Tag Archives: Vince McMahon

We All Want To See It But Can Shaq vs. Cody work?

NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal is no stranger to the world of professional wrestling. Despite making appearances on WCW and WWE programming multiple times the big diesel has never had an official match. Will AEW and Cody Rhodes finally pay-off the fans and O’Neal’s dream, or will it turn into a nightmare?

History

Celebrities and pro wrestling have a long and storied history. On paper, it’s a win-win. Fans feel the excitement of worlds colliding. Seeing an actor, athlete, or personality crossover with a John Cena, Sting, or Roman Reigns creates buzz. For the celebrity, entering the squared circle can fulfill a lifelong dream and create iconic moments. In execution, most matches are heavily gimmicked and are a mixed bag at best. For every windfall, there seem to be two or three disasters when it comes to expectation vs. result. 

The Good

    A celebrity match doesn’t have to be the most technical, the appearance doesn’t even have to be very long, but fans want a satisfying build and payoff. One of the best examples of both has to be Vince McMahon vs. Donald Trump in the battle of the billionaires. Back when Trump was the host of the Apprentice, he and Vince went back and forth on Raw one-upping each other, with Trump famously dropping “thousands of dollars” to the audience on fan appreciation night.

 The feud would culminate at Wrestlemania 23 in a hair vs. hair match Bobby Lashley vs. Umaga with special guest referee Stone Cold Steve Austin. Vince and Umaga lost, and McMahon paid with the loss of his locks. Trump for his part, even took a stunner from Stone Cold, albeit not the prettiest of selling jobs from the current president. 

For a more recent example, Pat McAfee stunned most of the internet wrestling community by having a high quality against NXT superstar Adam Cole at Takeover 30. Many people were doubtful the former punter turned sports entertainer could back up his talk on the mic. In the storyline, McAfee had only two weeks to prepare to fight Cole, despite the limited experience he impressed with his athleticism, charisma, and overall ring awareness.    

The Bad

Most long-term fans of wrestling would rather forget most celebrity appearances and while it’s impossible to list all of them there are a few examples that especially stick out as being excruciatingly bad. Basketball fans will remember the endless self-promotion of the Ball family and Big Baller Brand in 2017. LaVar Ball and his sons LaMelo and Lonzo Ball were featured in an ill-fated segment on the June 26th episode of Raw. 

In one of the worst Miz TV segments, Miz talked with LeVar about the possibility of joining BBB. After awkwardly squabbling with the Ball’s and LaMelo mistakenly saying the N-Word live on air, the wrestler formerly known as Dean Ambrose (now Jon Moxley) broke up the segment by announcing he had joined BBB. 

This year WWE fans were reminded that just because an individual is gifted in traditional sports doesn’t mean that translates well to the ring. Rob Gronkowski, arguably one of the best NFL tight ends of his generation, hosted this year’s Wrestlemania. Gronkowski captured the 24/7 championship but showed little potential in the ring or on the mic. The former Patriot star ended his brief wrestling career when he rejoined former teammate Tom Brady in Tampa after being traded to the Buccaneers.

Will Shaq Work

You either learn from the past or you are doomed to repeat it. This is especially true for Tony Khan and Rhodes in their attempts to recruit the legendary seven-foot plus hooper. Shaq was scheduled to appear in Wrestlemania 33 against the Big Show, but the constant changing of plans “messed it up” according to O’Neal himself. The big Aristotle could also land in the camp of Gronkowski as an athlete that can’t transition to the wrestling world. The now NBA analyst is nearly 20 years older than Gronk and is unlikely at best that he could wrestle a full match one-on-one against Cody and give the fans a satisfying finish. 

If Last week’s dynamite is any indication AEW could see its very first mixed tag match as a promotion. Jade Cargill, a newly signed AEW talent and former college basketball player spoke on behalf of Shaq last Wednesday. She interrupted Rhodes in the center of the ring, and gave a long-winded speech, dubious of Rhode’s claim of being a “giant killer”. The segment was punctuated by a strong Brandi Rhodes promo. A tag match would properly limit O’Neal’s in-ring time while hopefully maintaining the star power. The biggest concern is Cargill who also has limited ring work.

Khan has a tough challenge ahead of himself and several variables are incredibly hard to control. If anyone associated with the feud has to be quarantined for Covid-19 exposure or positivity the entire contest could be postponed. The longer this builds, the more likely something could go wrong. My first reaction is skepticism. So many great ideas AEW has had have fallen by the wayside despite the company and performers’ best efforts. The Matt Hardy debut, championship builds starting and stopping, and Will Hobbs’ push being paused multiple times creates worry and casts doubt.

The optimist in me sees evidence that both Rhodes and Shaq will make this work. Both men are under contract for TNT and have partaken in creative advertising before. Each individual is already invested in this so it will be more difficult to back out of. AEW has already successfully had some notable star appearances including a segment in which Chris Jericho brawled with Mike Tyson. Plenty of pitfalls await this feud, but AEW has a chance to make an iconic moment with Shaq if they play their cards right.    

