As arguably the most powerful man in professional wrestling, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon has made a lot of enemies in over three decades running the company. This was especially true in the 1980s when a much younger Vince had helped the then-WWF expand from an Eastern territorial promotion to a much larger company with nationwide reach and appeal. And, as his daughter Stephanie McMahon had related, it had gotten so bad that Vince McMahon received death threats, which might have been orchestrated by rival promoters.
At the Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in California, Stephanie McMahon spoke to Fortune about her current role on WWE television, an authority figure role where she plays an “evil version of herself” who makes life hard for babyface competitors. She also talked about how WWE’s product appeals to its fans, whom she described as “passionate” and a big reason why WWE consistently trends on Twitter and has YouTube’s leading sports channel in terms of views.
“Our fans are part of our show. It’s really more akin to performance art—no different than Shakespeare, opera, or ballet.”
However, it wasn’t always like that for WWE. When Vince McMahon Sr. died in 1984, control of what was then known as WWF was passed down to his son, Vince Jr., who had promptly worked on transforming the company into a worldwide juggernaut. To this end, he recruited some of the top talents from other territories, including would-be “face of the company” Hulk Hogan, and this had resulted in many of these rival territories going under or losing prominence. This angered many rival promoters, as Stephanie McMahon related to Fortune (quotes from SEScoops).
“(Vince) was invading their territories, and getting better television coverage. He thought he had the better product, and ultimately, he did, and they didn’t take to kindly to that.”
Ultimately, it had gotten so bad that Vince McMahon allegedly got death threats from these business rivals, and supposedly had a face-to-face encounter with a hitman who was sent out to kill him. Stephanie didn’t go into detail, however, about who may have sent the gangster out and exactly how Vince had stood up to him.
“He told me a great story about a threat from a notorious gangster and being in this room, this old hotel, with the dark wooden panel walls and this big oversized man with a very unattractive face. He was threatening my Dad’s life and my Dad was willing to stand up to him and all these different people to make his dreams come true.”
Stephanie McMahon explained that the story about her father’s close call with the gangster would be part of what was supposed to be her memoir, which, as WrestlingNews.co noted, is entitled UNREAL: Inside the Crazy, Fun Show Business World of WWE. According to Stephanie, she has pushed back the release date of this book to 2020, as she is “personally reassessing” and planning to reinvent the memoir into a book that isn’t solely about her life story, but rather one about the McMahon family in general.
Thanks to so-called wrestling “dirt sheets,” we now know much more about the inner workings of the business, as well as the story of how WWE rose from Eastern territorial promotion to worldwide leader in sports entertainment. But as Stephanie McMahon had suggested to Fortune, there may be a lot more about the company and its “first family” that we don’t know about, with Vince McMahon’s death threat story being a prime example. With four years or so before the tentative release of Stephanie’s “reassessed” memoir, those stories should be well worth the wait until her story is finally published.
[Featured Image by WWE]