Full Book Review: Sex, Lies, and Headlocks

Sex_Lies_Headlocks

Vince McMahon is an enigmatic man. Creative genius? Perhaps. A monster? Debatable. What you cannot argue about Vince is that he is as driven as any booker the industry has ever seen. He may be evil, may be a ego maniac, and, possibly, both the best and worst thing to ever hit the pro wrestling landscape. What cannot be denied is that he is a brilliant business man and a visionary.

Sex, Lies, and Headlocks is perhaps the only book devoted to the life story of one Vincent Kennedy McMahon. While it is an excellent read, I am still anxiously awaiting a full-on tell-all on the most controversial figure in wrestling history. For the time being, this book is the best of the non-existent bunch.

The book begins with Vince’s (called Vinnie throughout the book as to avoid confusion with his father, and thus called so here) meager roots in Havelock, North Carolina. Many people seem to have the impression that Vinnie was born to wrestling royalty in the forms of his father, Vincent James McMahon and his grandfather Jess McMahon. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vince the elder was married for a short time to Vinnie’s mother, siring two children and then leaving them on their own. Vince’s mother remarried to a dubious character who assaulted the young Vinnie Mac, allegedly, with items such as a pipewrench. Vinnie also has claimed, in a round about way, that he may or may not have been sexually abused by his mother. Whatever the case, the stepsons of Leo Lupton grew up dirt poor, and Vince and Rodney Lupton resented that fact.

Vince McMahon the younger did not meet Vince McMahon the elder until he was twelve years old. Vincent James, at the encouraging of his new bride Juanita decided to make his two almost bastard children a part of his life. And Vinnie soaked it all up, becoming immersed in pro wrestling. His favorite wrestler? Dr. Jerry Graham. Could he have picked a worse role model? Jerry Graham, from all I have read on the man, was completely and certifiably nuts, a total loon. The man lit his cigars with $100 dollar bills and was just a complete wackjob. Just read Terry Funk and Harley Race’s bios to get a good idea on the psyche of Jerry Graham. Vince the elder wanted to steer his young progeny away from wrestling, enrolling him in a prestigious military academy. Young Vince was already convinced of his life’s plan: He wanted to follow in daddy’s footsteps. So Vince the elder made Vinnie an announcer on his Capitol Wrestling cards, and gradually eased him into the business, eventually giving him a small chunk of territory to call his own: Cape Cod Massachusetts. Vinnie ended up remarkably adept at promoting these cards with perks such as his young brides meatballs as a drawing card. Vince the elder soon became ill, and with this life reaching the end zone, he decided to sell the company, WWWF, that was his life’s work.

Vinnie was not his first choice. But he was his best choice. Vince the elders group, consisting of him, Phil Zacko, Arnold Skaaland, and Robert “Gorilla Monsoon” Marella did not necessarily trust the younger Vince. After all, his two major efforts at promoting had failed: Evel Knievel’s Snake River Canyon “Jump” and the Antonio Inoki-Muhammed Ali fight. Vinnie assembled almost a sort of kitchen cabinet, headed by former NHL star Jim Troy, and took out every loan he could from friendly Cape Cod banks. The result was Vincent Kennedy McMahon owning the controlling assets of the WWF. And wrestling would never be the same.

The rest of the story has been told thousands of times by writers more skilled than myself. Vinnie signed Hulk Hogan and pushed him to the moon, and piggybacked off of his growing celebrity to millions upon millions of dollars. I guess any book on McMahon could end there. But it doesn’t.

Hogan’s act grew tired and stale by late 1991. On top of that, an Allentown physician named George Zahorian was indicted by the FBI, an indictment that struck the fear of God into the WWF. Why, you may ask> Zahorian was the pipeline to all the drugs prevalent in the WWF at that time. Steroids, painkillers, speed, roofies, ANYTHING. Drug abuse was rampant in the Federation at that time, and for the FBI to nab the main man supplying these things? Shit was about to hit the fan, and Vinnie Mac knew it. The thing was, though, as much as the US Government had a hard on for Vince McMahon, they did a god-awful, hap hazard, half assed job in bringing the case to court. That case, where they had Vince and the WWF dead to rights, ended with a dismissal because the prosecutors fucked up their case, citing an erroneous date, a completely wrong point of purchase for Hogan and McMahon in obtaining steroids. McMahon skating from those charges? A fucking miracle, owed completely to shoddy prosecuting. THE SOPRANOS had better lawyers than this case. The beat went on, though.

The book begins and ends with the tragic death of Owen Hart. As a kid, I loved to hate Owen. He was the perfect little shithole playing off his more successful brother Bret. WWF always presents itself as this morality play, and no feud better encapsulated this story. As I got smarter to the business in the mid 1990’s (Thanks in no small part to Dave Meltzer, Scott Keith, and Christopher Robin Zimmerman) Owen became a personal favorite of mine around 1997-1998. His death is a major point of contention with me. The book may not be the best as far as a subjective allotment of the facts. Far from, as at times Vince seems the devil incarnate. But I happen to believe in Vince’s handling of the Owen Hart tragedy. What the fuck was he supposed to do? Especially as someone who had personal dealings with the man? That Over The Edge 1999 continued on after his fall from life? That is a tough decision to make on the spot, at a time when the WWF was red hot. I don’t agree with the credo that “Owen would want the show to go on.” That statement is horseshit, but I understand McMahon’s position. For the whole of everyone watching, what would you have done, after a tragedy that occurred during the SECOND MATCH of the card? It is a numbing decision, no doubt. But millions were watching on PPV, and most were significantly less invested in Owen Hart than most smart fans. I cannot blame Vinnie Mac for continuing the show, if for nothing else that it was probably mass hysteria behind the scenes. And I may be in the minority here, but I thought the tribute the next night on Monday Night Raw was pitch perfect. Ultimately, the best course of action would have been not having Owen hanging above that ring, but it happened, and he fell. There is no changing that, unfortunately. And the Owen tribute show the following night was great. Don’t get me wrong, the WWF/E should not be celebrating that show almost 15 years later. But it worked for us grieving fans that night.

All in all, Sex Lies and Headlocks is an impressive look into the possible psyche of one Vincent Kennedy McMahon. There really is not a book authored on pro wrestling quite like it. Some of the information provided is just plain wrong, but it is outweighed by the stuff that is defensible. It is worth a look for any wrestling fan alone for the view into the possible life history of the most influential man to ever grace a pro wrestling ring.

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