Vince McMahon has had quite the career for a wrestling promoter. He began by working for his father, Vince Sr., as a young man interested in becoming a wrestler - which was discouraged by the elder McMahon, who said promoters should not be wrestling. McMahon eventually became the new owner as well as a hands-on announcer, but following the “Montreal Screwjob” incident (more on that later), left the ringside table for good and became the vocal (and evil) Mr. McMahon character for which he is best known today.
However, like most aspects of wrestling, all is not as it appears on television. In reality, Vince McMahon is a pretty sane guy, and although he’s made some questionable business decisions in the past, he made the WWE into the incredibly successful powerhouse that it is today. And on a personal level, Vince gets along with his wrestlers, and is known to be a bit of a prankster behind the scenes. However, being the boss will occasionally put him at odds with the other wrestlers, who might get a tongue-lashing if Vince disapproved of their performance or other actions, or the two parties disagreed on a future plan or financial decision. Sometimes this escalated to the point of arguments, which have also led to physical threats being lobbed from one side or both, and once in a while actually turned into legitimate violence.
For the record, an “altercation” is defined as a heated argument or disagreement, especially in public, and also anything considered physical violence with intent. For purposes of this article, “backstage” is defined as any real, legitimate, non-kayfabe event or occurrence that happens offstage and without the cameras rolling or an audience present. With that, here are the top 11 backstage altercations between Vince McMahon and his wrestlers.
12 Road Warrior Animal
When the Road Warriors, Animal and Hawk, first came to the WWE, Vince said they’d need to change their name because they would be too easily confused with the Ultimate Warrior. McMahon claimed they weren’t well known enough to keep the name, despite having amassed eight years in Georgia Wrestling, AWA, AJPW, NWA, and WCW. “Hawk and I looked at each other like ‘What the f--- is this guy talking about?’” Animal recalled. “I even cornered Vince McMahon one time, I told him, ‘I feel like you’re backing us in a corner here and you’re really starting to piss me off.’” The duo eventually settled on “The Legion of Doom,” which Vince thankfully loved, putting the issue and tension to rest.
11 Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho was involved in more than his fair share of disagreements with Vince McMahon over the years, but they rarely got too heated. One time, however, Jericho signed on to host the game show Downfall, and kept it from Vince because “sometimes the company would get involved and screw things up for you,” he said, laughing. Vince eventually found out about it when Jericho made the cover of The Hollywood Reporter, and completely flipped his lid, forbidding Chris from taking the job, which he was dead set on accepting.
According to Jericho, it went like this:
“'No you can’t.
Yes I can.
Well, you’re fired.
You can’t fire me because I quit.
You can’t quit because you’re fired.
I’m going to fly to Connecticut to punch you in the face.
I’ll give you my address.
I’ll be waiting.'
That sort of a thing. We kind of just hung up on each other. We ended up working it all out, but that was the biggest actual argument.”
Is it more surprising that that two grown men threatened to fight each other, or that this was indeed the worst altercation between Jericho and Vince?
10 Mark Henry
Although rivalries and matches can often seem quite serious, things are generally pretty loose behind the scenes in wrestling. The wrestlers routinely joke around and play pranks on each other, but not everyone is cool with it. Some, like Mark Henry, needed to learn to relax a bit. One day, Vince McMahon decided that he’d pull another rib on Henry by playing another wrestler’s entrance music while he made his way to the ring. (It was a house match, so only people in attendance would see it.)
Henry responded by angrily grabbing the mic and immediately voicing his displeasure about the prank - only to have his mic cut off. After the match was over, Henry realized almost all of the crowd had left, and proceeded to trash thousands of dollars worth of equipment. He then confronted Vince and, among other things, threatened him and threatened to quit. Interestingly, the whole thing actually ended with McMahon apologizing for the prank.
9 Batista (and Jericho)
Even in the 21st century, some wrestlers still want to play it old school. When a 2008 match was supposed to end with Jericho smashing Batista over the head with a pipe, the latter only saw it fitting that he should actually bleed - which is exactly how it went down, even though blood wasn’t supposed to be utilized in the PG era. So, despite it being a successful match, Vince immediately tore into Batista after the match. “There was a lot of yelling and screaming going on,” Jericho later recalled. The wrestler tried to talk it out further in a subsequent phone call, but it lasted only 18 seconds, with Vince telling him to “shut up” and “F off.”
McMahon ended up fining Batista a very steep $100,000, as well as $5,000 each to Jericho and the others involved in the match, Dean Malenko the agent and Mike Chioda the referee. Taking full responsibility, Batista paid all of the fines himself.
8 Brock Lesnar
Just last year, news reports surfaced that Vince McMahon and Brock Lesnar weren’t getting along backstage. The exact disagreement was never confirmed, but here’s what we know: The argument was said to be very loud and heated, with the two “yelling and screaming” at each other to the point that people around them began to get concerned - probably for Brock’s career as well as Vince’s general well-being. In the end, Lesnar stormed out of Raw and did not appear in the event as scheduled.
