As the story goes, when you stand up to WWE CEO Vince McMahon, he respects you for it. So why are so many people in the business intimidated by him? Sasha Banks, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Chris Jericho share their insights on why.
We have all had the experience of working for an intimidating boss in the past. Perhaps the intimidation came from them having a superiority complex where they tended to be edgy by nature or loved screaming and shouting at others to motivate or get things done. On the same token, maybe the intimidation came from them being no-nonsense and controlling, using threats and throwing commands around, running the show like they are running a criminal gang. Or maybe they were just the kind of boss that always had their door closed, never approachable or available to you or others. Whatever the case may be, bosses like this have a sizeable (and often negative) effect on their employees.
Vince McMahon – The Most Powerful Man in Professional Wrestling
Take, for instance: Vince McMahon. Judging by the above image, he is a no-nonsense man. I mean, come on, look at the way he brandishes that chain across his broad shoulders and chest. THIS MAN IS IN CHARGE! After all, he is the one who shaped mainstream professional wrestling into what it is today. He has been a constant, prominent presence to the viewing audience for more than thirty years. Not to mention, he’s Vince motherfucking McMahon — this comes with an intimidation factor of over one million!
Despite it all, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, New Day, and Dean Ambrose (now Jon Moxley) have all said that Vince is a man who not only respects those who are aren’t afraid to approach him and get in his ear about things, he welcomes it. He also very much respects those who have no problem standing up for themselves to him, too. Even with this known, there are very few people in and out of WWE who have the gumption to approach him and say, “Let’s try it this way, instead.”
On the November 2nd, 2016 edition of Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast, Sasha Banks shared some revealing thoughts on what her relationship was like with Vince McMahon:
“[Vince] is Granddaddy, and Hunter is Papa. I don’t really get to talk to [Vince] too often because I am, quite honestly, very scared of him. I am honestly very scared of him. When he walks by, I try to be cool. ‘Hello, how are you, sir?’
It’s mostly Papa Hunter who I talk to. I’ve known him since NXT. He helped me and has seen me since I was a nobody, so he’s my go-to guy if I ever need help or have questions.”
The interesting thing here is we have one of the most over wrestlers at the moment, yet she is afraid to approach her boss, Vince, because she is scared of him.
Despite a lot of the newer wrestlers who have come up through the FCW or NXT developmental system feeling more comfortable approaching Triple H, Vince McMahon is still very much 100% in control of the product.
Ricardo Rodriguez on Vince McMahon Seeing What You’re Made Of
Ring announcer and professional wrestler Ricardo Rodriguez worked in the WWE system from 2010 until 2014. During his time with the company, he was a witness to a lot of happenings behind the scenes, and he had many fascinating stories to share about Vince, in particular, in his highly recommended interview with RF Video in 2014:
“Vince McMahon is still the boss. You just have to find an elegant way to approach him.
Vince, to us, was amazing, and he helped me out a lot. Granted, if for whatever reason the segment before us pissed him off, there goes the rest of the show for the rest of the guys because now he’s upset. So now, any little bad thing that [you] do, [you’re] going to get the bad end of it, as well.
Of course, depending on the mood he was in, for the most part, he was very supportive, and he would always help us out.”
Ricardo Rodriguez continued with an excellent story on Curtis Axel (then known as Michael McGillicutty), the son of the legendary wrestler, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig:
“Vince likes it when you stand up for yourself. I remember one instance, specifically. We used to have promo class with Vince. I remember this one because I was brand new, so I just stood off to the corner by myself quietly and watched.
[Vince] kept walking by McGillicutty. Curtis Axel had his foot out, and Vince would just step on his foot on purpose and keep walking. He’d keep talking and walking, come back, step on his foot, boom, keep walking and talking, step on his foot again, repeat…
Eventually, [Vince] just turned around and was like, ‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’
McGillicutty was just like, ‘Sorry, sir.’
Vince was like, ‘No, no, no, no. You don’t know what I’m doing! I’m stepping on your foot on purpose as I want you to say something. I’m waiting for you to stand up for yourself.’
Ricardo Rodriguez continued:
“Vince likes it when you have a problem; you address it. He doesn’t like it when you become a little bitch. Vince would just do that on purpose. He would step on your foot just to see if you would do something.
Chris Jericho on How Vince McMahon Holds the Purse Strings
On the subject of money, Vince McMahon is said to be very tight-pocketed and unwilling to let talent get over on their own. If the idea didn’t come from him, he has a tough time getting behind it. (See: Zack Ryder)
In 2010, Chris Jericho’s star was rising outside of the squared circle without the help of WWE. He was able to secure a hosting role on a new prime-time TV game show on ABC called Downfall, beating the likes of Ian Ziering and Mario Lopez for the part. It was a massive opportunity for both Jericho and WWE to capitalize on it. Vince, as you can likely foretell, was not behind the idea.
In his third autobiography, The Best In The World: At What I Have No Idea, Jericho had this to say about the matter:
“When ABC placed a press release in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, trumpeting the show and its new host, I thought it was awesome… until [my agent] Barry Bloom called me in a panic.
‘Stephanie just contacted me and said you’re not allowed to host Downfall. When Vince saw the press release, he flipped out and said under no circumstances are you to do the show.’
