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Vince McMahon Controls Wrestling History in Order to Control All of Wrestling

How the WWE chairman warped pro wrestling all the way to WrestleMania 39.

When McMahon took over the WWF (his father didn’t give it to him; he made the young man buy it in a precarious and punishing payment schedule) in 1983, he proceeded to destroy the system that his father had been such an integral part of. He broke all the territorial rules, invading other promoters’ regions with live shows and surreptitiously purchased television slots. The NWA was up in arms. Vince Sr. repeatedly tried to stop his son, to no avail.

Today, the WWF of the ’80s is remembered as a kind of golden age, when the content was wholesome and the wrestlers were superheroes. But, at the time, longtime fans saw McMahon’s national march as a terrible disruption of the ecosystem. His brand of wrestling was campier and less believable than nearly anything that had preceded it, outraging fans who took the art form seriously. As one emblematic reader of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter put it in a 1984 letter to the editor, McMahon posed “a real threat to the stability of pro wrestling, which obviously was doing quite well until he decided to overrun the sport like Hannibal.”

Or, to put it another way: “McMahon Jr. is the modern-day Hitler of professional wrestling, and if you told him that to his face, he’d take you out and buy you the biggest steak you could eat,” said one of Vince Sr.’s favorite wrestlers, Buddy Rogers. “He thrives on the people around him hating his guts. He loves it.”

McMahon eventually succeeded in destroying the structures that had governed wrestling for decades. But there was one crucial aspect of the old system that he didn’t get rid of: the abuses. Indeed, the abuses are what he loves the most.

McMahon has made himself so singularly important for wrestling that few dare speak up against him. Even after a wave of credible accusations of sexual misconduct against McMahon this past summer forced him to step down as CEO and chairman, it was hard to find a single wrestler or industry hanger-on who would say they believed any of the victims. Even people from rival company All Elite Wrestling (far cooler than WWE, but also vastly smaller) didn’t make hay of those allegations, likely fearing that they might tick off McMahon and lose any future shot of working for him. There is no serious whistleblower contingent within wrestling.