Vince McMahon -- good old Vinny Mac -- love him or hate him, the fact is he largely, and almost single-handedly shaped the wrestling landscape into what it is today. Some might call him an evil genius, or a crook for the way he raided and crowded out the old territories, but you can't argue the measure of success he has seen. Institutions synonymous with the business such as WrestleMania, Hulkamania, Austin 3:16, and global icons like The Rock all first made their mark under the billionaire's watch. He certainly knows after decades of mastery in the industry how to market and execute an idea and hit a goldmine in the process.
That being said, not all of The Boss's bright ideas can be deemed gems. For every diamond in the rough, there are some real duds. WWE history is littered with doomed concepts, failed business ventures (ICO-PRO, XFL, WBF), and pushes that suffered mixed results.
There is also a creative slump going hand-in-hand with the vaunted New Era and the PG-entertainment format because Vince is too set on pushing “The Guy” he has his heart set on. For a guy who built an empire on keeping with the times and giving the people what they want rather often, and who claimed to know people were tired of their intelligence being insulted, Vince sure has had a hard time reading his audience over the years. With that in mind, here are 20 examples of McMahon insulting the intelligence of WWE fans.
20 The New Generation
Way back in 1993, Hulk Hogan was on his way out the door and Vince needed to start looking to the future, and with a smaller crop of guys in the wake of the steroid trial. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Diesel, and Razor Ramon rose to the occasion.
But the atmosphere was kid-friendly and kitschy. Horrible gimmicks were everywhere, from Max Moon to The Goon. Fittingly, the most beloved character from that time, Doink, was a clown. Sure, we all love Doink, but a clown who wrestles? Come on now!
These characters were given the say-so by Vince and did damage to the product in the ratings and credibility department over the next few years. People tuned out -- not good against the stiff competition of WCW.
19 The Kliq
Nash, Hall, Shawn, Triple H, and Sean Waltman too, began riding together. Pretty soon, they were inseparable and became backstage power brokers, running roughshod over everybody. Each of them got a push but it came at a price. Their wild ways of drugs and infidelities didn’t help matters.
Their wild ways of drugs and infidelities didn’t help matters. The one who really got away with the most was Shawn. As the saying goes, he didn’t lay down for anybody.
And this is under Vince’s watch during a time he’s trying to clean up the company’s image after a very public run in court. Want to do that right? Keep your roster in line beyond testing for certain substances, and don’t pretend you didn’t put your world title on Diesel for a year because of his size.
18 The Curtain Call
Then this notorious moment happens in ‘96 at Madison Square Garden, forcing Vince to give up any pre-tense of protecting the business for good. Kliq members who faced off moments before against each other in a cage match broke character and hugged it out to bid farewell to comrades in arms (Nash and Hall) who were making the jump to WCW -- soon to form the nexus of the nWo.
Kayfabe pretty much died that day and not because of anything the company did. Leaked footage in an era before camera phones did them in here. Rather than bury it like all things Benoit, McMahon let it slide, and clips can be seen to this day. Vince today would’ve buried and forgotten it. Why didn’t he then?
17 Fake Razor and Diesel
Well, Vince did attempt to move ahead and carry on as usual, but only added another debacle to a growing list. Still owning the Diesel and Razor Ramon characters and likenesses, he thought he could give them to two new guys (Rick Bognar and Glenn Jacobs...yup, Kane), touting a return, in lieu of Nash and Hall’s departure as if nobody would notice. Trouble was everyone did and the results were disastrous.
The problems with this one? First of all, people identify these gimmicks with others who had them for years and made them legendary. Second, there was no way realistically Hall and Nash were giving up loads of money elsewhere to come back, especially not when their angle down South was taking off. Nice try, Vince, but no cigar.
16 The Lex Express
Not to say Vince doesn’t ever try anything new or put someone different out there as a fresh canvas. When Hogan left, one man seemed poised to reap the rewards of the open spot and that was Lex Luger. Once The Narcissist, Lex was going to embody everything good and heroic about America (suddenly), even receiving a shot at Yokozuna’s WWE Title.
But when SummerSlam rolled around a ridiculous finish (celebrating a non-title win via countout) killed his momentum and his appeal along with it. Never mind that Luger looked like the next guy to fail a wellness test. You want to make the next American hero. Fine, we get it, but the patriotic platitudes should amount to something at the most critical stop on the Express's itinerary.
15 Undertaker Ascends at the Royal Rumble
The 1994 Royal Rumble was host to a casket match between Undertaker and Yokozuna, who had a knack for playing a part in goofy moments. Yoko won by summoning every heel in the locker room to gang up on Taker and lightly pummel him unconscious. The fun didn’t end there as Undertaker, locked in a casket, appeared on the Titantron and said something about his spirit living on before a limp dummy wearing his boots was hoisted to the rafters in bad lighting.
McMahon obviously didn’t learn from SummerSlam the year before that the cartoon theatrics weren’t getting him anywhere. It would be another few years before the billionaire would wise up, quit the awful antics, and deliver the edginess The Deadman is known for.
