Posts tagged with: WWE

Is the News Really Faker Than Wrestling?

Donald Trump might be President of the United States, but he’s a really bad businessman. That’s a well known fact. He inherited a fortune of between $40 million and $200 million – and then blew most of that. Of course he got ahead with financial assistance from his father, but he also got by with a little help from his friends. While his Trump Plaza Hotel, Casino & Convention Center was another white elephant, things might have been much worse without event promoters like Don King taking a gamble of their own and hosting shows there.

Another promoter who took such a chance was Vincent K. McMahon, Jr, the professional wrestling guru who had successfully taken his own father’s north-eastern promotion and gone national, running roughshod over regional promoters who had for years held gentlemen’s agreements to host the “World Champion” against their respective area’s top stars, but never cross over or encroach on each other’s patch. This ruthless ambition, coupled with a desire to take pro wrestling from smoky bars and into arenas of smoke-and-mirrors, led McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation to become a global phenomenon, in 1987 culminating in “WrestleMania” at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan, where Hulk Hogan faced Andre the Giant, billed at 7’4″ tall, before what McMahon’s WWF announced to be a “world indoor attendance record” of 93,173.

Upon learning that it appeared Hulk Hogan, who left the show as “World Champion,” earned more money than every other wrestler on the event combined, Jesse Ventura attempted to set up a wrestlers’ union, an idea promptly extinguished by McMahon himself after none other than Hogan ratted them all out to protect his own position. Making it in Hollywood alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies such as Predator and The Running Man, Jesse joined Arnie in the political arena, but not before first using his Screen Actors Guild membership to claim royalties from his WWF commentating duties.

Despite the success of WrestleMania to the point where it was able to fill stadia, McMahon agreed to stage not one but both of his follow-up WrestleMania shows – in 1988 and 1989 – at the Trump Plaza, which held less than 20,000 spectators. Donald Trump was so pleased by this that he sat in the front row, right at ringside, at each of the events. Trump and McMahon remained trusted allies as a result.

What’s more, breaking the age-old Magic Circle-style code known as “kayfabe,” Vince McMahon went against wrestling tradition and admitted to the State of New Jersey Senate that, of course, all matches were predetermined and that shows were not sporting contests but simply entertainment (a word that you’ll notice became more prominent in Vince’s publicity as the years progressed). These admissions removed the scrutiny and taxation faced by other athletic promoters, something Vince’s wife Linda had been battling with for years while running the business behind the scenes.

Yes, if you hadn’t guessed, pro wrestling was officially “fake.” And the grudge matches and publicity stunts weren’t the only fictitious part of the whole presentation: Andre the Giant’s height and even WrestleMania’s success itself had been embellished – it turned out that there were not, in fact, 93,173 in attendance at all, as explained by Dave Meltzer, who has for years largely been the only serious and widely-respected documentarian and critic of pro wrestling:


So from that front row seat where he’d sat through hours upon hours of heroics and histrionics, staged fights and scripted challenges, Donald Trump learned from pro wrestling how to perform, how to gain notoriety, and how to throw away any factual basis to his threats, promises, or claims while garnering attention – hence running The Apprentice and using Vince’s line ‘You’re fired!’ on mainstream media. To truly test this knowledge and showmanship, he joined McMahon in his own storylines in 2007 and Trump took to the stage of WrestleMania where the two wagered their own infamous hairstyles on their respective chosen charges, with wrestler-turned-Celebrity Deathmatch star Steve Austin playing the role of the Mills Lane-style special guest referee.

Vince McMahon lost, getting his head shaved. But he didn’t mind public humiliation as part of the show; after all, he had nothing else left to prove.

Fellow billionaire Ted Turner, owner of CNN, TNT and TBS, so begrudged Vince’s refusal to sell the WWF to him that he threw everything from his other successful ventures into the wrestling organisation he did acquire, WCW – even if it meant losing Pay-Per-View revenue by putting top main event marquee matches on Monday nights, up against the WWF’s flagship show. By the time AOL Time Warner bigwigs came in to take over Turner’s businesses, they realised WCW was leeching off the other initiatives, so sold it off from Turner’s empire – ironically, to none other than McMahon himself, meaning he’d bought Turner’s wrestling company, rather than the other way around.

Vince immediately portrayed the turn of events as the victory of an up-and-coming underdog against a mighty multinational conglomerate – mostly driven by his own jealousy of Turner – and given the somewhat petty, classless way Turner had gone about trying to crush the WWF, it was easy at the time to applaud McMahon for the upset. But there were other forces, too, that contributed to sympathy for Vince and Linda McMahon around this time.

