Stone Cold Steve Austin hosted Vince McMahon on a live podcast on the WWE Network last night, and it was fascinating if you’ve ever been a wrestling fan at any point in your life. Vince exhibited a level of comfort and candor that I’m not sure we’ve ever seen from him before as the two spoke out-of-character about a wide range of topics. To me, the conversation was unequivocally more compelling than any PPV the network has run since its inception. These were a few things that stood out to me:
1) CM Punk, who continues to dominate pro wrestling newsflow after abruptly leaving WWE this past January, came up. If you’re unfamiliar with the current aspects of the story, the wrestler had been largely silent in the past 10 months, but went on his friend and fellow Chicagoan Colt Cabana’s podcast last week and laid waste to WWE, saying that he received his severance papers on his wedding day and more or less alleging that WWE doctors committed medical malpractice in failing to properly treat a staph infection.
Vince said that he had not heard the podcast, but claimed that the wedding day termination was a coincidental clerical error and apologized for it. He did not address the injury allegations, and Stone Cold did not follow up on that, but Vince left the door open for a reunion down the road. “In the past, there have been a number of individuals that have been disgruntled, said a lot of things about the organization, and I’m not gonna wash the dirty laundry in public,” Vince said. “I think that there are a lot of things that he may say that he may regret one day in terms of looking back at it. Nonetheless, I hope that one day we’ll be able to get back together again.”
“You and I got back together again,” Vince continued. “We had our differences. Hogan — oh my God. Ultimate Warrior. There’s a long list of them.”
2) Austin recalled the time that he left WWE in a disgruntled manner because he was irate about a storyline that called for him to lose to then up-and-comer Brock Lesnar. As Austin tells it, it wasn’t the losing that was the issue, but the lack of buildup. Eventually, Austin’s grudge with the organization was reconciled because Jim Ross brokered a truce. Is there someone in WWE’s front office now that can serve as sort of an arbitrator between Vince and CM Punk?
“Unfortunately there wasn’t,” Vince said. “And I think that’s where a lot of the problem was — with a lack of communication. I think I can legitimately say that Punk has some degree of lack of communication skills. He’s pretty much of a loner. Had there been a JR or someone like that to get us together, I think we could’ve worked things out. But it didn’t happen that way, and anytime you get attorneys involved in something it’s going to hell in a handbasket.”
3) On JR, who many people do not realize had a vital role in WWE’s front office in addition to his announcing legacy, Vince similarly left the door open for a return. After Austin asked if there was beef between Vince and JR, McMahon replied, “There’s no heat from my standpoint. There was an incident in Los Angeles — which you were a part of, have stated your opinion about, and I’d rather not go into it because it was very unprofessional and very unlike Jim. Jim and I worked very well together. I like Jim as a human being. He has a lot of institutional knowledge. I’m not so sure we won’t get back together too.”
“His desire was to leave Connecticut and go back to Oklahoma. That’s what Jim wanted to do. Jim really paid his dues with me, and as you know anyone that works with me, I never ask anyone to do anything in the ring that I wouldn’t do or anything in the office I wouldn’t do. That is a fact. JR really, really worked hard. As everyone does, he contributed greatly. JR decided on his own volition — not me — ‘I want to go back to Oklahoma, Vince. I want to take it easy. I want to help some, but that’s what I want to do.'”
“It takes 24/7 to put this product together. You can’t do it in a half-assed kind of way. You have to be all-in on this. When Stone Cold calls at 2 am, you have to answer the phone.
4) In our interview with JR this past May, he expressed similar sentiments for why he is no longer with the organization:
I was there 20 years. I had done everything from broadcasting to administration to becoming an executive vice president. I had a lot of health issues that had to be addressed, or I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now. It was time that I needed to get away from the weekly grind of travel, and the pressure with my job description, and I was not the type of guy who was going to take myself out of the game.
That wasn’t me, and the longer I kept trying to maintain that schedule, the tougher it was gonna be. Gosh, I had a perforated intestine, and I was 30 days away from passing, and I had perpetual stomach aches 24/7. I didn’t realize that my intestines were perforated and I was poisoning myself. I didn’t take time to go to the doctor to get it checked out — I just knew something was wrong — and we just agreed for me to go back to Oklahoma and get it checked out. I was still traveling, doing SmackDown at the time, I believe, and I had acute sleep apnea that had, as of then, gone undiagnosed.
If I had kept going, there was going to be one of those headlines that said ‘Good Ol’ JR Died in His Sleep’.
There were health issues, and a lot of other things that were going on in that deal — it’s not as glamorous as saying there was a huge split. Vince and I had never agreed 100% on philosophy, but I’d bet you money that there are a lot of assistant coaches in various sports that don’t 100% agree with the philosophy of the head guy. It’s just being human.
Nevertheless, you sense reading between the lines in JR’s multimedia endeavors that there might be a little more resentment privately, and that there are silly or illogical things that happen in WWE storylines that he would have advocated against if he were there. From a consumer’s perspective, I wish that there could be a middle ground where JR contributes to the product and the announcing at a less frenetic pace than Vince apparently demands. JR remains conspicuous in his absence on the broadcasts, and my opinion is that the current announce team diminishes the product.
4) Speaking of devil’s advocate, Austin asked early in the podcast if people might be walking on eggshells, fearful of ticking somebody off because there is not a viable employment alternative. “Well, don’t piss anybody off,” Vince replied. “This is a different group of guys and gals,” Vince continued. “It’s millenials. They’re not as ambitious, quite frankly. They’re not trepidatious at all. I just don’t necessarily think they want to reach for that brass ring. The last person to really reach for that brass ring was John Cena. There are others coming up now who definitely want to reach for it — Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt — I think you’ve got some people now who are chomping at the bit to make a difference.”
Austin and McMahon covered a lot more ground than that, and I couldn’t be stronger in my recommendation to check it out if you’re a WWE Network subscriber.