Vince McMahon’s Chosen Ones: The Greatest Hits (And Misses)
Every few years, some new wrestler comes to WWE, the lights go on in Vince McMahon’s eyes, and he decides to take a personal hand in grooming them to become his next big star. These pet projects are stubbornly rigid in the way they are presented regardless of how the fans react, and typically get an inordinate amount of TV time to condition the fans to accept them a a big deal.
Sometimes the Chosen Ones work out, and the fans jump on board without any hesitation. Others have been crammed down the fans’ throats to the point where they just give up and deal with the guy until the people they actually want to see are on their TVs. In extreme cases, fans have walked away from WWE completely rather than be subjected to a constant barrage of someone they can’t stand, eating up what was once their favorite show.
Vince McMahon has shown a willingness to keep pushing people he believes in beyond what some others would consider the point of sanity. From Vince’s perspective, his endorsement is a big deal that should matter to his customers…and the Chosen Ones had better deliver because he hasn’t shown much understanding for people who disappoint him.
With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of Vince McMahon’s pet projects and their successes…or lack thereof.
Hulk Hogan: The Chosen One by whom all others are judged. Vince certainly has his idea of what a corporate superstar is supposed to be, and Hogan fit the bill perfectly. He was big, strong, had a ton of charisma, and best of all, he was able to stand up to the extremely high demands of not only drawing well as champion, but presenting well in media appearances and other engagements like charity work that reflected well on the company.
The relationship between Vince and Hogan has been hot and cold at various times over the years, but I think that if both men are being honest, they’ll admit that they’re both much the better for having worked together, and it’s questionable whether the business would exist as it does today if it weren’t for the McMahon-Hogan partnership.
The Ultimate Warrior: Warrior was Vince’s first real attempt at creating a “new Hogan” who could be his top draw if and when the original needed to be replaced. After spending a couple of years running roughshod over the midcard as the Intercontinental Champion, Warrior became the only person to get a clean win over Hogan during his 1983-93 run, and took his place as the WWF’s flagbearer while Hogan stepped aside to film Suburban Commando.
Unfortunately, in spite of the push he was given on TV, business was down from Hogan’s heyday, and Warrior wasn’t really equipped to be much help turning that momentum around. In fact, Wrestlemania went from filling the Toronto Skydome when Hogan dropped the title to Warrior, to being moved from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the Los Angeles Sports Arena, a much smaller building, due to extremely poor ticket sales. Warrior was also nowhere near as good a public representative as Hogan due to his often incomprehensible ramblings and penchant for saying offensive things.
After taking everything into consideration, Vince decided to give up on the Warrior experiment and had him drop the WWF Title to Sgt Slaughter. Warrior then crossed the line with Vince by holding him up for more money at Summerslam 91, and was fired the instant he came back to the dressing room as a result. He returned at Wrestlemania 8, but was gone again in only seven months because of more backstage issues.
Amazingly, Vince brought Warrior back yet a third time in 1996, and this time he only lasted about three months before he started skipping advertised appearances. Vince still gave him the chance to post an appearance bond that would allow him to keep working for the WWF, but Warrior refused and was fired yet again.
Warrior did eventually mend fences with Vince and came home to accept his Hall of Fame induction during Wrestlemania 30 weekend, but things were rocky for a very long time. WWE produced a DVD called The Self Destruction Of The Ultimate Warrior, where they got nearly everyone working for them to talk about what a pain in the ass he was to work with. This led to a lawsuit that dragged on forever, and made the eventual reconciliation between WWE and the Warrior one of the most miraculous in the history of the business.
Lex Luger: Vince did everything he could to turn Luger into a new Hulk Hogan when the original left the WWF in 1993. After spending several months as a self-centered character called the Narcissist, Luger suddenly was running around in red, white, and blue tights, bodyslamming big fat guys, and was even riding around the country on a tour bus called the Lex Express to try and raise grassroots support from the fans. Vince had done everything he could to make Luger his guy, but for a number of reasons, he never got over the way Vince had hoped.
Between poor booking decisions like having Luger beat Yokozuna at Summerslam 93 by countout and then celebrate like he won the title, and also the fact that his patriotism seemed somewhat forced, he never came through as a truly viable alternative to Hogan. In fact, when they did the tied finish at Royal Rumble 1994 with Luger and Bret Hart, Bret clearly got the better reaction of the two even though he had been buried for a year while Luger was pushed to the moon.
Luger was eventually busted down to working the opening match at Wrestlemania 11, was stuck in a tag team with the British Bulldog, then snuck out of the WWF and showed up on Nitro in one final slap in the face to the company.
Diesel: Diesel was a funny case because he was already super over with the fans, but once Vince decided to make him the top star in the company, all the stuff that made him cool like the sarcasm and badass killer instinct were gone. Instead, Diesel spent a full year as a high fiving, baby kissing corporate champion who stood up for truth, justice and all that was right in the world. Houses dropped off to almost nothing as his feuds with Sid and King Mabel sent fans running for the hills, and Bret Hart again came to the rescue by beating Diesel for the title at Survivor Series 95.
Amazingly enough, Diesel returned to his old self literally within seconds of losing the title, knocking out referees and repeatedly powerbombing Bret Hart. Diesel changed in the blink of an eye, and when we spent the next six months before he left for WCW watching him casually pick fights with the Undertaker and sadistically powerbomb Shawn Michaels through a table, we saw the fans immediately react and embrace him again since that was what got him over in the first place.
