I have never understood Donald Trump’s involvement in wrestling. He is always presented as a face counterpart to Vince McMahon’s evil billionaire character, but the facts tell a different, much darker story. While the wrestling persona Mr. McMahon once made Trish Stratus strip and bark like a dog on television, the real-life Donald Trump once tried to demolish a little old lady’s house and turn it into parking space. Plus, he hosted Wrestlemania IV.
Not only does Trump have an evil streak in real life, when it comes time to appear on WWE TV as a character, he always comes off as bossy and obnoxious. Vince McMahon has been willing to bleed, pee his pants, and have his head shoved up the anuses of various super-heavyweight wrestlers to put over story lines, but Donald Trump can’t even swallow his pride and let someone talk for five seconds without interrupting them with lame, condescending comebacks like, “You know what, Vince? I doubt that!” He can’t even take a decent Stunner.
So what happens when you combine Donald Trump’s overbearing personality with Vince McMahon’s love for cheap publicity?
Okay, but what happens when you combine that with a baffling story line that WCW 2000 wouldn’t touch?
The June 15th, 2009 edition of Raw opened with Vince McMahon making the puzzling claim that he had sold Monday Night Raw, which would now be “independently owned and operated.” That’s the sort of thing that might have been expected during the early days of the brand extension, but by 2009, even before Raw was rebranded as a “Super Show,” WWE viewers had grown accustomed to wrestlers jumping from show to show with no explanation.
Vince said that the new owner had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (perhaps implying “The Godfather” Charles Wright), then teased that he was an old enemy with whom he would never in a million years have believed he would do business. Who could it have been? Randy Savage? Bret Hart? Verne Gagne? Okay, Jerry Lawler didn’t open the show by beating Randy Orton for the title, so it probably wasn’t Verne, but still, the possibilities were intriguing.
Then Vince came to the ring and announced it was Donald Trump. You can actually hear cheers for a split second before the audience registers what they’ve just heard and shift their pitch down to boos. Donald appeared on the Titantron and had one of his most natural-sounding interactions with Vince ever, by which I mean he appeared in a pre-taped piece of film “via satellite” and made Vince carry the segment by having a fake conversation with the video. Needless to say, the chemistry was a wee bit lacking.
If Trump was supposed to be the new “fan-friendly” boss who vowed to show his appreciation for the audience, shouldn’t he have shown up in person, or at least appeared in some less intelligence-insulting capacity? And when was the last time a “satellite feed” was shot on 35 mm motion picture film? (The build-up to Wrestlemania 23, for the record)
The crowd booed The Donald throughout his speech, relenting only to cheer for Trump’s announcement that next week’s Raw would be commercial-free, no doubt excited for the following week’s evening full of dead time between matches but without the thrill of actually being in the arena. At least they didn’t cheer for Raw and boo Smackdown like they used to in the early days of the brand extension.
Vince’s reaction to a commercial-free Raw was understandable: he thought Donald was nuts, but of course he didn’t flip out, because it wasn’t his show anymore, and Donald was free to waste his own money, right? Remember this reaction later on.
To further the story line, the USA Network put out a phony press release announcing Trump’s purchase of WWE Raw. Apparently, no one at WWE or USA considered how stockholders might react (leaving the part-owners of the publicly-traded company to figure out for themselves how the sale of their company’s flagship television show would even function), let alone how profits would be affected by having a new “owner” with no experience running a promotion. Unsurprisingly, stock prices went down 7% shortly after the press release.
Although Vince’s publicity grab had backfired massively, he would still keep up the charade… for a few more days, at least. Vince and Donald held a fake press conference in Green Bay on the day of the commercial-free Raw, still insisting that Donald now owned Raw, which I might point out is not an organization, but a TV show. That’s why the NFL has never “sold” Monday Night Football as its own separate league.
As bad as the angle was becoming, at least fans still had a commercial-free Raw to look forward to. In fact, Green Bay wrestling fans were so pumped up that they bought up all the tickets to that night’s Raw, selling out the arena. Maybe no one told them that the live audience doesn’t watch commercials anyway.
