I'm a big fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. I watch almost every episode to get my daily quota of liberal cynicism. Most of his guests are important politicians, authors, scientists, activists or any other number of individuals with lofty agendas to push.
But on occasion, he'll bring in an actor pushing a new movie or an athlete who just published a book. The October 10th edition of The Daily Show featured Earvin "Magic" Johnson as the guest, on there to promote a new at-home HIV test.
So what could a Hall of Fame basketball player and a liberal faux-newsman possibly have to say that could be relevant to the billionaire CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment? Glad you asked.
[I could not get the video to embed into this article, so if you'd like to see the interview, click here.]
Near the end of the interview, Stewart is asking Magic about his legendary rivalry with Larry Bird. Stewart is in awe of the idea that Magic Johnson could say at that point in his career, that he was the best in the world.
I know what you're thinking, and no, this has nothing to do with CM Punk. Or Chris Jericho.
Stewart wanted to know what Magic had replaced that feeling with, and whether or not he could ever get that feeling again. Magic said that he has not replaced the feeling and that it can't be replaced.
Eventually, the conversation got around to the question relevant to Vince McMahon. Magic was trying to explain what it was that made him so great, and what it was that made Bird so great. His answer? Each other.
Who will be the next company to challenge Vince?
He said that single thing that drove him in life more than anything else was the desire to beat Larry Bird. I think it's safe to assume that Bird felt the same way about Magic. Because they were both so good, because they were both so competitive, they pushed each other to levels that neither could have achieved without the other.
Magic went so far as to say that Michael Jordan's career missed out on that, that Jordan came to prominence as Bird and Magic were fading out, so he never had one single person that made him nervous and made him work especially hard. How much greater could Michael Jordan have been?
[Author's note: Please understand that I'm not trying to make the argument that Jordan didn't have any competition as he fronted the Bulls. I'm just using Magic's words to create a parallel argument. I'm not enough of a basketball enthusiast to make a good argument for or against that idead.]
Can you imagine the '80s Lakers without the '80s Celtics? They'd be the Bulls of the '90s, with no legitimate equal in their league, everyone trying their best just to be able to avoid being embarrassed by them.
Vince McMahon is like Michael Jordan, and the WWE is like the Jordan-led Bulls.
Anyone who was a fan of professional wrestling during the Monday Night Wars knows exactly what I'm talking about. The quality of Monday Night Raw was at its peak when it was forced to compete with WCW.
The debate about how smart it was for Vince to run WCW out of business and then buy it (essentially giving McMahon a monopoly on the industry) will continue until professional wrestling ceases to exist, and perhaps even longer than that.
The odds of another professional wrestling company growing large enough to compete with Vince are slim to none. You can argue until you're blue in the face that TNA and ROH have better in-ring performers than WWE. The fact still remains that if you combined TNA, ROH, and every independent league in the country, it would still pale in comparison to WWE's product in terms of size, production value, ratings, and a dedicated fanbase ready to spend their money.
It wouldn't be right to compare Vince McMahon and the post-WCW era of WWE to the NBA's Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. To do so would imply that there are other organizations in the same league as WWE, and that simply is not true.
Imagine Jordan and the Bulls leaving the NBA and taking things overseas to compete in a European league. Nobody, and I mean nobody, would have legitimately been seen as "competition" for Mike. A lack of competition would have allowed Jordan's game to ease up considerably, and we'd never know how great he really could have been.
I think the big players of today's WWE can hold their own against the big players of the late '90s. Attitude Era included Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Rock, The Undertaker and Triple H. Today's WWE has CM Punk, John Cena, Randy Orton, Sheamus and Daniel Bryan.
The main difference? Today's stars have no one to compete against. The Attitude Era had to overcome WCW's star power, Hollywood connections, and the seemingly bottomless pockets of Ted Turner. Guys who really established the industry, like Hogan, Nash, Hart, Flair and Hall knew how the game worked and had the environment to genuinely threaten the future of the WWE.
The Attitude Era crew had to work their asses off every week to make sure they remained number one. With TNA still not even on WWE's radar, the only people today's WWE crew has to compete with are themselves.
And as the saying goes, a house divided will not stand. Until Monday Night Raw and SmackDown have legitimate competition, you can rest assured that WWE will always feel like it's not quite as great as it used to be.