Can Vince McMahon Change WWE’s Fortunes? by Ron Pasceri

Two weeks ago on this very website fellow columnist Hab Rich wrote a very interesting piece on whether Raw ratings actually matter. Vince McMahon is in the title of my column. Paired with the fact that Vince’s surprise appearance on Raw coincided with a spike in the ratings, you may think my stance is that they DO matter. Hab’s column made me realize that I do check the ratings every week, but that isn’t the topic of this column. I agree with Hab’s assertion that the ratings have no real bearing on us as fans. You and I have no real personal stake in how many people watch Raw each week or how much money they make on advertising. The only thing that really affects us is whether the show was good or not. While wrestling fans get a rap of enjoying their criticism of the product more than the actual product, it’s safe to say we’d all prefer to just enjoy the show.

It is a fact that ratings increased upon Vince’s December 14th appearance on Raw and that increase may have led to his reported appearance tonight. This makes me excited as a fan, not because that number may go up, but because Vince’s presence makes the show more fun to watch. Ratings aside, I actually saw a higher level of interest from people in my immediate circle. I talk about wrestling to literally three friends, but over the last two weeks that number has jumped to double figures. That increase in interest can be attributed specifically to Vincent Kennedy McMahon. At work I typically get “ribbed” for being a wrestling fan. I probably don’t help matters by having HBK and Ric Flair Fatheads on the wall over my desk, but I get constant grief nonetheless. After Vince’s return to Raw, everyone in the office spent the next few days regaling me with their best Mr. McMahon impressions. On a personal level, that interaction with the people around me makes being a wrestling fan a little more fun and isn’t that what it’s all about?

On a bigger scale, Vince having more of a TV presence could and should make an impact. John Cena has been the biggest name on the roster for years and while he’s had some mainstream spotlight, I don’t believe he is a household name. Vince McMahon is. He is immediately the biggest, most well known person on Raw. He’s been around forever, he has notoriety and a presence that cannot be ignored. Vince’s presence could help to make Roman Reigns the star the company envisions. At the very least it will make him more credible to be butting heads with the Chairman of the Board. With WWE’s relationship with ESPN shining a brighter spotlight on the company it helps to have such a readily recognizable figure as part of the major storylines. Based on just my small circle, interest has already risen and friends who tuned out 5-10 years ago are somewhat interested again.

Many of us who write for TJR Wrestling or comment on the site have been reiterating many of the same complaints. Creative isn’t telling good stories, logic has gone out the window, titles don’t mean anything, 50/50 booking is holding the next generation of stars back, the company doesn’t listen to the fans. I could continue, but you already know what the issues are. Part of the problem is that Vince is now 70 years old and many feel he doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of his audience anymore. I’m not sure that is entirely accurate. He knocked his appearance in Philadelphia out of the park two weeks ago, got a huge crowd reaction and delivered on sky high expectations. It may not be that he doesn’t know what people want, it may be that there is no one specific audience he is appealing to. In the fabled Attitude Era he knew he was going after young adult males. Now they are looking across every group. I believe that lack of focus is to blame for a good chunk of the confusion on WWE TV.

Regardless of the reasons for dip in the quality of the product, the fact remains that the quality has dipped. There are alternatives out there, NXT at the top of the list as well as New Japan, Ring of Honor and TNA. Many people have resorted to those alternative, but I don’t want to have to. I grew up on WWE in the 1980’s and 90’s and I’m currently watching it well into my thirties. I want it to be good and I want to enjoy it every week. I believe Vince McMahon on the show will help make that happen. While Vince may not be doing his best work behind the scenes (ok, he’s definitely not doing his best work behind the scenes) having him on screen helps to mitigate some of those errors. When Vince is part of an angle, it definitely makes that angle feel more important. Another perk of his presence is that he actually makes me and most viewers legitimately laugh. Humor is and has always been a key aspect of pro wrestling. Vince talking about his grapefruits or firing someone or threatening to beat up a much younger, much larger man is infinitely more entertaining than John Cena’s or Dolph Ziggler’s corny one-liners, not to mention the regrettable “tater tots” thing.

I don’t know how many of you went out to see the movie “Creed” over the past month, but it was great. There is an eye opening scene where Rocky tells his new protege to look in the mirror and that the man staring back at you will often be the toughest opponent in your life. Think of how true that is, how many times we stand in our own way of happiness or success. I believe that in the absence of WCW or any real competition, Vince McMahon has been his toughest opponent. Too often he seems to be losing this battle to his own ego and desires. I also believe that Vince McMahon becoming a part of the show again, having a real presence again is the way he can start winning the battle. This may be a little too much quoting now, but Ric Flair always said, “To be the man you gotta beat the man.” In most instances in pro wrestling you need one star to make another. A credible guy to put over another. Vince McMahon is probably the most likely star to help build the next one. While his presence won’t fix every problem with Raw, it will at least make it more fun to watch. His current return may only be temporary, but his incredibly high tide should help raise all ships.