WWE Cracking Down on Superstars’ Side Hustle

In 2017, Donald De La Haye’s D1 NCAA scholarship was voided over YouTube monetization, now WWE is threatening similar actions against its employees over third party concerns. Le Haye’s story sparked national outrage and exposed the greed and oppressive nature of an organization intent on keeping a clean image. Will the pro wrestling conglomerate face the same media backlash for its oppressive labor regime?

The Email

In a corporate email obtained by f4wonline originally sent on September second, WWE informed recipients that, “…You are engaged with outside third parties using your name and likeness in ways that are detrimental to our company. These activities must be terminated within the next 30 days.” This caused many fans and experts to speculate on exactly which services could render wrestlers, commentators, and personalities personae-non-gratae. Everything from, Instagram, youtube, twitch, and cameo were all considered a liability due to the vagueness of the letter.

The Public Statement

The social media buzz generated enough noise to force WWE to respond. On September fifth, WWE commented on the controversy with a simple one-paragraph press release:

The Continued Fallout

The press release did little to quell the heat WWE was taking from fans, workers, and even former U.S. Presidential candidates like Andrew Yang, who said in an interview earlier this week,
“They’re (WWE talent) putting their lives on the line, or their health on the line, their family life on the line, all the time. They made Vince McMahon a billionaire, and then the fact that he’s still being so heavy-handed about their ability to make a simple buck on Cameo just struck me as so absurd, and ridiculous, and wrong.”

Yang also said about if workers for WWE should be treated as independent contractors or employees that “ If you’re going to control all these aspects of a wrestler or a performer’s waking life, then you should take some responsibility too for that person’s bigger picture.” It was the third party application Cameo that has become the biggest sticking point for WWE brass. According to Dave Meltzer, talent would still be able to monetize Twitch and YouTube as long as the performers were using their names, not so for Cameo.

Cameo allows for personalized messages to be read by celebrities and influencers alike. Dozens of performers were using the service, from champions to commentators. They charged anywhere from 20 dollars to hundreds of dollars depending on the WWE superstar. If WWE does not allow Cameo, the company is protecting more than just their own “intellectual property” they are claiming ownership talent themselves.

The Conclusion

WWE’s message may have sparked outrage but more than anything it appears to have the desired effect on its workers for the most part. Many superstars have already made their Cameo unavailable to the public or changed their appearance like Sasha Banks simply going by “Mercedes Motivation”, or Tom Phillips adjusting his to just “Tom”. The company’s actions have received very little pushback from most major news sources and even less from current talent.

Only Saraya-Jade Bevis, known in WWE as Paige, publicly commented on the WWE’s transgressions with a simple “nope” on twitter after the story became public. With seemingly no ethical boundaries and no overseeing body holding WWE accountable for their labor actions. The Stamford Connecticut based and publicly-traded company will face no repercussions or even investigations for their continued “exploitation of these characters.”

Since the Donald De La Haye story, media and activists have pressured the NCAA to change the way their athletes can use their stardom. Starting in January 2021 athletes in all three divisions will be able to use their name, image, and likeness for monetary purposes. This action was ratified unanimously by the NCAA Board of Governors. If the same progress is to be expected from WWE, it must come from external forces, not internal.

No Count Outs: The W.O.W. Episode

No Count Outs: Winter is Here No Count Outs

Sting has made his awe inspiring return to the world of pro wrestling on AEW Dynamite, what will the repercussions be?  Kenny Omega is the new AEW champion and Don Callis is bringing Omega with him on Impact. Orange Cassidy and MJF outlasted all other competitors in the Dynamite Diamond Battle Royal, after some controversy between him and other inner circle member Sammy Guevara. On WWE programming NXT prepped for war games. Shotzi Blackheart faced Raquel Gonzalez and won after securing the briefcase. Imperium appeared and promised to go after the NXT tag titles currently held by Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch. A.J. Styles is the next contender for Drew McIntyre's championship. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app

No Count Outs: I Had to Hit the Pose

Matt and Tyler return with episode #2 of the No Count Outs wrestling pod! This time, the conversation revolves around what happened with Tessa Blanchard, Keith Lee’s surprise announcement, and more on the WWE response to COVID. All that and more!

WWE’s Awful COVID-19 Response: It’s Worse than You Think.

A large number of corporations in America have struggled to balance worker safety and satisfying their bottom line. In sports and entertainment, there have been several examples of companies that have prioritized shareholders over employees. Arguably the worst example is not Major League Baseball, but World Wrestling Entertainment.

March

The U.S. containment of COVID-19 was thought to be possible in early spring. Toward the end of March, however, those hopes were dashed. States began to lock-down restaurants. Most sports leagues including the NBA, MLB, and the NCAA postponed and in some cases canceled the current and upcoming seasons. 

The WWE, for their part, stopped live shows and began pre-recording programming without fans in attendance. According to executives, talent was told that these tapings would be voluntary and would not receive punishment for refusing to attend either financially or otherwise.

