There is an old saying that goes…‘Never meet your heroes, because they are sure to disappoint you.’ That may or may not be the case, but for the owner of the World Wrestling Federation…Vincent Kennedy McMahon…the saying rang true. Vince was a big boxing fan and why not? His grandfather Jess McMahon was a successful boxing promoter. Some of that blood was still coursing through the veins of the young Vince Jr.
When Vince Jr. became the lead announcer on his father Vince Sr’s WWWF programming, McMahon patterned his broadcasting style to one of the most famous broadcasters in all of sports…Howard Cosell. Cosell was a play by play announcer for such sports as boxing, football and baseball. His egocentric style became the bane of many viewers and critics worldwide. Howard was a lightning rod for controversy with his broadcasting style.
While Cosell had many critics, Vince McMahon Jr was not one of them. Vince wore a bright yellow sports jacket just like Cosell did and used a few of Cosell’s lines in calling action. He used Cosell lines like ‘wide open’ and ‘cleaning up on him.’ McMahon also copied Cosell facial expressions during interviews and Cosell’s overall broadcasting technique.
It only made sense that after Vince purchased the WWF from his father and made plans to take his promotion nationally…Cosell would be on his radar. In 1984, that is exactly what transpired. Vince McMahon was looking for a big name to become the voice of the WWF during the expansion years. The name he wanted was none other than Howard Cosell himself. The same Howard Cosell who anchored the highly rated Monday Night Football and coined phrases like…’He could go all the way’ (Later used by Chris Berman) and ‘Down goes Frazier’ in response to George Foreman knocking out Joe Frazier in a boxing match. That is how “big” McMahon wanted to go in finding a play by play broadcaster.
As outrageous as that idea seemed to be, Cosell’s career was beginning to wind down. The ABC network was starting to sour on Cosell and his arrogant behavior on and away from the microphone. Vince saw an opportunity to pounce and took it. According to Cosell’s autobiography entitled I Never Played the Game…Cosell revealed the brief discussion he had with the ambitious wrestling promoter.
“In early 1984 I got a call from Vince McMahon, the marketing and merchandising wizard who’s responsible for the boom in professional wrestling. I had never heard of him, but after a quick and precise introduction, he promptly got down to business. He wanted me to be the primary announcer on his wrestling telecasts.
‘You can’t be serious,’ I said laughing.
‘I’m dead serious,’ he said.
‘Come on. Boxing was bad enough, and now you want me to end my career calling phony wrestling matches. Good Lord, you must be crazy.’
‘I’m not crazy,’ McMahon said, and I could hear anger creeping into his voice. ‘You really should think about it.’
‘I don’t have to think about it Vince, I don’t want any part of it.’
‘Well, fuck you, Howard!’ he said. ‘Wrestling’s going to be the biggest sport in this country and I don’t need you anyway!’
I couldn’t believe my ears. Just like that the guy turned on me. ‘Wrestling will be King,’ he said. ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life.’
‘That may be Vince, but I’m not going to do it.’ After I hung up, I thought McMahon was a real kook. I still do. But he’s a, incredibly successful one.”
Just like that, McMahon’s big idea was shot down to shreds. Here was a man he admired and patterned himself after as an announcer and he was told no and insulted to boot. Maybe Vince could’ve asked his father about Cosell…who knew a little more about the broadcaster’s distaste for the world of professional wrestling. You see, back in 1976…Vince Sr worked alongside Antonio Inoki and Muhammad Ali on their infamous exhibition match. Cosell refused to promote the match, calling wrestling fake and when he was forced to talk about it on television…he buried the idea and knocking it to everyone watching. The entire Ali/Inoki contest turned out to be a disaster.
Regardless of that, Vince Jr learned the hard way about Cosell’s feelings on pro wrestling. McMahon would turn to Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura to be that outlandish broadcaster he was seeking. Everything turned out well for McMahon and the WWF after all. As for Cosell, he was ultimately relieved of his duties on Monday Night Football and removed completely from ABC sports in 1985.
To think what might have been if Howard actually said yes to the WWF job. Would it have killed Cosell’s overall credibility as a broadcaster as he feared or would it have added another layer to Cosell’s sometimes tarnished legacy? It would have been fun to find out.