14 Cartoon Gimmicks
Every bit of the hijinx can be summed up in one way: horrible, god-awful gimmicks. Back then, you had Doink, Goon, and Max Moon but there was also Who, an Abbot & Costello bit involving Jim Neidhart and lighthearted color commentary, and Adam Bomb and Red Rooster among others.
Then you have the acceptable ones that got off Scott-free, most notably the already mentioned Yokozuna. A member of the Anoa’i Samoan dynasty was packaged as a Japanese sumo -- he made it work but seriously, guys? Unfortunately, this continued into the Attitude Era with the likes of Harry Beaver Cleavage and the Ruthless Aggression Era with Muhammad Hassan and his PR nightmare. Vince never seems to learn and persists in doing nonsensical things to entertain himself even at the cost of business.
13 Shoving Talent Down our Throats
Over the years Vince has routinely unleashed on us his Chosen One, the most recent incarnation being Roman Reigns, whether we are behind him or not. This is nothing new, also having done it with John Cena, Rocky Maivia, and by some accounts the Ultimate Warrior (George Steele on Warrior and Andre). Objectively, he did the same for Hulk Hogan and Triple H. There would be no Game or Hulkamania if he had not.
But they are the exception, not the rule. Steve Austin had to mature as a heel before his time came. The Rock had to turn and come out of his shell. Not everything goes according to plan. The crowd will be vocal, and has been very vocal, about what they like and don’t like regardless of your plans. They know what they want so know your audience. And that brings me to the next entry.
12 Roman Reigns
Currently, Roman is the pet project. He’s The Guy whose merch they want to move, the one they want to main-event WrestleMania, win ten World Titles, and carry the torch into the future. And Vince wants him to do these things as a face, no matter what. He doesn’t care if the Universe, more liable to boo him out of a building than anything, isn’t warming to Reigns the way he’d like.
What's preventing Vince from going with the crowds is anyone’s guess. It’s not like there would be armageddon if Roman turned heel. A turn might even strengthen his drawing power. It helped Rock, Austin, and Triple H, after all. Being a bad guy could really make him The Guy if they gave it a try.
11 PG Product
WWE is more family-friendly today than ever, almost in repudiation of its past. And there are reasons for that, number one being the company is publicly traded and wants to attract advertisers. Ad revenue is a huge deal for the bottom line, understandably. Vince doesn’t want to alienate anyone throwing money at him especially if they pay his bills, but he can still take chances. Turning Roman heel is one.
Another is allowing blood -- certainly not all the time, but don’t be shy about the boys getting color. Psychology and wrestling tradition take a hit without that storytelling device in your quiver. And if Brock Lesnar can, why can’t Batista? It’s hypocritical. You can’t let sensitivity dictate your dos and don’ts. Fans deserve consistency and realism over some saccharine, anodyne climate.
Other than going PG, another problem Vince has is WWE has become more TV-oriented, adopting its conventions such as scripts -- complete with written lines -- and putting less emphasis on improvisation is now the norm. It has actually been a practice for decades. There was a writing team since at least Russo and Ferrara. McMahon even wrote promos for Superstars he worked closely with.
But today the writer takes precedence over the worker. If an angle or character is to get over, the talent has to go by the material they are given. This can’t last because, again, Vince can’t plot every last thing out and expect fans to react accordingly. They will decide in the end what gets over; and you can’t write that.
9 205 Live
205 Live arose out of the massive hit Cruiserweight Classic from last year. The promise of a resurrected Cruiserweight Division was something viewers who dig pure action could get into wholeheartedly. Everyone who looks back fondly on WCW’s Cruiserweights and loves independent wrestling had their ideas. However, Vince also had his. And when the buck stops with Mr. McMahon, you know who is going to get his way.
As a result, 205 Live became a skit-heavy comedic soap opera with a slower in-ring style than the one we enjoyed at the CWC. Unsurprisingly tepid reception means the show is a victim, perhaps the biggest, of the pusillanimous PG-Era writers’ room format. If anything is “Classic” here it’s the example of Vinny Mac’s intelligence-insulting bait-and-switches. Why does this show have to be like the others? Better yet, why does Vince have any say over it?
8 Inconsistent Booking
Vince seems keen on pushing people who are over, at least for a spell. Stars from NXT got the call-up over the past couple years and were placed in big feuds (mostly with Cena), only to have the rug jerked out from under them shortly thereafter. They then drifted into the mid-card with no discernible long-term direction.
Bayley arrived on the scene after an awesome series against Sasha Banks, proving what a great wrestler she is, and was struck into submission with a kendo stick by Alexa Bliss.
Bray Wyatt bills himself as a god and loses more matches than anybody. Nothing improves when he wins.
Shinsuke Nakamura, someone who can legit be the prize fighter Kevin Owens always claims to be, is the “Michael Jackson of Smackdown.” Whatever. The stiffest strikes in the world equate him to a dead pop icon?Vince short-circuits performers before they have a chance.
