There were seemingly two ways for Vince McMahon to leave WWE: literally dying on the job, possibly while screaming in Michael Cole’s ear for not using the latest marketing term they decided today or bringing himself down by a scandal he created.
The latter is obviously what happened.
Vince became embroiled in a scandal that was too big to be contained within whatever “the wrestling media” is, too sudden to be ignored, and too scandalous to just dismiss as being part of a low-brow form of entertainment for the mainstream media to ignore. His payoffs to women employed by his company for his personal conduct that falls somewhere in the continuum between “unprofessional and distasteful” and “most likely criminal” would most likely not have been enough to bring him down on its own.
It took the interest of the Securities and Exchange Commission to bring him down, a depressing statement if you at all value individuals’ wellbeing over stockholders’ profit.
We have only entered the first weeks of the next phase of WWE’s cult of personality centering on Vincent Kennedy McMahon. It will continue to persist as long as the company is successful and involves a McMahon in leadership as part of its day-to-day operations. It’s not enough to state the simple facts about Vince’s career. Just this week, Paul Levesque said on the Impaulsive podcast that Vince took wrestling from a “tiny, little thing happening in bars” to a “big global sensation,” as if professional wrestling did not exist before 1984 in the United States or anywhere else in the world, as if even territories in relatively small cities were not drawing hundreds or thousands of fans on a weekly basis.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the cult of personality continues. Previously, it was a self-serving machine – WWE told its stock owners that it would be bad for their business if something ever happened to Vince where he could not work for them. Fans and media were told for decades that the entirety of the wrestling industry is due to his ideas and hard work. Employees – and independent contractors – were told that only Vince was capable of a vision that would possibly succeed, and what he says was the only correct way to operate.
Vince was correct because he was Vince, and he was Vince because he was correct. This was built upon for years, with gladhanders and yes men surrounding him to insulate him from anything that would go against what he wanted. When he did give in to the arguments of others – when he made Rey Mysterio world champion, when he wanted to prove that Ted Turner and WCW were inferior by destroying his own invasion angle – he quickly moved to prove himself correct, even if it meant self-inflicted wounds. Yes, there were things that Vince could have done to make fans happier in the 21st century, but that didn’t matter as much as preserving the cult of personality.
The cult of personality worked, eventually – Wall Street was convinced that Vince was the engine that made the company run, and that allowed them to grow, which in turn allowed them to pivot from depending on the monthly purchases of pay-per-views and tickets to a company that depends on business done directly with other entities, whether that be the Saudi Arabian government, NBC Universal, or Fox Corporation.
But the cult of Vince will continue, even if it’s diminished and even if it’s no longer serving its original purpose of propping up Vince. Vince is too interconnected with the value of the company at this point to completely disconnect him; Vince’s flaws are WWE’s flaws, and to keep WWE profitable, you have to ignore those flaws. If he lives long enough and the NDA scandal quiets down enough, it wouldn’t be shocking if he came back to the company to direct it once more. Enough people are willing to talk with him about working out at 3:00 a.m. to let others claim he’s been humanized.
A cult always has its followers, especially a cult with money.