You need to be tough to be a professional wrestler, but you need to be a whole lot tougher to be a professional wrestling promoter. After all, who's braver: the pride of lions or the man who feeds them?
Handling the schedule - and, crucially, the money - of a group of burly blokes who've made absorbing pain their vocation comes with inherent risks, as many a booker stiffed in the face after stiffing a paycheque has found out. It's why, when you think of the industry's most celebrated promoters, your mind automatically wanders to a parade of hardened veterans, die-cast monoliths who wouldn't suffer fools. The likes of Verne Gagne, Paul Boesch, Fritz von Erich. Even Vince McMahon, though not hewn from the same sinewy flesh as the aforementioned, has, through monopoly more than muscle, proved almost uncontestable over the years. Even if it comes decades later, Vince invariably has the last laugh.
It's why in 2020, 74 years old and occupying a world quite detached from our own, McMahon still commands a degree of respect his legacy perhaps does not deserve. Fear is perpetuated by historic reputation. Only a handful of times have the roles been reversed.
In 1992, just as Vince McMahon was trying to avoid prison, he introduced a wrestler allegedly from one. Kevin 'Nailz' Wacholz, though as artificially inflated as any of the men on the roster the chairman was hurriedly scurrying away in response to the FBI's interest, was sufficiently tall and sufficiently vicious looking to be draped in an orange boiler suit and still come across menacing. The fear the wronged convict put into gawping children would soon translate to the back office.
At SummerSlam '92, Nailz handily dispatched of Virgil before a crowd of 92,000 people. Though there was no suggestion he'd drawn that gate, Wacholz nevertheless felt shortchanged by the $8000 payoff he received for his first PPV match. Incensed, he made his point perfectly clear - the gravelly voice was just for effect - at a set of tapings in Green Bay, WI, demanding $15,000 in advance for a proposed programme with The Undertaker.
After being told a firm "no", Wacholz lunged at his boss. It's not clear whether Vince, Mr. Burns-like, jumped into his Smithers Pat Patterson's arms, but his sphincter must surely have loosened as Wacholz hands tightened around his neck. According to backstage witnesses, McMahon turned blue as a smurf. No surprise, the assault didn't aid in the negotiations; Wacholz was fired on the spot.