Vince-McMahon3

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. 

The following story appeared in the April 2006 edition of Muscle & Fitness and appears here as part of the muscleandfitness.com celebration of the WWE

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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?

Vince McMahon's Back WorkoutYou can’t script this stuff. Mr. McMahon firing someone in front of millions of viewers from the dozens of cities the WWE will visit this year for RAW Smackdown and live pay-per-view broadcasts? That you can script. But not Vince growing up with a father and grandfather involved in professional wrestling, exposing him to some of the world’s greatest physiques, then passing the business on to him. Or Vince picking up a weight at a very young age and never setting it down, not even when he reached 60 and very easily could have, what with traveling every week and tearing the occasional quad or two (more on that in a moment).

By the time Vince was 16 and being shipped off to military school in Virginia, he had already earned the nickname “Flex” for his physical prowess. He played baseball, football and basketball, and wrestled, so he was always engaged in some type of training. With a select few role models to emulate, he latched onto the likes of Steve Reeves and whatever pro wrestlers possessed the type of physique he strived for. “Back in my day [the ’50s], there was no Arnold [Schwarzenegger],” says Vince. “We had no one guy to look up to unless it was a strongman at a circus or a professional wrestler. Today it’s easier for someone to emulate Ronnie Coleman or someone like him. But I didn’t really have that growing up.”

AGE IS BUT A NUMBER

As the photo shoot proceeds, it’s clear he’s “Vince” today, not “Mr. McMahon.” And he’s not your typical 60-year-old man, either. How many 60-year-olds are 6’2″, 240 pounds and ripped? How many can weight-train with Triple H and actually keep up, even out-lift him on back day, using 200-pound dumbbells on the one-arm row? (“He doesn’t like to admit that I’m stronger than him on certain lifts,” Vince laughs.) How many can use 1,200 pounds on the leg press—for reps?

Vince is far from looking, or acting, his age (he’ll be 61 in August). Last year, he and Triple H trained together three or four days a week. And when he trains, he trains hard and heavy: no gimmicks, very few machines, like his mentors of yesteryear. Heavy benching, bent-over rows and squats are his staples. “

Vince is old-school,” says his training partner Steve Stone, a former competitive bodybuilder and current NPC vice chairman of bodybuilding under Steve Weinberger in New York. “He doesn’t look for any shortcuts. It upsets him when people give 80%. If you don’t add up to something but you’re giving 110%, that’s admirable to him. But if you’re great at 80% and he knows you could do more, he wants you to because that’s what he would do. He doesn’t expect anything out of his wrestlers that he wouldn’t do himself.”

“When you’re younger, it’s tough to appreciate your health and to appreciate physical culture,” explains Vince. “I always did, but not to the extent that I do now. The older you get, the more you appreciate the training and the results you get. I can do anything at 60 that I could do at 30. I just can’t do it as often.”

Talk about a model baby boomer. While many men his age will give you a laundry list of reasons why they can’t go to the gym—family, work, chronic laziness—Vince’s schedule is as jam-packed as anyone’s, but that’s no excuse.

“I love training with Vince because he works his ass off,” says Triple H.

Vince just wishes others would follow his lead.

“What’s disconcerting to me is that while we’re smarter as a species in every respect—from an intellectual standpoint and all that—it doesn’t seem that the populace as a whole today is any more physically fit than it was yesteryear,” he says. “I just don’t understand. Because, think about it—everything’s better when you’re in shape. Food tastes better. Sex is better. Even breathing is easier.”

So is he a bodybuilder? His son-in-law says yes. But Vince? “I’ve been building my body all my life, but I don’t consider myself a bodybuilder. Bodybuilders go onstage and pose. I have the utmost respect for anyone who can do that, but that’s not me [laughs]. I have a different stage. In our business, you have to be larger than life, but not just physically—it’s the psychology of it, too.”

The music’s too loud in the gym. You can’t even make out what AC/DC is screaming. You can hardly hear what orders the photographer is barking at Vince or what area of his form Triple H is coaching him on. A bystander goes to turn it down. Too loud? Says who? “If it’s too loud, you’re too old!” Vince shouts across the gym.