Afterward, people in the WWE apparently began asking if they’d need to make alternate plans for WrestleMania 31 without Brock, but the boss replied that he’s still contractually obligated to appear, and that Lesnar would get sued if he failed to appear. Thankfully, everything went according to plan.
7 Kurt Angle
Although in the end it boiled down to some friendly rough-housing between friends and colleagues, for a while, Kurt Angle and Vince McMahon would fight every chance they got. It started with Vince taking down Angle backstage one night when he wasn’t paying attention. It continued when Kurt took the boss down on a packed company plane in front of everyone, who were now in on the rivalry.
Everyone except for The Undertaker, that is, who woke from a nap to witness what he thought was someone attacking Vince. Without thinking, Taker put Angle in a legitimate chokehold until he passed out. Despite this finish, Vince still spent the remainder of the four hour flight targeting Angle - and even during landing, when everyone else was strapped in, Vince crawled up the aisle toward Kurt for one last takedown. Angle, seeing the oncoming attack, could only turn to Chris Jericho and incredulously remark, “Do you believe this?”
6 Titus O’Neil
Earlier this year, WWE superstar Titus O’Neil was suspended for 60 days due to “unprofessional conduct” after an incident with Vince McMahon backstage. Allegedly, however, it may have just been a case of a joke gone wrong. Pro Wrestling Sheet claims O’Neil said, “Ladies first” and grabbed Vince in a playful manner to allow McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, to pass first. It’s uncertain whether this is an accurate account, but we’ve heard that the boss has been on his wrestlers recently about acting professionally, so it’s possible Vince saw this as mockery.
Apparently McMahon actually considered firing Titus for the incident, but Triple H and Joey Mercury both talked him down to a 90 day suspension, which was later reduced to 60. Either way, O’Neil still ended up missing WrestleMania 32.
5 Kofi Kingston
Not too long ago, Kofi Kingston was still just an up-and-coming wrestler who had yet to really break out in his career. Vince was obviously aware of this, and according to Chris Jericho, he once told Kofi, “Maybe one day you’ll get over,” while the two were flying together. This didn’t sit well with Kingston, who, after deplaning, went back onboard to confront McMahon, at Jericho’s insistence. Kingston asked Vince if he had a problem with him, and the two started arguing. Suddenly, Vince executed a double leg takedown, and the two began wrestling on the floor. After a few minutes, Vince stood up and started laughing. Surprisingly, he actually revealed that he respected Kofi for defending himself, and the two made their peace.
4 The Ultimate Warrior
This was one of the more heated exchanges backstage for Vince McMahon. A few weeks prior to the SummerSlam 1991 event, Warrior wrote a letter to Vince McMahon demanding that he be paid $500,000 for the event or he would no-show. Vince begrudgingly paid Warrior what he wanted, telling Hogan and Slaughter, who were also involved in the main event, not to confront Warrior regarding the issue. McMahon had already advertised the main event of SummerSlam and didn't want to change the event on such short notice. Once the event passed, McMahon fired Warrior on the spot.
3 Harley Race
Say what you will about Harley Race, but the dude is definitely loyal. After all, this was the guy that once pulled a gun on Hulk Hogan for wrestling on his turf in Kansas City way back when. On November 22, 1983, McMahon had dinner with the then-NWA Champion Race to offer him $250,000 to jump ship and sign with the WWE. Staying true to his promotion, Race declined. An incensed McMahon then charged at Race, but was spun out of position and dragged into a crossface. Harley probably would have put the hurt on the boss right then and there, but fortunately for everyone involved, Race’s wife calmed him down before anyone got seriously injured.
2 Bret Hart
This is probably the most famous backstage incident, because it led to a major change on stage. At Survivor Series 1997, Bret Hart was attempting to defend his WWE Championship against longtime rival Shawn Michaels, when Michaels used Hart’s own submission maneuver, The Sharpshooter, against him. Despite Hart not submitting, McMahon insisted the referee ring the bell anyway, which cost Hart the belt.
Bret responded by storming into Vince’s office after the event and punching him square in the jaw. According to Hart in a later interview, Vince was legitimately lifted off the ground by the hit, was knocked out, and twisted his leg as he fell. Hart claimed the punch was so hard that he also broke a couple bones in his hand in the process.
The August 29, 1992 SummerSlam was important for a number of reasons, with the match of Nailz besting Virgil among them - not for the bout itself, but for what happened later. Four months after the event turned out to be a huge success, Nailz (Kevin Wacholz) stormed into Vince’s office and demanded a bigger paycheck than he received. As Wacholz spoke to McMahon in his office, his friend, wrestler John “The Bezerker” Nord stood watch outside the door. The dialogue quickly escalated, and culminated with Wacholz allegedly throwing Vince to the ground and choking him until he turned blue. (Nailz later claimed he was initially sexually assaulted by Vince.) After several wrestlers and WWE personnel tore the two apart, the police were called, and Nailz and Nord were obviously fired.
WCW saw this as an opportunity, however, and soon tastelessly hired Wacholz to play a new character: The Prisoner.