January 28, 2023

How WWE’s Vince McMahon ruthlessly got his job back despite allegations of sexual assault and misuse of company funds


Washington
CNN

Professional wrestling is known for its outlandish and dramatic stories that have captivated generations. It’s a sports soap opera built on an emotional drama with wrestlers sometimes scheming in the background for months just to make their move at the right moment, drawing insane reactions from arenas packed with fans who followed every beat.

But the real-life epic that has unfolded in World Wrestling Entertainment’s corporate office over the past several weeks is beyond what these artists and their co-stars backstage could even dream of.

Vince McMahon, the longtime force behind WWE on a corporate and creative level, Shockingly, he returns to the company On January 10, almost six months later Announcing his retirement. It was alleged that McMahon had used company funds to pay millions to several women in order to cover up infidelity and allegations of sexual misconduct.

But over the course of just a few days last week, McMahon engineered his return to the company’s board of directors, reconfigured it by forcing out some members, replacing them with his allies, and using this new board power to cement him in his old position. Executive Chairman position. His daughter — a corporate heiress who seemed poised to take over the job for years — has quit.

The incredible and rapid developments have had the wrestling world reeling, with rumors of a sale burning Wrestling Twitter and people inside and outside the company wondering what it all means for the future of WWE and professional wrestling itself.

In July, Vince McMahon—an ever-present force in WWE and professional wrestling, the man who remade the business in service of a vision that overturned generations of traditions, creating his own dominance—retired. Or quit, depending on who you ask.

It was a moment that many wrestling fans and observers never thought would come. The longtime Chairman and CEO of WWE was such a meticulous manager that he hardly slept, rarely took time off, and almost never stopped putting his own spin on every aspect of the company’s production. Many of the old adherents of the Company assumed that he would die in office rather than retire.

But a series of revelations were first reported in the Wall Street Journal About financial payments silent To many women to cover up infidelity and allegations of sexual misconduct it seemed to put an end to McMahon’s legendary rivalry as head of the most important company in wrestling. Additional reports came in Decemberwith additional women accusing McMahon of sexual assault, seems to cement his status as permanently gone from WWE.

WWE has always been a family business – father Vince McMahon handed the reins to his son in the ’80s – and it looked like it would continue to be that way. Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie, who took a leave of absence from the company just weeks earlier, has stepped into the role of co-CEO with Nick Khan, a longtime executive in the entertainment and media industry.

And Paul Levesque — Stephanie McMahon’s husband and Hall of Fame professional wrestler himself better known by his ring name, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, or Triple H — took over as Chief Creative Officer, putting him in charge of WWE’s events and in-ring, which his father-in-law had long run.

That moment last summer signaled a sea change for the professional wrestling industry.

Vince McMahon was more of a king than he is as a business executive in the WWE Universe, his fingerprints on everything. Through his ruthless business practices, he molded the industry in his image, put most of his competitors out of business and turned his company into a the Professional wrestling destination. For more than two decades, he had a monopoly on the company.

But his creative output has faltered in recent years. Superstars who left WWE described a frustrating creative process dominated by McMahon that stifled their visions and led to a homogenous product that felt miles away from the company’s heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Since the vast majority of the company’s revenue comes from television rights, instead of fans spending money on tickets or pay-per-view events, the need to give people what they want has been replaced by producing content. At times it seemed as if Vince McMahon’s creative decisions were meant to piss off and annoy his fans, as he seems to be putting forth his vision on “sports entertainment” whether they like it or not.

The turning point for many was the 2015 Royal Rumble event. Fans were clamoring for their favorite Daniel Bryan, one of the most talented wrestlers on the planet, to win in the name of the event. For many fans, Bryan’s run symbolized the hope that the company would promote their favorite wrestlers rather than McMahon’s handpicked wrestlers.

But Bryan was unceremoniously eliminated in the first half of the match. The crowd in Philadelphia booed throughout the second half, chanting Bryan’s name and refusing to celebrate when Roman Reigns – widely seen as McMahon’s pick to be the future of the company despite fan apathy – won.

The shrinking viewership reflects this loss of hope. While television ratings have generally declined in the past several years, with a few exceptions, WWE’s decline has outpaced the overall decline in overall viewership and in the key 18- to 49-year-old demographic, according to wrestlinga website that tracks the business side of the industry.

Once considered a wrestling genius, critics recently consider Vince McMahon a creative liability. The rise of the Levesque duo and Stephanie McMahon-Khan seemed to signal hope that a new era was dawning on WWE and that its creative system would finally get the long-awaited injection of fresh ideas, fresh faces, and fresh energy.

