Vince McMahon: The Bucket List
For those of you who've been waiting for a new edition of the Bucket List (I'm sure you all couldn't eat or sleep with anticipation), the wait is over.
In this issue, I have suggested four things that will complete the legacy of the most important, controversial and pioneering figure in the history of professional wrestling. I am talking, of course, about Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Or, if you'd prefer, "Vincent Kennedy McMahon, damn it!"
Without doubt, when the patriarch of the most famous family in the wrestling industry retires, his achievements will be extolled as quickly as his failures will be derided. He is one of the greatest minds in the history of wrestling, and has revolutionised the business on more than one occasion.
Whether that was for better or worse is for you to decide.
Truly, Vince McMahon will be remembered for contributing more to wrestling than anyone in history, with his innovative, audacious, ruthless and, frankly, surreal mind.
He created "Hulkamania." He won the Monday Night Wars, overseeing the most commercially lucrative period in wrestling history which became known as the Attitude Era.
He is arguably an on-screen personality who eclipses wrestling legends such as Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena. They were the faces of the company, but he made them the faces of the company.
This will be something of a unique article, because this Bucket List applies more to real life issues than it does with the kayfabe gaps in the curriculum of wrestlers. While they may require one more World Championship or one defining win to cement their legacies, Vince McMahon has to make groundbreaking business decisions to affect his.
As a man who has been loved, hated and analysed beyond measure, he is certainly worthy of an article in this series. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Vince McMahon's Bucket List.
Before proceeding, credit needs to be given to Bleacher Report member Akash V, who was the inspiration behind this article. Akash, I hope you enjoy. That goes for everyone else reading, too.
Change His Attitude to Wrestling
The modern climate of professional wrestling is more predisposed to emphasising entertainment than it actually is wrestling. It’s debatable whether or not this is a good or bad thing.
What isn’t debatable is that this entertainment-driven environment is one that Vince McMahon fostered almost entirely on his own. The McMahon patriarch has shaped wrestling in his own image to such an extent that he has redefined the industry.
Having bought what was at that time the World Wrestling Federation from his own father, Vince Sr., he proceeded to make the WWF a global brand by buying out every rival wrestling territory, as he recounted here as early as 1991.
Had my father known what I was going to do, he never would have sold his stock to me. In the old days, there were wrestling fiefdoms all over the country, each with its own little lord in charge. Each little lord respected the rights of his neighboring little lord. No takeovers or raids were allowed. There were maybe 30 of these tiny kingdoms in the U.S. and if I hadn't bought out my dad, there would still be 30 of them, fragmented and struggling. I, of course, had no allegiance to those little lords.
Indeed, he was highly successful in his quest to monopolise the business of wrestling, establishing what is now the WWE as the undisputed king of the wrestling industry. He built it into a global juggernaut with no rival, despite futile attempts by TNA and other companies to create competition.
The problem with all this is Vince's motivation for making WWE.
It is clear to most WWE fans that his feelings towards wrestling aren't what the head of a wrestling corporation's feeling should be. Frankly, it would seem he is willing to distance himself and WWE from wrestling as much as possible, branching out unsuccessfully into films and other forms of media.
He needs to stop.
Vince McMahon has never been successful at cultivating attention from anything beyond wrestling, no matter how hard he has tried. He is not a bodybuilding promoter, he is not the head of a film corporation, and he is not Donald Trump. He is a wrestling promoter.
The problem is that he is rapidly ignoring that fact or trying desperately to mask it. And because of that, he's not even that successful as a wrestling promoter anymore, because his product is stagnating and viewing figures are on an alarming decline.
Focus on wrestling, Vince. Wrestling fans are quickly becoming wise to your complete indifference to it, and they realise it is undermining the product.
Even if you can't reconcile yourself to respecting what you do, reconcile with the fact that you are good at what you do. You are a good wrestling promoter and a good businessman, so do what's good for business and focus your attention on wrestling.
Not films. Not bodybuilding. Wrestling.
Change Infrastructure of Programming
So, if he was to focus on wrestling again, what would Vince McMahon need to do to rejuvenate his flagging business enterprise?
For starters, fans need a clear definition of what WWE is about and in what direction it is going. Vince needs to establish a good balance of wrestling and entertainment, as he did in the company's most lucrative periods in the '80s and late '90s.
With that in mind, the brand division needs to end. Yes, this would mean infrequent air time for the less-established wrestlers and could even lead to a mass exodus of the roster, but in truth, would that really be such a bad thing?
Would it be particularly heartbreaking to see Jinder Mahal and Heath Slater leave the company?
The answer, of course, is no. They're not relevant, they're not good enough, and they're not over with the fans. WWE doesn't need them. What they need is a less inflated roster.
With less superstars they can focus more on great potential talents that aren't being given enough time to develop. It's a simple solution to a dilemma that is being overcomplicated by by people who consider it problematic.
This is the first of many issues that are plaguing WWE.
Another one is the rapidly plummeting value of championships. Now, in Cody Rhodes and Air Boom, WWE has taken definitive steps in trying to boost the prestige of their most endangered titles, the Intercontinental and Tag Team championships.
On the other hand, the WWE championship does not exactly receive the treatment of a prestigious prize. To address that, WWE would do well to unify the WWE and World Heavyweight championships in tandem with the end of the brand division.