Vince short-circuits performers before they have a chance.
7 Using Part-Timers
One of the men on the roster who is the most over is Brock Lesnar. He has been dominant and continually in the main-event title scene or some major program. The same is true for John Cena who has taken on a lighter schedule as of late to pursue other ventures.
What they both have in common is they both work part time for the company as star attractions. Money and opportunities they get could go to other people. All Vince has to do is start using the two of them to put other wrestlers over. Cena shows signs of giving back with the US Open Challenge and his programs with Kevin Owens and AJ Styles.
If McMahon can get over the hurdle of his writers, treatment of his talent roster, and the burden of Brock getting what Brock wants, he could put his mind to seriously making new stars.
6 The WWE Network
OK, the Network is the greatest thing, bar none, Vince has done in the last decade. Content is limitless and NXT alone is worth the low, low price. But the promise has not entirely lived up to what we ultimately got. Just about every tape library in history is archived and every pay-per-view is free with subscription.
An attracting incentive, except for the events that are predictable and mediocre. 205 Live and the Cruisers are debased and demoralized and when a program is as talked about or as surprising as Talking Smack, it gets canceled. Good ideas are either handled flippantly or rejected for the sake of glib comedy. Sorry, Ride Along is not why anyone purchases the Network, and it won’t be the vanguard going forward for on-demand viewing.
5 Big Men
WWE has always been a land of giants and Vince likewise gave priority to size and presence over ability and workrate. Not surprising since one of his all-time greatest draws and attractions was Andre the Giant. Andre set a high bar for big men in the biz, and one would think McMahon would tirelessly live up to it or even surpass it.
Everywhere you look, however, it seems he enjoys nothing more than giving larger-than-life athletes bizarre and silly angles. Big Show was booked to look like a doofus on numerous occasions. Mark Henry went from World’s Strongest Man to Nation to Sexual Chocolate until he fathered a hand with an octogenarian. Kane was dark, brooding, and scary until he put on a suit. Khali went from monstrous heel foreigner to dancing chopmeister. Brodus Clay, Funkasaurus -- you get the picture.
Maybe Vince could book more giants to be dominant like Undertaker, maybe. That worked for a long time.
4 The XFL
Vince has a collection of business ventures outside wrestling that were abject failures -- none more notorious than the XFL. What started as an intriguing alternative to the NFL soon proved to be an underdeveloped mess plagued with injuries, poorly trained players, production problems, and an identity crisis that cast doubt on its distinction from the parent company.
It was clear from the start the emphasis was more on Vinny Mac’s fetishized form of Crash TV than smashmouth football. A lot of the time the ill-fated league fell into that mold by accident -- you can’t help games running over -- but the result was the same.
The XFL wasn’t ready for primetime and, honestly, Vince barely gets wrestling right. He was obviously going to blow it with football when his vision failed so much before.
3 The Limo Explosion
Out of everything Vince McMahon has been involved in, one stands above the pack as far as sheer absurdity and inopportune timing. In 2007, McMahon was supposed to be murdered, or feign suicide, in a car bomb to build the illegit son angle going into the next Mania.
Both thankfully flopped; the sad thing is it took the Benoit tragedy to do it. The only real loser in this was Mr. Kennedy who swiftly lost the push he was guaranteed. Everyone else was spared the full agony of a horrendously contrived plot.
The owner of WWE wasn’t really going to die in a fiery staged explosion live on RAW. There was no way. It strains credulity. Why do it? To throw another desperate log on a never-ending schlock narrative that should have gone up in smoke years ago.
2 Ongoing McMahon Family Drama
The McMahon clan has a nasty habit of airing their dirty laundry, however fabricated or embellished, on live TV. It made for exciting TV but was constantly in poor taste. What they got away with a decade or more ago would never fly in modern times. Vince actually engaged in feuds with and wrestled his son and daughter on separate occasions. He fought Shane at a WrestleMania, keeping Linda drugged and seeking divorce. Years later, he wrested control of SmackDown from Stephanie by choking her out with a steel pipe. None of that was really necessary and amounted to nothing in the long run. The product took a U-turn and the ordeals are barely mentioned. Most families would come apart at the seams but the McMahons show no signs of fracture publicly or in kayfabe.
1 God Complex
There’s more to this than McMahon thinking he is mightier than God when feuding with Shawn Michaels. The crux is Vince considers himself infallible, capable of no wrong even after all the above demonstrates that isn’t the case. Nevertheless, he acts like the Pope of the WWE Universe -- nothing happens without his say-so. He has the final word, for better or worse, and it hurts the brand.
Case in point, Vince booked himself as the top heel in the company on and off for 20 years. When ratings were down, he typically made a comeback in a major storyline regardless of how stupid it was. That worked when he was a foil for Steve Austin. Today, it’s a tiresome rehash of old tricks from when business was booming and he is backed into a creative corner. Vince is getting older and few, if any, are poised to take his place.