Vince McMahon is undoubtedly the most powerful man in the wrestling business. For over 30 years, McMahon has forged wrestling from a somewhat niche industry into a global powerhouse.
McMahon’s numerous reinventions of the WWE, have been met with both positive and negative reaction from fans. He is simultaneously the most revered and most reviled personality in wrestling. His impact on the growth of the sport cannot be denied, yet his brash, bombastic, and authoritarian management style has alienated wrestlers and fans alike.
McMahon and the WWE became a marketing conglomerate in the mid to late 1990s with numerous supercard matches and per-view events, touting stars like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H. The brand’s Monday Night War with rival promotion WCW brought the business to new heights.
McMahon may have been the most polarizing force in wrestling, but he did hold soft spots for certain superstars. Despite his aggressive persona in public, McMahon’s demeanor behind the scenes was much calmer, and almost fatherly.
That didn’t stop him from feuding with other stars. As a businessman, it was crucial for McMahon to put financial interests first, and any wrestlers who got in the way of that, well, didn’t exactly endear themselves to the Chairman.
To get to McMahon’s level of success, you need to be bold and ruthless in your efforts to build your brand, and that determination didn’t sit well with everyone. So it’s no surprise that Vince made some friends and quite a few enemies during his career.
Here are eight wrestlers Vince McMahon loved and eight he hated:
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16 Loved - Big Show
Vince McMahon loves to promote the big men, from Andre the Giant to the Big Show himself: Paul Wight.
Wight made a name for himself in WCW during the mid to late 1990s, and when his contract with the company expired in 1999, Vince was chomping at the bit to sign him.
He inked Big Show to a high-priced, 10-year contract, and gave him top billing from the start. Most notably, Big Show appeared as a closing act on WrestleMania 2000, despite spending less than one year under the brand at that point.
Big Show’s production and popularity has leveled off in recent years, but Vince has still pushed him hard. He appeared at the main event in 2013’s Survivor Series, which finished with the lowest buy-rate in the event’s history.
15 Hated - Bruno Sammartino
Many MLB old-timers lament the showboating nature of today's stars. They want the sport to focus more on competition than celebration. In some ways, they’re traditionalists who don’t want the game straying too far from how they remembered it. Bruno Sammartino is essentially wrestling's version of those MLB old-timers.
The Italian wrestler lambasted McMahon for turning the WWE into a soap opera of sorts, rife with farfetched storylines and crude behavior.
He also criticized McMahon for turning a blind eye to steroid use among wrestlers, and putting business above the health of his employees. Sammartino was so bothered by these issues that he initially refused his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame several times before finally accepting the honor in 2013, after Triple H mended the fences with him.
As you might expect, though, McMahon wasn't pleased by Sammartino's criticisms of the WWE product.
14 Loved - Andre The Giant
As I’ve said, Vince loves the big men. One major draw in the 1980s was Andre the Giant. Known as “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” Andre feuded with Hulk Hogan throughout the 1980s wrestling boom.
The climax of the feud was their epic face off at WrestleMania III, one of the largest main event cards in wrestling history. It propelled McMahon and the WWE into the stratosphere of sports entertainment, generating over $1 million in ticket sales. Back in 1987, that was a lot of money.
McMahon clearly owed a lot to Andre. He was the first ever inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1993. Vince continues to hold Andre in the highest regard for the impact he made on the growth of wrestling as a whole.
13 Hated - CM Punk
Most wrestlers know not to disparage the WWE product on public airwaves, but CM Punk didn't care. His public lambasting of the WWE's product on Colt Cabana's Art of Wrestling podcast in November 2014 landed him in some hot water with McMahon.
McMahon begged the two-time WWE champion to stay with the brand, but Punk refused. To get back at him, Punk claimed McMahon sent him his termination papers on his wedding day in June 2014. If true, that's a pretty low move by Mr. McMahon. Punk also cited poor medical care and unpaid royalties as key reasons for his departure from WWE to MMA.
As we know, McMahon doesn't like when wrestlers rock the boat and challenge his product, even if they are no longer on WWE’s roster, so the animosity towards CM Punk is hardly surprising. Also, given his new foray in mixed martial arts and comic book writing, Punk doesn’t expect to return to WWE anytime soon.
12 Loved - John Cena
Vince pushed Cena hard from the start. Since 2002, Cena has enjoyed almost unprecedented success both in and out of the ring. He has 15 reigns as World Champion, and has successfully journeyed into the entertainment world. He has appeared in numerous blockbuster films and television shows. He even released a rap album in 2005.
