Without Vince McMahon’s creative vision, it’s hard to imagine that pro wrestling would be as big as it is today. McMahon took a business that formerly existed only in regional circuits and shot it into the pop culture stratosphere, unifying the best talent in the world under the WWE’s umbrella. If you can take the entirety of his contributions to the world of sports entertainment and name one crowning achievement, it would be hard to do, but a strong case could be made for the creation of the global phenomenon known simply as WrestleMania. This year’s event promises to be one of the biggest WrestleManias ever, with a fantastic card including: Triple-H versus Brock Lesnar, CM Punk vs. The Undertaker, and John Cena vs. the Rock.
Mr. McMahon’s pants are down. All we did was ask him what kind of shape his legs were in and if he might want to train lower body today for the shoot. And now his pants are at his ankles and he’s shrugging his arms as if to say, Well? “My legs aren’t my best body part—not that I have a best body part.” Mr. McMahon is improvising. The words coming out of his mouth are unscripted. The photo shoot he’s so enthusiastically taking part in is not staged—well, sort of not.
See, there’s the photographer. And there are the photographer’s three assistants helping him set up lights and flashbulbs and black flags to block any extra light from creeping into the shot. The chest-press machine and preacher curl bench are being so blatantly plopped down in the middle of all the lights and fanfare that Mr. McMahon is undoubtedly the center of attention. There’s the makeup artist, seeing to it that the lights don’t reflect too harshly off his skin. That other guy holding the camera with assistants of his own? That’s the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) film crew shooting the shoot. And, of course, there’s the WWE producer, here to make sure the shooting of the shoot runs smoothly.
But if this is staged, then why is Mr. McMahon actually working out? Why is he sweating like a pig and grunting with each rep of five plates on T-bar rows? Nobody told him he had to use five plates. And why can’t he stop busting up laughing when someone tells him to be serious? And why is he being told what to do by five people at once in the building he owns and the gym he built? And why did he just say that he’s intimidated? Mr. McMahon, giddy and taking orders? Mr. McMahon, intimidated?
Vince McMahon is out of character. Of course, he’s still a billionaire, the owner of WWE, the phenomenon that is professional wrestling. But today it’s not about the money or even the wrestling. For once, it’s about the body. The body he has trained just about all his life is receiving the supreme accolade of being the focus of a Muscle & Fitness cover. His son-in-law and WWE superstar Hunter Hearst-Helmsley (Triple H) would get a call at 11:30 at night: “I just got done training,” Vince would tell him. “I had to lift, and then I had to do cardio.” Next day he’s in the office at 8. “He shouldn’t have the time to train like he does,” says Hunter. “He works more hours than probably anyone in this company. But he makes time for it.”
See, working out and being in shape is important to Mr. McMahon. It defines not only his physique but also who he is. It’s a Saturday in early January, so normally Vince would be on a conference call with WWE writers going over the script for the next day’s pay-per-view show in Albany, New York, not here, in the gym downstairs from his office at WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, half naked and lifting weights for multiple cameras. But today Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter and Triple H’s wife, is taking her father’s place. Because his window is closing. Seriously, how many opportunities does a 60-year-old get to pose for a magazine cover—for Muscle & Fitness no less, with his shirt off?