It is a sure sign the World Wrestling Federation is slipping: Vince
McMahon is giving interviews.
Not to everyone, mind you. But to those who matter most. Sports
Illustrated. National television networks. Anyone who can further sell today's
version of WrestleMania, which isn't selling the way WrestleMania have sold
in the past, is welcome.
This has not been the best of years for the WWF, which has had only winning
seasons previously. Attendance dropped this year. Television ratings went
Today's show, originally scheduled for the 100,000-seat Los Angeles
Coliseum, has been moved to the 16,000-seat Sports Arena. The WWF says the
move was made for security reasons. The real reason is they couldn't sell
sufficient tickets for the Coliseum.
Which is why McMahon, the autocrat and press recluse who runs the WWF, is
now talking. For the first time ever, he needs the publicity. In the past, he
was able to create his own publicity.
For the first time ever, there is an unanswered question: has McMahon's
version of pro wrestling, his brilliant combination of soap opera and sport,
This past year was a survival test - and the marks are still not in. Hulk
Hogan was removed as champion last April at the SkyDome, partly because he
wanted a break and partly because the WWF wanted to see what kind of business
it could do without him.
The Ultimate Warrior, crowned champion in Toronto, did not do similar
box-office business. Neither did any of the new people McMahon introduced to
his character list, which stereotypes society. The Warrior's failure to carry
the load resulted in the most desperate of McMahon's promotions.
His exploitation of the Gulf crisis, which resulted in taking Sgt.
Slaughter out of wrestling's retirement home, turning him anti-American and
supplying him with an Iraqi manager, further demonstrated what a difficult
year this has been for the WWF.
The WWF was actually founded on such a premise. Its national prominence
grew during the Iran Hostage crisis a number of years back, when American hero
Hulk Hogan beat up on the the nefarious Iran villain, the Iron Sheik.
It worked once. It didn't work a second time.
For the first time, one of McMahon's promotions proved embarrassing. Once
public sentiment was found, McMahon began toning down Sgt. Slaughter's act. He
began running promotional ads indicating the WWF's backing of the allied
troops in the Gulf. Anything to get back lost credibility.
The WWF has had an unprecedented run of success. It has taken professional
wrestling - formerly a small-time, localized schlock sport - and brought it to
the mainstream of American life, through cable television and non-ending
Vince McMahon didn't need anyone's help before. He was smart enough, and
just ruthless enough, to control every aspect of his organization, to allow
television to be the tool that sold his product.
But on this WrestleMania Sunday, Vince McMahon must be wondering. Are there
still millions to be made selling theatre and calling it sport?
The big pay-per-view ads are seen in most American newspapers. In other
years, even they weren't necessary. WrestleMania sold because it was a good
product. Good products sell.
This year, no one is that confident. Vince McMahon has broken his public
silence. That is message enough.
2004 Wrestling Headlines
2003 Wrestling Headlines
Wrestling Headlines Archive