The untold truth of Vince McMahon

Some say Hulk Hogan is the most influential professional wrestler in history. Others prefer the in-ring abilities of Ric Flair and Bret Hart, while others still feel that the crown should go to crowd favorites such as Steve Austin or The Rock. However, all those people would probably be a whole less famous if it wasn't for Vincent Kennedy McMahon. The WWF/E chairman dragged wrestling from its fringe territorial roots into the mainstream, or as close to it as a bunch of muscular, screaming people drop-kicking each other can ever be. Both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, McMahon revolutionized the world of sports entertainment. His executive skills have made him a certifiable billionaire, and his "Mr. McMahon" character is one of the more effective heels to ever step in the ring. The man even has a Guinness World Record to his name (for being the oldest WWE champion in history, naturally).

Everyone knows the kayfabe version of Vince McMahon — the cartoon villain chairman whose theme music spells doom for the poor soul standing in the ring as he powerwalks toward them — but the real man is far more complicated. Let's take a look at the untold truth of Vince McMahon.

​The one time he really let his hair down

Vince McMahon has a reputation as a control freak — there's a persistent story that he hates sneezing because he can't control it. (It's probably not true, but the fact that it's believable should tell you something.) However, there has been at least one time when he really threw caution in the wind. Bret Hart's autobiography tells a tale about the wild final days before the WWF/E implemented drug testing in 2006. Some wrestlers were having a blast at an El Paso strip club before taping a show in San Antonio when to their surprise, a very inebriated McMahon joined the party around midnight. At the insistence of Hulk Hogan, the equally wasted wrestlers started hitting him with their finishers. (The Legion of Doom held back with their Doomsday Device, but the Hart Foundation went full force and floored McMahon.) The police intervened just as Davey Boy Smith was searching for a good spot to body slam his boss, and the party was relocated to Ric Flair's hotel room.

At the hotel, the situation devolved into complete anarchy: Everyone urinated on Flair's king-size bed, and McMahon started trying to wrestle his underlings for real. Most of them knew to take it easy with him, but "Hercules" Hernandez manhandled McMahon to the point that he was sent flying and bounced off a rollaway bed. This was too much for even a drunk, playful McMahon: A few days later, Hernandez was released from the company.

​His trailer park childhood

Being the son of a wrestling promoter himself, it's easy to assume that Vince McMahon grew up with at least some financial comfort. This could not be further from the truth. As the New Zealand Herald describes, McMahon grew up "dirt poor" in a trailer park in North Carolina, and his parents split before he was a year old. Young Vince would not meet his real father until he was 12, and instead grew up with his mom and a revolving door of violent stepdads until he finally had enough and left home at 14. His early experiences on the bottom rung of society's ladder left him with a deep dislike of people who think they're above him. Even as an elderly billionaire, he feels uncomfortable with country clubs and other traditional symbols of the snooty rich.

McMahon can be surprisingly candid when he talks about his troubled early years. In an interview with Playboy, he once said that a particularly hated stepdad was lucky to have died before he could kill him. Tragically, he also suggested that a woman close to him (possibly even his own mother) may have sexually abused him.

​He was almost destroyed by a steroid trial

Bigger is often better in the world of professional wrestling, so performers have been known to dabble in steroids. Vice Sports writes that this nearly brought Vince McMahon crashing down in 1993, when the chairman was charged with routinely acquiring steroids for his wrestlers. According to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, McMahon used a shady Pennsylvania-based urologist named Dr. George Zahorian to write a steady stream of recipes for his performers' enhancements. Some of Zahorian's most notable customers included Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (who admitted as much in his autobiography) … and McMahon himself.

Investigators started looking into Zahorian's shenanigans after he started selling "candy" to other athletes and amateur bodybuilders. One particular powerlifter turned informant, and the good doctor was kind enough to implicate the WWF in their discussions. The following investigation and trial could have sent McMahon in prison for up to eight years, which would not have been good news for his vast sports entertainment empire. The case received national attention, and even Hogan was subpoenaed to testify. However, procedural errors severely undermined the case, as did allegations that star witness Kevin "Nailz" Wacholz nursed a personal vendetta against McMahon. In the end, only one count of McMahon's assorted charges made it to the jury, and he was acquitted.

​He once fought Kofi Kingston for real

Vince McMahon is perfectly happy to throw down with his wrestlers should the opportunity arise. As Sportskeeda and Pro Wrestling Stories report, he once even got in a physical fight with Kofi Kingston. According to wrestling legend Chris Jericho, McMahon was flying a number of WWE Superstars to a WrestleMania 26 press conference on his private jet. When the plane landed, McMahon made a strange comment to Kingston: "Maybe you'll get over one of these days." ("Getting over" means you're popular with fans or you can draw a reaction from the crowd.) Kingston first didn't react, but Jericho (who was extremely drunk at the time) intervened and told his colleague to go back and confront McMahon because McMahon likes people who stand up to him.