The Rock: I think this is a pretty familiar story to most fans, but here goes: when Rock first came to the company as Rocky Maivia, the fans hated him. They drilled into our heads how he was the son of Rocky Johnson and grandson of Peter Maivia, and he was doing the same smiling, high fiving babyface crap that had failed to work already for both Luger and Diesel. It finally took Rock turning on the fans because of the way they treated him before he started earning any respect.
Rocky lucked out that this transformation happened as the Attitude Era was starting, because it allowed him to let more of his colorful personality out and it eventually transformed him into possibly the best promo guy in the history of the business. He went on to make a ton of money for the company and, even after years away from the business, returned to the ring and drew the highest PPV buyrate in wrestling history for his Wrestlemania match with John Cena.
Vince was right that he had the potential, but never would have gotten there if he’d been forced to stick with the vanilla Rocky Maivia character.
Brock Lesnar: Brock Lesnar was the first surefire, can’t miss prospect to come along since Hogan. He had it all: size, speed, athletic ability, a background in amateur wrestling, a really crappy attitude, and the ability to channel it into really good promos. He was booked to beat literally every top star of the previous 15 years that WWE could throw at him, and he won the WWE Title within five months of his TV debut. He main evented PPVs, had great matches, and best of all was still only in his mid-20s. Lesnar was the best thing Vince could have hoped for and, barring some unforseen, life-changing event that would take him out, Lesnar WOULD be the guy carrying his company for years to come.
Unfortunately, instead of losing him to injury or poor booking, Lesnar simply decided he didn’t want to be on the road anymore and quit a week before Wrestlemania 20. Lesnar burned WWE badly with the way he handled his departure, and it’s been long suspected that the rough treatment newcomers to WWE are given is done specifically to test their reactions because they never want to put as much work into someone and have them leave like Brock did.
John Cena: Though he may not be the most popular guy in the world with a certain segment of WWE’s fanbase, he’s the greatest thing in the world to the segment that matters the most to WWE: the kids who buy his merchandise and get their parents to buy PPVs or the WWE Network to watch him wrestle. Though it’s hard to believe now, he didn’t get where he is overnight, and he wasn’t always presented as an unbeatable superhero.
Cena went through the channels and worked his way up to where he is now, starting out in the indies in California and, after spending a long time in developmental, worked his way literally from the bottom up once called to the main roster. Cena is a better worker than people give him credit for, is certainly a better worker than Hogan ever was, and a MUCH easier person to deal with behind the scenes. He’s done whatever the company has asked of him, and in addition to basically eliminating his personal life for the good of the company, is exactly the kind of guy WWE wants as their public face who goes on talk shows and makes other media appearances.
While he may appeal more to the entire audience if he was given a little more freedom to stray away from poop jokes once in a while, he’s probably as close to an ideal top star from WWE’s perspective as anyone they’ve ever had, including Hogan. Fans still turn on him to this day, but Vince stuck with him and, in Cena’s case, it paid off.
Randy Orton: Orton has been on TV for WWE for a long time now, and while he’s developed into one of the best all-around guys they have, it took him an incredibly long time to get there, to the point where a lot of people wondered why Vince insisted on continuing to push him and get negligible results.
At first they literally tried to make him a copy of the Rock, right down to having him turn heel on the fans who booed him, giving him a long Intercontinental Title reign (with constant references to him being the longest-reigning IC Champion since the Rock), and sticking him in a group where he was the obvious young breakout star. He was given the World Title at 24 years old (thought by many to be so they could erase Lesnar’s record as the youngest champion), then had him lose it to Triple H a month later and turned him babyface.
The original idea was to build to a Triple H vs Orton main event at Wrestlemania, but Orton didn’t get over as a babyface, so they abandoned the origina plan and instead turned Orton heel again and matched him up with the Undertaker. His poor in-ring work and boring, monotone interviews made him very difficult to accept as a star, and repeated reports of poor personal conduct outside the ring made people wonder who he had incriminating photos of that kept him from getting fired.
It wasn’t until he suddenly grew storyline mental problems and became the Viper that the character started to work, but it was very frustrating to watch him get there.
Ken Kennedy: The legend was that Vince liked Kennedy (now Ken Anderson in TNA) so much that he gave him his middle name to use as his ring name. Kennedy got pushed very hard, very quickly, to the point where he defeated just about every former WWE Champion on the roster in his first year. He won the Money In The Bank match at Wrestlemania 23, and announced afterward that he would cash it in at the following year’s show. Kennedy’s clear path to his preordained destiny was badly derailed by injuries that seemed to stop his momentum every time it started to build, and he eventually fell out of favor and was released.
Drew McIntyre: You knew Vince liked Drew because his on-screen nickname actually was The Chosen One. Unfortunately, Vince’s favor didn’t last and McIntyre wound up not just being cast aside, but was actually buried by being booked to lose almost every match he had and wound up stuck in the lame Three Man Band gimmick. He was eventually released, and has since made a solid name for himself on the independents and in TNA.
* * *
When you look back at Vince’s track record, you realize that some of these guys worked out better than others, but when Vince picks a good one, he hits really big. Being the face of WWE is absolutely NOT an easy job, and for every Hulk Hogan or John Cena who can swing it, there’s a Warrior or Lesnar who cracks under the pressure. It’s not an easy job, but it is easy to see why that endorsement from Vince is so rare, and when it comes, the person who gets it better damn well deliver.