Wrestling characters are most compelling when they are exaggerations of the performer’s personality. So, when Vince McMahon is portraying the “Mr. McMahon” character we see part of his real-self. “Mr. McMahon” is ruthless, prone to anger outbursts, sneaky, macho, and above all else, power-hungry. I love watching him play this role. He also portrays it in a cartoonish manner, which distances his real identity from the character. However, I would argue that McMahon’s perceived personality is most strikingly found in how he portrays the top babyfaces of the WWE. By looking at perhaps his most successful babyface champions, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and John Cena, we can see elements of what McMahon admires, and what he may ultimately identify as his most admirable qualities. It is important to note that McMahon has historically differentiated his promotion from others in many ways, but it is his use of a babyface or protagonist at the top of the card that is most impactful to the way that WWE frames their storylines. McMahon has characterized his type of baby-face as, “My Guy”. The fans will want to cheer for “My Guy” because he is someone people can get behind. Unlike in WCW, in McMahon's promotion the top good guy tends to win more than he loses.
In the case of Hulk Hogan, we saw a spokesperson for all that was great about America during the overly-optimistic Regan years of the 1980s. Hogan is powerful and wants the power of Hulkamania (which amounts to millions of people believing in him) to take over the world for the good. He was obsessed with physical training and vitamin supplements, was a glamours celebrity, and no one could beat him in a fair fight. During the 80s we see McMahon put out a positive product that was focused on celebrity, glamor, and touted as very American. Despite being physically threatened by “old-school” promoters, McMahon also appeared positive in public about his putting many wrestlers and promoters out of a job. He was ready to take over the world for the better. In addition, McMahon is a gym junkie and is all about glamor and celebrity.
Following several lack luster years McMahon becomes an underdog. Enter "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. "Stone Cold" fought “The Man”! He was tough, never gave up, and was the only one with the answer. The answer was, “kick ass and don’t worry about stomping on people because this is the only way to win the war.” This was during the late 90s when McMahon was in a ratings war with WCW and needed to work harder and be tougher to win. McMahon won the “Monday Night Wars,” and likely saw his own toughness and “ends justify the means” behaviors as admirable qualities.
Finally, in John Cena, we see a person who preaches, “Hustle, Loyalty & Respect,” but has a penchant for “poopy” jokes (as does McMahon), is positive no matter what happens to him, loves working out, and never stops working. He also appears to have a corporate mindset. He believes the system is fair, and one would just need to work hard to be a winner. During the new millennium McMahon took his company public and found a good corporate spokesman in Cena. In addition, workaholic, gym rat, McMahon is very interested in being a good “corporate citizen”. In fact, we get to see lots of pink once a year in honor of cancer awareness, and Make-A- Wish participants are shown at televised events. However, unlike Hogan and Austin, Cena is often booed. The flip side of being a corporate man is that corporations are hated by many. In his real life McMahon, the head of the corporation, has been booed by many as well (see examples of the 90s steroids trail and his spending millions on his wife’s failed senatorial campaigns). I think Cena represents McMahon’s desire to demonstrate that he will keep coming to work no matter what people write or say about him. You can’t keep Cena or McMahon down! However, Cena will get old like Hogan, and physically broken down like Austin, and a new babyface will emerge. You can bet your bottom dollar that the next big “My Guy” will be handpicked and molded in the image of Vincent Kennedy McMahon. May God have mercy on our souls.