This would create more competition for the title with CM Punk, Randy Orton, John Cena and company all combating over the one title. Likewise, scrapping the U.S. championship would finally produce competition and heat for the Intercontinental title.
More than any other championship, though, it is the Tag Team titles that need to be made relevant again. The entire division is stagnating; no, actually, it stagnated a long time ago. Now it is akin to milk that is a week past its sell-by date.
Still, there is hope in the form of Air Boom and The Usos. To fully revitalise this criminally neglected division, though, they need to change their method of developing talent in FCW.
Too many young wrestlers come from there without purpose when, if they were introduced as a tag team, they could be woven into the business slowly and with meaning. As a short term solution, signing established teams like Beer Money (TNA) and The World's Greatest Tag Team (ROH) would be a massive boost.
Everyone knows what the problem in the Divas division is, and it's best illustrated by this slide's picture. Fewer models, more wrestlers, Vince. Think Trish Stratus and Lita, not the Bella Twins and Alicia Fox.
Really though, there is only one thing that can revive his languishing business...
Promote New Talent
It is a tried and tested method that has served wrestling for eternity. Not just wrestling, either; in all sport, when competitors get older and are on the decline, they are gradually replaced by younger performers who have been developing their skills on the periphery for some time.
WWE used this process for a long time, but in recent years they seem to have misplaced the formula.
If John Cena and Randy Orton aren't holding the World Championships, the titles are being thrust upon wrestlers who haven't honed their skills in the ring or forged a connection with audiences.
These include Alberto Del Rio, Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler (yes, he counts) all of whom are World Champions while veteran performers like William Regal, who has worked hard to polish his skills for years, have never once been a World champ.
Now, only Vince can definitively choose to give a young star a push. No matter how influential the other executive forces in WWE may be, the company is Vince's creation and the wrestlers who are destined for greatness will only attain it on his say-so.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, Vince's idea of what determines a great superstar isn't exactly what modern audiences want in a great superstar. His preoccupation with bodybuilder types like Mason Ryan (who is definitely going to be pushed) is well documented, whereas his appreciation for smaller, more mobile competitors is negligible.
He has never really been able to understand a concept that he himself didn't create. This is why the Cruiser-weight division died a slow death in WWE, as did former WCW talents like Goldberg and the NWO. Even an entire promotion failed when he revived ECW only to taint its memory forever.
So, as was also determined earlier, he needs to change his attitude. A good step in building a future for WWE would involve him employing a more productive, involved creative team. He should have never, for example, fired Paul Heyman, a man who is responsible for endorsing a little-known wrestler called CM Punk.
That's right, CM Punk, one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE at the moment, became part of that business as a result of the foresight of Paul H., one of the most creative minds in wrestling history, who is also responsible for the original ECW, Brock Lesnar and the Smackdown Six.
With talented performers like Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett, Drew McIntyre and Jack Swagger floundering in an aimless mid-card, it is time for change. Let them sink or swim, rather than letting them float worthlessly in mediocrity.
Appoint His Successor
Of course, this is the most momentous decision Vince McMahon will ever make in his life.
And he has to make it eventually, because something needs to come along and shake the very foundations of WWE. Both off-screen and on-screen, Vince will one day step down and pass on his massive duties to someone else.
It will be an act of intrinsic trust and belief in the chosen person, who will bear the responsibility of maintaining the entire company. Even then, that is not enough for the hypercritical audience that is the wrestling community. WWE can't just be maintained, it needs to flourish.
Of course, it's difficult to establish who would be a good owner in real life, although people will cite wrestling personalities like Triple H, Shane McMahon and even Paul Heyman. There's no real point in doing that though, because we as outsiders looking in can't really understand the intricacies of running a global company like WWE.
Luckily, there is something else to address: the on-screen hierarchy of WWE, which is actually a major part of this year's most publicised WWE angle, the "conspiracy" arc.
Who is in charge? Who should be in charge? Well, whoever it is will require Vince McMahon's backing, even if he is no longer chairman of the company (kayfabe).
Again, infrastructure needs to be taken into consideration for the on-screen WWE management.
Should there be one boss, like Vince McMahon?
Should there be one boss and two general managers, like when Vince oversaw former business rivals Heyman and Eric Bischoff? Or should their just be two general managers with no tyrannical overlord involved?
Whatever the case, there is a great deal of scope for WWE to envisage a creative direction in which to take the "boss" role.
But please, WWE, please scrap the anonymous Raw GM, or unveil the man behind the curtain as soon as possible. It is so beyond uninteresting that it makes people annoyed just thinking about it.
Thanks for Reading!
Make no mistake, Vince McMahon DOES know how to run the WWE.
For all the complaints we level at Vince McMahon, it's important to remember that WWE wouldn't be where it is today if not for him.
In fact, all the ways in which we criticize the current WWE product for being insipid, repetitive and predictable are because we hold WWE to such a high standard. And we do that because, in the greatest periods of this company's history, the standard was incredibly high.
We shouldn't forget that those periods were overseen by Vince McMahon.
His legacy, like anyone else's, is full of good and bad aspects, but for the most part, if he retired this very day, people would remember Vince McMahon as the biggest name in a massive industry.
I hope you all enjoyed this Bucket List, which I must admit required me to think in a much more sophisticated fashion.
Until next time, I'll be seeing you all.
The Bucket List Series