Kingston followed the veteran's advice and went for it. After a quick exchange of words, McMahon performed a double-leg takedown on Kingston and the two started brawling on the floor of the plane. After a scuffle, McMahon got up and started laughing. "That's the way to do it," he told Kingston before exiting the plane like nothing had happened. It may not be exactly coincidental that Kingston has gone on to become a member of the wildly popular New Day faction, and even got a WWE Championship match against Daniel Bryan in Wrestlemania 35.

​The trials and tribulations of XFL

Vince McMahon has had a very particular dream for decades: He wants to create a professional football league. As Forbes writes, he first attempted this in 2001 when he joined forces with NBC to create the XFL. The league played its first (and, so far, last) season in 2001, and as ESPN notes, it attempted to stand out with gimmicks, flashy cheerleaders, and a wilder set of rules than the NFL. However, the XFL failed to captivate the public, and lost McMahon and NBC a whopping $70 million. To this day, it remains the WWE mogul's biggest financial failure.

Despite this significant setback, the dream remained. In early 2018, McMahon announced that he was giving XFL a second shot, and this time he would do it all by himself. McMahon plans to use $100 million of his own money to finance the spring league, which is set to kick off in 2020 with eight teams that he will also own. Although some have expressed doubts regarding the born-again league's chances, McMahon seems to feel confident. He says he aims to keep the games at a more manageable two-hour length and will not allow players with criminal records to compete. As a likely nod to his good relationship with President Donald Trump (who has frequently criticized NFL players who kneel during the national anthem), McMahon has also said that he'll keep social and political issues off the field.

​Sexual assault allegation

According to the Daily Beast, in January 2006 a young worker at a tanning salon in Boca Raton, Florida, told the police that an older man had sexually harassed her at work. The woman said a customer of the tanning salon, identified as Vince McMahon, showed her nude and semi-nude photos of himself on his phone. Later, he locked her in a tanning room with him, groped her, and attempted to kiss her. The man attempted to dismiss his behavior as just "trying to have some fun," but the salon worker was quite understandably shocked and stumbled to a nearby Papa John's in tears, telling the staff that a man had tried to attack and rape her.

The Boca Raton police believed they had more than enough evidence for an arrest warrant, and as Deadspin describes, the original police report even says "there is probable cause to believe that Vincent McMahon did actually and intentionally touch against the will of [redacted]." However, this all went nowhere. Some unconfirmed news reports at the time said the state attorney's office refused to charge McMahon because the evidence was insufficient, and the case seems to be thoroughly closed as far as the law is concerned. In accordance with Florida state law, the records and files have been destroyed.

His insane physique

Anyone who has ever seen Vince McMahon walk toward the ring in his wrestling attire knows the man is a beast. He might not be as big as his most gigantic performers, but as the Washington Post notes, he's still so ripped that he featured in the cover of Muscle & Fitness magazine in 2015 — when he was a very respectable 69 years old. This is hardly typical for a billionaire CEO who mostly dresses in suits, but then again, McMahon is far from a typical fat cat executive.

McMahon has admitted to using steroids during his company's drug-happy years in the 1980s and 1990s, but later ditched the chemicals in favor of an exercise regime that is so rigorous that it's downright dangerous. In 2016, WWE.com reported that McMahon had sustained a training injury so severe that it required surgery. As befits a man who works out that obsessively in his 70s, this completely failed to stop him from turning up at the office.

​He's a notorious prankster

Vince McMahon might not seem like a prankster, but he loves an elaborate practical joke. In an interview with Back Sports Page, Jonathan "Coach" Coachman recalls the most elaborate jest the chairman ever pulled on him. In 2001, Coach was asked to run a football pool for the talent, and he was eager to accept. The next Tuesday at a SmackDown taping, two cops turned up and arrested him for running an illegal gambling pool. First, they walked Coachman to McMahon's office to let the chairman know what his employee was up to. McMahon went ballistic and yelled at poor Coach for ages in front of Triple H, The Rock, and a number of other WWE people. Coach was then walked out in handcuffs and driven away in a cop car, to the surprise and shock of a passing Undertaker (who wasn't in on the joke). The ordeal lasted for 45 minutes before the car was finally told to return, and Coach discovered the whole thing had been a ruse orchestrated by McMahon.