WWF star Mick Foley, who hit the news for his death-defying stunts to a backdrop of fan-made signs reading “Foley is God,” wrote New York Times bestseller Foley Is Good: And The Real World is Faker Than Wrestling. In that book, he highlighted how the right-wing Parents Television Council clashed with the WWF for their increasingly mature programming content that included racy storylines and Foley’s own violent performances. The PTC was set up by L. Brent Bozell, III, son of infamous communist witch-hunt leader Joseph McCarthy’s ally L. Brent Bozell, Jr, and according to Foley’s book utilised similar scare tactics against the wrestling company, even blaming four playground deaths on WWF performances. Wrote Foley: ‘It was a strategy that has produced marvelous results in the storied history of smear campaigns. No one could possibly prove that they were not a witch during the Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. The Jewish people could not prove that they were not a cause of economic problems in Germany in the 1930s. Alleged Communists could not possibly prove that they were not communists during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. And Bozell probably believes that the World Wrestling Federation cannot possibly prove that wrestling did not play any part in those four deaths.’

The rags-to-riches WWF later humorously co-opted the campaign against them by creating an on-screen parody of the PTC called the RTC (Right to Censor), while company directors like Lowell P. Weicker, Jr – a liberal politician – continued to defend the WWF publicly in opposition to the ultra-conservative “religious right.” The McMahons eventually weathered the storm, just as they had in the 1990s when the feds targeted their company specifically for rampant steroid use, nearly putting the WWF out of business, just as Vince had been pursuing his labour of love, the World Bodybuilding Federation (or WBF).

The McMahons after their successful steroid trial defence.

But after Ted Turner’s WCW had been bought – and promptly crushed; shut down – by Vince McMahon, his rebellious streak began to arrive at its end. There was no more competition. He’d become more rich and powerful than he’d ever imagined, and the family business was suddenly becoming the monopolising ultra-corporate interest he’d criticised Turner for pursuing: stock traded as WWFE (World Wrestling Federation Entertainment), with its initial public offering in 1999, partly to raise finance for his latest pet project, the XFL, after the collapse of the WBF.

Vince was obsessed with being more than just a “carny” pro wrestling promoter; he banned from his shows words like “wrestling” to be replaced with terms such as “sports-entertainment”, “wrestlers” instead called “superstars” even if they were unknown, and screamed into commentators’ headsets to have them refrain from saying “belts” or “bouts” or “feuds.”

As an alternative to the NFL, the XFL, of course, was another failure, and admittedly the mainstream media were not without fault, with their instant ridicule of the product challenging the American football establishment, despite the fact the XFL actually inspired change in the NFL as well.

After the XFL was gone, along with directors like Lowell Weicker, Jr, the all-powerful, all-knowing yet unknown WWFE shareholders remained, and Vince’s campaign to “Get the F out” – changing the WWFE to simply WWE after the World Wildlife Fund had taken legal action on use of the acronym “WWF” – was one of his last attempts of edgy rebellion, by definition a surrender to long-established forces. Far from being diehard fans of his product, the shareholders were of course only interested in the bottom line, which meant no more experimental creativity, and no more risks. The product, to this day, has remained ultra-corporate, formulaic, and stale, full of hyper-scripted content and product placement.

It also meant no more scandals.

When mild-mannered Canadian wrestler Chris Benoit – secretly suffering from severe concussions and brain damage – shockingly killed himself and his family, while pro wrestling roving reporters like Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller were trying to draw attention to the industry’s need for better wrestler rights (something Jesse Ventura had wanted while fighting to form a union), the mainstream media instead threw investigative journalism completely out of the window and claimed steroid abuse and ‘roid rage had caused the killings, despite the fact they had occurred not, in fact, in a fit of rage but over the course of a weekend.

It didn’t matter. The feds returned, and the McMahons were back in front of them again having to explain themselves, only briefly touching on wrestlers’ rights enough to force Vince to introduce a WWE “Wellness Policy,” but stopping short of preventing them tying wrestlers into unfairly binding contracts while calling them “independent contractors” and making them pay for their own travel, injury bills and pension plans.

Vince (far right) famously rolls his eyes during Linda’s speech conceding to Chris Murphy in a race for the U.S. Senate.

Linda, meanwhile, had by this time unsuccessfully run for office more as a personal ambition, and as seemingly an annoyance to Vince. Until Vince realised he could get the government off his back for good if he had influence there.

When they found out their old oddball ally Donald Trump was now running for office himself, they pumped around $7 million into his campaign to help get him into the White House. Trump’s approach, ‘unparalleled in modern presidential history,’ was to guarantee influential positions for those willing to pay for it by putting him in power.

Almost all of these cabinet picks have massive conflicts of interest from the public’s perspective, but from their own perspective they now occupy the corridors of power for the express purpose of deregulating the business sectors in which they operate. Trump’s simply giving them dividends on their investment. When he campaigned suggesting he meant business, you’d better believe at least that much is true.