Vince McMahon: The WWE's Ringmaster (WWE)

DIVING IN

Vince McMahon doesn’t know how to jog. It never occurred to him sitting backstage at the Royal Rumble in January ’05. For 2 ½ hours, he was just sitting there, not expecting to have to go in the ring. Then something—presumably an unexpected plot twist—forced him into the ring, quickly. How else was he going to get there? “I just started sprinting as fast as I could and I dove into the ring,” says Vince. He also severed both quadriceps tendons in the process.

He was out of action for months. He and Stone were forced to work his legs back into lifting gradually. But before you knew it Vince was back to leg-pressing 800 pounds for reps and doing free weight squats with a safety squat bar. It drove his physical therapist nuts; PTs tend to treat every patient more or less the same. “But you can’t handle Vince like an average person,” says Stone. “Because he wants to be thrown into the same ring as Triple H, and he wants to be in the same gym as Ronnie Coleman. As far as intensity, he’ll match anybody.”

But when has Vince ever jogged into anything? Sprinting as fast as he possibly can is how he got to be where he is—and how he stays there. Vince’s quads are fine now. And his knees are better than ever. Since they had to sew his quadriceps tendons back through his kneecaps anyway, doctors figured they’d clean out all the crap in his knees while they were at it. “They’re stronger now than even Mother Nature had intended,” boasts Vince. “You always have to turn negatives into positives.”

TERMINATOR 4?

How about doing that one pose that Arnold did back in the day, Vince? That would open up the story nicely. Just lean over this barbell and look tough. Vince is incredulous: “I’m supposed to do something that Arnold did? Holy shit! That’s really intimidating!”

That’s Vince, out of the ring, being humble. So humble that this photo shoot almost didn’t happen. Triple H shot with FLEX four years ago, at which time the magazine expressed interest in Vince. “They don’t want me,” Vince responded. But every time Triple H would see FLEX Editor-in-Chief Peter McGough, McGough would inquire about Vince’s availability. Then when Hunter ran into McGough at last year’s Olympia, again they discussed it, and again Hunter went back to Vince. “This is the time to do it,” Hunter told him. “You’re 60 years old. To show the world how good you look at 60—you gotta do it.” Vince finally caved in.

Now Vince can’t stop laughing. “Give me a serious look now,” says the photographer. “I can do serious,” Vince says. He immediately cracks up. “I have to get in the mood to do serious.”

Who is this guy? Anyone who watches the WWE wouldn’t recognize him. Did he just act like he was biting that barbell with his eyes crossed? Was that the Mr. McMahon we see on TV who just held up two miniskirts, worn in previous shoots by his WWE divas, and asked which one we’d prefer him in? “This is my first photo shoot,” says Vince. “I don’t have a clue.”

Since when does Vince McMahon not have a clue? Since when do people tell him what to do? Like the photographer, the photographer’s assistants, his son-in-law? “Drop your shoulders… chin up, Vince…turn toward me!”

“The one thing that will shock people about Vince is that he’s actually very shy,” says Triple H. “If you see him on TV, you would never guess. If you did business with him, you would never guess. He’s not big into showing off how big he is or anything like that. And he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Vince comes from a very humble background. After Steph and I got married, the more I got to know him, the more I started to realize that he’s just a regular guy. He has very simple means in his life: He needs a car to get him to where he needs to go. He needs to work hard. He needs to train in the gym and eat good food.”

Back to the Arnold pose: Since when is Vince intimidated? “I don’t think you’re ever really as good as you want to be to do these shoots,” he says. “So if I appear to be humble, it’s not really that I’m humble; it’s that I’m realistic. But maybe intimidated isn’t the right word. I’m not afraid of anybody or anything—never have been. It’s more a matter of respect. I’ve always had a deep and abiding respect for bodybuilding and the people in it, and here I am. I’m a little kid in a candy store right now. For me, this is Christmas and there’s a big present under the tree.”

Who says Santa doesn’t exist?

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