Editorial Columns

The Rise and Fall of Mr. McMahon – Part One

James Klonowski takes a look at the timeline of the Mr. McMahon character

I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE GREW UP WATCHING WCW, BUT I’M NOT AFRAID TO ADMIT I WAS A WWE GUY ALL ALONG.

Although, over the years, Vince McMahon and company have made me question my decision.

Wrestling has always been a major part of my life. It’s been the one constant. There’s nothing like it in the world of sports or entertainment. I would watch Raw and SmackDown religiously, while openly rooting for Stone Cold Steve Austin as he kicked the ever loving crap out of Mr. McMahon on a weekly basis. Despite The Chairman’s best efforts, he was never a match for The Texas Rattlesnake, and always ended up beaten and humiliated. It’s a shame authority figures in the years since haven’t been so willing to make fools of themselves for the benefit of the product.

The first time the Mr. McMahon character truly emerged on WWE television can arguably be traced back to the fateful night of Survivor Series 1997 in Montreal, where the evil chairman revealed himself as the master conspirator behind the screwjob on Bret Hart’s last night in the company before he headed off to WCW. The following week on Raw, McMahon uttered the now iconic phrase “Bret screwed Bret”, and the rest as they say is history. WWE were about to embark on the Attitude Era and their biggest boom period since a guy with bleached blonde hair and a bandana told you to eat your vitamins and say your prayers.

I know a lot of people criticise Vince McMahon for the sometimes baffling creative decisions he makes, but he is an absolute genius and none of us can deny that. He has created an empire that will never be stopped. He made wrestling popular and profitable. He made it a global entertainment juggernaut. And he did all that while playing the evilest boss alive on TV. Not many billionaires would happily let their employees beat them up on a weekly basis for fan approval. Imagine if Donald Trump did that for cash, he’d be a trillionaire.

These days Mr. McMahon is hardly ever seen on TV for a sad reason. Vince doesn’t like how he looks. Hey, that hasn’t stopped Simon Cowell. Granted, the years haven’t been too kind to McMahon, but WWE always lacks something without his presence on screen. He is the ultimate authority figure. Everything from his billionaire power strut, to his infamous gulp and the “You’re Fired” catchphrase has made him into one of the most watched characters in TV history. And he had to be pushed to do most of it by a certain Vince Russo. True story. 

Vince McMahon had no intention whatsoever ablir becoming a regular attraction on Raw, and was going to let the Montreal Screwjob slide under the carpet which Russo thought was absolutely ludicrous. He pleaded with McMahon to go all in and become the biggest villain the company has ever seen. Eventually McMahon relented, and the Mr. McMahon character was born. Another thing we have Vince Russo to thank for. McMahon did play a version of his heel character in the Memphis territory in the early 1990s but never really saw himself as a true performer until Russo convinced him otherwise. 

So, with this article I’m going to take a trip down memory lane and relive some of Mr. McMahon’s biggest highs and lows before discussing the fall of the character in the late 2000s, right around the time he lost his famous hair. He’s never been the same since then. The source of all his power. I guess they couldn’t shave Donald Trump bald at WrestleMania. Would’ve looked a bit odd hoovering the wig off his head. 

As I stated above, the origins of the Mr. McMahon character can be stemmed back to the early 1990s where Vince would travel to Memphis and play a version of the character. There are some clips on YouTube, and although he doesn’t look super comfortable you can tell there’s something to work with. Vince’s passion was never in front of front camera though, he wanted to take over the wrestling world and mould into his vision. Few can argue he has done just that. 

Following the Montreal Screwjob and the rise of the Attitude Era along with Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Mr. McMahon character was officially born in WWE. He was a natural at making people hate him. He said he took inspiration from his violent step father and rich people who look down on others. Apparently, the real Vince McMahon is nothing like his character. Some would argue against that, however. Stone Cold was the ultimate good guy to go up against the tyrannical boss, and it worked perfectly. Russo penned such an incredible storyline, that is still trying to be duplicated to this day. It doesn’t work. Not because they don’t have another Stone Cold, because they do. But because they don’t have another Mr. McMahon and never will. 

Can you really see Triple H making a fool of himself to get someone over?

