Historic Moments in Wrestling part 6: Vince McMahon admits wrestling is predetermined

In this week’s instalment of his series, Richard Hoy-Browne looks at the moment which shattered the illusion of millions


Let’s get this out of the way quickly – Professional Wrestling is predetermined. The winner is decided before the match, and the wrestlers involved by and large try their hardest to be safe and not injure their opponent. (Note that the word ‘fake’ has not been used; while the matches are scripted and the action choreographed, the physical impact is very much real).

While this is hardly news to those who tune in each week, there was a time where to doubt the validity of wrestling was akin to questioning whether the Pope was Catholic.  The most famous investigation into the legitimacy of Professional Wrestling and the then World Wrestling Federation (WWF) came in 1984 when John Stossel, investigative reporter for the hit US show 20/20, confronted ‘Dr D’ David Schultz and flat out stated “I think this is fake”. With the 20/20 crew filming, Schultz, drunk on pride and aggression, proceeded to slap Stossel, asking, “You think this is fake, huh?”.

He would go on to slap Stossel again, and pursued him while Stossel tried to flee. 20/20 had a huge story, Stossel would go on to sue the WWF for $425,000 and Schultz would later be fired for trying to attack Mr T. For his actions toward Stossel however, Schultz was immediately suspended not by Vince McMahon, but by the New York State Athletic Commissioner, who watched the sorry incident unfold.

The Athletic State Commission of each US state would be at every wrestling event, would grant licences to the wrestlers, referees and timekeepers. It would also levy a tax on all wrestling events, with the percentage of the gate depending on which state the event was held. Ever the smart businessman, Vince McMahon decided that enough was enough. Having already torn up the wrestling landscape, he was going to do the unthinkable: he was going to come clean and reveal wrestling’s biggest secret.
The infamous 'fingerpoke of doom' couldn't have happened in the old days The infamous 'fingerpoke of doom' couldn't have happened in the old days

‘Sports Entertainment’ is born

February 10 1989 was the day the facade died, as in front of the State of New Jersey Senate on a bill to remove Wrestling from the regulations that had been applied by the Athletic Commissions, Vince McMahon, representing the World Wrestling Federation, stated that professional wrestling should be defined as "an activity in which participants struggle hand-in-hand primarily for the purpose of providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a bona fide athletic contest."

With those words, everybody’s suspicions had been confirmed – wrestling was not in fact a legitimate sporting contest. As a result, the bill deregulating professional wrestling passed by a vote of 37 to 1.

What Happened Next?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, McMahon’s admission drew widespread derision from those within the wrestling community. With the curtain now fully drawn back, many felt that the mystique of the business was gone forever. McMahon himself showed little remorse for this, and was enamoured with his new favourite catchphrase for which to describe his company – ‘Sports Entertainment’.

It was a success not only for Vince but also Linda McMahon, who had lobbied tirelessly to get wrestling deregulated, to the tune of $400,000. It would be the first battle won by the McMahons against the State Commissions, with more lengthy, expensive and ultimately damaging battles to come.
It's still real to some fans... It's still real to some fans...

With the regulations now lifted, wrestling events were no longer under the watchful eye of State Commissions, and as such were no longer required to have wrestlers cleared to participate or have an ambulance stationed at the event in case of injury.

In one of the more positive outcomes of the decision, the death of kayfabe actually led to the rise of the independent promotions, as many promoters could now afford to put on show without having to pay for licenses and the other red tape that had held them back. Out of this new world of independent promotions would come Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) out of Philadelphia, whose wild shows would revolutionise the ‘sport’ of professional wrestling.

But for some, it’s still real to them, dammit.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living