So yeah, the angle was getting more terrible by the day, but at least WWE was making money off it (helping to offset the drop in stock prices). Except that Trump announced full refunds for all ticket-holders (which, to be fair, they probably would have demanded anyway after seeing the show that WWE put on that night), costing $245,000. Still, the episode would draw huge ratings, making you wonder why more TV shows didn’t go commercial-free (Answer: because they wouldn’t make any money).
The first Raw of the “Donald Trump Era” didn’t get off to an auspicious start, as the billionaire apparently wouldn’t spring for new theme music to replace that abomination by Papa Roach. Also, he re-branded the show, “Trump Raw” in keeping with his other famous properties like Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal, and, no joke, Trump Steaks.
Trump cut a promo, in person this time, letting the fans know that Raw was really their show, not his. He then gave the fans yet another Triple H-Orton match like the one they loved at Wrestlemania 25 (“Better than Vince would have ever given you, believe me!”), but this time with a Last Man Standing stipulation. He then made his refund announcement again, specially reiterating that it would be given “after the show is over,” no doubt to prevent fans from walking out during the Hornswoggle skits.
Fans may have noticed that Trump Raw was surprisingly similar to Vince McMahon’s Raw, featuring a John Cena promo and main event. Still, there at least weren’t any commercial breaks. That didn’t mean, however, that there wouldn’t be tons of filler, starting with a skit in which Vince’s car broke down and he tried to ride his chauffeur to the arena, which was about half a mile away (This was after Vince refused to go to a gas station, stating that he’d never been to a gas station in his life. I know a guy who once took a leak next to Vince who might disagree with that claim). You would think Vince could just hitch a ride in whatever car the camera crew arrived in.
So there were some lame skits instead of commercials. Big deal. At least it’s better than being peppered with advertisements every few minutes. Sort of like this.
Instead of commercial breaks, Raw’s announcers shilled KFC’s grilled chicken all night without irony as they repeated statements such as, “Tonight’s commercial-free Raw is brought to you by new Kentucky Grilled Chicken.”
Wait, I take that back. It wasn’t just Raw’s announcers doing the shilling, but Smackdown’s as well, as Trump had brought Smackdown stars onto his show, harking back to the golden age of the Monday Night Wars when WWF would often loan its contracted wrestlers to rival WCW Nitro for the sake of the fans. Oh, you mean that never happened? Because no promoter would want his roster making money for another promoter’s TV show? Well, this is news to me, and also to WWE, who didn’t seem to have a good grasp of the implications of this “sale” of Raw.
Todd Grisham was just as confused as the rest of us, expressing his astonishment that Donald Trump would sell Monday Night Raw. He was immediately corrected by Jim Ross, since the idea of Donald Trump selling back a show he bought just the week before was surely too dumb even for this angle.
Jeff Hardy was so amazed at the sale of Raw, he slipped during his entrance. It certainly wasn’t chicken grease, as KFC’s new Kentucky Grilled Chicken is grilled, not fried!
It was around this time that fans must have noticed the downside to a commercial-free Raw: it forced them to tether themselves to the TV (the same way I feel now about three-hour Raws that make watching wrestling a night-long obligation), without the conveniently-placed breaks that allowed them to, say, go to the john. Trump Raw was fan-friendly enough, though, to include a countdown to the Triple H-Orton match, letting fans know exactly how much longer they had to hold it in.
Sarcasm aside, at least Trump Raw featured the unceremonious end of the “Santina Marella” angle. Santino himself even made an appearance via some crafty camera work.
A few minutes, a Goldust wig, and a toilet joke later, and it was time for Triple H-Orton, which came right on schedule. Good thing none of the previous matches ran longer than expected! The announcers were filled to the brim with excitement over fans getting a match for free that they were supposed to pay $50 for at the over-priced Bash pay-per-view six days later.
The match saw Triple H try to hit Orton in the face with a ladder, but instead miss and hit a production crew member in the face for real. No word on whether trainers held a Trump Steak to his eye backstage.
A Gilette-sponsored replay showed the extent of the damage caused on this commercial-free episode of Raw.