It might treat pro wrestlers shamefully, but WWE is safe and sound even though it may have no soul left. No longer innovative, ground-breaking, or risk-taking with liberals on its board taking on the McCarthyists, today it’s part of the establishment it used to rail against. In their pursuit of more money and power, they’ve been swallowed whole by a shareholder profit motive and their political allegiances, and they’re a bigger part of the problems they used to cite and complain about. Even Ted Turner opposes Donald Trump, who in turn attacks CNN. Now, Turner is the favourable anti-hero, and Vince the establishment stooge who didn’t make it on his own in the end but was bailed out and bought and controlled by investors and politicos.

Linda McMahon has been appointed Administrator of the Small Business Administration and the McMahons – and therefore WWE – have reach right into the White House. There resides a President who, true to pro wrestling live-action pulp fiction, claims his predecessors are “McCarthyists” while he himself was mentored by Joe McCarthy’s sidekick, Roy Cohn. But again, truth doesn’t matter, and if you argue with him, state your case, or even present cold hard facts, you’re labeled “fake news” – what the Nazis used to call lugenpresse to discredit evidence against them.

Trump, like the McMahons, know too well the dishonesty of the corporate mainstream media and its various agendas, but is now exploiting that in order to attack any and all evidence against himself. In many ways, the press brought it on itself, but the lies of this President are on such a scale that they threaten to provide a smokescreen over the truths we do get from mass media and journalists. It’s frightening to dismiss all of it as “fake news.”

No, the only truly “fake news” these days is that coming out of the Trump administration, you can be sure of that. In a regime targeting environmentalists, Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexicans, refugees, Muslims, women and the LGBT community to name a few, they’re relying on the white nationalist Steve Bannon to handle the propaganda strategy while sending Sean Spicer to berate the press that are being kicked out if they don’t report on Trump favourably. When confronted with facts, they present “alternative facts” (also known as lies). In true Orwellian fashion, to Trump lies are truth and truth is lies – or “lugenpresse.”

Again, this is far more fake than pro wrestling, where chair shots to the head gave life-shattering concussions and supposed “superstars” pay for their own trips and healthcare costs and often end up making more money on the independent circuit. The dangers of pro wrestling are very real, but now the carny promoters are part of Trump’s administration, they don’t have to worry about that. They’ll just keep promoting Trump instead – a superstar more dangerous than Hulk Hogan, more scripted than John Cena. A superstar they helped to create to gain influence, in exchange for millions of dollars and the spirit of entrepreneurial rebellion.

They taught him how to create a show and tell a story, even if it wasn’t true or real. And now Mick Foley is finally right: the real world is faker than wrestling.


Survival of the Fittest: Ultimate Warrior and Hate Speech

[UPDATE: Since this was first published, WWE and the Ultimate Warrior’s estate have erased most of the sources from his own website, as well as footage from YouTube. I will try to find the links in archives but they have gone to great pains to rewrite history – if you’ve read this post, you’ll know why.]

Leather Hedger had sleeping troubles and anxiety and dealt with terrible mood swings…By today’s standard, though, I do have to agree that he was a great father. Perhaps even greater then the father of the year, Hulk Hogan. After all, Leather Hedger did what it took to kill himself. His kid is without a father, yes, but the negative influence is now removed and his own child has the chance for a full recovery.

– Ultimate Warrior on Heath Ledger, after the actor’s death

Jim Hellwig, later known as the Ultimate Warrior, was just one week ago enjoying induction into WWE’s Hall of Fame, an appearance at WrestleMania XXX, and a nostalgia promo on Monday Night Raw. He’s now dead. Beyond the wave of tributes for a legendary pro wrestling character, what about the person himself? What about his life’s mission, his beliefs, his passions and his principles?

The above quote about Heath Ledger, who had starred in a film Warrior considered gay propaganda, Brokeback Mountain, is relatively mild in comparison to Warrior’s infamous homophobic tirades, having spent a substantial proportion of his post-WWF career touring the United States to promote his principle of “survival of the fittest” while engaging in public speaking events where he could be afforded a platform for hate speech – attacking not just homosexuals but also ethnic minorities, women, and even the poor. Sadly, he became more of a figure of ridicule the more he tried to present himself as a serious political commentator of any credibility.

But one week ago, Warrior had ensured himself some forgiveness after burying the hatchet with several pro wrestlers. In perhaps his finest hour – years after his in-ring days had ended – he had every opportunity to follow up such an olive branch by publicly reversing his views on gay people, ethnic minorities, women, and those less wealthy than himself. He chose not to. And the WWE – even under the mask of their anti-bullying PR strategy – failed to have him do so. The mainstream media, meanwhile, remained silent.

