I don’t know how to begin covering what is possibly the biggest story in the history of professional wrestling. Vince McMahon is retiring from WWE. In his tweet and in WWE’s press release containing his statement on the matter, McMahon led with the fact that he is 77, intimating that it is age, and not The Wall Street Journal‘s investigation into a sexual harassment scandal that involves paying out over $12 million to female employees to quiet allegations against him.
Barring his being hired as a consultant, which is a path many executives take upon leaving their company, this retirement is total; he is resigning from his positions as CEO, Chairman, and Head of Creative. On the same day, his son-in-law, Paul Levesque, was reinstated as EVP of Talent Relations, and Brock Lesnar has reportedly left SmackDown, not wanting to work with anybody but McMahon. In my life as a fan and a critic, I can think of few days that have shaken wrestling like today. All of them are negative — the Montreal Screwjob, Owen Hart’s death, WWE’s purchase of WCW and ECW and the solidification of their decades in the making monopoly, Chris Benoit’s suicide and murders of Nancy and Daniel Benoit — the list goes on to varying degree, including the company’s dalliance with Donald Trump and its many responses to the crises that have faced the world, to say nothing of the United States or the people they employ.
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As I am fond of saying, I have been watching wrestling since I was four years old, when my babysitter popped in a tape of WrestleMania IV and left the room. In the 30 years since, there have been periods of time when I didn’t watch wrestling, but it has always been a part of the fabric of my life. My memories are flooded with wrestling. My first book of poetry was about wrestling. I have spent the past three years writing and editing essays about wrestling. I have grown with this form of art for the bulk of my life, and, as I grew up, I kept butting my head against these things which I considered bad or inconvenient at first, then, as I came to something like real consciousness, morally wrong. This is one of the reasons I have been adamant about calling myself a critic and not a journalist. I cannot put aside my feelings when it comes to this thing I love, I cannot claim to write without bias.
At the root of many of these biases is Vince McMahon. When I was born in 1988, he was the unquestioned kingpin of professional wrestling. Tomorrow will be the first day of my life where that is not so.
I’ll be honest: it feels kind of weird.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that today is also the day where I announced that Fanfyte will cease publication in mid-September. The three years I’ve written in this space and the year that I have had the pleasure of editing it were the culmination of that long term fandom and growth, my coming into the knowledge that being a wrestling fan often involves compromising yourself for the sake of art, in the belief that somehow art could triumph over capitalism.
Vince McMahon’s retirement is not the triumph of art. It is merely what happens when the megarich get caught doing something that affects other megarich people. Vince McMahon gets to retire. Vince McMahon gets to hang out on his yacht, the Sexy Bitch, as much as he wants. Vince McMahon event gets to have his legacy, however tarnished it is.
That’s the problem, though. Wrestling is Vince McMahon’s legacy, no matter how much he or you or I may protest that what he does is not wrestling. That’s what the death of WCW meant, and while there are legitimate alternatives to WWE in 2022, WWE is, to most people, the first, last, and only word when it comes to professional wrestling.
That does not end with Vince McMahon’s retirement.
For one thing, nobody, not even in the event of a corporate buyout by a media conglomerate, can change WWE’s business model from the one McMahon established. Frankly, who would want to? The company commands massive television rights fees, has billions of dollars tied up in an engagement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a licensing giant, and owns countless hours of easily monitizable content that has already paid for itself many times over. It birthed legitimate pop culture icons like Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, John Cena, and The Rock. And, perhaps most importantly, its extremely corporate edifice has done a remarkable job of steering the company through controversies, moral lapses, and a slew of dead wrestlers whose sad ends are frequently papered over by tribute videos and inductions into the WWE Hall of Fame.
The memes are fun, but all I can think about is how Vince McMahon’s retirement is, if not a victory for professional wrestling, an opportunity for people who love it to assess what their relationship to wrestling is now, and what they would like it to be.
Often when such a thing is suggested, it is in a “vote with your dollars” sense. It doesn’t matter if you watch WWE, AEW, NJPW, the indies, or nothing but old joshi matches on YouTube — how you spend money on wrestling is not the issue. What I mean is that I think Vince McMahon’s retirement, whatever it means for the industry, is an opportunity to heal.
What does that mean? Honestly, I don’t know. I opened this piece intending to roast Vince McMahon and instead find myself at a loss. I don’t care about match quality, storylines that make sense, or corporate maneuverings, so outside of joking with friends and the lure of watching things burn, what happens next for WWE doesn’t hold much interest for me. The things I do care about — the equitable treatment of talent, the continued growth of opportunities for marginalized wrestlers, the way wrestling feels when it is just right, the friends and community I’ve made through this strange sport — a lot of that happened in spite of Vince McMahon. Most of it wasn’t governed by him at all.
To boil all of that down, this is my take: fuck Vince McMahon, wrestling is our thing.
Have fun figuring out what that means to you. I’m certain I will.