I was shocked. Obviously, I had dropped the ball by not telling Vince about the gig, but this was a perfect chance for the WWE to get the mainstream coverage they craved, by having one of its top guys host a prime-time major network program. Not to mention I’d delivered it to him on a silver platter with no expense or effort on his part. Why would he forbid me to do it? It made no sense, so I called him myself.
‘Chris, I can’t allow you do this show. It sets a bad precedent if I let talent go find opportunities on their own. Also, we have an agreement with NBC, and if you do an ABC show, our investors will be asking why you’re not doing an NBC show.’
This was total bullshit, even though I knew I’d insulted him by not telling him I’d gotten the job in the first place. But it was always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, right?
‘Look, Vince, I’m sorry for not telling you about this, but if you look at the big picture, this is good for all of us. I got picked for this job over fifty other people with celebrity value. If this show hits, it could be a big thing for the WWE and for me.’
Vince refused to budge and reiterated that there was no chance in hell he was going to let me do the show.
That pissed me off.
‘Vince, this is bullshit. You’re fucking with my future, and you’re fucking with my family. I’m doing this show whether you like it or not.’
‘If you do it, I’ll fire you on the spot.’
‘I’ll quit first; my contract is almost up anyway.’
‘You are really stupid if you do this.’
Now I really lost it.
‘Stupid? All right, I’m going straight to the airport and chartering a plane to Connecticut, so I can come over to your house and punch you in the face!’ I screamed into the phone.
‘I’ll give you my address!’ he yelled back.
I hung up on him. I couldn’t believe things had come down to this, but I really felt he was screwing up a big chance for me. I went through my contract to try to figure out if he could sue me for quitting the company. I was poring through the various sections and subsections when I heard the beep of an incoming e-mail from Vince.
‘I hope you understand the reasons I can’t let you do this. However, we’re taping a film next month, and I want you to star in it.’
Who the hell ‘tapes a film’ in this day and age?
I didn’t understand Vince’s logic in offering me the starring role in a straight-to-DVD movie that would take me six weeks to film and be seen by a few hundred thousand people, yet refuse to allow me to host a prime-time TV show that would take me a week to film and be seen by millions.
I told him I wasn’t interested in ‘taping a film’ and asked him to rethink his decision. A few hours later, he called me again, and this time it was a different Vince on the line.
“If you want something from me, then I’m going to want something from you,” he said in a gruff Clint Eastwood voice. “I’ll let you do the show, but I want you to commit to a new contract.”
We’d been going back and forth over the last few months about what I felt were some low payoffs, and I wanted some sort of restitution. I suggested stock options or a signing bonus for my next contract, and he was hesitant because he’d never done anything like that before. I refused to negotiate a new deal or come back to the WWE until he made things financially right.
I reminded him I still wanted updated compensation for the past year. To his credit, Vince promised to go back through my payoffs to see what he could do (a few weeks later, I got a hefty six-figure check in the mail), plus he gave me his blessing to do Downfall. In return, I agreed to come back to the WWE for another run.
Downfall only lasted six episodes and was panned by the critics, but they all agreed the one positive was my performance as host, and doing the show opened a lot of doors. It also opened another door between Vince and me, as I believe he respected the fact I didn’t back down from him, even though he didn’t agree with me at first. Conversely, I realized not keeping him in the loop and not telling him I was up for the job was the wrong thing to do. It was very disrespectful to him, and I’m sorry for that. But the whole situation brought us closer as business associates and friends.”
Chris Jericho stood up for himself, didn’t back down, got what he wanted with a bit of negotiation, and in the end, earned the respect of Vince McMahon.
Of course, Jericho isn’t the only person to send caution of physical violence to Vince McMahon when standing up for themselves. Let’s not forget about the time Kofi Kingston threatened to fight Vince McMahon. Of course, this was fueled by a bit of liquid courage. 4-hours of drinking Jack Daniels can bring valor out of anyone! Still, Kofi stood up to his boss. As the stories before this show, he gained McMahon’s respect in the process.
Sometimes the best antidote for intimidation is to intimidate the intimidator.
Update: In a pleasant turn of events, it seems The Boss is no longer afraid of the boss! Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Sasha Banks said she’s a lot more comfortable talking about creative with Vince McMahon than she used to be, and it makes a difference:
“It comes with growing up, becoming more mature, and becoming a woman. You have this more comfortable feeling of, ‘ok, you work for the boss, you work for the man, a legend, Vince McMahon, but hey, you’re the Legit Boss, so you better go through that door, tell him what you’d like to do and what you’d like to have.’
Honestly, that’s the biggest thing—not being afraid to stand up for yourself. If you’re very passionate about something, he’s the man to talk to. I’ve learned that it’s actually very easy to talk to him, and it’s so much better for me to talk to him than to talk to writers because you get the right answer, and you get the answer right away. You kind of understand what he wants from you as a performer. It’s been so much easier talking to him, and I feel less intimidated.
A lot of times, when it comes to whether we’re handed a promo that I’m not really feeling, or trying to figure out what the story—if we don’t know what we’re doing, it’s hard to perform. Recently we asked him, ‘hey, where are we going with this storyline? Can you tell me what direction you’d like to see me go?’ Getting the answer right from him straight up makes it so much easier.”
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