around WrestleMania 31, the issue might be the family’s relationship with another wrestling dynasty, namely the Anoa’i family to which Reigns belongs. Specifically, Reigns’s father Sika of The Wild Samoans was reportedly furious about his son not winning the WWE Championship that night, the implication being the McMahons have simply been trying to make right ever since. While that could be an exaggeration, there’s obviously a link between the McMahons and the entire Anoa’i clan, the two families being extremely close in general.
5 Ric Flair
Even a billionaire like Vince McMahon sees a limousine-riding, Lear Jet-flying, wheeling, dealing son of a gun like Ric Flair as someone to emulate. Sure, there may be downsides to Flair’s rock and roll lifestyle, but it sure looks fun to an outsider, especially one with as voracious an appetite for life as McMahon boasts. Flair is probably even closer to Triple H, whom he has called one of his best friends, as evidenced in their onscreen mentor/protege-style relationship. The close connection with the McMahon family is hardly the first time Flair got on his boss’s good side, as former NWA President Jim Crockett was the best man at one of his weddings. Though none of the McMahons have quite repaid that honor, they did keep Flair employed through three divorces, which ultimately may have been the more friendly gesture for someone with his demeanor.
4 The Undertaker
Now that it looks like The Undertaker has wrestled his final match and is retiring from the WWE once and for all, all wrestling fans have left are bittersweet memories of the Dead Man and his time in sports entertainment. A person doesn’t even necessarily need to be an Undertaker fan to understand his impact on the business, but it certainly helps, and no one was a bigger Undertaker fan than his boss, Vince McMahon. On more than one occasion, McMahon referred to Undertaker as his favorite wrestler and employee, due to his years of loyalty and unmatched dedication to his gimmick. In turn, Undertaker always trusted McMahon’s word as final, including when he reportedly decided to end the Streak only hours before WrestleMania XXX. Of course, Undertaker also has to thank McMahon for giving him the gimmick that made him a superstar, so a sudden unexpected loss here or there may have been a small price to pay.
3 Shawn Michaels
Watch absolutely any Shawn Michaels match during the New Generation era of WWE, and you’ll be sure to hear Vince McMahon fawning over HBK on a level typically reserved for high school students talking about their crush. Granted, reports of what their friendship entailed were definitely exaggerated by scandalous rumors, but it was clear from the way he talked about his top star that McMahon saw something very special in the Heartbreak Kid. In the ensuring decades, McMahon has continued to treat Michaels with an enhanced level of respect, and fans need look no further than the behind the scenes footage of Michaels getting inducted to the Hall of Fame for proof those feelings extend to this day. With HBK’s best friend Triple H now married to Stephanie, said respect no doubt permeates through the rest of the McMahon family, as well.
2 John Bradshaw Layfield
Oftentimes bullies manage to get away with their bad behavior by wearing sycophantic masks around the people in charge, thus explaining the success of John Bradshaw Layfield in WWE. For many years, Bradshaw was little more than a loudmouthed midcarder, who suddenly found himself in WWE Championship contention by switching his gimmick to become a stereotypical Texas billionaire. While the change came out of left field to most fans, from an inside perspective it wasn’t too surprising, since Vince McMahon had been high on JBL for some time already. It was no coincidence that McMahon and JBL became closer as his WWE Championship reign continued, and these days their relationship has evolved to the point JBL is basically McMahon’s onscreen avatar. JBL has kept his job through countless bullying accusations, not to mention fan malaise in general, and the only logical explanation is his closeness to the family in charge.
1 Randy Orton
The mere fact a wrestler became a top star in WWE doesn’t necessarily mean the McMahon family adores them, although that certainly seems to be the case with Randy Orton. It didn’t happen overnight, as Orton has been in said top spot for over a decade now, and as the WWE Champion when this article was written, it looks like he’s going to remain that way for a long time now. Unlike his exciting contemporary John Cena, fans have continually derided Orton as bland and boring, yet the McMahons never backed down with his push, a clear-cut sign they see something in him the rest of the world apparently doesn’t. Another thing is that fans see Orton as is hot-headed and immature, and in this area, the McMahons also seem to turn a blind eye, letting him get away with questionable backstage antics that could easily get a lesser employee fired.