Vincent Kennedy McMahon assumed control of the WWE from his ailing father at the age of 37 in 1982. McMahon, a 1968 graduate of East Carolina University, ditched decades of tradition and invaded other wrestling promoters’ territories to expand his company. McMahon, who formally withdrew from the National Wrestling Alliance in 1983, envisioned his federation becoming the world’s premier brand. First named a billionaire by Forbes in 2000, McMahon sought a charismatic, herculean-like figure to elevate his organization and achieve this goal. Shortly thereafter, McMahon began to aggressively lure Hulk Hogan away from Verne Gagne’s Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association (AWA). The rasslin’ bigwig’s brilliant coup worked and the 6-foot-8, 300-pound Hogan abandoned the AWA and rejoined the WWF in December 1983.
“We get to St. Paul on Christmas night and Hogan doesn’t show up,” recounted Verne’s son, Greg Gagne.
“I called him up and said, ‘Hulkster, what’s going on?’ [Hulk said], ‘Well, imma go to New York.’ I then said, ‘You had an agreement with us until February. You know what, here’s the deal, if you wanna go to New York, do what everybody has done in this profession from years past. Fulfill all your commitments, go through Christmas week, and if you want to go, then go.’ [Hulk said], ‘Well, Vince paid me more money not to show up to the matches.’ That’s what he said to me. So, that was it.”
Although an inept grappler, Hogan’s look and presence was precisely what McMahon coveted. Hogan helped McMahon revolutionize the industry and sports entertainment reached unprecedented heights in the 1980s. While Hogan was what McMahon seeks in a superstar, countless scrappers have been discouraged because, for one reason or another, the controversial promoter restrained their success.
Thus, let’s analyze eight wrestlers that McMahon wanted to succeed and seven that he didn’t.
14 WANTED TO: RAZOR RAMON
Vince McMahon signed journeyman Scott Hall to a deal in May 1992. However, during contract negotiations, McMahon admitted that he was uncertain how to use the 6-foot-7, 280-pound Hall. An Army brat, Hall wrongly presumed that McMahon was familiar with Al Pacino’s character, Tony Montana, in “Scarface.” Consequently, Hall began speaking and acting like the Cuban-born Montana and McMahon loved the gimmick.
“I said ‘Did you ever see Scarface?’ He said, ‘No,’” recalled Hall, 58, to PWMania.com.
“I went, ‘Say hello to the bad guy.’ I just started doing that shtick and he loved it and he thought I was a genius. I’m ripping off the movie and he thinks I’m a genius. Of course I never corrected him about the genius part, but that’s how it all came about.”
Hall, who won the WWE Intercontinental Championship roughly a year after debuting, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2014.
13 DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED: RUSEV
Rusev, a spectacularly nimble behemoth, possesses nearly every attribute that Vince McMahon desires in a sports entertainer. Rusev’s wife, Lana, recalled McMahon’s initial impression of her husband. The blond bombshell also recalled that McMahon was unsure if he wanted the lovebirds to continue performing together.
“Vince loved Rusev,” said Lana, 32.
“He was like, 'I want the monster' and we had been a gimmick together in NXT and everyone loved us together as a gimmick. And I remember (Triple H) pulling me aside and he's like, 'Vince is still deciding, does he want Rusev by himself or does he want him with you?' And he was like, 'so I just want to be honest with you and up front.’”
Lana and the 6-foot, 305-pound Rusev originally appeared at the 2014 Royal Rumble. Although the rugged powerlifter didn’t win the annual event, it was evident that Rusev was going to be penned as an unstoppable force. “The Bulgarian Brute” proceeded to overwhelm all challengers for nearly two years. Then, after Lana announced the pair’s engagement on social media in October 2015 and destroyed an angle, McMahon shamelessly buried Rusev. The 32-year-old Rusev is now portrayed as an odd form of comic relief who works as a glorified jobber.
12 WANTED TO SUCCEED: BIG CASS
Big Cass became a heel when he backstabbed his longstanding partner, Enzo Amore, on the June 19 edition of Raw. The 7-foot, 285-pound Big Cass is exactly the type of towering showman that Vince McMahon desires. As written by Alexander Podgorski of FanSided, “Cass is a big man, standing around 7 feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds. McMahon absolutely loves big men, owing to the belief that a bigger man will always win in a real fight.”
Big Cass, a Queens native who studied economics and played center for the New York University Violets men’s basketball program, is bound to receive a massive push as a villainous singles competitor. With McMahon’s backing, the 30-year-old Big Cass will be gifted major storylines and remain a title contender for the foreseeable future.
11 DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED: DOLPH ZIGGLER
Dolph Ziggler is handsome, muscular, charismatic and a world-class sports entertainer. Predictably, although a 6-foot, 220-pound individual is considered large in everyday life, Ziggler is too diminutive for Vince McMahon. Hence, Ziggler has been handed a dearth of intriguing plots since debuting as a part of The Spirit Squad in January 2006. As Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer wrote, “Dolph Ziggler has been the victim of as many stop-and-start pushes of anyone in history. The crowds always get behind him for the start, no matter how many false teases there are, and then a few weeks later, the company always takes him back down.”