Warrior desperately wanted to be perceived as intelligent, even attacking this writer on a forum many years ago using multisyllabic rhetoric, only to fall silent when I pointed out his long words lacked any real meaning; they just demonstrated that he knew such words, and – sometimes – how to use them. He showed his complete ignorance of the term Social Darwinism (animal kingdom principles of “survival of the fittest,” applied on to society) by suggesting it shouldn’t be used simply because, in society, people aren’t dying (unless you consider what he’d no doubt have claimed was the mere coincidence of poor people being more susceptible to low life expectancy). Yet all along, as I do here now, I afforded Warrior the respect of being a human being with a strong set of views that we shouldn’t ignore.

Beyond the Social Darwinist statement above, Warrior maintained an entire website filled with pages of hateful homophobia and bigotry until the day he died. (At the time of writing, much of it remains in the public domain, so you can see for yourself even beyond his death.)

Even as WWE suits from Paul “Triple H” Levesque to Stephanie and Vince McMahon praised pro wrestler Darren Young for being one of their first openly gay stars, their former CEO and Republican politician Linda McMahon inducted Warrior into WWE’s Hall of Fame and exploited the mainstream media’s ignorance towards their industry by getting away with endorsing him when they suddenly saw an opportunity to make money off a man even they had publicly buried.

While even staid international outlets like British newspaper The Independent covered the news of Warrior’s demise, the global mainstream media instead is, of course, armed with few facts about professional wrestling, and reduces itself to ill-informed presentations like those of Nancy Grace, who clumsily gave the impression that steroids killed all those wrestlers who died too young – including Owen Hart, who actually fell to his death when a stunt went awry.

So long as the media remain ignorant, and open themselves up to criticism and campaigns like #CancelNancy, the pro wrestling industry can conveniently remain relatively free from credible scrutiny, so as to continue making the same mistakes without being held to account, exploiting “independent contractors” with legally questionable binding contracts, no off-season, and no pension or health care coverage. This ignorance set the stage for the rise of the Ultimate Warrior himself, who looked out for himself, cared little for other wrestlers, and then found himself chewed up and spat out, spitting venom upon this outcome, railing against Vince McMahon.

Warrior often spoke of himself in superior tones and even in the third person, capitalised as He or Him or His, and rarely ever admitted flaws, vulnerabilities, or mistakes – his return, as evidenced by his Hall of Fame speech, was only ever about defeating Vince McMahon in his own mind.

Hate kept his blood pumping, and it is perhaps fitting that as soon as he felt redeemed, his heart stopped, following perhaps the greatest amount of steroid abuse known to the pro wrestling industry, an incredible achievement in itself. Yet despite this drug use and abuse, he always felt comfortable mocking the drug addiction of other wrestlers such as Jake “The Snake” Roberts or the drug-induced deaths of high-profile names like Heath Ledger for being “weak” in accordance with his own Social Darwinist outlook. We can only hope that Warrior – after years of ‘roid ravage – receives more respect than he afforded others. So how do we show him respect now?

One thing Warrior – as with any man who fought for his principles – would surely shudder at the thought of, is fans whitewashing his beliefs mere days after his death, and he’d scoff at the fawning from his peers who just years ago were lining up to attack him in any way they could because few of them saw him as a true peer. One former long-time WWE photographer this week painted the picture of the Warrior as a hateful, selfish man.

For Warrior to truly hurt WWE though, and challenge McMahon’s huge corporation, he would have had to admit weakness by accepting the reality that all wrestlers – not just him – have been at risk of exploitation by a largely unregulated industry. He couldn’t bring himself to do that though, because he firmly believed in the Social Darwinist doctrine of “survival of the fittest,” and thus all of his complaints dissipated as soon as Vince shook his hand, booked him a Hall of Fame spot, and inked a lucrative deal that would never be lived out.

No, Warrior saw himself as special; unique – and when you take that to its logical conclusion, you can claim that the exploitation, too, was merely exclusive to you, rather than a symptom of an entire industry. Warrior, then, got to make the Hall of Fame and for him, all was suddenly well with the world.

And yet, when pro wrestling news sites such as the Pro Wrestling Torch take an honest look at Warrior’s life – his actions and words – they are faced with criticism themselves. Suddenly, traces of Warrior’s true endeavours are being removed from the internet; his character is taking over the human being, so that integrity, or intensity, are now entirely attributed to the man born Jim Hellwig. And yet what made the man intense was that integrity to stand by his beliefs even in the face of social decency.

But just as the man sometimes had trouble separating the two, the character has begun to blur with the person, and it’s threatening to consume it if we don’t afford him the respect of honest tributes that absolutely must endure, and survive. If not, are we truly fit to call ourselves commentators of any kind? There have been some websites that have covered Warrior’s life in honest ways; one overtly political site, I provided the source material for just this week. But it’s sad when little more than a blogger has to prompt successful websites to present true retrospectives.