Even McMahon's acquaintances outside the wrestling world aren't necessarily safe from his pranks. According to Wrestling Inc., he once hired the vampire-themed wrestler Gangrel for a single, short match at Madison Square Garden … just because he wanted the wrestler's messy, blood-spitting entrance to soak Donald Trump, who was sitting in the front row.

His little on-air accident

Having to step in front of television cameras after crapping your pants is a situation straight out of a nightmare. However, actually facing that scenario and carrying on anyway is pure professionalism. In an interview with Fansided, longtime WWE announcer Jim Ross said Vince McMahon once did exactly this … though the events that led to the situation were pretty unprofessional. While taping an episode of Monday Night Raw, McMahon spontaneously decided it would be hilarious to break wind in the face of WWE producer Jerry Brisco. This decision immediately backfired when the intended blast of flatulence turned out to be a little more liquid than he had anticipated. To add insult to injury, he was wearing light khaki pants at the time.

Despite his compromised wardrobe situation and the snickering of the production crew around him, McMahon decided to maintain composure and go on with the show.

​His childhood idol

As Vince McMahon has said in multiple interviews, he connected with his estranged wrestling promoter father Vince McMahon Sr. after he left his trailer park home at 14. The older McMahon made a good impression, but there was another, cooler childhood hero young McMahon found in the squared circle. His favorite wrestler and a great influence on how he became to see professional wrestling as an awesome, entertaining business was Dr. Jerry Graham — a charismatic, 300-pound man who smoked like a chimney, threw money around, and generally behaved like a dangerous, larger-than-life character. Graham worked with McMahon Sr.'s promotion, and though they were on good terms, the promoter was less than thrilled to see his son look up to Graham and imitate his devil-may-care behavior.

McMahon Sr. may have been right to be apprehensive about his son's friendship with Graham because according to Deadspin, he had some inside information about the wrestler's dangerous nature. The FBI has records of the older McMahon and Graham keeping other wrestlers in line with threats.

​His soft side

Vince McMahon has always cultivated an image of a fairly hard dude. He has wrestled matches with men half his age, and even his entrance theme plainly states that whoever he's about to face has no chance in hell. However, if you ask his wife, you might get a slightly different story. According to the New York Times, Linda McMahon says her husband is in fact a sweetheart, a total pushover, and a "marshmallow." The notoriously scowl-faced WWE boss has been known to surprise his wife with bouquets of yellow Valentine's Day roses, and he likes to spend his downtime at home, playing with his grandchildren. To add to the eerily normal "happy old couple" vibe of that last sentence, Vince and Linda McMahon even met at church when he was 16 and she was 13.

This image of the WWE chairman as a sweet old gentleman and caring husband might be in stark contrast to, well, pretty much every other publicly known thing about him, and Linda McMahon realizes this. She says the mellow side of McMahon is something few people know about, and that's fine — after all, people love to hate him.

The dark side of WWE

In 2019, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver pointed out some glaring problems with the way McMahon and the WWE do business. While Oliver loves professional wrestling, he can't help but feel there are some issues with the way the company operates. He points out the history of the WWE's long history of shady business dealings and ties with less than savory institutions such as the Saudi government. There's also the way WWE treats its talent. From the fact that the WWE counts its employees as "independent contractors" (which is obnoxious) to the absurdly high injury and premature death rates within the industry, it seems the company has little regard for safety, health, or employment laws. The superstars themselves seem to know this, too: WWE legend "Rowdy" Roddy Piper once said in an interview that he wouldn't live long enough to collect his WWE pension. He was right — he didn't.

The WWE's response via Deadline mostly contested Oliver's claims and even invited him to Wrestlemania, but it seems the comedian wasn't really looking for dialogue with the company. Instead, the show was directed at wrestling fans, who are historically pretty much the only people who have managed to force changes in the way Vince McMahon runs WWE.

His mischievous youth

Vince McMahon has mentioned his wild teenage years in many interviews. He has insinuated that he had learning abilities or some form of attention deficit disorder, but since it wasn't discovered yet the adults usually just considered him a bad kid. Young McMahon reacted accordingly. He started running in gangs, getting in street fights, stealing, and running moonshine. Before long, he landed in so much hot water that he was given two choices: Either go to a state-supported institution or attempt to turn your life around at a military school.

With the financial aid from his father, McMahon chose military school, but Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia, would probably have preferred if he didn't. McMahon says he spent a good chunk of his time there playing insane pranks such as feeding a laxative-laced hamburger to a commandant's dog and stealing his car. McMahon also claims to hold the dubious honor of being the first cadet in the school's history to get court-martialed.