Or, Stephanie McMahon allowing herself to show vulnerability in order to help a babyface get to that next level?

If you think I’m overegging the importance of the Mr. McMahon character just remember it took him one night to get Roman Reigns the same reactions as Stone Cold was getting. 

Mr. McMahon was relishing being the top bad guy in the industry as 1998 rolled around. His back and forth alterations with legendary boxer Mike Tyson, D Generation X, Mick Foley and The Undertaker kept fans engaged with ratings soaring as high as 8.0 for some episodes of Monday Night Raw. It was actually cool to be a wrestling fan, and it was thanks in no small part to the role Mr. McMahon was playing in allowing himself to be the tackle dummy for Stone Cold and all the disgruntled employees around the world.

Eric Bischoff claims Vince McMahon stole the Mr. McMahon idea from seeing him do it in WCW in the mid 1990s. But as previously mentioned, Vince was playing the role in the early 90s, so maybe Bischoff was keeping a closer eye on McMahon than we all thought. Whatever the story there’s no denying McMahon played the character better, something Bischoff has always gone on record to say. He has nothing but praise for how Vince portrayed the character on screen.

Mr. McMahon has often be portrayed as the final road block for top babyfaces to overcome and shoot into superstardom. The Rock is one of the biggest successes of this particular story. Prior to the involvement of Mr. McMahon, Rock was getting vilified by crowds much like Reigns is today. But once he was placed opposite McMahon, fans turned and he became the most beloved star of all. Again, the power of Vince McMahon’s acting chops. 

Mr. McMahon’s most famous early moment definitely came when he squared off with Steve Austin in the main event of Raw which was so successful that it ended WCW’s run of 86 weeks in a row winning the ratings war. The vignettes leading up to the contest of Shane training his dad ala Rocky Balboa were hilariously brilliant. The match itself didn’t actually take place due to the interference of Dude Love. The one on one altercation between Austin and McMahon wouldn’t take place until St. Valentine’s Day Massacre inside of a Steel Cage. It was well worth the wait.

Incredibly, McMahon would perform admirably and take a sick bump off the top of the cage through the announce table at ringside. This set the trend for all Mr. McMahon matches to follow. They weren’t technical classics to say the least, but they were entertainment masterpieces that guaranteed you a good time. I can’t remember a bad match involving him. 

McMahon would ultimately lose to Austin due to the arrival of The Big Show, and the interference not exactly going to plan which was par for the course for McMahon. By the middle of 1999, McMahon-amania was running wild. He was certainly the most despised villain on TV. But it worked because no matter what evil deed he attempted, he would always get his violent comeuppance in the end. That’s how you tell a good story. 

That Mr. McMahon managed to stay so relevant through the years shows you how much respect fans had for him, and how far he was willing to go to make the product successful. Yes, the character changed over the years and went through a rather deranged period in 2003, which we will get to, but overall he is a master of his craft. Mr. McMahon put his body and ego on the line each and every night for one purpose – to create stars. These days authority figures are used to get themselves over. Therein lies the problem.

Throughout the year 2000, Mr. McMahon aided Triple H in keeping the WWE Championship from The Rock, but would ultimately fail yet again when Rock actually pinned the Chairman at King Of The Ring to capture the title which created dissension amongst the McMahon Hemsley regime. The loss would break McMahon to the point of leaving our screens which led to Mick Foley being placed in temporary charge as the highly entertaining commissioner. 

Before the year was out, McMahon returned and was just as evil as before, firing Foley before embarking on a love affair with blonde bombshell Trish Stratus. It all built to a showdown at WrestleMania between father and son. Shane and Vince beat the holy hell out of each other in an absorbing Street Fight. Throughout the angle, McMahon was drugging his wife Linda. It turned out that Trish had got tired of McMahon and helped Linda. The big reveal saw Linda emerge from her sedated state to take revenge on her demented husband to allow Shane the victory.

Mr. McMahon was written off television following this until the invasion of WCW and ECW led by his son and daughter forced him to reunite with Linda and take down both companies. I will get to the failed invasion, the brand split, the 2003 run, his battles against DX, the angle with Donald Trump, the return of Bret Hart, and the end of the Mr. McMahon character next week here at TWM.

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You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3Thanks for reading!

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