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Hulk Hogan. Bret Hart. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The Rock. They’re names you grew up with (or have grown old with), and you can’t imagine sports entertainment—or even television, for that matter—without them. And you have one man to thank for letting them entertain and inspire you all these years, even though you may hate to admit it: Mr. McMahon.
SEE ALSO: Vince McMahon’s Back to Business Workout
Vince McMahon, of course. Chairman and CEO of WWE, pioneer of pay-per-view television, and the man who recast pro wrestling from a fringe pseudo-sport into a family-friendly sports-entertainment phenomenon that millions of fans now enjoy around the world. Though he has long played a despicable corporate tyrant on WWE broadcasts, the real McMahon has stayed true to his humble roots and, very visibly, his love of weight training. He’s 70 years old, he’s 240 pounds and hovering at 5% body fat, and he’s not about to trade the weight bench for a rocking chair. Read how he’s training after more than 50 years in the iron game, and see if you can keep up!
M&F: What got you interested in weight training?
Vince McMahon: I was 14 and Steve Reeves had just done Hercules. I was motivated by him. He had an amazing physique. Also, Dr. Jerry Graham, who was one of my dad’s premier performers back in the day [Vince McMahon Sr. owned WWE (then WWF) prior to Vince taking control], gave me my first set of weights. I remember the name of the company that made them— Healthways.
M&F: You’ve trained with some of the Superstars over the years. Can you tell us a story about one of those times?
VM: I trained with Mark Henry once. We were training back that day, and the World’s Strongest Man could not keep up.
M&F: We interviewed Henry in a previous issue, and he mentioned that you gave him a pretty good beating.
VM: [Laughs] First of all, when you’re my age, you need to have a few tricks up your sleeve. I showed up, and Mark was full of adrenaline, ready to train, and couldn’t wait. I went to my locker room and stayed there. I read, did some business, and an hour later I came out. By the time I came out, Mark’s energy and enthusiasm had waned considerably. From a psychological standpoint, I tried to gain an advantage there and did.
And Mark is a strongman type of lifter—one-and- done, or two reps. I was very deferential to Mark in the first giant set we went through. But in the second one he was green around the gills. That’s when I started saying, “The World’s Strongest Man is not doing too well at the moment.” By the end of the workout, I was all over him. “Come on, Mark! I’m 60-something years old, and you’re the World’s Strongest Man!” Psychologically, I pretty much decimated him on that last giant set. I almost felt sorry for him, but he challenged me. That was a fun day for me.
M&F: You’ve always been a very physical guy, but people were surprised that you decided to take part in grueling WWE matches for the first time when you were in your 50s. Had you been practicing falls for years, or did you have to learn to be a WWE athlete almost overnight?
VM: I always wanted to be an in-ring performer, and my dad, who preceded me, wouldn’t allow me to because he felt you couldn’t be an objective businessman and a performer at the same time. It was something I wanted to do, and the opportunity just presented itself. Quite frankly, I had not trained in the fundamentals. I knew how to do it; I’d just never done it. All of a sudden I was an in-ring performer and a producer and director. It was difficult to do it all, so my dad was right. But it was so much fun.
I did what we call “working close”—I connected every shot with my adversary in the ring so as not to make him look bad. And likewise I knew I couldn’t sell what they were doing to me unless I could feel it, so I asked them to lay it in, too.
M&F: Did you worry for your safety?
VM: I did. No one else did! Who in God’s name would get in the ring at 50-something years old? But I’ve never asked any of our performers to ever do anything I wouldn’t do. And I’ve done a lot through the years. [Getting in the ring] wasn’t something I planned; it just sort of evolved. It started with Bret Hart and then went into the Stone Cold situation. Mean old egotistical executive picking on working-class “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. It was easy for me to do.
M&F: What led to the shaping of the Mr. McMahon character, and where does that villainy come from?
VM: I grew up dirt poor. When you’re in that class, a lower economic class, everyone is, quote, “above you.” And there were a number of individuals who thought they were above me because of their economic situation. It always bugged me that people would think they were better than me. I developed a philosophy that no one’s better than me, and at the same time I’m no better than anyone else. Even though I am one, I don’t associate with rich people, generally speaking. I don’t belong to country clubs. It was easy for me to feel that [Mr. McMahon character] psychologically. As far as being mean, my background is a varied one. I had a violent stepfather. It was easy for me to feel what that was like. Really, I’m more like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin—I’m the common man. To this day I am. I drive a nice car and what have you, but I think one of the keys to WWE’s success, quite frankly, is that I remain who I am.
M&F: Do you think growing up like you did gave you a certain anger that made you push your body harder?
VM: I wouldn’t say it was anger, but I find the gym to be a socially acceptable way for me to rid myself of this superaggression that I have. I think it’s just naturally there. I don’t think it’s necessarily a result of the environment that I lived in. I think it’s more genetic than anything else. Training is a way to deal with that aggression. I generally train at night, sometimes at midnight. There’s a wonderful gym in our office building. Training helps me physically, but it gives me stability mentally. If I don’t train, I’m an angry bear.
M&F: With your physique, were you ever worried that you’d make some of the Superstars look small?
VM: [Laughs] No. In the old days [when McMahon was a ringside announcer] I was concerned about the performers not being as tall as me. We would compensate for that in various ways.
