The Problem with Making a Movie About Vince McMahon

It was recently announced that the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Vincent Kennedy McMahon, could be portrayed by Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper in an upcoming biopic. As a lifelong wrestling fan, I think that Vince’s story is one that is suited to the big screen for obvious reasons. His story is that of the American Dream (and I don’t mean Dusty Rhodes), a working class guy who rose from nothing to create a corporate juggernaut. The man who laid waste to the old territorial system of wrestling promotions and monopolised the art into a billion dollar company that is floated on the New York Stock Exchange. A ruthless, cutthroat businessman who has been at the centre of scandal and controversy since the 1980s. But there is quite a large possibility that this film could be less There Will be Blood and more The Wolf of Wall Street, portraying Vince as a cool dude who just had a pretty wild journey.

The truth is that Vince McMahon has used his insurmountable position in the wrestling industry to fashion himself into a messianic figure. WWE’s propaganda machine will parade him around as a genius and a revolutionary, whilst conveniently glossing over his highly-publicised personal life. This is a man who has had to settle a litany of sexual assault cases out of court, has placed a gagging order on the ex-wife of one of his company’s top talents after she was beaten at the hands of said talent, and whose extramarital affairs are no secret to anyone. Vince is not a saint, he is an aggressive, controlling man with just as many enemies as friends. To provide some insight into the psyche of Vinny Mac, he once pitched a potential storyline to his real-life daughter, Stephanie McMahon (a long-running on-air character in WWE programming, as well as a behind-the-scenes executive), that would see her falling pregnant, with the father being a mystery. The resolution to this mystery? It would be revealed that the father was none other that Mr. McMahon himself. And when Stephanie put a hard veto on the idea, Vince then had the brilliant notion of pitching the father being her brother, Shane, also a WWE character and real-life member of the McMahon clan.

Now, can you really picture a movie being produced about the still-living billionaire delving into his twisted fantasies of incest without being slapped with a court case from WWE’s army of lawyers? Me neither. The WWE’s need to protect Vince so incessantly, despite most of his dirty laundry being out there for all to see, would influence the script of what could be a fascinating examination of someone who’s clearly not all there. All I can expect to see from this movie is a sanitised, WWE-approved romp that presents the Chairman of the Board as the most brilliant person since Jesus (did I mention that Vince and his son once wrestled Shawn Michaels and “God” in a tag team match once and won?). Even the casting tells you what this will be like; Bradley Cooper is a good-looking, talented, charming, and beloved celebrity who is nothing like the man he may be portraying. Vince has referred to himself in the past as a “genetic jackhammer” and clearly fancies himself as a stud. Now, I’m no prize myself, but Vince is flattering himself a lot if he sees a resemblance between himself and Cooper. And I can’t help but feel he’s playing a large part in the casting process.

This is the cynic in me talking, however, and I could possibly be writing off the production too soon. Cooper is only 42 years of age, so the film will likely cover Vince’s childhood through to his acquisition and expansion of his father’s wrestling promotion in his late 30s. Vince was physically abused by his stepfather growing up, living in a trailer park with no money or hope for a better life. That all changed when he met his biological father, Vince McMahon Sr. at 12 years old, and the seeds were planted for Vince to pursue a career as a wrestling promoter. It’s a fairly typical rags to riches Hollywood story, but there is certainly a real element of darkness to it. McMahon was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he worked his fingers to the bone to become a self-made billionaire. These are all details that could form a satisfying narrative, but purely telling the story of the rise and failing to acknowledge the sinister side of Vince is what I fear may happen.

I don’t claim to know Vince, nor do I know for certain what he’s truly like as a person, but the stories that are told about him haven’t come out of nowhere. Be it covering up a murder so one of his top earners could continue to wrestle, or burying rumours of one of his trainers molesting young recruits, it’s a yarn that reads like a Shakespearean tragedy as opposed to a Hollywood fairy tale. Knowing how protective Vince is of his image, the chances of this biopic exploring the horrors of the wrestling world and the part he may or may not have played in such are slim. I wouldn’t expect to see any kind of depiction of steroid-use, forcibly taking the territories of other promoters, or having a boat named “Sexy Bitch” (really) making its way into the final cut. I think what we can expect is a cliff notes version of the actual story, downplaying the negatives and giving us a Vince that is audience-friendly, as the real man is hardly a sympathetic figure.

Professional wrestling is rarely explored in cinema, and was at its best when shown for being the hell that it is in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. I doubt we’ll get anything that even approaches the honesty and candidness of that. This is going to be a case of us getting the movie we want, just not the movie Vince McMahon deserves.

Oh yeah, he’s also best friends with Donald Trump, just saying.

