In 2013, the WWE turned 50. To celebrate this milestone, the company issued The History Of WWE, a multi-disc home video release featuring a two-hour documentary about its colourful history.
While there are revealing moments (Sgt. Slaughter’s surprising encounter with President Nixon, to name just one), too much time is spent on excessive self-congratulation.
Even when it does focus on actual pro wrestling history, key facts are conveniently left out that would clearly alter the cleaned-up narrative. And then there are the important moments that go completely unmentioned. Here are nine notable examples of both:
1. Vince McMahon’s father abandoned him and his mother when he was a baby.
Early on in The History Of WWE, various wrestlers sing the praises of Vince McMahon Sr., the second generation promoter who took over his father’s Capitol Wrestling Corporation after “Jess” McMahon’s death in 1954. Nine years later, it would be renamed the World Wide Wrestling Federation.
The hosannas for Vince Sr. come fast and furious. He was a stand-up guy! His word was his bond! He operated on handshakes, not contracts! He would smile and shake hands with the talent! He would buy you dinner!
Conveniently not mentioned is how he treated his own son, Vince Jr. Shortly after his birth in 1945, Vince Sr. left his wife and took his eldest son, Rod, with him. For the first 12 years of his life, Vince Jr. didn’t have any interaction with his own father. Instead, he had a succession of stepfathers, one of whom he later claimed was abusive. The abandoned mom and son even lived in a trailer at one point.
Just before he became a teenager, Vince Jr. finally met his dad and fell in love with professional wrestling. When he expressed a desire to become a grappler himself, his father balked and told him that promoters don’t wrestle. Hoping he would ultimately pick a different profession he sent him to military school where he made history becoming the first student to be unsuccessfully court-martialed. When he came back, having just lost an announcer, Vince Sr. put his overeager son on TV in a role he would fulfill for almost 30 years. Finally, in the early 80s, when he was dying of cancer, Vince Sr. handed the rights to his company over to his son. If only he knew what he was planning to do with it.
2. The World Wide Wrestling Federation wasn’t always independent.
The documentary correctly notes that the WWWF left the NWA to become an independent territory in 1963. What it doesn’t mention is that it would quietly return to the NWA in 1971 and stay with the company until 1983 when it departed for good.
3. Pedro Morales, the original “Mr. Everything”.
After “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff shocked WWWF fans by beating longtime champion Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Championship in 1971, he would quickly drop the title to Pedro Morales. The popular Puerto Rican star would have a two-year run as champion until he lost to Stan “The Man” Stasiak in 1973. (Interestingly, a month before this push, Morales won the United States Championship which he had to abandon after winning the WWWF belt.)
Morales would later win the WWF tag team titles with WWF Champion Bob Backlund after defeating The Wild Samoans at the final Showdown At Shea event in 1980. (Of course, the titles were forfeited because Backlund couldn’t hold two belts at once. Such a stupid rule.) Finally, during this period, he was the first to have two InterContinental title reigns, the second of which lasted 14 months, a record at the time.
In the first 20 years of the WWE’s existence, he was the only man to win all available championships. It’s why Gorilla Monsoon frequently called him “the former Mr. Everything”.
And yet, The History Of WWE makes absolutely no mention of him nor his accomplishments. Showing just a quick shot of him is extremely inadequate and insulting to his great legacy and growing influence.
4. The overlooked history of Hulk Hogan’s early days.
As expected, the documentary notes the significance of Terry Bollea in transforming the WWF into a mainstream business by being a larger-than-life babyface. However, it leaves out a lot of important details of his early history.
After two years working for other territories (the DVD does quickly mention his territory work quickly without specifics), Bollea started working for the WWF as a villain in 1979. Vince McMahon Sr. helped improve his name. Once billed as Terry “The Hulk” Bollea, the promoter wanted him to have an Irish surname, so he selected Hogan. (He also wanted him to dye his hair red but that was rightly rejected.) The History Of WWE mentions Bollea’s appearance in Rocky III. What it doesn’t mention is that Vince Sr. greatly disapproved. In fact, he fired Bollea over it. He didn’t want a movie star as his champion.
After 2 years as a popular babyface in the AWA (the doc does mention his presence there), Bollea was lured back to the WWF, thanks to Vince Jr. who actually wanted a champion with crossover appeal. Minus a short archival shot during his early WWF days, the documentary completely ignores his villainous origin altogether.
5. The Wrestling Album is skipped over.
Music played a major role in the evolution of the WWE. Sgt. Slaughter tells an interesting story about how he convinced Vince McMahon Sr. to hire him in 1979 by having him play a cassette tape he had of the Marine Corps. hymn that became his first entrance music. Afterwards, Slaughter claims that the promoter told him his character was the best he’d ever seen. He hired him on the spot.
