WWE has always had corporate figureheads. I grew up watching Jack Tunney making the big decisions like announcing Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI. Others maybe remember Gorilla Monsoon. Most, however, I’d hazard to guess, will remember one corporate figurehead above all others: Vince McMahon.
During the fondly remembered Attitude Era and especially during the Monday Night Wars, Vince McMahon did everything in his power to screw over various superstars including The Rock and most famously, Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Austin/McMahon feud had some of the best twists and turns of a wrestling storyline, including one pay-per-view match where the rules kept changing in favour of Austin’s opponent, Dude Love.
Nearly every wrestling fan will admit that Vince is unquestionably one of the best heels. It was great back then because he really was the boss, so it added a layer of reality to the corporate figurehead. It certainly helped that Vince was always – always – willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to get his superstars over, even if it meant peeing his pants or getting his head shoved between the buttcheeks of Rikishi or Big Show.
But WWE needs to remember something: the heyday of the Monday Night Wars was FIFTEEN years ago. With some very few exceptions, nearly every major storyline in the past fifteen years has involved an authority figure character.
As of this writing, WWE is churning out another storyline with corporate shenanigans taking place between Vince McMahon and real life son-in-law ,Triple H. In reality, HHH is in fact poised to take over the company in the event of Vince’s retirement or death, whichever comes first (likely the latter, because Vince is a workaholic). There’s even some figurehead shenanigans going on with other suits-in-power including Stephanie McMahon, Vickie Guerrero, and Brad Maddox. Frankly speaking, I don’t even know what role everyone has these days but I think today is a new record for number of authority figures.
In the past, we’ve had other figureheads with ever-changing titles to the position: General Managers, Commissioners, Presidents, CEOs. The list goes on. We’ve had guest GMs and guest hosts who do the on-air booking for the night. Occasionally, they’re in favour of the faces (aka: good guys), but most times, they play a prominent heel (aka: bad guy) role. They’re out to make the tough decisions and screw over whoever is the top faces or world champions at the time. John Laurenitis did what he could to screw over both John Cena and CM Punk. The anonymous GM gave their orders out via a laptop at ringside read aloud by commentator Micheal Cole (most people assumed he was the actual GM).
Look, I get it. Authority figures are easy heel heat. It’s easy to throw a suit on someone, put them out in front of a crowd, insult the faces or even the town they’re doing the show, and get the faces positive reactions by proxy. It’s an easy way to book matches, especially on live events where the main event for that week hasn’t even been announced. It’s an easy way for the face to look Sisyphean against insurmountable, logically unbeatable odds.
But can we just give the entire authority figure character a rest for a few years? It’s like WWE has an easy-bake script writing machine in the back and hasn’t gotten a new one for over fifteen years. Though I’m sure it looks great alongside their newer machine, the easy-bake stupid generic name generator they use for all the NXT superstars.
I think it’s high time we return to the days of Jack Tunney. We’d see Tunny maybe – maybe – every six months to announce a major match, usually the WrestleMania or Summerslam main event. All other stories were driven by the superstars themselves. Earthquake squashes Hulk Hogan on the set of the Brother Love show? Well, there’s your Summerslam main event! Jake Roberts is sick of Rick Rude wearing a picture of Jake’s wife on his tights? There’s a match or angle for Saturday Night’s Main Event!
Some of the best angles in the last few years have, in fact, been entirely superstar-driven. Look at Undertaker’s feuds in the last five or six years. Has the authority figure aspect ever come up in those? No, because the aura of Undertaker and his undefeated streak is enough to sell a match. How about the feud between Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels a few years back? Even more recently, you have the feud between Rob Van Dam and Alberto Del Rio.
Rather than relying on the easy-bake writing machine to create another authority figure, why not let the heels who can back up their words in the ring do the work? That way, you get a more satisfying ending when the face finally comes out on top.
It’s time to give the power back to the superstars that we love – and even the the ones we love to hate.