A month and a half ago I suggested that Vince McMahon might use WrestleMania to start transforming himself back from a bad guy to a good guy. See “Will ‘Heel’ Vince McMahon Turn ‘Babyface’ After WrestleMania to Support Linda’s Campaign?”, February 19, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/will-%E2%80%98heel%E2%80%99-vince-mcmahon-turn-%E2%80%98babyface%E2%80%99-after-wrestlemania-to-support-linda%E2%80%99s-campaign/.
I reiterated this point in some of the interviews on my Connecticut tour last week. I emphasized that while I was not making a prediction, such a move would be “Wrestling Psychology 101.”
Was I right? Well, yes and no.
At WrestleMania on Sunday, to the delight of the 70,000 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium and the more than a million watching on pay-per-view, “Mr. McMahon” got the living snot beaten out of him by Bret “The Hitman” Hart. One thing of which you can’t accuse the WWE chairman is an unwillingness to do many of the things to himself that he demands of his underlings. Vince really took one for the team.
Whether this added up to a babyface turn is a more complicated question. The rule of thumb in wrestling booking is that a villain with a lot of “heat” can turn around the fans’ emotions by refusing to give up no matter how much pain he is in. Indeed, if memory serves, that is exactly how “Stone Cold” Steve Austin became one of WWE’s key breakout stars in the period just before its late 1990s explosion, which was followed by a hugely successful public stock offering. The same Bret Hart had Austin in the agonizing “Sharpshooter” hold, but Austin would not submit, and eventually lost only after “passing out” from the pain. (If I have any of these details wrong, there are plenty of blog readers who will immediately set me straight.)
On Sunday, Vince McMahon, too, absorbed a lot of pain. You can only fake, or “work,” so much the literally dozens of chair shots Hart delivered to his back and leg. Watching it, I almost pitied this 64-year-old centimillionaire exhibitionist whose wife is trying to buy a U.S. Senate seat with $50 million earned from their late-empire death mill.
But here’s the thing: Vince did have to give up in the end.
In his real-time website analysis, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter called the match “anti-psychology” because it had zero ebb and flow. Even in a so-called “squash” match, there is often a moment when the loser gets the advantage (when he’s a heel, it’s usually with an underhanded trick); then the winner makes a “comeback,” takes over again, and finishes administering the beatdown. But Hart-McMahon had no such moment.
Meltzer’s associate Bryan Alvarez, of Figure Four Weekly, wrote:
“... [L]iterally if this was anyone else besides Bret Hart they’d have booed him out of the building. Bret just destroyed him with chairshots to the point that people were feeling sorry for Vince McMahon, which is saying something. I don’t now the whole story but apparently Vince designed with the idea that he would be cheered at the end. Well, he wasn’t, and why he designed it this way is completely beyond me.”
So your humble blogger, as always, was either right or wrong.
Regardless, we now all return to the burning question posed on the morning of WrestleMania by the Hearst newspapers: “Paging Vince McMahon: Flamboyant WWE showman keeps a low profile during wife’s Senate run.”