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Happy Belated Birthday, Mr. McMahon

When you think of professional wrestler, who is the first person that comes to mind? You may think about Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan, maybe take a swing at Lou Thesz or even Buddy Rogers. But if Vince McMahon’s name is not within the first five mentioned, then you really know nothing about the business or are at best a casual fan. In looking at the history of this business, this once believed to be sport and how for 30 years (since he brought Hulk Hogan into the World Wrestling Federation) McMahon has been synonymous with the changes in the business that have made him he most influential person in sports entertainment. And on his 69th birthday yesterday, McMahon was still doing it and doing it well.

McMahon’s success in the ring are just as important to the history of the business and the company. McMahon played an in-ring character known by the ring name Mr. McMahon (which is said to be retired), based on his real life persona. He is a two-time world champion, having won the WWF Championship in 1999 and ECW World Championship in 2007. He was also the winner of the 1999 Royal Rumble. It is one of the few times where the success of a promotion (other than maybe AWA owner and champion Vern Gage) was as much based on the owner and promoter’s success in the ring.

During the late 1980s, McMahon shaped the WWF into a unique sports entertainment brand that reached out to family audiences while attracting fans who had never before paid attention to pro wrestling. By directing his storylines towards highly publicized Super Cards, McMahon initiated a brand-new revenue stream by promoting these events live on PPV television, a concept that would completely revolutionize event programming for all sports while catapulting the WWF into a multi-million dollar empire. In 1987, McMahon reportedly drew 93,173 fans to the Pontiac Silverdome (which was called the “biggest crowd in Sports entertainment history”) for WrestleMania III, which featured the main event of Hulk Hogan versus André the Giant.

After several years struggling behind Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW), McMahon cemented the WWF as the preeminent wrestling promotion in the late 1990s, when he initiated a new brand strategy that would eventually return the WWF to prominence. Sensing a public shift towards a more hardened and cynical fan base, McMahon redirected storylines towards a more adult-oriented model.

The concept became known as “WWF Attitude”, and McMahon commenced the new era when he manipulated the WWF Championship away from Bret Hart at Survivor Series in what is now known as the “Montreal Screw Job.” McMahon, who for years had downplayed his ownership of the company and was mostly known as an announcer, became involved in WWF storylines as the evil Mr. McMahon, who began a legendary feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who challenged the boss’s authority. As a result, the WWF suddenly found itself back in the midst of national pop-culture, drawing millions of viewers for its weekly Monday Night Raw broadcasts, which ranked among the highest-rated shows on cable television.

It is because of McMahon we all either like or hate the way professional wrestling is run. With his purchase of WCW, McMahon essentially monopolized the industry, and in effect, saturated the system – sinking smaller promotions like TNA and ROH. McMahon has also been slow to develop younger talent and have stunted the growth of the likes of Cody Rhodes, Daniel Bryan, Damien Sandow and Wade Barrett. He still runs the puppet strings backstage while allowing his daughter Stephanie McMahon and son-in-law Triple H to work the day to day operation of on screen drama. It does not get any better or any worse than that.

McMahon is still the standard by which every person in the business compared to and until there is someone who can succeed in his success, he will be gold standard, which is something he expects to be until he walks away from his lofty perch in Stamford.

Happy Birthday, Vince McMahon.

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