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WWE Fans Don’t Appreciate a Slow Build Anymore

A little under a month ago, Japanese wrestling sensation Shinsuke Nakamura made his long-awaited debut on the main roster, showing up on the SmackDown brand. His year-long tenure in NXT saw him slotted firmly into the top babyface position, taking over from everyone’s favourite arm-flailing lunatic, Finn Bálor. His stretch in WWE’s developmental territory saw two NXT title wins, awe-inspiring entrances, and a lot of people getting kneed in the face. Towards the end of this run, fans were pointing out that Nakamura had started to become overexposed, and that the wow factor of his matches was suffering from diminishing returns.

It’s easy to understand this train of thought. The King of Strong Style’s debut match against Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Dallas last year was heralded by many as a Match of the Year contender, and in my mind was only bested by Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi at WrestleKingdom 10 and AJ Styles vs. John Cena at SummerSlam. Shinsuke just couldn’t seem to top his barn burner of a debut as the bar had been set far too high.

This is why his main roster call-up was so sorely needed, the change of scenery and exposure to a different audience would prove to be a brand new challenge for the man now known as The Artist (which seems a little distasteful a name, Prince’s body is still warm for God’s sake). And now, as SmackDown’s next pay-per-view, Backlash, is on the horizon, there are already complaints that Shinsuke hasn’t worked a match on television yet. Truth be told, I’m not crazy about the fact that his feud with Dolph Ziggler has consisted mainly of name-calling and repetitive promo segments from week to week, but the impatience of the modern wrestling fan annoys me infinitely more.

There is a reason why Nakamura’s bright spark burned out after only a year in NXT, and it is all to do with WWE’s programming schedule. Shinsuke’s home of New Japan Pro Wrestling doesn’t have a weekly television show like a Raw or a SmackDown, their programming is far more sporadic. They also don’t have two pay-per-views a month to accommodate for having two segregated rosters, meaning most matches feel fresh, even if we’ve seen them before. New Japan fans are salivating over the inevitable day in which Kenny Omega finally captures that illusive IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Okada, the moment will be all the more sweeter when it happens. Those two wrestlers haven’t clashed in singles competition since January, but the rivalry is always there. In WWE, they would have already worked several rematches and exchanged the belt multiple times by now, it’s just a different method of operating business.

Now that Nakamura is away from the slower build of NJPW’s model, it’s essential to treat him like a big match player. Having him wrestle on TV every week would be a mistake, and WWE have rightfully avoided it. His first match on the main roster is being constructed as a major selling point for Backlash, it’s his debut and he’s already the focus of the promotional trailer on the WWE Network and the main subject of the poster. When AJ Styles first came into the WWE, he wrestled Chris Jericho his first night on Raw, then they wrestled again, and again, and then again at WrestleMania. By the time their blow-off match came about, it wasn’t fresh and exciting anymore, it felt less like a feud and more like a series of exhibition matches.

The Artist known as Shinsuke Nakamura must be treated with reverence, it has to feel like an event every time he steps through the ropes, a must-see showcase. Dolph Ziggler has been spinning his wheels for a while now and it’s tough for me to get excited about his matches anymore, but he’s never faced Nakamura before outside of dark matches, and when you think you’ve seen everything as a wrestling fan, something new is always appreciated. Just imagining how Ziggler will sell the Kinshasha has me salivating (as long as his head doesn’t actually come off), the idea of how bombastic and insane Nakamura’s entrance might be has me actually looking forward to a pay-per-view with Jinder Mahal in the main event.

The slow build is perfect and seems to be a rarity in WWE these days, but it’s a proven formula. Kane and the Undertaker didn’t come to blows in a match until six months after the Big Red Machine made his debut, and it’s proven to be one of the most interesting and fondly remembered storylines of the Attitude Era. Cast your attention to WCW and Sting didn’t wrestle or even talk for an entire year after unveiling his Crow gimmick, skulking around the rafters and stalking the NWO week after week. The culmination of this build at Starrcade 1997 led to it becoming the highest-grossing WCW pay-per-view of all-time, and had the card been booked with some common sense, WCW may have even won the Monday Night War.

Now imagine if fans complained en masse about the “slow” progression of those storylines, failing to recognise the effectiveness of building a narrative up over time. Modern day culture revolves around instant gratification, we live in an era where a sense of being entitled to everything at that precise point is commonly accepted behaviour. WWE have burned through so much potential in recent times by having the same guys wrestle repeatedly on a weekly basis. It’s the reason why the fans turned so vehemently on John Cena and have done it again with Roman Reigns. When you have a talented performer, you will quickly expose their limitations when we’ve seen them wrestle more times than we’ve had hot meals.

So, have a little patience if you’re not satisfied with Nakamura’s main roster run so far, and if you appreciate a slow build, enjoy it while it lasts. I have no doubt that Vince McMahon will eventually peddle him out on TV once every seven days, with a disregard as to how the man got so popular in the first place. Until that day comes, however, let us admire the fact that Shinsuke Nakamura is being portrayed as the star he truly is.

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