How Vince McMahon Became A Billionaire With His Back Against The Wall
Monday nights have been sacred in America for exactly 44 years now — ever since Monday Night Football first debuted in 1970.
But during the 1990s, Monday nights served another purpose: They were reserved for an alternative brand of pro wrestling that would undergo a massive change of direction and would, ultimately, push the envelope like never before.
Ted Turner's WCW battled Vince McMahon's WWE for ratings supremacy. And while facing possible extinction, McMahon was forced to give one last swing for the fences when he innovated a new form of sports entertainment that not only won him the battle — it concluded the war.
Stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind and Triple H helped push the company to new heights, combining death-defying stunts, relatable personalities and cutting-edge immaturity in what we know today as the Attitude Era.
With his back against the wall, McMahon took a major risk giving his wrestlers the creative freedom to whatever they wanted, creating a billion-dollar brand that would later go on to monopolize the entire industry.
Through ingenious characters, progressive story lines and cut-throat business moves — including the stealing of talent and writers — all regular wrestling traditions were thrown out the window as both companies fought to deliver the greatest show possible.
In the end, the fans chose a winner: Vince McMahon and his WWE were crowned kings. By adapting to the times and staying ahead of the curve, he was able to save his prized business and create countless stars in the process.
Here's how it all happened:
During the 1980s, Vince McMahon was at the top of the pro wrestling universe with his nationally televised WWE, airing on both TBS and the USA Network.
However, after TBS owner and media mogul Ted Turner came to a disagreement with Vince for televising his programming on another station, the two split.
Turner then decided to run their competitor, NWA, exclusively on TBS while the WWE would continue on USA Network. This would spark the beginning of the war between the two.
The breakup created major tension between the men, but it was because of this that McMahon came up with his most brilliant idea: Wrestlemania.
In response to the WWE's continued success, Ted Turner bought the NWA and rebranded it as WCW.
The WCW might've had trouble finding success early on, but the WWE also saw a drop in ratings as fans became bored with the same old material.
But on January 11, 1993, the WWE ran its first episode of “Monday Night Raw” live from the Manhattan Center in NYC. The show revolutionized the industry.
McMahon's new live show would center around a youth movement. Megastar Hulk Hogan decided to leave McMahon and the WWE to pursue acting.
In response, Turner hired former announcer Eric Bischoff as executive producer of WCW. Bischoff scaled up the production and began shooting shows at Disney-MGM studios.
It was there that Bischoff met Hulk Hogan (he was shooting his TV show). Following months of nagging and a non-cut contract offer, Bischoff poached Hogan for WCW.
Along with former WWE star Randy Savage, two of the biggest names of wrestling now worked for Ted Turner and WCW.
The WWE decided to continue to cultivate its young talent, while the WCW continued to steal more of its competitor's older wrestlers.
In one of his bolder moves, Ted Turner gave Eric Bischoff a primetime slot on TNT on Monday nights, directly competing with WWE's “Monday Night Raw.”
This marked the birth of WCW's “Monday Nitro,” which would shockingly put it head-to-head with WWE's “Monday Night Raw” show.
The rise of the cutting edge group NWO, featuring the likes of Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, finally brought WCW to the top of the ratings by 1996.
With total disregard for authority and ruthless style, more fans continued to tune into “Monday Nitro” instead of “Raw,” leaving the WWE in the dust.
As a result, the WCW beat out the WWE in cable TV ratings consecutively for 84 weeks.
But instead of panicking, Vince McMahon stuck to his strategy of building for the future and continuing with his youth movement.
The WWE had the superior talent, but the characters they portrayed were still too old-fashioned for McMahon's up-and-coming audience.
That's when McMahon and the WWE decided to usher in the Attitude Era, which changed the game forever.
This era of attitude could only be summed up by one person: Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The new reality-based stories blurred the lines between what was scripted and what was real life, giving the WWE new life and keeping people talking about what they'd seen the night before.
One of the most defining moments on the show was when Brian Pillman threatened Stone Cold with a gun as he came and invaded his home.
Thanks to a new Philadelphia wrestling promotion, ECW, the WWE decided to adopt a more hardcore form of brawling. No wrestler embodied that more than Mankind.
Table, ladder and chair matches (otherwise known as TLC) were incorporated into the show, with some of the best tag-team match-ups pushing the new extreme style to its limits.
With an increased emphasis on violence, a more sexual theme was also introduced. Sunny was the inaugural diva of the WWE.
But nobody drew more attention than Sable. With her manipulative tactics and stunning looks, she was the reason many parents banned their kids from watching.
One of biggest transitions in the Attitude Era was the larger-than-life characters that pushed the company to the next level. No one embodied that more than The Rock.
D-Generation X also brought a new brand of renegade camaraderie that the WWE became known for. It was something that the WCW just couldn't recreate.
Meanwhile, the WCW was now the one falling behind by keeping NWO ahead of the pack. Fans were getting bored and the talent was too old to be hip.
While they tried to emulate what the WWE was becoming, WCW just couldn't match their controversial content — it was too explicit for Ted Turner. The furthest they went was adding cheerleaders.
Vince McMahon also became a huge part of the story line. He played the villainous boss and added in the perfect dictator-type personality to combat all of the WWE's anti-heroes.
His rivalry with Stone Cold Steve Austin culminated in a match that aired on April 13, 1998, which finally pushed “Raw” back over “Nitro” after 84 weeks.
And just like that, the battle was won. The WWE would go on to beat WCW every week going forward until the WCW became extinct.
Vince McMahon ultimately bought out his competitors and even brought Eric Bischoff on board to the WWE.
Both behind the scenes and as part of the story lines, McMahon brought the WWE back to life. His plan of cultivating young talent paid off. He also became a billionaire as a result.
All Photos Courtesy: WWE
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