Both men were counted down at the end of the match, resulting in a rare draw, an outcome that only occurs once in every three Last Man Standing matches. Fans disappointed with the non-finish were no doubt frantically ringing up their cable operators to order The Bash on pay-per-view so they could see The Game and The Viper wrestle three more times in a Best of Three Falls Match.
New Raw owner Donald Trump then made his way to the ring for another promo, canceling Vince’s plans for a new General Manager of Raw and replacing the whole GM concept with a weekly guest host, drawing cheers from the audience, who apparently hadn’t heard of Jeremy Piven yet.
Vince then marched down to the ring to reconsider his deal with Trump. McMahon didn’t know that Raw would be going commercial-free, every week according to rumors, and therefore cost him “a lot of money.” Yes, you read that correctly: Vince worried that he would lose money if the show that he no longer owned stopped taking in advertising dollars. He would also lose money, he said, if Trump’s plans to host free Raws every week came to pass. “If you did that, in six months’ time, I’d be bankrupt,” complained Vince.
It is at this point that it became clear that whoever wrote tonight’s show had no idea of how “ownership” works. Donald Trump had specifically claimed to be the “sole owner of Monday Night Raw,” and if you own something, you are responsible for the money it loses. You can’t just run a company into the ground and bill it to the previous owner. If that were the case, no one would ever sell anything to anyone. How did two men with a combined 80+ years of business experience go along with such nonsense on national TV?
Yeah, I don’t know either, dude. Frankly, a dozen Man Mountain Rocks could not do this wall-banger justice.
The audience was expected to believe that Vince McMahon sat down with Donald Trump and hatched out a deal where Donald Trump would get total control of Monday Night Raw but assume none of the financial liabilities, which would become Vince’s responsibility. If McMahon had scored that kind of deal in 2001, we’d have free WCW events every week being charged to Ted Turner’s tab.
Donald bragged that it was his show, and he could do “whatever the hell” he wanted with it. And just like in the real world, that’s true. Unlike in the real world, however, he wouldn’t have to pay for any stupid thing that he did with the company he now owned. I suppose it’s called the “WWE Universe” because it follows a different set of laws of logic than the universe the rest of us inhabit. Worse yet, Trump bragged about how he could easily sell the show to his billionaire friends for twice what he paid for it. Would that mean that Trump would have to cover Raw’s losses for whatever stupid business decisions the hypothetical new owners would make?
“How could I be so stupid?” wondered Vince aloud. “All this was a well-orchestrated plan!” I don’t think the phrase, “well-orchestrated” has any business being used to describe this angle. Vince was forced to buy back Raw from Donald Trump for twice what he paid for it and then “fired” Trump, who no-sold Vince’s outburst and slapped him in the face.
If the conclusion to this angle sounds like it was thought up and scribbled on a napkin five minutes before Raw made air, it’s because it probably was. The following months of Raw made it clear that the original plan (before WWE’s stock took a nosedive worthy of Hulk Hogan’s plane to Wrestlemania 6) was to keep Trump as the story line “owner” of Raw, with celebrity guest hosts taking over the role of on-screen authority figure each week. Instead, Vince took the reins of Raw back, but still kept Trump’s “guest host” idea for some unknown reason. Apparently, Vince and company had panicked and killed the angle after one week, after which it was never discussed again.
The tragedy here is that there was actually a halfway decent way to resolve the angle in a hurry: have Donald Trump give away all the scheduled pay-per-view matches on TV for free (like he did for Orton-Triple H), thus costing Vince PPV revenue and forcing him to buy back Raw. Then again, such an angle would expose the fact that WWE TV is supposed to be just one big commercial for the monthly pay-per-views anyway.
One has to wonder whether this “worst business deal in history” angle could have been continued. Imagine if Donald Trump, having sold Raw to Vince, was now responsible under WWE logic for funding whatever mind-numbingly awful ideas Vince could cook up in an effort to force Donald to buy it back.
Actually, if you watched Raw for the rest of 2009, you probably already assumed that’s what Vince was doing.