A rumored script of the the optioned Vince McMahon biopic has started to make the rounds, and if what’s in there is the true shooting script, then it is going to be awful. While liberties are going to be taken in any screen biography, the ones rumored here stretch well past the boundaries of belief. McMahon is the modern day PT Barnum, and for better or (often) worse, his vision for “sports entertainment” has boosted wrestling from its carny roots to a billion dollar business. To be frank, it’s a bit sunning his life story has taken this long to bring to the big screen.
However, given the nature of pro wrestling, I’m holding on to the hope that we’re being worked even now. McMahon is one of the most colorful characters in pop culture history, and let’s face it, at some point everyone has watched and loved wrestling. Two hours isn’t enough to tell the Vince McMahon story and do it any justice. Instead of bringing his whole life to the screen, a smarter bet would be to depict one of the three eras listed below:
The Rise of the WWF/Death of the Territories era. This would tell the story of Vince as a young man taking over the WWWF from his father and building his own vision. Before McMahon took over the WWF, professional wrestling consisted of a large number of regional territories. A wrestler might stop over in the Mid-South for a few months, run through his list of opponents in that area, make his money and then embark to say, Texas, where hew would wrestle in front of new crowds with new opponents before packing his bags and doing it all over again somewhere else.
Up through the mid to late 80s, you could point to three dominant “territories.” Vince McMahon Sr. ruled the Northeast area, and Madison Square Garden was considered the mecca of the WWWF. Throughout the 60’s and parts of the 70s, McMahon’s top money maker was an Italian bear of a man named Bruno Sammartino. A former collegiate standout wrestler and football player named Verne Gagne presided over the midwest with the AWA. The rest of the country was made up of a slew of smaller territories united under the AWA.
When Vince McMahon Jr. took over for his father in the early 80s, he had a vision of making the WWF a national brand. In order to do this he needed two things: a roster of stars and television.
He accomplished the first by snatching up performers from across the country and locking them up to exclusive contracts with the WWF. The hardest hit was Gagne and the AWA who saw his just about his whole roster up and move: Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Jessie Ventura, Mean Gene Okerlund, Ken Patera, David Schultz and the crown jewelVince would build the company around-a muscle bound, blonde haired showman named Hulk Hogan. If you think Hulkamania was born in the WWF, you would be mistaken. Fresh off his prominent role in Rocky III, Hogan packed AWA arenas with the schtick he would make famous in WWF. Check it out for yourself with this video from the AWA Supercard. The crowd gives Hogan a spectacular pop as he was primed to take the title from heel champ Nick Bockwinkle after chasing him for months:
In order to take the WWF national, McMahon exploited the early cable industry by undercutting regional wrestling television programming already in place. McMahon paid to have his “All Star Wrestling” programming put on different stations in place of local wrestling shows that had been on air for decades in some cases. Local territories depended on television exposure as advertisement to get fans to the house shows, where the real money was at the time. The sudden lack of TV time meant smaller gates at the arena, which led to talent fleeing to, you guessed it, Vince and the WWF, while the local territories closed en masse.
Vince then teamed up with the nascent MTV. Marrying the theatrics and carnie bullshit of pro wrestling to rock and roll and youth culture with specials like ‘The Brawl For It All’ and ‘The War To Settle The Score.’ Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T and others teamed up with Hulk Hogan and on-the-rise female wrestler Wendi Richter to do battle against the dastardly Rowdy Roddy Piper and his heel stable.
McMahon’s vision culminated with Wrestlemania. The show was so big, and so outside what other promotions had attempted, that if the first one failed, the WWF stood a good chance of going belly up. The logical endpoint of the film would be Wrestlemania III, where 93,000* fans packed the Pontiac Silverdome to witness Hulk Hogan battle Andre The Giant.
Done right, this would be an EPIC movie. It would have to marry depicting the entrepreneurial genius of Vince with his bloodthirsty businessman side. The WWF rise to top of wrestling is littered with the discarded carcasses of the smaller territories and perhaps none were hurt more than Verne Gagne and the AWA. None of the regional bosses thought Vince’s plan would work, or they were too late to react and now they’re cast off into the dustbins of history.
This era would also portray one of the two most colorful rosters in WWF history with Vince as the ringleader overseeing Hogan, Piper, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, “The Macho Man” Randy Savage and Andre the Giant at their peak. I’m dying to see who TriStar would get to play these roles.
The Steroid Trial In the early 90’s, McMahon found himself the subject of a federal investigation for steroid distribution. Yes kids, as hard it is to believe, the super sized behemoths of the WWF did not reach such gargantuan proportions through Hulk Hogan’s oft-repeated mantra to “say their prayers, eat their vitamins and train.” The boys needed their candy, and we’re not talking about Twix and Hershey bars. We’re talking Dianabol and Winstrol baby.
McMahon went on trial and things looked bad enough for him that a contingency plan went into place for both the administrative and creative sides in case he was sent to federal prison. Muscled up performers like Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior went away for a while and upon they’re return they looked like shrunken versions of their former bloated selves. The “New Generation” began to take shape with an emphasis on athleticism and in ring work rate taking priority over body builders kicking and punching one another in slug fests. Standouts like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart rose to the top of the card.
McMahon wound up acquitted of all charges. While this is a fascinating time in the WWF history in part for what followed after the trial ended, it has a limited appeal. It would make for a fantastic documentary, but not a fun feature film.
The “Monday Night Wars” The greatest threat Vince McMahon faced did not come form the feds. It came in the form of an ambitious failed wrestling announcer with a vision to take the WWF head on. Backed by Ted Turner’s billions, Eric Bischoff created WCW’s Monday Nitro, to go head to head with the WWF’s flagship RAW program every week.
Bischoff borrowed from Vince’s playbook. He signed up WWF discards Vince felt were past their prime. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Lex Lugar and many others jumped from the WWF to WCW early on, and proved they still had milage in the tank. However it was the poaching of two younger WWF stars, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall (known as Diesel and Razor Ramon in the WWF) that kicked of the Monday Night Wars in earnest. Along with a newly heel Hulk Hogan, the two formed the NWO, and overnight it became cool to cheer for the bad guys. WCW featured a harder edge product and included reality based storylines. By contrast, the WWF’s roster of cartoon characters like Doink the Clown and Sebastian Booger felt like little kids’ stuff. Before long WCW was killing WWF in the ratings. From 1996 through April 1998, WCW won 86 weeks straight of head to head battle with RAW. Bleeding money, Vince had a legitimate fear of going out of business.
It took Vince completely changing his product, embracing an edgier brand of storytelling and the rise of a bald, Texas redneck named Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWF to rise to the top again. The “Attitude Era” remains the boon period for pro wrestling, with more than ten million people per week tuning in to watch one of the two wrestling companies. McMahon became the biggest heel in the company, and his feud with Austin became the top draw in the history of the business. New stars like The Rock, HHH, Mick Foley, Kane, Kurt Angle and DX made it cool to watch wrestling. Eventually, Austin’s meteoric rise and historic levels of mismanagement on WCW’s part left that company bankrupt and out of business. The end result: Vince owns a virtual monopoly on the pro wrestling industry to this very day.
*in kayfabe. The more accurate number is around 80,000 which is still damn impressive