Why Vince McMahon’s Return To TV Could Spell Trouble For The WWE Roster
Should the Chairman's return to TV really be a cause for concern?
Okay, now that we’re a week removed from Survivor Series, let’s see where we stand.
WWE’s golden egg saga has been resolved, leading to the culprit, Austin Theory, ending up in quite a unique position on Monday Night Raw.
The most crucial development, though, is that Vince McMahon appears to be a regular on our screens once again.
The comments section beneath WWE’s YouTube video of Vince and Theory’s most recent interaction is swamped with praise and optimism. Not for their respective performances or the quality of the segments, mind you. Not even for Theory’s general rise in prominence.
The target of the praise appears to be McMahon himself, for recognising the potential before him.
Not to sound overly-sceptical, but after a Raw where Becky Lynch was somehow blamed for the release of countless promising wrestlers, I have a few doubts.
Firstly, we need to talk about the modern Vince McMahon segment. It’s not his fault - we all age, after all - but few could argue that the quality hasn’t declined over the years. In a tightly-scripted era where we’ve heard stories of Superstars and commentators blasted for the smallest mistakes, Vince appears to have a very cavalier attitude towards his own promos.
Who could forget his mangled explanation of the infamous ‘Wildcard Rule’, for example?
This week’s Raw featured recurring segments between McMahon and Theory, watching the show together and looking out for anybody who ‘expects the unexpected.’ It was an oddly specific theme, one which led me to expect a swerve or stipulation change later in the night. Instead, the payoff was Vince blindsiding Austin with a slap to the face, thereby proving that the unexpected had not yet been adequately anticipated.
Throughout these interruptions on Raw, I was reminded of Renee Paquette’s October interview with Ariel Helwani. There, she detailed how she was berated by Vince for forgetting to refer to Tyson Fury as the Lineal Champion.
Watching the boss struggle to convey the very reason for his continued involvement with Theory, the irony was stark.
Moving beyond Vince’s performance itself, it’s clear that those YouTube comments are right: the WWE machine clearly sees something in Austin Theory. Let’s not forget that last year he was prematurely called up to bolster a depleted roster during lockdown, even resulting in a last-minute appearance at WrestleMania 36.
Many appear to have taken the recent developments as a blessing for Theory. A storyline with Vince is seemingly shorthand for a bright future, and that’s not necessarily untrue. The biggest recent example I can think of is the beating he took from Kevin Owens, and while it didn’t fully transform KO’s fortunes, it certainly gave him a boost. At the very least, it’s a memorable highlight of his main roster run.
Theory’s situation is different, however. We’ll see if things improve next week, but this Monday’s Raw has already put him on the back foot, outfoxed and threatened by a man more than three times his age and openly discussed his 'Irritable Bowel Syndrome' at the start of the show.
Owens headbutted Vince; Theory took a slap and looked aghast.
It’s not quite on the same level, but the sight of Vince veering between admiration and disdain reminded me of Andy Leavine, winner of the first Tough Enough comeback season. Leavine was presented as the show’s winner on an episode of Raw, before being slapped by Vince and stunned by Steve Austin for no real reason. Aside from a backstage segment the following week, it was his only ever involvement on the main roster.
Admittedly, the differences between Theory and Leavine are numerous: the former EVOLVE Champion already has his foot well in the door, and is far more a kayfabe rookie than an actual one. But tonally, the similarities are foreboding. They remind us of WWE’s inability to admit that somebody can be impressive without first presenting them as inferior to the company.
We must not forget, of course, that the star of WWE's show is WWE themselves.
Theory’s reaction in the segment was also worrying. After the slap, he conveyed surprise and fright far more than anger. This happened days after Toni Storm’s baffling non-response to Charlotte Flair throwing cream pies in her face.
In the current era, I feel as though WWE focus too much on trying to make their Superstars sympathetic or humorous figures, forgetting to emphasise the steeliness that endeared us to so many over the years. Becky Lynch is perhaps the notable recent exception, but there was a definite sense that she forced that aspect of her personality onscreen, rather than WWE encouraging it out of her.
I suppose the key difference between the booking of Storm and Theory is that the latter is a heel, and doesn’t necessarily need to respond to humiliation in a defiant or admirable fashion. Many will also argue that despite being made to look foolish, this is simply the first step of a longer process.
That’s all well and good, on paper. But why on earth would any of us trust it to be the case?
The speed and number of WWE releases this year has been utterly shocking, but the most surprising aspect has been the position of many Superstars upon their release. In Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, we’ve seen some of the biggest names on the roster lose their jobs, while others, like Hit Row, were in the early stages of a brand new push. It simply didn’t matter.
There’s been no perceptible rhyme or reason, which makes it very difficult to be optimistic for any Superstar in WWE today.
Bully Ray was probably joking when he made the following tweet, but it sums up this general feeling:
With that in mind, let’s consider that Vince being a regular feature of the product increases the likelihood of more Superstars being dragged into this storyline. Whoever Theory feuds with next is more likely to encounter McMahon as well. Is it too speculative to wonder if that results in more interactions to potentially anger him, or instances where he could spot ‘flaws’ in wrestlers he may otherwise have liked?
It sounds far fetched, but then again, this is Vince McMahon we’re talking about. It’s bleak to suggest, but perhaps the safest place for current roster members is out of sight, out of mind; if the boss doesn’t realise you exist, you can’t be released.
We’ve seen plenty of last-minute changes, abandoned pushes and forgotten storylines over the past few years, enough to indicate that Vince often books on a whim these days. Others in creative may form a structure, but it’s capable of being knocked down at a moment’s notice.
There’s a parallel between this pattern and the in-character behaviour of McMahon in his segments with Theory on this week’s Raw. He was intrigued by the Superstar at first, gradually became more irritated, and eventually lashed out towards the end of the night.
Both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, it’s a volatile time to be a WWE Superstar. With Vince getting up close and personal with the roster once again, perhaps the best thing to do is just avoid him wherever possible.
In theory, anyway.