Explain Like I’m Kayfabe takes it straight to the top, examining the role of authority figures in wrestling, starting with the Chairman, Vince McMahon!
And now, another edition of Explain Like I’m Kayfabe, the only wrestling column where it’s still real to me, dammit. With the questions concerning Kurt Angle’s devastating secret on Monday Night Raw and Daniel Bryan’s judgement under question from Ms. Money in the Bank, Carmella, I thought we’d take a look back at the public authority figures throughout WWE and wrestling history and try to figure out the one, eternal question surrounding every man and woman who has taken on these punishing positions: What would you say you do here?
Focusing on WWE for the moment, there are three authority positions that are public facing: Chairman, Commissioner, and General Manager. There is a secretive “Board of Directors,” but they have never appeared on television and we will not address them here today. They seem to only have power over authority figures anyway, so their relevance is questionable. Let’s break down each of the other figures in order of corporate importance, starting with the Chairman of the Board.
This position has been called several things since the founding of the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1963. The position was originally called “President” and was held by several men until replaced in 1997 by the title “Chairman.” Arguably, the most famous WWF President was Jack Tunney, who was President from 1984 through 1995, an impressive run as man in charge. Tunney oversaw the Rock and Wrestling Era, seeing the rise of Hulkamania and the advent of Wrestlemania. Perhaps his biggest decisions centered around Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, who, in 1990 at Wrestlemania VI, competed in a Title vs Title Match where then Intercontinental Champion Warrior would defeat World Champion Hogan in one of the biggest main events in the WWF history to that point.
Tunney was succeeded by Gorilla Monsoon as President, but soon after, longtime announcer Vince McMahon was outed as the true power broker in the WWF. On October 23, 1996, Stone Cold Steve Austin publicly called President Monsoon a puppet of McMahon’s machinations. After a loss to Sycho Sid the following March, Bret Hart physically assaulted McMahon, who was attempting to conduct a post-match interview. Hart’s tirade against management was directed right at McMahon. From 1997 on to the present, McMahon has been the head of WWF/WWE, becoming involved in matches and feuds personally quite often. His often unchallenged power has led to a number of confrontations with wrestlers, guest stars, and even members of his own family over the years.
McMahon’s first major rivalry was with perennial pain-in-the-ass, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Stemming from Austin’s original outing of the then secretive Chairman, an undercurrent of tension existed between the men. The first physical altercation between the two was in September of 1997 where Austin confronted Owen Hart in the ring at Madison Square Garden. Hart had broken Austin’s neck in a match at that year’s Summerslam. When physicality looked imminent, McMahon tried to keep Austin back, reminding him that he was not cleared for competition. Austin then delivered the first of many, many Stone Cold Stunners to McMahon, driving him to the mat.
The following month at Survivor Series, McMahon made his presence known in a way that still shapes the wrestling landscape: he screwed Bret. In the main event of the night, with WWF Champion Bret “Hitman” Hart wrapped up in a Sharpshooter submission by challenger Shawn Michaels, McMahon, at ringside, demanded that referee Earl Hebner ring the bell and call the match. Hart never tapped out and was livid. He spat on McMahon and threatened to attack the Chairman. From this point on, McMahon stepped away from announcing. He was fully invested in running the WWF publicly, bending it to his own personal whims.
In attempts to gain leverage over hated rivals throughout the years, McMahon has hired and fired many wrestlers and officials, including the surprise hiring of former WCW President, Eric Bischoff. McMahon fired him on-air several months later and had him dumped into a garbage truck. He has brought in all three of his immediate family members – wife Linda, son Shane, and daughter Stephanie – to various positions of power over the years, sometimes of his own volition, but often because his hand is forced to do so. Stephanie and Shane even mounted a takeover offensive beginning in 2001 with Shane’s purchase of WCW and Stephanie’s eventual purchase of ECW. Years later, the rifts between family members have come full circle with Stephanie and Shane being named the current Commissioners of Raw and Smackdown Live, respectively.
While McMahon has had feuds with wrestlers from The Rock to CM Punk, faked his own death to see what people really thought of him, had his head shaved by Donald Trump, and been kicked in the crotch by his own wife after she came out of a near-catatonic state, the question remains: what is McMahon’s actual role? And what powers does he have as Chairman?
1. Hiring and firing personnel.
McMahon has hired every Commissioner and General Manager on Raw and Smackdown. He has also personally fired nearly every one of them, displeased with one or several aspects of their performance. He has fired wrestlers when they displeased him or when his public humiliation of them had grown tiresome. He has also publicly hired wrestlers, like Drew McIntyre, who he felt would be the next big attraction for his company.
2. Making matches.
McMahon has, either when no other authority figure is in power or on his own whim, made matches for weekly shows, specials and PPVs. These often are used to punish wrestlers who irk McMahon in some way, as when he forced Triple H – who had attacked McMahon rather than join his infamous “Kiss My Ass Club” – to compete against the Spirit Squad in a Gauntlet Handicap Match.
3. Shaking things up.
Over the years, McMahon has been an expert at shaking the status quo. From brand splits and drafts, to giving away millions of dollars live on-air, he has never shied away from spectacle. Leading up to Wrestlemania 32, McMahon seemed to groom Stephanie and her husband, Triple H, for leadership when Shane returned after a six-year absence, vying for control of Raw. This led to Shane taking on Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match at Mania. Despite the loss, McMahon surprised everyone, including his children, by naming Stephanie the Commissioner of Raw and Shane Commissioner of Smackdown following the announcement of the 2016 roster split.
For the past 20 years, McMahon has run WWE publicly in variations on these three themes, working to maintain power and control over wrestlers and other employees who might reach a bit too close to the sun for his taste. While Stephanie and Shane have control of both cable shows and Triple H acts as COO and de facto head of the NXT brand, McMahon’s influence must be felt by all three. Time and time again, he has popped up when least expected to deliver a shock to the WWE Universe. When will the Chairman appear again? Only time will tell, but the only guarantee is that, sooner or later, it will happen.