The wrestling promotion he grew, and the industry he shaped would be without McMahon’s influence. The absence lasted less than a year.
“Vince McMahon is the singular individual of American professional wrestling, at least for the past 40-odd years. There’s no one in professional wrestling who’s more important than him,” said author Abraham Josephine Riesman, who just wrote a McMahon biography.
Amid sexual impropriety scandals and using company funds as hush money, McMahon stepped aside from the day-to-day operations of the company he bought from his father in 1982 (McMahon remained majority stockholder).
Last month, during WrestleMania weekend, McMahon announced his return and an earth-shattering merger with the parent company of UFC.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect for Riesman. Just a week before McMahon’s return, Riesman released “Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America.” It debuted at #14 on the New York Times Bestseller list.
“It was pretty nuts. I was not anticipating that particular confluence of events,” Riesman told Off the Bottom Rope in a phone interview. “A lot of that was luck because all of these things did sort of converge into one big media kerfuffle. So I think that drew a lot of attention. But I hope the work stands up as well.”
Finding the Real McMahon
“Ringmaster” details McMahon’s personal and professional life, starting with his estranged relationship with his father, Vincent James McMahon. The elder McMahon operated the precursor to the WWE for decades, ignoring the two boys he fathered in North Carolina, Vince and his brother Rod. The two didn’t meet until the younger McMahon was a teenager.
The book follows McMahon breaking into wrestling, taking over his father’s company, and building it into the biggest wrestling company the world has ever seen.
Riesman examines McMahon’s relationship with his immediate family, all getting involved with the WWE at some point. Riesman asked Vince, Linda, Shane, and Stephanie for interviews, but they declined.
I asked Riesman: Who is the real Vince McMahon?
“He wants to be the top dog in any room he walks into. I think that’s the best way I can summarize. The real Vince McMahon is a teenage boy who wants to be taken seriously by his father and I think will forever be in that state. No matter how old he gets, he will always be that teenage boy who just met his father, the wrestling promoter, and wants to be taken seriously and loved by him,” Riesman said.
A Story That Needed to Be Told
“No matter how old he gets, (Vince McMahon) will always be that teenage boy who just met his father, the wrestling promoter, and wants to be taken seriously and loved by him.” — author Abraham Josephine Riesman
This is Riesman’s second book but the first on pro wrestling. She previously authored “True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee”.
“Even just with the cursory amount of digging, it became clear to me that this was a book that needed to be written, whether it was me or somebody else. The story of Vince McMahon had not really been effectively told,” Riesman said.
A wrestling fan as a teenager, Riesman lapsed for 20 years. Now identifying as transgender, Riesman wrote that wrestling helped teach her about gender roles. Wrestling even helped her bond with the bullies that tormented her as a 13-year old.
“I go by ‘she’ now. This is the conclusion I might have come to all those years ago if my bullies hadn’t terrorized me out of it. Wrestling showed me how to be a man. But it also gave me a second message, one that had finally — finally — reached me. Wrestling taught me to be cis at 13, and then it taught me to be trans at 36,” Riesman wrote on Polygon.
While there has been plenty written about McMahon, Riesman’s book brings all those stories and knowledge into a 452-page tome (published by Atria Books).
Why hasn’t there been a comprehensive McMahon biography before? Riesman says serious people would not take wrestling seriously.
“Wrestling is regarded by mainstream tastemakers and media storytellers as silly. And therefore it’s considered that the people who make it must be silly as well,” Riesman said.
Former president Donald Trump was a factor in publishing the book now, Riesman said. Trump and McMahon have had a close relationship, dating back to the early 1980s. In fact, Trump would take McMahon’s phone calls in private — one of the few people he would treat that way — Riesman wrote.
“Trump had kind of primed the audience to think of wrestling and politics as being at an intersection, which I don’t think was true in the popular perception in the past,” Riesman said.
The book includes 76 pages of footnotes, one of the most well-cited I’ve ever read.
“I don’t come from the wrestling journalism world. I come from working at newspapers and magazines and more importantly, coming from an academic background where it was constantly beaten into me that you have to show your work,” Riesman said.
Riesman on Fan Criticism
The book includes everything that a fan needs to know about McMahon. Some of the criticism found on wrestling-themed Facebook pages is that a hardcore fan already knew everything covered in the book — “Ringmaster” broke no new ground.
I disagree with the criticism in some respects. Riesman details McMahon’s early life. I knew he grew up in North Carolina, and vaguely remember McMahon’s birth name — Vincent Lupton. The rest of McMahon’s upbringing I’ve never read before.
Riesman said non-wrestling fans are the target, and challenges any fan to find other information about the elder McMahon’s “other” family or the younger McMahon’s early life.
“I was writing for a mainstream audience who know nothing about wrestling,” Riesman said. “I congratulate the people who were bored by the latter half of the book because they knew everything already. Clearly, they’re very well-informed. But the vast majority of the living population of the United States and the world has no familiarity with wrestling whatsoever.”