Unsurprisingly, the Rock N Wrestling Connection is covered (albeit briefly) and there’s even a quick remembrance of Piledriver, the second wrestling album. But where’s the love for the original Wrestling Album from 1985? Strangely, it goes completely unmentioned.
This is odd because it started the whole in-house entrance music factory long overseen by Jim Johnston. The most notable track from the record, Rick Derringer’s Real American, originally conceived for Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo, became Hulk Hogan’s theme song for almost a decade. (The ultimately rejected Hulk Hogan’s Theme from that same album is best known for being the theme song for the Hulk Hogan’s Rock N Wrestling cartoon series.) Prior to the tunes written and recorded by Johnston and occasional outside musicians like Motorhead, wrestlers used existing pop songs like Eye Of The Tiger (Hogan), Born In The USA (Windham & Rotundo) and Another One Bites The Dust (Junkyard Dog). Up until recently, CM Punk was the only talent who never used an original track from the WWE music factory.
In the old days of wrestling, it stood out when performers had entrance music like Gorgeous George’s use of Pomp & Circumstance (later used by Randy Savage). Today, it feels weird when they come out to silence. That’s the legacy of The Wrestling Album.
6. The 1996 MSG Curtain Call precipitating the end of kayfabe and expediting the rise of Steve Austin.
True, this business-altering incident is discussed in detail on Triple H’s Thy Kingdom Come DVD, but considering its undeniable impact on the pro wrestling business generally and the WWE specifically, it wouldn’t have hurt to throw in a quick recap on The History Of WWE.
At the end of a steel cage match at a May 1996 house show at Madison Square Garden, Kevin Nash and Triple H broke character to embrace their real-life friends, Shawn Michaels and Triple H, a longtime no-no in the business. (Someone captured the moment on a crappy cellphone video.) Hall & Nash were WCW-bound (which is mentioned) and main eventer HBK was untouchable. H, the young heel on the totem pole, was the only one who got punished. His scheduled push at the 1996 King Of The Ring was scrapped. His replacement: Stone Cold Steve Austin whose brilliant “Austin 3:16” promo following his triumph at the event became a pivotal turning point for himself and ultimately the WWE.
Despite the supposed controversy of the gesture, it marked the beginning of the end of old-school kayfabe, the unwritten code that prevented wrestlers and promoters from revealing the mostly fictional nature of their characters and storylines, something that would be blown wide open with the aftermath of the 1997 Survivor Series (which actually is covered on the disc).
7. No mention of XFL nor the WBF.
The History Of WWE goes out of its way to highlight the company’s various business successes over the years (monthly pay-per-views, TV revenue, crossover merch, its book division, its 1999 Wall Street IPO) while steadfastly avoiding its most notable failures.
It would’ve been nice to learn more about the shortlived World Bodybuilding Federation and the disastrous XFL, the overhyped football league that didn’t even last a year. (The WBF lasted two.) Both ventures proved that Vince McMahon Jr. should stick to wrestling.
8. The erasing of Chris Benoit.
I get it. It’s the proverbial elephant in the room that the WWE is unwilling to acknowledge here. It’s a difficult subject to bring up in the midst of all this shameless self-canonization. But there’s a way to discuss it in a sensitive, honest manner that would actually enhance this documentary and not detract from it.
In 2007, when Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son, then killed himself, the tragedy rocked the entire wrestling world. Coming just a year after Eddie Guerrero’s death (despite the implementation of The Wellness Policy (curiously not talked about on the DVD) which immediately followed), it jolted the business like never before. Since then, there have been far fewer premature deaths of talent, thanks to the company’s top-notch medical staff, its generous drug rehab policy and the WP’s three-strike system for the current roster. If The History Of WWE is willing to talk about Owen Hart’s accidental death (without acknowledging his angry widow’s many lawsuits against them), why couldn’t it address this?
I mean it’s ridiculous to have Randy Orton discuss his first World title push at SummerSlam 2004 without mentioning (or showing, for that matter) that the man he beat for it was Benoit.
9. The off-and-on legal fight with the World Wildlife Fund.
Perhaps this was done to avoid being dragged into court again but it seems odd that the DVD doesn’t mention why the company had to change its name from the World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment. (It also doesn’t mention why all the other names (Global Wrestling Corporation and World Wide Wrestling Federation) were changed, either.)
For years, the World Wildlife Fund, an environmental charity, has complained before judges on more than one occasion about McMahon’s use of the WWF acronym. In the Spring of 2002, they officially replaced their WWF logo with an underlined, crudely drawn W. Unfortunately, because of an arrangement with the Wildlife people, this also meant silencing the F in commentary & promos and blurring the Attitude Era logo from archival footage which was always incredibly annoying.
Thankfully, thanks to an new agreement in 2012, the silencing and blurring is no more. It would’ve been nice to have more insight scoop on this in the documentary.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, May 4, 2014