How Vince McMahon built an empire on fakery and taught Donald Trump to control a crowd

Netflix recently bet $5 billion on the idea that pro wrestling is due for a renaissance.

It’s not hard to see why. Wrestling has all the drama of reality TV, but on steroids. It’s oozing with Millennial nostalgia. And it’s the kind of entertainment in which the central conceit, known as “kayfabe,” has never been more relevant.

Put simply: The wrestling you associate with names like Hulk Hogan is scripted. But the people in it are committed to playing it out as real life, inside the ring and out. That’s kayfabe, and it’s a lens we can apply to a distressingly vast array of experiences in our extremely online lives, when the line between spectacle and substance is increasingly porous. (See also: most social media, AI deepfakes, national politics generally.)

The potential liability for Netflix, though, lies with World Wrestling Entertainment’s longtime puppet master and promoter, Vince McMahon.

McMahon, who is 78, resigned last month as executive chairman of TKO, pro wrestling’s parent company, after being sued by a former employee who says she was sexually abused and trafficked by McMahon to other men at WWE, McMahon’s family-run empire, where He was the longtime chairman and chief executive. Beyond that lawsuit, according to the Wall Street Journal, McMahon is also under federal investigation for alleged sexual assault and sex trafficking.

McMahon has denied the allegations.

A Netflix spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

While McMahon has officially stepped out of the ring, his name won’t be easily excised from the world of wrestling he built over four decades, according to Abraham Josephine Riesman, author of the 2023 unauthorized biography of McMahon.

In his 2023 book, “Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America,” Riesman pulls back the curtain on the world of pro wrestling that launched the careers of such figures as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and , to an extent, former President Donald Trump.

I talked to Riesman late last month, as news of McMahon’s resignation was breaking, about McMahon’s rise and fall, the evolution of kayfabe and what a post-McMahon future looks like for the wrestling world.






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