Vince McMahon has spent decades crafting his legend more carefully than any WWE storyline, but before he became the genius billionaire with boxer-bursting grapefruits, he saw his share of struggle and strife. McMahon was 37 years old when he bought the WWF, and the story of his life up until that point is, in many ways, more interesting than what came after.
Beneath the swaggering Mr. McMahon persona is a man from humble beginnings, who spent years courting trouble and generally just f*cking up until he got his big break. Here are a few things you really ought to know about the turbulent first half of Vince McMahon’s life…
1. Vince McMahon comes from humble, trailer park beginnings. Vincent Kennedy McMahon was born in 1945 to second generation wrestling promoter Vincent James McMahon and Vickie Askew. Despite being the son of a man who’d become one of the most successful pro wrestling promoters in the country, Vince, Jr. wasn’t exactly born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
Vince, Jr.’s mom and dad split soon after his birth, and he grew up without contact with his real father. Vince spent most of his childhood in a trailer park in Havelock, N.C., a small town that existed to service a nearby Marine Corps airbase. It may have been a far cry from Stamford, Conn., but it sounds like lil’ Vince didn’t particularly mind the modest surroundings.
“[We had] a New Moon trailer, eight feet wide. Trailer park isn’t poverty. You don’t have much privacy, but there are nice things about it. Everything is compact. And it beats some other places.”
From the trailer park, to sniffing money like a weirdo. Living the American dream.
What Vince wasn’t so fond of, were the beatings handed out by his stepfather, Leo Lupton, an electrician at the airbase. Lupton would hit Vince’s mother, and when Vince defended her, he’d also catch a beating. In an interview, Vince didn’t mince words about his stepdad…
“It’s unfortunate that he died before I could kill him. I would have enjoyed that.”
2. He struggled with dyslexia and ADD as a kid. McMahon may be lauded as a genius on WWE TV, but he was no prize student. He almost flunked out of high school, only making it through when his father paid to have him sent to an exclusive military academy, and he barely dragged his ass through a basic business degree over the course of five years. Vince’s academic struggles weren’t entirely his fault, though.
Not even military school could tame the Vince McMahon pompadour.
Vince suffered from dyslexia and attention deficit disorder as a kid. While he’s presumably learned to manage it, dyslexia doesn’t just go away, so Vince is still dealing with it to this day. It’s almost enough to make you feel bad about hating those promos Vince wrote for Roman Reigns. Almost.
3. He didn’t meet his wrestling promoting father until he was 12. After 12 years in the trailer park, Vince McMahon, Jr. finally met Vince McMahon, Sr. Vince had never set eyes on his father before (at least not that he could remember), and he instantly formed a powerful bond with his real dad…
“When I met my dad, I fell in love with him. We got very, very close, but we both knew we could never go back. There would always be something missing between us, but there was no reason to discuss it. I was grateful for the chance to spend time with him.”
Vince would also fall in love with his dad’s line of work. From that moment on, Vince, Jr. had the wrestling bug.
4. Vince has a mysterious, rarely mentioned brother. With most of the McMahon family living such public lives, it may surprise you to know there’s actually a mysterious, lost McMahon floating around out there. Yes, Vince has an older brother named Roderick. If it hadn’t already been his brother’s name, I’m 100 percent sure Vince would’ve made Rod McMahon his stage name because it’s kind of too perfect.
According to Vince, Rod is just a regular dude who lives in Texas and makes a good living in the steel industry. Back in 2007, there were tentative plans to finally make Rod an on-screen character. Rod would have appeared at Vince’s funeral after his “death” in an exploding limo. Of course, the whole Vince death storyline had to be called off in the wake of the Benoit tragedy, so Rod never got his brush with fame.
Maybe it’s for the best we’ve only met one of these guys.
5. Vince and Linda were high school sweethearts who met in church. It may be hard to believe, considering some of the less-than-holy sh*t Vince and Linda McMahon’s marriage has been through both on camera and in real life, but the couple had just about the most innocent meet cute you could ask for.
A 16-year-old Vince and 13-year-old Linda met in church when they were introduced by Vince’s winglady (his mom). They were a steady item throughout their teen years, and Vince proposed as soon as Linda graduated high school. They married in August of 1966 when Linda was only 17. So, there you have it; proof that teenage romances can last from the unlikeliest of sources.
6. Vince learned his signature strut from Dr. Jerry Graham. If you had to guess, who would you say was young Vince McMahon’s favorite wrestler? Bruno Sammartino? Bob Backlund? Superstar Billy Graham? Nope, it was the now largely forgotten Dr. Jerry Graham. The good doctor was a solid, 6-foot wall of beef, who strode around like he owned the place wherever he went. Vince idolized Graham, and as a teenager, Vince tried to hang out with him as much as he could, despite his father’s protests (Dr. Jerry wasn’t exactly a shining role model). It was Graham who first introduced Vince to bodybuilding, and years later, the chairman would channel his confident strut when creating the Mr. McMahon character.
The strut wasn’t Dr. Jerry’s only signature. He also sported bold bleached blonde hair, and almost always wore red. Sound like another wrestler Vince would hitch his wagon to in the ’80s? If you want to know who the early prototype of the “Vince McMahon guy” was, look no further than Dr. Jerry Graham.
The Rusev/Hulk Hogan mashup of Vince McMahon’s dreams.