M&F: Did you have them stand on a box?
VM: Yes. Pampero Firpo is an example. We had him standing on an apple box. I often didn’t wear any shoes. It was a very cold, concrete floor.
M&F: What is your advice for sticking it out in hard times?
VM: I think you have to develop an attitude. From the severity that I experienced, taking numerous beatings and things of that nature, I developed a defensive philosophy that has served me very well through the years. That is: If I lived through whatever the adversarial position was, I won. No matter what happens, if I’m still breathing in and out, I won. So if you have that kind of philosophy, then failure is not a big thing.
M&F: What is your fitness and nutrition regimen like these days?
VM: I’m still making gains. Very, very slow gains [laughs], but I am, and that’s something you can do for the rest of your life. If you train as a lifestyle, it helps you through everything. My training has evolved. When I worked out with [bodybuilder] Steve Stone, he had an old-school philosophy of just get the weight up. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just get it up. And with that philosophy I got a personal best of a 700-pound squat for three reps when I was 60-something, and that was after a double quad tear. That was an arena injury [not training related].
What I do now with Mike Monteforte, my trainer…I don’t really have a trainer. We train together. He is my trainer, but we train together. I don’t like people saying, “Come on! You can do it.” It makes me want to rack the weight and say shut up. Mike’s training and technique are totally different from Steve Stone’s. Mike’s technique is one of safety, which is so important. His philosophy is, don’t do anything where you can get hurt. You can do a max, but you really have to work into it. I recently had a resurfacing of my left hip, so I’m at a 560 squat now, and our goal is to get back up to 600.
M&F: That’s an incredible number for someone at any age.
VM: Age really doesn’t have anything to do with it. I’ll be 70 in August. I had a personal best a few weeks ago on the incline Hammer Strength machine. I did five reps with 450. It’s important to make gains, but it’s important to be safe. If you have an injury in the gym, it sets you back so much it’s not worth whatever gain you were going to make. That’s why strict form is so important. It’s about form, not the weight.
M&F: What’s the WWE corporate gym like?
VM: I consider the gym church. It’s sacred ground. When you walk in there, you walk in with respect, and everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter what your body type is. But if you’re screaming and growling and dropping your weights, I’ll show you the door. Stay away from the muscleheads who are growling. That’s not allowed in my gym. Another thing that’s not allowed in my gym are cell phones.
M&F: What are you eating?
VM: I look at eating as fuel. I’m not that conscious of the protein I eat, but I know it’s a lot. I think cheat meals are very important, so I do it about once a week. When you cheat, go for it. It’s important from a psychological standpoint. Oreos are my favorite cookie. I’ll eat an entire box. And my philosophy is that the body can assimilate only so much in a given time. If you have two or three Oreos every day, not good. But if you eat an entire package of Oreos at one time, it’s OK. It just passes through. I’ll eat pasta loaded up with meat sauce. Pizza. All the carbs you stay away from normally, load ’em up. I will gorge. It’s almost like I will force-feed myself on a cheat meal. And afterward I think, “Oh, my God, I don’t want to feel like this.” So it gets me back in the frame of mind immediately after the digestive process to do the right thing.
M&F: You’ve been credited as one of the pioneers of pay-per-view TV as well as the man who reinvented sports entertainment. What do you think your legacy will be?
VM: I don’t look at myself as having a legacy in entertainment, and quite frankly I don’t care. It doesn’t matter what I think, it’s what people perceive. I’m not good at patting myself on the back. I want to be known as a loving father and grandfather. And if I’m lucky, a great-grandfather. And I’m the luckiest man in the world without question, so it might happen.
M&F: What will happen to WWE if you retire, or, eventually, go up to that big ring in the sky?
VM: Our future from a corporate stand- point is extremely strong because we have so many talented executives, and they all bring different strengths to the table. Steph and Paul will certainly have significant roles going forward. I think when I kick, the organization is going to change, and I think for the better, because there’s no one person who can do all that I can do because of my background. There’s no one individual who’s going to take my place.
M&F: What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?
VM: Have a passion for what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.
M&F: What is your advice to aspiring Superstars?
VM: Reach for the brass ring. Don’t be happy with just making the team. It’s important to not be concerned with failure and not be afraid of making a fool out of yourself. You know, when I was my character, I did all kinds of things that to the normal person would be humiliating. But it was a character, and I think you can’t be afraid of failing in front of a live audience. You need to be able to learn from it and accept it. Don’t be afraid to try new things.
M&F: Do you have a favorite Superstar?
VM: That would be Undertaker because of his loyalty, his longevity, and his extraordinary commitment to his character. We have lots of fun creating fun. [Superstars] try to crack each other up from time to time, and we all have tried to get Undertaker to break character, and we can’t do it. He is such a professional and an extraordinary human being behind the character. He’s committed to his craft and has worked through injuries.
M&F: What is your favorite WrestleMania moment?
VM: WrestleMania III in front of what was the largest indoor attendance record—93,000 people at the Silverdome in suburban Detroit. When Hulk Hogan slammed Andre the Giant. I think that’s been the biggest moment thus far.
M&F: Do you think you’ll ever surpass that?
VM: I think there’s a good opportunity with an announcement we’ll make soon.