The first time I saw Vince McMahon, the WWE CEO, power walk down the aisle in character as Mr. McMahon, I was torn.
On one hand, I saw the man who had supposedly just “screwed” Bret Hart, the man who was reportedly a shrewd businessman, but was always presented as just a mere commentator, and the man whose smile signaled there was something more sinister lurking within.
It made complete sense, and it worked on every level. The illusion of non-importance, the façade of non-involvement, was all wiped away with one treacherous move against one of the company’s top superstars, and from that point on, McMahon would forever be known as the No. 1 heel in the history of WWE.
Not only did it work, it was perfect.
Fans needed someone to hate, someone to blame for the way Bret lost the WWE Championship, and was disrespected, in their eyes. Blaming Hart himself would simply not do, however. They needed another target, another man to point the finger at, and despite the fact that Vince had very clear reasons for doing what he did, fans immediately blamed him for everything.
Vince had to not only become a character, but become a heel. And not just a heel, but a super heel.
But, the other side of me did not like what was happening. I was not used to seeing the boss insert himself into the storyline, ultimately taking the top spot as heel away from an actual in-ring worker.
Valuable air time, being used by a guy who was not performing full time, week in and week out, against other talent who he could help bring along, and help evolve in the storyline.
Call me old fashioned, but while no one can deny the effectiveness of the Mr. McMahon character, personally I always had a real problem with it.
I know what you’re thinking.
“You’re out of your mind, Tom. After all, the evil mastermind that was Mr. McMahon stood at the center of the Attitude Era, and if not for Vince doing what he did, WWE may have never pulled ahead of WCW. The devilish, power-mad dictator of McMahon was the perfect foil for the anti-authority 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin. One would simply not have worked without the other.”
You guys were pretty eloquent with that one. Well done.
I can’t disagree with any of that argument. Trust me, I have tried, but to no avail. Mr. McMahon was the perfect villain at the perfect time.
But, is the same true for John Laurinaitis?
For several months now, Laurinaitis has seemingly been on the road that Vince himself once traveled.
Laurinaitis was just a guy in a suit, an executive who had an on-air role to play, and most of the time, he was not considered by the average fan to be of any real significance. Johnny was taking up space, looking very businesslike, and nodding in agreement when the moment called for a corporate-stuffed shirt to be seen on TV.
He was a Mr. McMahon stooge for the PG generation.
But, as with Vince before him, Laurinaitis has gone from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye. Now, Johnny Ace is is the new corporate overlord ruling the WWE kingdom with an iron fist.
How’s he doing, so far? Are you buying what you’re seeing, week in and week out, from Laurinaitis?
When he throws his weight around, making life hard for CM Punk and John Cena, do you feel the need to pitch him off a roof like so many fans did with Mr. McMahon?
Better yet, are you chomping at the bit, extremely anxious to see Laurinaitis get destroyed by Cena at Over the Limit, as much as fans anticipated seeing McMahon meet his demise at the hands of Stone Cold?
The pairing of Laurinaitis with Cena is a smart move on the part of WWE, there is no doubt about it.
Laurinaitis may be the only heel who could actually baby out Cena, at least for one night. But, beyond that, just how effective is Laurinaitis?
WWE took a gamble, and won, by turning McMahon heel, causing him to rise above every rule breaker that has ever set foot in that company. Vince provided more crazy drama, and more insane over-the-top moments, than fans could have ever bargained for.
By placing Laurinaitis in the role of the sinister boss, they may be setting him up to fail. While Vince flourished in the role, John looks lost at times, fumbling with his words and doing his best to remember his next line.
Yes, he’s booed. But is he hated? When fans see him, are they waiting to see what he will do and say next, realizing that truly anything can happen in WWE, and that he will likely always be at the center of the controversy? Or, is he just being used because it’s a tried and true formula that WWE is relying on for lack of a better idea?
Personally, I think John Laurinaitis is doing the best he can. This is professional wrestling after all, no one ever said the guy was required to turn in an Oscar-worthy performance every time he’s in front of the camera. He’s supposed to play the heavy, and his stiff personality is evidently just who he is.
But, he’s just not the same antagonist we had before with Vince. Call it nostalgia, call it not being able to let go of the past and move on, call it what you will. But for me, this particular position of power is simply not what it used to be.
I miss the all-seeing, all-knowing, power heel that was Mr. McMahon. There. I said it.
Guess I'm old fashioned after all.