WWE Superstars Who Have Become Bigger Names After Colliding with Vince McMahon
Vince McMahon clearly isn't afraid to get dirty or bloody in order to elevate one of his Superstars. WWE's owner has long shown himself willing to be a wrestler's rival, stepping stone or punching bag.
We saw that again during the latest edition of SmackDown when Kevin Owens headbutted McMahon, leaving the chairman bleeding from his brow.
This was the latest example of McMahon making himself a sacrificial lamb for the sake of raising the profile of one of his wrestlers. KO emerged from that moment instantly a bigger deal, a higher-tiered villain.
In the past, Steve Austin, CM Punk and Roman Reigns have all taken similar routes.
Austin's feud with Mr. McMahon was the biggest, most memorable of his career. Punk began what became known as The Summer of Punk by taking a resounding shot at McMahon. And Reigns used a punch to the chairman's chin to win over the crowd.
The following is a look at the wrestlers who most benefited from crossing paths with McMahon, from Austin to Reigns.
In what may be the great rivalry in pro wrestling history, Stone Cold played the rebellious anti-hero who antagonized the corporate tyrant.
Austin did what so many in the audience wished they could—beat up his boss. And his irreverence and I-don't-give-a-damn attitude paired perfectly with McMahon's cold, unfeeling demeanor. It was magic.
McMahon was huge for Austin, playing the Lex Luthor to his Superman.
Austin hit the chairman with stunner after stunner. McMahon time and again tried to remove the WWE world title from Austin's grip. And so many of Austin's biggest moments, from spraying beer from a fire hose to destroying a Corvette by filling it with cement, came during his feud with McMahon.
As seen in Steven Johnson and Greg Oliver's The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes & Icons, Al Snow explained point blank how big of a role Mr. McMahon played in Austin's rise.
"You know why Stone Cold got so over?" the five-time WWE hardcore champ asked. "Because Vince got so much heat. If Vince did not get all that heat, Stone Cold would not have been so over."
Vince's son Shane's role in WWE has evolved dramatically over the years, going from a referee who didn't even bear the McMahon name to the onscreen SmackDown commissioner and one of WWE's biggest stars.
In the late '90s, Shane was one of Mr. McMahon's many corporate lackeys. He was European champion and a popular performer thanks to his daredevil approach to the sport.
A rivalry with his father, though, elevated him to a higher tier.
In 2001, Shane bought WCW in a move to spite his dad. A company-versus-company battle unfolded with the two McMahons leading the way for the respective sides. The rivalry led to father and son mixing it up in a Street Fight at WrestleMania X-Seven, which was only Shane's second WrestleMania match at the time.
The WWF vs. The Alliance storyline kept Shane in the spotlight as he continued to oppose Vince.
This was a momentous period for Shane, whose star grew. Feuds with Kurt Angle and Kane followed. And Shane became even more of a special attraction.
Years later, he was brought in to help save WrestleMania 32 when the roster was depleted by a string of injuries. That move wouldn't have nearly the same impact had Shane not first butted heads with Vince.
In an attempt to drive Bobby Lashley toward headliner status, McMahon made sure the powerhouse had a worthy foil—himself.
At first, the variety was of the indirect variety. Donald Trump chose Lashley as his proxy to fight for him against McMahon's selection Umaga in what became known as the Battle of the Billionaires at WrestleMania 23 in 2007.
This was the biggest match of Lashley's career, putting him front and center in a bout that featured a celebrity in Trump, a megastar guest referee in Austin and an iconic moment that saw Austin, Trump and Lashley have McMahon bald in Detroit's Ford Field.
Reflecting on that night in an interview with Pratyay Ghosh of Sportskeeda, Lashley said: "That was just another defining point in my career. When you get put in a position like that, to shave off the hair of the boss of the company, they're putting a lot of faith in you and they believe in you."
McMahon and Lashley would feud later that year for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship in 2007, including in a Street Fight at One Night Stand.
Lashley would go on to challenge for the WWE Championship and take on John Cena before departing for Impact Wrestling and becoming their world champ four times over.
Punk's famous "pipebomb" promo was punctuated by him saying the company would be better off after McMahon was dead. It was soon after that line that Punk's microphone stopped working.
And so Punk's fight with the WWE machine truly began.
It was Cena who Punk defeated for the WWE title at Money in the Bank 2011, but Punk was in a battle against Mr. McMahon and the company itself. Tired of the way things were run, Punk threatened to upend the system, to win the championship just before his contract expired and leave for a rival company with the gold in hand.
McMahon came out during Cena vs. Punk to do everything he could to prevent Punk from winning. He tried to sic Alberto Del Rio on the new champ, but Punk evaded him.
Punk would needle McMahon often during The Summer of Punk. He had all sorts of major demands, everything from getting a private jet to bringing back WWE ice cream bars.
The appeal of Punk's anti-establishment stance was heightened by McMahon being at the other end. This was in a way a remix of Austin vs. McMahon.
The rebel and the executive crossed paths several times afterward.
Punk and McMahon later met in the ring in 2012, the heel beating on his boss with no remorse. McMahon restarted the Punk vs. The Rock title match at Royal Rumble 2013, leading to The Straight Edge Superstar ending his lengthy WWE Championship reign.
During much of Punk's climb to the top, McMahon was right there, playing the antagonist in some form. His biggest matches, including his battles with Cena and a WrestleMania clash with Undertaker, all came after giving his boss a virtual middle finger.
When fan backlash got in the way of Reigns' journey to top-tier status, McMahon himself stepped in.
The Big Dog was struggling to get over as he won the Royal Rumble and took out foes like Sheamus. A vicious beatdown of Triple H helped shift the negative reactions Reigns was getting, and a battle with McMahon put him over the top.
On January 4, 2015, McMahon joined The Authority in trying to prevent Reigns from capturing the WWE Championship. Reigns wasn't having it. He Superman Punched his boss en route to the biggest win of his career to that point.
Smark Out Moment columnist Jordan Chaffiotte was in attendance that night and told Bleacher Report that Reigns attacking McMahon turned the crowd.
"That crowd popped so hard," Chaffiotte said. "It became more about what Reigns was doing. Roman was allowed to be a badass, and that somehow resonated with that crowd."
Reigns would go on to headline three WrestleManias in a row. He has feuded with the companies biggest names—Triple H, Cena, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker.
Reigns remains a polarizing figure, but he's clearly one of WWE's top stars. He's the second coming of Cena in that his detractors are vocal but he has a passionate fanbase. And tangling with McMahon played a significant role in reaching that point.