Wrestlemania, the largest pro wrestling pay-per-view of the year was held in the performance center in Orlando, Florida. Florida was coincidentally one of the last states to enter lock-down and was open during the taping of Wrestlemania.

The company acted proactively with two of its wrestlers Dana Brooke and Rey Mysterio who showed signs of illness by pulling them from shows. Roman Reigns, a wrestler in remission from leukemia took a leave of absence from performing over concerns over his high-risk status for Coronavirus. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during March. 

April 

By early April all states had entered into varying degrees of lockdown, and Nationally the U.S. outpaced the rest of the world in total COVID-19 deaths. With only essential business open in most states, WWE was declared an essential by Florida Governor Ron Desantis despite not initially labeled as such. Around the same time, the Connecticut based company decided on April 10th to resume live shows.

Vince McMahon cited the change by implying the networks carrying his programming could cancel their television contracts if the company did not continue to perform live shows regularly. Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer reported that USA Network and Fox denied considering dissolving their agreements. McMahon reversed course and eventually allowed pre-taped episodes to resume.

 On April 15th, WWE released a business update announcing the furlough of talent as well as other cost-cutting measures. Over 30 wrestlers were released, not including behind the scenes workers This included Miroslav Barnyashev formerly known by his in-ring name of Rusev. Rusev had recently donated $20,000 of his own money to help those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

A week later the company’s quarter one earnings report was released and the biggest highlight was the increased revenue from the previous year’s first-quarter earnings: A net positive of 60%. During April there was a confirmed but unidentified employee who contracted coronavirus. The individual was not a wrestler but did work at shows. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during April.

May

There were not many new developments from the business perspective of World Wrestling Entertainment, however, the content of their programming led to frustration from fans and employees alike. Fans began noticing Reigns had been edited out of more and more programming. He had not made an appearance in over a month so in some regard, it was understandable that his name was not often referenced during or after matches.

What was harder to understand was the manipulation of certain highlight packages removing him entirely. This included matches he was heavily featured in. Previous to this instance only one wrestler had been effectively removed from the annals of history: Chris Benoit. Since the American Somoan’s conduct had been spotless it was unclear why these decisions were being made.

 Also, Sami Zayn was effectively stripped of the Intercontinental title. While this may seem like a storyline angle at first glance, it’s important to note Zayn was participating in Canada’s quarantine protocol as he was a Canadian citizen and could not attend the Orlando tapings due to international travel restrictions. His failure to comply cost him his place despite the company’s earlier assurances that no worker would be punished for skipping voluntary tapings.

Jordan Devlin had an almost identical experience. As the Cruiserweight Titleholder, Devlin was unable to defend his championship and there was a tournament to determine who would hold the belt during the interim similar to how UFC deals with injured fighters. However, the word interim was dropped without explanation and it’s unclear if Santo Escobar, the winner of the aforementioned tournament, will have to defend his title against Devlin when the UK native eventually returns. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during May. 

June

This month WWE has made every effort that it could to return to normal. Developmental wrestlers, friends, and families began attending pre-recorded shows to give the performers and audience at home a more authentic fan experience. For the first time in months, there were boos, cheers, and even chants to fill a mostly empty void of fan interaction.

This week, a cascade of bad press has been unloaded upon the pro-wrestling giant. It was announced on Monday that a developmental wrestler who had attended a taping has tested positive for coronavirus. Reports surfaced from multiple sources stating that face masks were not permitted inside the performance center premises during tapings. This is in contrast to the early April CDC recommendations on wearing a face mask in public. 

WWE responded by explaining to fans and news-outlets that masks were unnecessary since all employees and fans in attendance maintained proper social distancing and followed Florida state policy to the letter of the law (despite fans being shown high-fiving talent and disregarding the six feet minimum of each other of the episode in question).

Possibly the most disturbing report released this week was that on some occasions, fans were allowed to attend shows despite having a fever if there were special circumstances. On Wednesday the company implemented the first wave of COVID-19 testing to its wrestlers. At this time there has been no announcement of regular testing.

WWE’s Coronavirus response looks worse with context

All companies have the legal right and ability to hire and fire employees at their discretion. All publicly-traded companies are expected to be at least somewhat responsible with their finances to appease the stockholders. All businesses should be able to set forth policies for their workforce.

The problems lie when WWE is compared to smaller wrestling promotions who have done an objectively better job keeping their employees safe while staying afloat during these difficult economic times.

 All Elite Wrestling on TNT has returned to their regularly scheduled live shows. Before each show, all fans, wrestlers, and staff are all tested before they can enter the building. AEW along with even smaller groups like Ring of Honor and Impact have not fired, released, or furloughed any wrestlers. At shows, you will see masks worn by referees, interviewers, and even fans. These groups have proved you can make every effort to serve your employees first and put the bottom line on the backburner and survive as a wrestling organization.

World Wrestling Entertainment may have fulfilled its legal obligation to its shareholders, but it has severely failed its ethical responsibility to its staff, especially the talent which is the main product for consumers of pro-wrestling.