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported McMahon was looking forward to making a comeback – first grumbling that The New Era might be on shaky ground.

According to reports by the magazine, McMahon has been telling people around him that he was given bad advice to step down after the newspaper reported that he used company money to pay more than $12 million in hush money settlements to women to cover up “allegations of sexual misconduct and infidelity.”

WSJ also reported that McMahon believes the controversy would have ended if he had just stayed on as chief creative officer and chairman of the company’s board of directors.

Then, in early January, McMahon made his move.

As disclosed in file Securities and Exchange CommissionMcMahon said he had to return to the company because negotiations over media rights and a “review of strategic alternatives” required his “direct participation, leadership and support”. He told the SEC he was reinstating himself on the company’s board of directors, along with two longtime allies — both of whom McMahon fired from the company in 2020.

How could he do that despite having retired in disgrace and ostensibly away from the company for months? McMahon never sold his stock in the company and remains the controlling shareholder in WWE.

“The only way for WWE to take full advantage of this opportunity is for me to return as CEO and support the management team in negotiations for our media rights and combine that with reviewing strategic alternatives.” McMahon said in a press release. “My return would allow WWE, as well as any other parties to the transactions, to participate in these operations knowing that they would have the support of the controlling shareholder.”

Over the course of just a few days, he went from a pariah former wrestling executive to once again running the company he catapulted from a regional player to a global powerhouse. He was the kind of aberration one might expect from “Mr. McMahon,” Vince McMahon’s devious on-screen persona, who served as wrestling’s greatest heel for years in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Just days after re-installing himself on the company’s board of directors, The WWE Board of Directors came back unanimous to his old job as CEO.

Not only that, his daughter Stephanie McMahon — who seemed poised to take over the company for years and have played prominent roles on and off screen — stepped down as president and co-CEO of WWE, leaving it all together.

Nick Khan has left the position of sole CEO of the company. But the company’s machinations over the past week have once again demonstrated that McMahon was the real power in WWE.

There are reports that McMahon is exploring selling the company, but it is not clear if there is any truth to that.

So far, all of McMahon’s statements about his intentions relate to trade negotiations. But Stephanie McMahon’s departure cast a shadow over her husband’s future with the company.

With his father-in-law about to return to the company, Levesque was gearing up for his first major stint in charge of storytelling in WWE that was heading into its most important time of the year. The WrestleMania season begins with the Royal Rumble event on January 28 and continues through the first weekend of April, when WWE runs a two-night WrestleMania event – its biggest show of the year – at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium. This was likely the first major test of Levesque’s creative vision for WWE and it was highly anticipated by wrestling fans.

McMahon’s re-emergence now leads to questions about how much influence the chairman will seek to exert over the creative direction of the company, and how it might conflict with Levesque’s own vision.

Taking control of creativity, the WWE Hall of Famer has re-signed dozens of wrestlers that McMahon has released in recent years, including superstars like Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, and prioritized other wrestlers who didn’t fit McMahon’s typical vision of a professional wrestler – someone taller than 6 ft 3 in, muscular, good looking and with actual wrestling ability is considered optional.

The future of these Levesque favorites now looks less certain than it did just a few weeks ago.

There are real questions about how fans will receive the news of McMahon’s return. A man who is seen as a legend in the field is accused of sexually assaulting several women, then using the tools of institutional power to escape accountability. Fans have really tuned in to the company’s direction in droves in recent years and some may decide not to spend their money, time, and attention on a McMahon-run product.

Then there’s the question of how McMahon’s return will affect the professional wrestling industry as a whole.

All Elite Wrestling (AEW), an upstart promotion started in 2019 by Tony Khan — son of billionaire auto parts tycoon Shahid Khan and no relation to the WWE CEO — and many of independent wrestling’s biggest stars, has become the second largest wrestling company in the world. world by simply being what WWE is not.

Its focus on long-term storytelling, great matches, charismatic stars, and less sterile productions allowed AEW to break WWE’s monopoly on the wrestling industry and become a certified player in the business.

As such, it has become the home of some of the industry’s most iconic wrestlers who have been hard-won by WWE corporate culture and bowing to McMahon’s whims. His passing back in July and Levesque’s rise to WWE’s creative throne had many observers wondering if the AEW superstars were looking to jump ship and head to WWE.

There were some hopes among die-hard WWE members that Levesque’s new system might be successful enough to stamp out the rise of AEW. McMahon’s return may cast some doubt in the minds of AEW wrestlers who have been considering a move to WWE in the future.