The Softer Side of Wrestling’s Showman Extraordinaire, By ELIZABETH MAKER - The New York Times - 2nd March 2008
MANY words come to mind when describing Vince McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., but for the millions who watch him on television, as he hurls insults and lewd taunts at the wrestlers or the audience, “marshmallow” is probably not one of them.
But that’s how Linda McMahon, his wife of 41 years, sees him: “He’s a marshmallow, a real pushover, a total sweetheart.”
It was Valentine’s Day, and Mr. McMahon had just delivered a bouquet of yellow roses to his wife, the company’s chief executive, at her office in the 114,300-square-foot W.W.E. headquarters in Stamford. “This is the side of Vince McMahon that most people don’t know,” she said. “But I guess that’s good; people love to hate him.”
Mr. McMahon, 62, a two-time world champion wrestler and third-generation wrestling promoter, is better known as the broad-shouldered, insult-spewing narrator in the ring. On this day, he smiled at his wife and spoke softly about the success of his family and his multimillion-dollar business.
Just two days before the interview in his offices, the publicly traded company announced revenues of $485 million in 2007.
Mr. McMahon credits his wife and his 600 employees for the company’s success.
“It’s a team, and we all go by the motivation that we’re here to put a smile on people’s faces,” he said.
The company plans to break ground this summer on a $70 million project that will almost triple its 39,000-square-foot television studio here.
The studio just completed a $20 million upgrade that allows high-definition programming for its three shows: Monday night’s “Raw” on the USA network; Friday night’s “Smackdown” on the CW; and Tuesday night’s “Extreme Championship Wrestling” on the Sci Fi Channel.
How such a boorish blend of athleticism and absurd acting added up to Mr. McMahon’s financial success can perhaps best be explained by someone who knows the formula well, the real estate mogul Donald Trump, who appeared with Mr. McMahon last year in W.W.E.’s “Battle of the Billionaires.”
“People love this stuff, and it’s all because of Vince McMahon and his vision,” Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview. “He also has the very rare combination of being a great manager and a great salesman.”
When they filmed the show, Mr. Trump said he was impressed with Mr. McMahon’s “acute attention to detail.”
“I watched the way he handled the crew and the cameras and the most incredible technology you’ve ever seen,” he said. “I watched the way he carried every single detail out to perfection.”
Mr. McMahon was introduced to the business of wrestling as entertainment at age 12, when he met his father, Vincent J. McMahon, for the first time. His father, who had left when Vince was a baby, owned the Capital Wrestling Corporation, which was created a generation before by his father, Jess McMahon.
“The first time I went to a live match with him, I knew this would be my life,” Vince McMahon said. “The roar of the crowd, the energy — I was hooked. My dad didn’t want me to work in the wrestling business; he wanted me to be an accountant.”
Vince McMahon bought the business in 1982, and, after several name changes, created W.W.E., putting other wrestling promoters out of business along the way.
He moved the company from Massachusetts to Greenwich, “mainly because anyone can go to New York City, but I didn’t want to be a little fish,” he said. “I wanted to make a statement. I thought, what better place than Greenwich, with all the blueblood personalities and the cachet that wasn’t normally associated with wrestling?” By 1990, the headquarters had outgrown its space in Greenwich and was moved to its current address in Stamford.
Mr. McMahon also shifted W.W.E.’s focus to have more exaggerated story lines. “We coined the term ‘sports entertainment,’ ” he said. “People love it because it’s an escape from the drudgery and stress of their regular lives. They get charged by the action and the humor, and caught up in the drama, like a soap opera or reality show.”
Mr. McMahon grew up in North Carolina “with my mother and a variety of stepfathers.” He and his wife met in church in North Carolina, when she was 16 and he was 13.
Now, in his downtime, Mr. McMahon just wants to stay home, at the couple’s $40 million mansion on 10 acres in Greenwich’s back country, and play with his three grandchildren and his 140-pound mastiff, Rumpus.
He has also involved W.W.E. in many charitable causes, from promoting literacy in public schools and granting wishes to terminally ill children, to visiting American troops in the Middle East and encouraging young people to vote through the “Smackdown Your Vote!” campaign.
“I’ve always been a fighter, I’ve always been determined to win,” Mr. McMahon remarked, rubbing his jaw. “But there’s a feeling you get when you’re giving, when you’re doing something to really help people. It’s sort of the greatest victory there is.”
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