My first rule of ‘The Wrestling Independent’ is that I want to stay away from the AEW/WWE competition. As anyone who runs a wrestling website, even one as small and insignificant as mine, will tell you, almost all of the submissions you receive are in some way related to AEW vs WWE and who is doing better. Honestly, it’s a boring and trite topic that varies from person to person and is based on personal preferences. If you ask 50 fans, you’ll get 50 different answers.
For one time, and one time only, I am going to break my primary rule. Not because I am some genius or expert in the field, because I am far from that. Not because I understand how to run a wrestling company or television, because I definitely don’t know how to do those things. But, simply as a fan who has watched wrestling for 30 years. Please know, all of this is conjecture as I know nothing about actually running a wrestling show or company.
Vince McMahon, as of right now, is the undisputed king of prof…errrr…. Sports Entertainment. When most people think about wrestling around the world, they’ll talk about Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, and all of the top level stars that came out of the E. Vince McMahon is undoubtedly a rags to riches story in looking at his poor and abusive childhood and took a regional promotion to make it a worldwide phenom. Tony Khan, conversely, is an Ivy League educated business man who was raised learning how to run a sports business and has countless connections around the world. From what we know, Vince was able to come into wrestling and envision how to present it in order to build an empire; while Khan was a fan whose passion fuels his work. These two men couldn’t be anymore dissimilar if they tried. But, the main thing that you can take is how their upbringing could have possibly molded how they run their wrestling.
One of the similarities that these men have is that, from all accounts, they are both extremely hands on bosses. Both oversee creative and take the final say in booking. Both, from reports, stay on headset during broadcasts to run the show and talk to various people. Finally, both oversee the direction and overall paths of their companies. The WWE, these days, has a team of professional writers with varying levels of interest in wrestling before they enter the company. Word is, in the past, there were times when interviewing writers that being a fan at times has been a detriment to the hiring process. The one big difference between Tony Khan and Vince McMahon, though, seems to be trust in their staff. Vince is known for coming in and rewriting shows from scratch. There are a ton of reports about how he yells at and berated his staff, especially over the headset. People, seemingly, are fired at will and punished based solely on where they stand with Vince and if they are revenue makers. See the past issues with the Usos and public intoxication and Charlotte going off script while still holding down jobs and being pushed. Tony Khan, on the other hand, people seem to always say what a great guy he is while talking about his super-fandom and how he wears it as a badge of honor. By accounts, that actually sounds like a young Vince McMahon. The green suit wearing, pot smoking, rock and roll loving fan who, when they were told WM 3 might get shut down due to the weather, he laughed it off. We can guess why things have changed over the years, but that is work and experience that no one, except Vince, will ever understand. The ironic thing about Vince McMahon and Tony Khan is that they both want to be each other, and it shows in their booking.
Vince is a poor kid, who suffered abuse, and through his wits and determination, saved himself. Tony, is a rich kid who desperately wants to be one of the cool kids. Vince’s overall booking formula is simple in that he creates the hero who comes in and saves everyone. That was Hogan, Austin, and Cena. If you are a bad guy on top, you are the cool guy everyone wants to be such as The Rock and Roman. Those are the two tropes that have run the WWE/WWF since day one. Vince could take those ideas, dress them up better than anyone, and run with them. Carnegie knew steel and how to sell and build with it. Gates knew how to take ideas, mold them and sell them. Vince, much like people Carnegie and Gates, knows how to do a couple of things and, god damn, does he know how to do them better than anyone else. Tony Khan, conversely, has been great at creating little moments and capitalizing on them. Long term booking, Vince wants to have a face of his company, almost like a mascot. Tony, looks at his big shows and creates pillars then builds backwards from there.
Vince creates these heroes and cool guy villains because that’s who he both related to and needed as a child. I grew up extremely poor and is a pretty rough area. I’m not going to compare myself to Vince, but it makes sense to me that a kid who went through those things is ultimately looking for a hero. You want the huge guy who is going to come in and take care of everything. You want someone, anyone, to look up to. As a child of little means and abuse, for Vince, that was the salvation and respite. It’s no different then why people are drawn to Superman and why Captain America is an icon. The Rock? Roman? Those are the guys who you meet in the bars and in the streets who seem to always have their crap together and get the girl. If you can’t have the hero, idolizing those guys are the next best thing. That’s WWE booking 101. That’s the top and everything else is filler. Go back, think it through, and see if I am wrong. The eras without that? That’s a live sex show between Edge and Lita.
Tony Khan, on the other hand, wants to be part of the team and show you why he’s so cool. He’s a
nerd, like the majority of wrestling fans, who thinks about what he likes and works it into the show. An example of this, currently, is Hangman Adam Page. Back in the first week of September, when Danielson and Punk came in, most commentators said they couldn’t understand how Page would be in the title picture. Khan, when Page went away for the birth of his child, obviously already had that planned out: While he’s away, let him cool off and bring in big stars. Have a Joker spot to make it a surprise to bring him back. Insert him back into and old storyline. And the Danielson and Punks built huge win streaks. I say Saturday the 13th, Page wins. Danielson wins the finals. Next big show (which there are a few TNT/TBS things on the horizon that he’s stated are planned out), Page vs Danielson, Page wins and builds his championship legacy off of that. Those are all small moments that lead to a bigger picture that are planned out. If Vince is Carnegie and Gates, Tony is Mark Cuban.
Vince wants to have the guy come in and save the day. The ironic thing is a lot of people feel that way about Tony Khan and what the Forbidden Door has meant for professional wrestling. A lot of people’s livelihoods were saved over the pandemic because of Khan, Eddie Kingston is a great example. Vince has always wanted that hero and never found out how to be it. He’s a self-made billionaire with no formal training who has had to learn how to do the business along the way. Of course he’s hands on. Of course he runs creative. Of course he runs commentary. Of course everything is his way or the highway. It’s literally the only thing he knows. Tony Khan, on the other hand, looks at what Vince has done and says to himself that he wants that. He wants those big Wrestlemania moments. He wants people to pop like they did for Hogan and Austin. The difference is he’s learned to analyze the business and figure out the formula.
Moving forward, the question is what happens next? I am beginning to think that we’re at a crossroads in professional wrestling. I honestly think that by 2025 it won’t look how it does today. While Khan is coming in and building up his business; it feels as though Vince is preparing to sell and step away from his. Where will that leave us going forward? And more curiously, as an approaching 80 year old Vince, what is going to become of the WWE?