Even McMahon’s chief sidekick, Pat Patterson, vouches for Ziggler. In fact, Patterson believes that Ziggler is oozing with untapped potential.
“I see it big time,” Patterson said of Ziggler.
“He has come a long way, this kid. People love those little guys. They are talented.”
10 WANTED TO SUCCEED: CHARLOTTE FLAIR
Charlotte Flair has the distinct advantage of being “The Nature Boy’s” daughter. Considering her lineage, it’s unsurprising that the 5-foot-10, 145-pound Flair has been booked as the centerpiece of the women’s division.
“I've known the McMahons my whole life pretty much, but I'm obviously around (Vince) more now that I'm on the main roster,” said Flair, 31, who emerged on Raw in July 2015. “He's a busy man, so now you only see him when you walk to gorilla and walk back out."
Over the past two years, Flair has earned an array of accolades and she defeated Sasha Banks in an October 2016 Hell In A Cell match to win the WWE Raw Women’s Championship. Flair’s bout versus Banks marked the first time that women headlined a WWE pay-per-view main event.
9 DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED: CESARO
Cesaro is a primarily beloved grappler who is forceful, agile, athletic and engaging. These characteristics notwithstanding, and somewhat inexplicably, Vince McMahon is completely unsold on the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Cesaro. McMahon flatly stated that Cesaro lacks the “it” factor during a Stone Cold Podcast.
“The craziest thing about Cesaro is, you know how he’s great in the ring, and he has great wrestling charisma, and he looks great, and he always wears a suit, and somehow Vince McMahon finds the man boring,” said Bryan Alvarez on Wrestling Observer radio. “That’s the whole reason why he’s not getting a push.”
Undeterred by McMahon’s comments to Steve Austin, the 36-year-old Cesaro reportedly approached his boss and said, “Vince, challenge accepted.” The “Swiss Superman” also acknowledged that he’s failed to meet his own expectations inside the squared circle.
“I wanted to be [world] champion by now, and I haven’t achieved that,” said Cesaro.
8 WANTED TO SUCCEED: BATISTA
Batista looks like he’s abused enough performance-enhancing drugs to maim American Pharoah. Essentially, the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Bautista embodies Vince McMahon’s blueprint for superstardom. Bautista, scripted as an overpowering badass, captured six championships and headlined two WrestleManias before departing for Hollywood in June 2014. However, as a favorite of McMahon’s, Bautista could return on a whim.
For reference, McMahon tweeted on May 9, “15 years ago today, @WWE unleashed The Animal @DaveBautista on the WWE Universe. Happy anniversary, ‘Drax.’”
Bautista responded to McMahon 18 minutes later and insinuated that he would mull re-entering the ring.
“I still have a f*** ton of unleashing left in me! Thanks for showing me the world boss! #DreamChaser,” tweeted Bautista.
Clearly, the bromance between Bautista and McMahon remains intact. Hence, don’t be shocked if the 48-year-old Bautista soon has another stint in the WWE.
7 DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED: BO DALLAS
Bo Dallas is a third-generation wrestler who was seemingly destined for glory in the squared circle. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Dallas initially surfaced on Raw in April 2014 as a loathsome inspirational lecturer. Dallas’ gimmick badly misfired and he joined Heath Slater, Curtis Axel and Adam Rose in January 2016 as part of a stable of social outcasts. Blackjack Mulligan’s grandson eventually left the trio of misfits and reemerged as a more menacing and mean-spirited motivational speaker. Regrettably for Mike Rotunda’s son and Bray Wyatt’s younger brother, Dallas’ new persona has also floundered and failed to resonate with fans.
Dallas has struggled with alcohol abuse and perhaps his hideous roles are WWE’s efforts to encourage him to receive treatment. More realistically, Vince McMahon’s simply unimpressed with Dallas’ physique and doesn’t respect his in-ring work. Regardless, the 27-year-old Dallas is in wrestling’s equivalent of purgatory.
6 WANTED TO SUCCEED: ROMAN REIGNS
Vince McMahon is convinced that Roman Reigns will mature into his company’s next megastar. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Reigns, who Forbes reported pocketed $3.5 million last year, was booked to main event three consecutive WrestleMania extravaganzas. Humorously, while cast as a babyface, Pro Wrestling Illustrated named Reigns as its “Most Hated Wrestler of the Year” in December 2016.
“Roman is not a big success by any means, but they will tell you that he is,” said Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
“When they boo him, Vince is back there going ‘they really care a lot.’ That’s gonna make them push him more. It’s the silence that will get him. Booing him will only make him stronger.”
Strictly out of habit, the WWE Universe will continue to mercilessly heckle Reigns. Therefore, paradoxically, the 32-year-old Reigns will only get “stronger.”