7. The first big event Vince promoted was Evel Knievel’s Snake River Canyon jump. McMahon didn’t buy WWF and get into promoting wrestling in a serious way until 1982, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t try his hand at promoting other things. Before WrestleMania, before Hulkamania, Vince McMahon’s first big brainchild was Evel Knievel’s ill-fated 1974 Snake River Canyon jump.
One day, Vince happened to catch an interview with Knievel in which he mentioned he had a dream of someday jumping the Grand Canyon. Vince decided this insane thing had to actually happen, with him as the promoter. Vince spent a day playing phone tag, but he finally managed to convince the stuntman to meet him in Las Vegas. Vince maxed out his credit card flying to Vegas and wining and dining Knievel. At dinner, Vince pitched the idea of broadcasting the Grand Canyon jump live over closed circuit in arenas and theaters he had an in with through the wrestling biz. Knievel jumped at the idea of the jump.
The event ended up being a bit of a disaster. The jump was moved from the Grand Canyon to the smaller Snake River Canyon in Idaho, being that trying to jump the Grand Canyon was kind of, y’know, ridiculous. Knievel was supposed to jump the canyon in a goofy-looking rocket shaped contraption, but the rocket’s parachute deployed early, causing it to fall back into the canyon. Knievel only suffered minor injuries, but it wasn’t exactly the triumph he’d been dreaming of. It wasn’t a triumph for Vince or the investors, either; nobody bothered to watch the jump on closed circuit, and everybody involved lost their shirts. This wasn’t the last promoting debacle Vince was a part of.
8. He also helped put together the infamous fight between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki. While promoting the Evel Knievel jump, Vince became friends with boxing promoter Bob Arum. In 1975, Muhammad Ali was challenged by Japanese pro wrestling legend Antonio Inoki, and Arum, who promoted all of Ali’s fights, saw dollar signs. Arum knew nothing about the world of pro wrestling, so he called up his new buddy, Vince McMahon.
Vince was sent to Chicago to convince Ali to do a worked match with Inoki. Ali was skeptical about the whole thing, but Vince laid down a scenario straight out of the main-event of an Attitude-era episode of Raw. Ali would dominate the fight, then Inoki would blade. Ali would ask the ref to stop the match due to the blood, but when his back was turned, Inoki would hit the enziguri and get the win. Shockingly, Ali agreed to this.
Unfortunately, nobody told the Japanese side of this elaborate plan, so Ali just got blank stares when he landed in Japan ready to rehearse his match. Ali became convinced that the whole thing was a set up and insisted that he and Inoki fight for real or not at all. Special “shoot fight” rules were devised that severely limited what Inoki was allowed to do, but still allowed some kicking and grappling. Due to the restrictions, Inoki spent most of the match sprawled on his back, kicking his legs like a baby while a frustrated Ali tried to land punches. By the end of the match, Ali’s legs were badly bruised and bleeding (according to Ali, he never fully regained his speed and mobility after this fight). The battle was considered a major embarrassment at the time, and for the second time in just a couple years, Vince McMahon was involved in promoting a major money-losing event.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a… AUUGH, GOD, MY LEGS.”
As an interesting note, Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki is today considered one of the earliest precursors to modern MMA. I’m surprised you never hear McMahon bragging about having helped create MMA, but I suppose doing so would also require him to acknowledge one of his greatest failures.
9. Vince briefly owned a minor league hockey team. McMahon has always focused more on the entertainment side of sports entertainment, but he’s also has some brushes with legitimate sport, as well. Of course, there was the ill-fated XFL experiment, but Vince also got into the hockey game in the late ’70s.
After his Evel Knievel and Muhammad Ali debacles, Vince started promoting small-time wrestling shows around the New England area and purchased a small, 7,000 seat stadium called the Cape Cod Coliseum in South Yarmouth, Mass. Vince booked everything from rock bands to the Harlem Globetrotters at his little stadium and even bought himself minor league hockey team, the Cape Cod Buccaneers. Turns out, his luck with legitimate sports was as bad in the ’80s as it was in the 2000s. The Buccaneers folded after a single season, but Vince still credits the Cape Cod Coliseum with teaching him a lot of lessons he’d later use as a wildly successful wrestling promoter.
I blame the logo. That guy is more “crazy guy at the bus station” than “charming pirate.”
10. Vince’s dad only agreed to sell him half of the WWF. Vince’s fortunes finally started to turn around in 1982, when his aging father agreed to sell the WWF to him. Vince, Sr. didn’t actually sell his son the entire company, though. He only sold him half. The other half of the company was split between Vince, Sr.’s right-hand men, Gorilla Monsoon, Arnold Skaaland and Phil Zacko. Vince wasn’t about to let this stand, so he took out a loan and offered each man a deal: $100,000 and a guaranteed lifetime job with the WWF in exchange for their share of the company. All three of them accepted. Vince was always better at seeing the big picture than most folks.
With that, after years of searching and striving, Vince McMahon, Jr. had his wrestling company. Vince McMahon, Genius Wrestling Promoter was born, and with each year, the kid from the trailer park who wasn’t quite sure what to do with his life would fade into history. Thankfully, there are dirt-digging bloggers around to make sure that early Vince doesn’t entirely disappear.
You can’t strut away from your past.
So, there you are, a few facts about the formative years of Vincent K. McMahon. Know any early McMahon tidbits I missed? Any of these factoids make you see Mr. McMahon in a different way? Let’s get ruthlessly aggressive on the comments section.