Former “Million Dollar Man” turned Christian, Ted DiBiase, who has been a leading critic but received a friendly acknowledgement by Warrior at the Hall of Fame, will be expected to reverse his views now, too. Because regardless of the intense and dedicated performances of the limited, reckless, green yet muscular poster boy for McMahon’s steroid-infested 1980’s, Warrior remained a hateful, ultra-right-wing bigot, but this now must not be addressed at all costs.

Indeed, in this wave of apologism for homophobia which just years from now will have stopped being acceptable and be damned to the annals of history alongside slavery, any true statements about Warrior are attacked. Whereas to call Heath Ledger or Philip Seymour Hoffman drug addicts who ran themselves into early graves is, in conservative American society, perfectly acceptable and even commendable, the sad fact remains that it is not yet ready to hear criticisms of dead celebrities if these criticisms don’t suit the cause.

To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.

– Voltaire


Somebody Needs a Hug: Mick Foley’s Tales from Wrestling Past

On April 29th, I had the opportunity to catch newly-inducted WWE Hall of Famer, Mick Foley, on his Tales from Wrestling Past tour. It was an interesting but disappointing night.

I’ve always been one of Mick Foley’s biggest supporters. You only have to watch his matches with Shawn Michaels or Vader to see that he wasn’t just what Ric Flair referred to as a “stunt-man”; he was a genuine talent who understood the art form, and knew how to adopt different styles while always presenting himself as a brawler and bump-taker, selflessly selling for his opponents and contributing great psychology.

Famous for the insane Hell In A Cell dive from the roof through the commentary table, as well as losing an ear in a match in Germany, Foley is also immensely intelligent. Speaking fluent German, he’s also mastered the English language to the point of writing books that hit the New York Times bestseller lists.

Foley has also been someone with good solid principles. In his beautifully titled book Foley Is Good (And The Real World Is Faker Than Wrestling), he cleverly exposed the Parents Television Council assault on the WWF’s Attitude era as McCarthyist in nature, by tracing the links between the PTC’s leader, Brent Bozell III, and Joseph McCarthy himself. As his friendship with singer Tori Amos developed, also volunteered for RAINN to support victims of sexual violence.

While writing for Slate.com, Foley mentions meeting Amos and asking if he could hug her. I wonder how he’d have felt, had her response had been as frosty as his demeanour on April 29th, in Sheffield’s City Hall…

Firstly, I must say that Foley remains a good guy who tries hard. But there’s a sense from this night’s performance that he gets easily frustrated with himself, and agitated by other things as a result. His performance, though very funny in parts, largely veered away from pure stand-up – which is fine, as it was never presented as just that – but ran in to all sorts of problems by the fact Foley felt the need to both try and keep the content PG, and, moreover, try to explain insider wrestling terms for what seemed to be all of one non-wrestling fan in attendance. So it was a little tiresome, and lost a great deal, in its explanations, in the same way explaining a joke to someone who doesn’t get it straight away kind of kills it. He needs to decide who he expects his target audience to be, and stick to that, delivering on that basis.

Mick also lost his temper when the sound guy cued up the music for his final joke too soon, petulantly abandoning the whole portion of his act to the point where right-hand man Chris Brooker couldn’t even console him. What made this worse was the obvious angst Foley felt the whole time afterwards having lost his cool, repeatedly referring to the incident, and apologising profusely, only to deliver the planned routine in the end anyway having calmed down, yielded, and come back to it. It was all very strange.

Foley also one moment asked people not to take photographs of him, which was odd, and yet again changed his mind by then suddenly offering photo opportunities to fans who had paid around £30 for the show. If this was a joke on the audience, then it was lost on them, and certainly didn’t seem to be a joke as he remained seated for the meet-and-greet, and looked miserable almost the entire time. For this reason – feeling like it was almost too much trouble – I declined the offer to go up and speak with him; no matter what I might have come up with, I felt like Foley would treat me, too, like someone stuck in an elevator with him while he wished he was somewhere else.

In the above-mentioned Slate.com article, Foley referred to his book Countdown to Lockdown, entitled as such because of his run in TNA, the company that host the Lockdown Pay-Per-View show. Yet in the Sheffield show, when someone asked Mick about his TNA World Championship reign, he told him ‘I don’t count that.’ As mischievously funny as that remark was, he certainly did count it all as important when he wrote and titled his book, and, during promotion for the book, courted favour with Linda McMahon as she ran a Republican political campaign in direct contrast to the values Foley had demonstrated before that point.