Cena’s crossover appeal and global stardom plays right into McMahon’s wheelhouse. It’s no surprise that Vince loves Cena’s magnetism in the ring and charitable “good guy” attitude outside the ring. Cena’s ability to balance his wrestling career with his acting success has drawn praise from McMahon.
Cena continues to hold substantial power over storyline ideas, and while he has butted heads with Vince at times, the two have a healthy business relationship.
11 Hated - The Road Warriors
McMahon has since patched things up with the wrestling duo after their 2011 Hall of Fame Induction, but for a long time, things were icy between the two sides. According to Michael "Hawk" Hegstrand, Vince had a vendetta against the duo during their second stint with the WWE in the late 1990s.
He alleged Vince was upset with the duo being "vocal" in airing frustrations with others backstage. McMahon made their second run with the brand especially rough because of it.
At one point, things got so heated that Hawk told an interviewer, “I really hope that I don't outlive Vince McMahon, because if I do, I’ll do some horrible things to his grave. He’s the most evil person I have ever met in my life."
Sadly, Hawk passed away in 2003, and tensions between The Road Warriors and McMahon have since smoothed in later years.
10 Loved - The Rock
If you know how to self-promote, there’s a good chance you’ll land in Vince McMahon’s good graces. Well, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson certainly knew how to market himself. The quick-lipped star had the perfect mix of likability and charisma, and was always good for a sound byte. Think about it: What catchphrase is more recognizable than “Do you smell what The Rock is cooking?”
Vince loves Johnson because of his ability to draw PPV buys, sell merchandise, and elicit mainstream interest. He is perhaps the closest Vince ever came to finding his next Hulk Hogan.
Along with Steve Austin, The Rock was instrumental in revitalizing the struggling WWE in the late 1990s and driving it to become the most lucrative wrestling promotion in history. How could Vince NOT love him for that?
9 Hated - Bill Goldberg
Bill Goldberg was already a well-known name in wrestling before Vince signed him, winning 173 straight matches in WCW during the late 1990s. He made quite the entrance into the WWE, delivering a spear on The Rock on a post-WrestleMania XIX episode of RAW in March 2003.
However, his favor in McMahon's eyes began to sour just months after his feud with The People's Champ ended. Goldberg was defeated in the Elimination Chamber match at SummerSlam when many felt the time was perfect for him to win the World Heavyweight Championship in dominant fashion.
Goldberg’s image as an unstoppable force in WWE eroded after this defeat. McMahon didn't handle Goldberg's character development properly, and once Goldberg began feuding with Brock Lesnar, McMahon and Paul Heyman attempted to intervene. Goldberg left the promotion in 2004 and admitted in later interviews that the Chairman just didn't buy into his gimmick and didn't appreciate Goldberg's inability to be a "team player."
8 Loved - Steve Austin
The other half of that WWE star duo: Stone Cold Steve Austin. He lays claim to another classic motto: “That’s the bottom line, because STONE COLD SAID SO!”
Jim Ross believed McMahon loved Austin in part because he saw so much of himself in the wrestler. That’s not to say the relationship between the two WWE titans was always rosy. Austin left the promotion in 2002 after falling out with McMahon. Yet, he returned a year later, and claimed any differences he had with Vince were purely business-related.
Austin has referred to McMahon as a father figure, mentor, and best friend. He wasn’t afraid to discuss business ideas with Vince either. The pinnacle of these discussions resulted in a well-orchestrated feud between the two during the Attitude Era.
Vince’s appreciation of Austin was evident as his Hall of Fame Induction, where McMahon called him “the greatest superstar ever.” He's the only wrestler Vince has inducted into the HOF yes.
7 Hated - Chyna
Although it’s not entirely clear what sparked Chyna’s 2012 Twitter diatribe against her former boss, it’s no secret the two sides have had their differences over the years.
Throughout the late 90s and into the new millennium, Chyna established herself as one of the preeminent divas in the WWE. She harbored a relationship with fellow wrestler, (and Vince McMahon favorite) Triple H, which unraveled in 2001 after she accused him of having an affair with McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie.
She stated in a 2015 interview with Vince Russo that she was essentially fired via fax after she met with Vince about the situation. If there is one thing Mr. McMahon values more than his business, it’s his family. Whether it was her fault or not, Chyna came between the two, and she paid the price.
Other factors, such as her struggles with substance abuse, and her appearances in Playboy, could’ve played a role in the fractured relationship. Sadly, Chyna passed away in April 2016 at just 46 years of age.
6 Loved - Hulk Hogan
Make no bones about it: McMahon owes a great amount of his success to Hulk Hogan. “Hulkamania” revolutionized wrestling from a niche interest into a global phenomenon, and Vince was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
As Hogan exploded in popularity, so did the WWE’s merchandising empire. T-shirts, action figures, cartoons, you name it, Hogan was the catalyst for it.
