Vince McMahon cynically plays ‘Mr. McMahon’ on WWE ‘SmackDown’

As a disgraced Vince McMahon stared at the thousands in attendance at the Target Center in Minneapolis to kick off the live broadcast of WWE’s Friday Night SmackDown on Friday, he invoked his company’s signature slogan: “Then. Now. Forever. Together.” The most important of those four pillars, he stressed, is the ultimate one: together. Strange feelings from someone who had stepped down from his decades-long role as chief executive and chairman following revelations in the Wall Street Journal earlier that day that he allegedly paid millions to silence a former paralegal with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

But the appearance of the 76-year-old billionaire was strategically separated from reality Moment when it was announced. (The woman he’s said to have paid off was 41 at the time of their reported relationship in 2019, and was also reportedly offered “like a toy” to John Laurinaitis, WWE’s head of talent relations.) The peacock mogul strutted down the Entry ramp to open “SmackDown” and in the end Vincent Kennedy McMahon didn’t ramp up just as quickly. It was his on-screen alter ego, “Mr. McMahon,” a disguise behind a disguise McMahon has inhabited for years to both buff his good faith as an on-screen tough guy and to parody his very real reputation as a controlling megalomaniac. The same tireless promoter whose show-must-go-on mentality has only hardened since WWE began airing several hours of live and recorded content each week looked at the timing of today’s prime-time broadcast through a lens: opportunity.

While Vince has temporarily ceded C-suite authority and handed the reins to daughter Stephanie a month after her own publicly declared leave of absence for ironic family reasons, WWE confirmed in a company release that he will retain creative control over all programming. Which, on that day, meant there was no way to stop the sports entertainment master manipulator from using mainstream media attention for his own ends, no matter how humiliating or misleading the spectacle.

While this approach sounds like a page out of his longtime ally Donald Trump’s playbook, the key takeaway is that it is Trump who has always tried to keep up with his wiser friend. (Unlike the gilded former president, McMahon endured a volatile childhood in a North Carolina trailer park before taking over and expanding his father’s business.)

The truth is, Vince doesn’t have much to lose, and he knows it. He has been open in the past about being unfaithful to his wife, Linda, who served as Administrator of the Small Business Administration under Trump. He has repeatedly escaped federal scrutiny, most notably in 1994 when he evaded conviction for allegedly using WWE as a glorified steroid sales thug. (As we speak, WWE is co-producing a scripted series about the scandal.)

More recently, he escaped unscathed after ex-wrestler Ashley Massaro accused him of negligence for his failure to act after she was allegedly raped overseas by a military medic as part of a WWE tour of military bases. (Ditto a class action lawsuit filed by Massaro and others that the company was responsible for neurological injuries sustained in the ring.) Massaro tragically died by suicide in 2019.

In a detail that appears to have been overlooked, McMahon even hinted at guilt since news of his latest alleged indiscretion broke, offering in a company press release that he would “give my full cooperation in the Special Committee’s investigation and myself.” promised will do everything to assist the investigation. I have also pledged to accept the findings and findings of the investigation, whatever they may be.”

Those words betray the audacity of someone who may have lost the trust and respect of a segment of viewers and even interest groups, but still owns a majority of stock in the company he ran for 40 years. And that confidence helps illustrate how someone under that kind of scrutiny in a post-#MeToo culture can so comfortably re-assume a thinly veiled persona dreamed up when WWE was on the ropes against serious competition a quarter-century ago . (It was then Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, now it’s upstart billionaire Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling.)

Competition is what drives Vince McMahon – competition for ratings, global dominance, social media saturation, prestige, alpha male pride and the adoration of millions. He doesn’t care what people think of Vince McMahon, but he does White how his fanbase feels about Mr. McMahon, and he’s played both sides against center in Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, his daughter has dutifully filled the credibility gap by piggybacking on her father’s not-quite-mea culpa, adding that she is “committed to working with the independent directors to strengthen our culture and our company.”

But unlike almost every other company in modern times, this workplace evolution must coexist with the personal misconduct and creative whims of a nominally deposed mad king who insists on defying infamy.

In other words, they will endure this scandal together. Vince McMahon cynically plays ‘Mr. McMahon’ on WWE ‘SmackDown’

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