The show, then, is a little reflective of the tainted Mick Foley career itself, leaving a bit of a bitter taste in your mouth, and wondering if he’s really cut out for this sort of stuff. The travelling and touring and pressure of planning it all and trying to please everybody really doesn’t seem him at all, because he’s destined to fail, and then feel so much worse, and project it all onto the crowd. Chris Brooker was an excellent warm-up act, and Carl Hutchinson was the highlight of the night with his Geordie accent and absolutely hilarious observational wrestling fan anecdotes. But I’m afraid Mick Foley didn’t live up to expectations, or the ticket price.

If you’re a Mick Foley fan, I’d recommend keeping yourself that way by missing one of his live shows. You won’t be left feeling like he did when he hugged Tori Amos.


Did Bruno Sammartino Sell His Soul?

So Bruno Sammartino is headed into the Hall of Fame. Yet the cows haven’t come home. The sun hasn’t gone supernova. The world is much the same. So what miracle occurred for the Living Legend to finally come to terms with WWE?

Before we begin, let’s first acknowledge that there is no doubt that WWE’s version of a pro wrestling Hall of Fame has always lacked credibility until recently. Not just because of the inclusion of the McMahon limousine driver and jobber to the stars, James Dudley (not to be confused with Big Daddy Dudley). And not just because it was inevitably WWWF/WWF/WWE focused (even Abdullah the Butcher, who never had a run with the McMahons, has been inducted). The real reason is a legitimate one: Bruno Sammartino is one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, one who heavily contributed to the building of the McMahon empire. Without his inclusion – in the initial class of 1993 on the 30th anniversary of the WWWF, which featured Andre the Giant, and especially in the 1994 class that included Bobo Brazil, Gorilla Monsoon, and, shockingly, the aforementioned jobber James Dudley – the Hall of Fame was always going to lack legitimacy.

It was, of course, these years that saw Vince McMahon battling the federal government over accusations of conspiracy to distribute steroids amongst his wrestlers via Dr George Zahorian – and Bruno Sammartino, who had long since soured on McMahon following his post-wrestling run as WWF commentator and mentor to his son David Sammartino, was more than willing to make media appearances to contribute to the avalanche of bad publicity.

In the years following, of course, Bruno continued to criticise the WWF/WWE – for artificial physiques, sexual themes, excessive violence, you name it. In recent years, it’s also become increasingly apparent that Sammartino felt short-changed by Vince McMahon Jr, the man who also caused so much upheaval in the American wrestling world and revolutionised the industry, raising the ire of traditional promoters and commentators in the process.

So what’s changed?

It’s no secret that the influence of Paul “Triple H” Levesque on WWE has grown in the last couple of years. With Shane McMahon cashing in his WWE stock and pursuing sports-centered business opportunities in Asia, and Stephanie McMahon Levesque seemingly content to take a step back from the WWE product, it has become more obvious than ever that the true heir to the Vince McMahon throne is the self-proclaimed “King of Kings” himself, Triple H.

Now, there are many areas where WWE has improved under the increasing influence of Paul Levesque: the excellent expansion and direction of developmental division NXT; the push for a resurgence of tag team wrestling; the level-headed creative input on the gorilla position headset as “one of the boys”; even the rumours of his comfort with terms like “wrestling” and “belts.” And yes, it has been Levesque who has engaged in diplomatic dialogue with Sammartino to help broker this deal to have him in WWE’s Hall of Fame. Indeed, Levesque’s been a positive influence in many aspects. Whereas ten years ago, pundits expressed concern over the post-Vince era with Stephanie’s idiosyncrasies and Shane’s lack of power, now the future looks just fine with the Triple H era.

But whether he likes it or not, many people will always feel like Triple H played politics to get to where he is: his time carrying bags for the Kliq of Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Sean Waltman; his positioning in D-Generation X after the fallout from the Curtain Call incident died down; his affair with Stephanie behind the broad back of Joanie “Chyna” Laurer; and his role in the Montreal Screwjob:

Yes, that’s Paul “Hunter Hearst Helmsley” Levesque telling Bret Hart’s then-wife Julie, ‘I swear to God I knew nothing about it…I swear to God.’ She wasn’t buying it, suggesting God would strike him down. She was wise to his true character and the part he played in the Kliq/McMahon conspiracy, but was wrong about the involvement of God: despite Shawn Michaels’s conversion to Christianity, given the success of Triple H ever since we can assume the Devil takes care of his own. These were not good people. ‘I swear to God,’ said Triple H, ‘I knew nothing about it.’ But, of course, he did.

‘Triple H was a very sincere guy,’ says Bruno Sammartino.

And this, according to the Living Legend himself, is what convinced him to allow WWE to induct him into their Hall of Fame.

