This is a whirlwind of a time to be a professional wrestling fan.

I sit here in front of my computer, a 36-year old sports writer who has been a fan — and now a participant — of professional wrestling for 30 years. And I’m still trying to wrap my head around the news that came Friday of World Wrestling Entertainment CEO and chairman Vince McMahon, who will turn 77 in August, retiring from his job with the company. The news comes amid a scandal stemming from multiple reports from the Wall Street Journal that McMahon paid up to $12 million in hush money to multiple former female employees of WWE alleged to have either had an affair with McMahon — who has been married to former U.S. Administrator of Small Business Administration Linda McMahon for nearly 56 years — or harassed over time. According to the reports, the WWE is following up with an internal investigation.

If Vince McMahon is truly done with professional wrestling, or sports entertainment as he likes to coin it, we as professional wrestling fans are left with a major question to ponder: What is his legacy?

Vince McMahon was my Walt Disney. He brought happiness to multiple generations of kids and adults through the physical storytelling of professional wrestling. He’s the greatest wrestling promoter in the history of the business, and it’s not even a discussion. When he bought the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation from his father, Vincent J. McMahon, in 1982, Vincent K. McMahon took a regional wrestling promotion in the Northeast, found a way to monopolize the business through cable television and turned wrestling into must-see TV. He invented the Super Bowl of the business with the birth of WrestleMania in 1985. Hulk Hogan may have brought fans to buildings, but it was McMahon who invented the craze that became “Hulkamania.”

After a down period, it was McMahon who helped make wrestling cool again in the late 1990s with the “Attitude Era,” using outlandish characters like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, The Undertaker, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, etc. to give the in-ring product more of an edge. The wrestlers got it done in the ring, but McMahon was the guiding hand behind the scenes during that period. The WWE was able to put its lone competitor, World Championship Wrestling, out of business in 2001, winning the famed “Monday Night Wars.” Business had never been bigger in ticket sales, merchandise sales or pay-per-view buys, and that success would help make WWE a publicly traded corporation in October of 1999.

In short, Vince McMahon helped WWE become the McDonald’s of sports entertainment. As a teenager in the late 90s and early 2000s, I was fully on board for the ride.


But there were plenty of controversies along the way. There was the steroid trial of 1993-1994, when McMahon was indicted in federal court on charges of distributing performance enhancing drugs to his performers. McMahon was later acquitted by a jury, but his reputation and business was still harmed in the process, as several wrestlers testified to using steroids, though none given to them by McMahon.

Vince McMahon

Vince McMahon stepped down as chairman and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment on Friday. McMahon bought the WWE from his father, Vincent J. McMahon, in 1982. AP photo

My generation will certainly remember the handling of the death of wrestler Owen Hart at the “Over the Edge” show in May of 1999 in Kansas City, Missouri. Hart, who was then going by the gimmick “The Blue Blazer,” dressing like a superhero, was supposed to be lowered to the ring from the ceiling as part of his entrance. Hart became detached from his safety harness and fell nearly 80 feet, crashing into the ring. Hart was taken to a local hospital but was soon declared dead at the age of 34. Commentator Jim Ross announced Hart’s death on the broadcast, but McMahon decided to continue on with the show, despite what thousands in the arena had just witnessed (Hart’s fall and treatment in the ring was not televised). McMahon received heavy criticism for his decision.

McMahon has been open about his many infidelities during his marriage, specifically in a 20o1 interview with Playboy, where he admitted to multiple affairs at one time.

There’s also the current state of WWE programming, which, while not controversial, has run into creative issues. While there’s current top stars in WWE — Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, to name a few — there’s been criticism those top stars are not drawing fans the way Austin, Rock or Undertaker did in the past. WWE has also constantly brought in big names of the past — The Rock, Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, Austin — as attractions to guarantee ticket sales.

I don’t think Vince McMahon is fully finished with WWE, the company he’s been associated with since 1969 (fun fact, McMahon’s first promoted wrestling card was in Bangor, Maine in 1971). He may be done with the corporate aspect of his job. But under the new administration — daughter Stephanie McMahon was announced as Co-CEO with Nick Khan on Friday, while son-in-law Paul “Triple H” Levesque was once again named Executive Vice President of Talent Relations — it wouldn’t seem ridiculous to think that he could still be used as a consultant, particularly when it comes to the writing of the weekly shows and future storylines. At worst, McMahon still has day-to-day influence through interaction with his family.

It’s undeniable what McMahon has given the professional wrestling business over the years. We watch WWE because of shows he has invented (Monday Night RAW, Friday Night Smackdown) and revere characters that he has pushed. His company and his shows and live events have given decades of good memories to many.

But like many celebrated athletes or celebrities, McMahon had his fair share of flaws as well and those can’t be forgotten, either. Especially, as it currently appears, with the latest flaw that may put him out of the limelight for good.

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