Unfortunately, people get a bit too greedy, and their goals differ. Vince wanted to find the next big star, while Hogan wanted to remain top dog. The two eventually split, as Hogan left for WCW in 1994, and Vince sought his next true star.
Although they aren’t as tight as in years past, Vince still holds Hogan in high respect as the man who helped boost his career and create the prototype for the wrestling star McMahon is, in some ways, still looking for.
McMahon fired Hogan in 2015 following the racist audio that surfaced from Hogan, but you could bet McMahon will welcome Hogan back to the WWE family when he feels the time is right.
5 Hated - Jeff Jarrett
Contract disputes, especially those in the sporting world, can destroy relationships between employees and their bosses. Wrestling is no different.
When Jeff Jarrett’s contract was due to expire in 1999, he still held the WWE Intercontinental Championship belt. This gave him great leverage in negotiations with McMahon, who had planned for Jarrett to lose his title to Chyna at No Mercy.
Jarrett’s contract expired the day before, so he demanded $300,000 for the match or else he would leave for WCW with the belt. McMahon, backed into a corner, and not wanting to appear weak to the fans of his brand, agreed to the demands.
Jarrett lost the title, as agreed, and left for WCW in October 1999. Vince loves loyalty, so I assume these two won’t be mending their differences anytime soon.
4 Loved - Shawn Michaels
Michaels' high-octane matches, creative promos, and supreme confidence land him as a McMahon favorite. Vince’s relationship with HBK goes beyond just the “business-only” mutuality he enjoyed with Steve Austin. Michaels was the only superstar to directly challenge McMahon’s authority, and go to him directly with requests, demands and suggestions.
He didn’t go through middlemen, and Vince admired his straightforward nature. He allowed Michaels to get away with a lot during his time in the WWE. Most notably, Michaels was the leader of “The Kliq” a backstage group that wielded significant power over McMahon, much to the chagrin of other wrestlers.
Take a look at the video of McMahon presenting HBK with his WWE Hall-of-Fame ring. The teary-eyed chairman plants a quick kiss on Michaels before warmly embracing the world champ. That tells you all you need to know about their relationship.
3 Hated - Bret Hart
Speaking of mending differences, Vince and Bret “Hitman” Hart have recently softened the long-simmering tensions between them. However, that’s not to say these two haven’t harbored a hatred for each other in the past.
It stemmed from Hart signing a 20-year contract with the WWE in 1996. By 1997, McMahon realized he couldn’t afford to pay such a salary over that long a time period. Shawn Michaels had also emerged as a premier talent, which left Hart dissatisfied. The two parties agreed that Hart would leave for WCW, but his farewell bout didn’t go as planned.
Facing off against Michaels for the WWE Championship, but as we know, the Montreal Screwjob happened. The Hitman was so enraged, that he not only spit on McMahon, but also fought him backstage. For years, Hart and McMahon were enemies, but their relationship began to heal when McMahon was one of the few people in wrestling that called Hart after he suffered his stroke in 2002. Their relationship today isn't quite what it was in the mid 90s, but at least they're not enemies anymore.
2 Loved - Triple H
This one is a no-brainer. As McMahon’s son-in-law, Triple H is, quite literally, family to Vince. Still, even before Triple H’s marriage to Stephanie McMahon in 2003, Vince held him in high esteem.
Triple H (born Paul Levesque) showed confidence in the ring from the very start, and Vince loved it. He co-founded the popular DX stable in 1997, just two years into his WWE tenure. Vince loved Levesque’s business sense, and has long pushed him to take a front office position.
Heck, Vince even gave Triple H his blessing to date his daughter Stephanie. Now, that's love.
Levesque eventually accepted a role as WWE’s executive vice president of Talent, Live Events, and Creative. He is also the founder of NXT and serves as its principal producer. Vince has to be happy that his wrestling empire is in good hands with Triple H.
1 Hated - Randy Savage
As I’ve warned above, never get between Vince and his business, or between Vince and his family. Well, Macho Man Randy Savage got between Vince and BOTH his business AND his family.
Problems first arose when Savage left the WWE for rival promotion, WCW, in the 1990s, a move he supposedly promised McMahon he would NOT make.
Those tensions multiplied even further when Vince caught whiff of a long-standing rumor involving Savage and McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie. Although the story has never been truly verified, reports surfaced that Savage had slept with a 17-year-old Stephanie in 1994, his final year in WWE.
If those reports eventually prove true, I don’t blame Vince for any ill will he holds toward the Hall-of-Famer. Perhaps that is why the two never resolved their differences before Macho Man’s 2011 death.
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