Now, people do change. Though Triple H was clearly the opposite of a “very sincere guy” in 1997, fifteen years later could have changed him immensely (despite the credible, negative reports from the likes of Matthew Randazzo V, published in Power Slam magazine, in that time). Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he could have become a “very sincere guy.” But given Bruno’s benefit of the doubt, with that in mind, could he not have thought the same of Vince McMahon Jr? Here was a man who reportedly disrespected Bruno and his son David, allegedly flooded the industry with steroids, flaunted his affairs in Playboy magazine, and had men kiss his ass and women crawl across the ring barking like dogs while wearing lingerie. And yet today, from all accounts, Vince introduced a stringent drug-testing policy, made the product PG, and stood by his wife when she ran for Senate. Why would Triple H be a reformed character and Vince McMahon not?

No, the real reasoning behind Bruno Sammartino’s reconciliation with WWE and imminent induction to the Hall of Fame is not about the transformation of a corporation that had already (unlike other promotions) introduced resource-draining drug testing in the mid-1990’s. It’s not about a PG product that features the muscle-bound John Cena and Ryback and the tables, ladders, and chairs using Shield, as well as the foul-mouthed CM Punk and Rock (despite Bruno’s claim that ‘there is no more vulgarity.’) And it’s clearly got nothing to do with certain key characters being reformed; yes, Triple H was the WWE representative that Bruno Sammartino could stomach speaking to without having to engage with Vince McMahon, thus saving face in the process.

It’s about money, straight and simple.

It’s no secret the Living Legend felt WWE owed him money, and he wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Vince McMahon about it. But if someone – anyone, no matter how unscrupulous otherwise – could do the negotiating and talk numbers, then it became apparent that suddenly Bruno Sammartino could accept a role in a Hall of Fame shared with not just James Dudley, but also Pete Rose, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Bob Uecker, Drew Carey, Mike Tyson and – on the same day – the odious Donald Trump who supports the McMahons so that they can fight regulations, workers’ rights, and perpetuate the exploitation of professional wrestlers Sammartino supposedly hated so much that he stood his ground.

No, money talks. And Triple H was the one who knew how to put it into words. We may never know the exact figures of the financial rewards reaped by the Sammartino family for this deal. But we can only hope it was worth it. If the Devil takes care of his own, the Sammartinos should be just fine for years to come.


Is WWE “Violent”?

Yet again, the McMahon pursuit of power, money, and state deregulation does more harm than good to the WWE sports entertainment product.

As Linda seeks a Senate seat to act as Vince’s voice in the corridors of power, yet more political mudslinging has provoked debate about WWE that wouldn’t be had if it were not for this campaigning.

Linda’s Republican opponent vying for the candidacy, Chris Shays, has again had no shortage of examples to cast his fellow conservative in a poor light: chair shots, the degradation of women, and a Kiss My Ass Club have all been referenced.

Cue the standard WWE response line: ‘Oh, we’re PG now.’

So while Shays – somewhat justifiably – claims that the McMahons have made a fortune from sex and violence, WWE representatives suggest that this is no longer the case anymore, though, so apparently all is well. Just in time for Linda’s pursuit of political pull, the entire WWE product goes PG, and so come along all the clichés about learning from mistakes, and newfound wholesome conservative family values. Pass the vomit bag.

Is WWE violent today though? Well, while their spokespeople might deny it on one hand, their own PR people are saying otherwise – as evidenced by a press release the very same week, promoting a WWE book named My Favorite Match, stating: ‘Remember the time Goldust ran over “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in his gold Cadillac? How about when Randy Orton battled Mick Foley with a barbed-wire bat named “Barbie”?’ It then adds: ‘It’s about the moments that stand out and make them smile. Sometimes, it’s the same smile they had when they left the ring, face full of blood and sweat, to the roars of thousands.’

So are WWE saying that, because the McMahons only made their millions from adult-orientated content several years ago, it’s fine because the product is now PG – and by this rationale, it’s okay to promote an upcoming book on the violence of yesteryear and further profit from it?

Let’s come clean: WWE has always made money from its owned content, past and present; only the Benoit double murder suicide has made them relent from including significant portions of old footage in contemporary product offerings. Any other claim is a lie, and Linda, Vince, and WWE are going to experience more trouble the more they stick to their campaign clichés.

This is yet another example of why the McMahons – who have now also donated money to the doomed Mitt Romney Republican campaign – must abandon this ill-advised and counter-productive mission to woo conservatives at the same time as paradoxically courting favour with Hollywood: WWE, who once had a liberal politician sit on their board of directors for years while under attack from the ultra-conservative Parents Television Council, aren’t content with avoiding pension plans and health care provision to its employees “independent contractors” who are forced to change their names for intellectual property purposes, restricted from outside pursuits, and bound to 90-day no-compete clauses. Despite all there is to be gained from putting fingers on the pulse and striking a chord in pop culture – as they did with their “Attitude” era influenced by Paul Heyman – the McMahons sell out even their own spirit. The trademark McMahon traits of insecurity and greed will drive them to continue through this minefield.