5 DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED: CM PUNK
Kevin Nash once infamously remarked that CM Punk resembles a “short order cook at a Waffle House.” Vince McMahon’s son-in-law, Triple H, agreed with Nash’s assessment.
"People don't pay just to see wrestlers,” said Triple H.
“They pay to see stars, larger-than-life athletes, heroes and villains. Stuff they can't see in their own backyard. Punk misses the boat on Kevin Nash, and I'm not saying this to side with my friend, but Punk does look like the short order cook at Waffle House. I like Waffle House too, but I'm not sure I want to watch the cook.”
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Punk is one of the most beloved grapplers in recent WWE memory. Punk is a brilliant in-ring technician and gifted talker. Nonetheless, if not for Punk’s legendary pipe bomb, the "Best in the World" would have never achieved the fame he did. After all, McMahon doesn’t appreciate the look of a “short order cook.”
The freakishly built Brock Lesnar made $12 million as a part-time performer for Vince McMahon in 2016. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Lesnar, called by ESPN “the most accomplished athlete in professional wrestling history,” debuted on a March 2002 episode of Raw. Handpicked by McMahon to become the face of his company, Lesnar immediately mauled opponents and never encountered much resistance.
“I have great respect for (McMahon) and I think he has a greater respect for Brock Lesnar,” said Lesnar, 40, who finally conquered Goldberg to recapture the WWE Universal Championship at April’s WrestleMania. “I think he knows a happy Brock Lesnar is easier to work with than a Brock Lesnar that’s not.”
“The Beast Incarnate” outdid Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire and he won’t scrap again until SummerSlam on August 20. Lesnar is McMahon’s prototypical headliner.
4 DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED: ENZO AMORE
Enzo Amore is an outlandish and captivating character. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Amore, who premiered on WWE’s main roster alongside his former partner, Big Cass, on The Raw following WrestleMania in April 2016, became one of the promotion’s most adored attractions. Sadly for Amore, Vince McMahon frowns on undersized talents and his future is extremely murky. Not coincidentally, the “realest guy in the room” was utterly lambasted by Big Cass at Great Balls of Fire.
“There’s people backstage that, I guess Vince McMahon, love to watch Enzo just get ragdolled,” wrote Dave Meltzer.
“That’s why his character is this character because Vince thinks that’s his character. He could be a freakin’ incredible heel manager, I mean incredible. But Vince doesn’t believe in heel managers either, unfortunately.”
In stark contrast to Big Cass, who’s on the cusp of a colossal push, the 30-year-old Amore is doomed for mid-card status.
3 WANTED TO SUCCEED: JOHN CENA
John Cena is this millennium's answer to Hulk Hogan. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound Cena has an envious build and he’s been written as a noble superhero from nearly the outset. Most importantly, although jeered by many adults, children idolize Cena and live by his words. When Cena turned 40 on April 23, Vince McMahon sent the 16-time world champion a birthday wish and raved about his place in wrestling history.
“‘Hustle Loyalty Respect’ is not just an expression, it’s the measure of the man,” tweeted McMahon. “Happy birthday to the Babe Ruth of WWE, @JohnCena.”
Cena, who has granted the most wishes in the annals of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, is currently a part-time competitor looking to make an impact in Hollywood. Regardless of what occurs in Tinseltown, Cena is a first-ballot WWE Hall of Famer and icon in the business.
2 DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED: DANIEL BRYAN
Daniel Bryan is an underdog who fought to see his dreams materialize. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Bryan trumped Bautista and Randy Orton in a Triple Threat Match to procure the WWE World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania XXX. Evidently, this wasn’t the main event that Vince McMahon foresaw.
“When (McMahon) had HHH call Bryan a B+ player, that is because Vince saw Bryan that way,” wrote Dave Scherer of PWInsider.com.
“Vince was just going to screw Bryan in the storylines and then push him down the card. It was so bad that Bryan was slated to wrestle fifth or sixth from the top against Sheamus at WrestleMania until the fans said, loudly, “ENOUGH!” They hijacked shows until Vince had no choice but to change his plans and Bryan won the WWE Title, giving the company one of its great WrestleMania moments, and it wasn’t even one that Vince had planned.”
1 WANTED TO SUCCEED: HULK HOGAN
As noted in the introduction, Vince McMahon successfully recruited Hulk Hogan to lead his company to prominence. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Hogan portrayed an All-American hero who served as a role model to kids. Hogan, with ample charisma and boundless energy on the microphone, famously urged children to “train, say your prayers, take your vitamins.” Hogan, a 2005 WWE Hall of Fame inductee, helped McMahon transform the rasslin' business and his organization attained mainstream popularity in the 1980s.
Hogan was terminated by the WWE after a video surfaced of him making racists comments. Although basically erased from WWE’s record books, Hogan’s contributions to the industry are immeasurable. Therefore, many insiders expect McMahon to eventually reconcile with The Hulkster.
"If it's meant to be, it’s meant to be,” said Hogan, 63. “To make peace with the wrestling world, that would be pretty a cool ending."