As for whether they’re violent or not, chances are you already know the answer to such a question. It’s simulated violence, like many television shows and movies. Kids are exposed to raunchy music videos and brain-busting boxing during daylight hours, and despite what the McMahons’ conservative friends might keep saying, the pro wrestling form of sports entertainment is the least of our media concerns, merely the most accessible and working class, which never sits well with those in high places, so it’s often the first in line for scrutiny or scapegoating.

Here’s to a return of car attacks, barbed wire, and blood in the name of sports entertainment and simulated “violence.” And a hope that we have some showbusiness-loving liberals in charge one day, willing to stand up for it.


What’s Your Competition, Vince?

Since the rise of mixed martial arts and, in particular, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, coincidentally or otherwise WWE (formerly WWF) ratings have been in decline.

Now, I don’t believe there are many outside factors that have ever harmed the WWF (in, say, the mid-1990’s) or WWE in recent years – the downturn in business has only ever coincided with a downturn in the product quality itself; the theory of outside forces harming business is merely one which Vince McMahon throws out to shareholders in hopes they’ll eat it up.

The problem here is with Vince’s blatant hypocrisy.

In 2010, McMahon certainly took the approach of rejecting UFC as competition that could have harmed his WrestleMania Pay-Per-View buyrate, saying, ‘You’re talking about two completely different audiences. The UFC audience is more of a boxing audience than an entertainment audience.’

And yet, when CM Punk wanted to attend a UFC event to accompany one of their top MMA stars, he was prevented from doing so, reportedly by McMahon’s office. Since UFC signed with Fox, they’ve slowed down their pursuit of their own MMA-based television channel, which some believe was the reason for such a terribly rash announcement of the WWE Network announced to launch in spring of 2012 and, as I write, still yet to materialise, with plans still very vague.

Vince shows his famous insecurities again when it comes to UFC, and he protests too much in claiming they aren’t competition. Who is he really trying to convince?

When WCW was battling with the WWF in the Monday Night War, McMahon would still often be heard claiming that Ted Turner’s company weren’t competition because WCW were ‘in the wrasslin’ business,’ while the WWF, he said, ‘make movies.’ Many of us are fully aware of Vince’s fawning love for Hollywood glitz and glamour and credibility, but claiming his product was more akin to that brand of showbusiness – thus wasn’t competing with its ratings rivals WCW – was absurd.

And, as I’ve written before, the more McMahon remains in self-denial about being a born-and-bred pro wrestling promoter, the more “wrasslin'” he himself seems to be in the eyes of Hollywood. Even WWE Hall of Famer Mike Tyson comes across as more progressive and in-keeping with the Hollywood crowd that throws fundraisers for Barack Obama, than Vince and his old school tax-hating, deregulation-seeking Republican candidate wife Linda. All the while, the right-wingers hate the McMahons for their inherently liberal product of simulated violence and sexual undertones. It’s a doomed approach.

And yet even after his conquering of WCW, where he bought what he suddenly referred to as his competition when announcing the deal on Monday Night Raw, along came Total Nonstop Action (or “TNA”) – and while not as successful as WCW, certainly the second major pro wrestling promotion in the United States – they weren’t “competition” either: ‘My concern with TNA is not in terms of competition,’ said Vince. ‘My concern with TNA is that they are TV-14, and we are PG. They have to change with the times. I think some of the things they do on television are reprehensible.’ This from the man who created the “Kiss My Ass” club and pushed D-Generation X, in addition to airing a segment where his real-life son-in-law, Triple H, supposedly had sex with a corpse. But he has ‘changed with the times,’ so he can now judge, even while calling for Kane to have a three-foot long penis in his WWE movie.

Instead of claiming changes to WWE are due to aiming for a more “sophisticated” product, Vince would do well to accept that both sports and entertainment are potential competition, because they’re all on television and all battling for ratings, while at the same time focusing on his own product rather than he and his wife spending millions of their personal fortunes on getting her some political power so they can increase their profits. What would likely also please their shareholders far more, too, would be less airtime spent on “Standing up for Linda WWE,” and more dedicated to creating and elevating stars within a clear and coherent product that has direction. As I’ve also written before, with no WCW breathing down their necks, they can afford to settle for the status quo, “Super Cena,” and political aspirations while behaving like a dog at a dinner table seeking attention from a Hollywood that will never accept them, no matter how many more dozens of their writers they bring in to spoil the proverbial broth.

It’s funny, also, how Brock Lesnar was so sought-after – and so easily re-transitioned – to the WWE from a UFC that Vince McMahon claims is not competition. It’s a good thing for Vince’s psyche, though. Because the more he dismisses all these other competitors, the easier it will continue to be to take, as so many of them surpass his own “sophisticated” product.