A time when Vincent Kennedy McMahon is no longer actively involved in the world of professional wrestling was one dreamt of by some and dreaded by others.
We are about to find out what that world looks like.
The 76-year-old McMahon, with a single tweet, abruptly announced his retirement from WWE as both its chairman and CEO and head of creative on Friday night. For now, he still remains the company’s majority shareholder.
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“At 77, time for me to retire,” McMahon wrote on Twitter. “Thank you, WWE Universe. Then. Now. Forever. Together.”
The announcement came while he is being investigated by WWE’s board of directors and under the cloud of two bombshell Wall Street Journal reports. Early this month, the Journal reported on alleged “hush” money McMahon paid to four different former female WWE employees totalling $12 million in exchange for them signing nondisclosure agreements that prohibit them from talking about their relationship with McMahon and any allegations of sexual misconduct. In an SEC filing, WWE said on Monday that McMahon actually paid out $14.6 million between 2006 and 2022. The payments were classified as “unrecorded expenses” and the company will revise its previous financial statements to reflect that.
The most recent was an alleged $3 million payment made in January to a paralegal with whom McMahon allegedly had a sexual relationship. Former WWE head of talent relations John Laurinaitis allegedly had a sexual relationship with the same former paralegal.
The allegations reported by the Journal against McMahon, which date back around 16 years and included a claim of unsolicited nude photos and one former WWE wrestler alleging McMahon coerced her into oral sex, appear to have made it impossible and likely imprudent for him to try to hold on to day-to-day power in WWE. He did “voluntarily” step back from his role as chairman and CEO after the initial Journal report in June, but was still running creative.
McMahon, who was accused of rape in 1992 by a former female referee which he called a “fabrication of a false accusation of rape” in a lawsuit that was dropped, survived the United States government going after him in the 1994 steroids trial when the jury found him not guilty, and the challenge of competitor WCW in the “Monday Night Wars” of the late 90s, ultimately brought himself down.
Instead of trying to cling to the job that consumed and defined his life by waiting for the board’s investigation to officially conclude, McMahon chose to exit in a way that allowed him to retain a sliver of goodwill on the way out before the allegations possibly get even worse. There was no emotional WWE video package or final TV appearance, but his daughter Stephanie McMahon – WWE’s new chairwoman and co-CEO with Nick Khan – opened “Friday Night SmackDown” and gave her dad a short send-off. The Boston crowd actually booed her saying her father retired and many chanted “Thank you, Vince!” Many of WWE’s wrestlers, present and past, also thanked him on social media.
It all came a little more than 40 years after Vince McMahon bought the company – then the WWF — from his father for $500,000 on June 6, 1982, and would turn the regional promotion into a national entertainment giant worth billions that revolutionised the industry.
McMahon’s tenure, and pro wrestling as a whole during its height in the late 1980s through the early 2000s, was not without it’s darker side and tragedies. A number of the wrestlers who worked for WWE at one time died before their 50th birthdays because of drug issues, including Rick Rude, Curt Henning, Umaga, Test and Chris Benoit — who killed his wife and son in a murder-suicide.
WWE instituted a wellness policy in 2006 after the death of Eddie Guerrero due to heart failure caused by atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The policy, which came too late for many, includes testing for drugs, substance abuse, cardiovascular health and brain function, ImPACT testing and includes annual physicals. Outside of health issues, Owen Hart died in 1999 when he fell to the ring, cabling down from the rafters during a planned stunt during WWE’s Over the Edge pay-per-view that continued to go on after the incident.
Now for the first time since 1982, the company is without McMahon, who had his hands in every aspect of the business and through whom every creative idea was filtered. His presence, experience and hit-making track record brought a level of trust and comfort to the company and a large portion of its fan base and investors to keep things rolling along.
On the flip side, WWE without Vince McMahon was something another portion of wrestling fans looked forward to, but never thought they would see. In more recent times, he and his creative ideas and style were seen as out of touch, outdated and holding WWE back – from repetitive matchmaking, corny dialogue and television scripts that could change up until minutes before shows started.
That group of fans has now gotten what it wanted, doubly so with Paul “Triple H” Levesque being officially named both head of talent relations and creative. Whether it leads to a WWE everyone will be happier with remains to be seen.
While Levesque will certainly make changes, WWE is supposed to appeal to a mass audience, so don’t expect it to become a big-budget version of the black and gold NXT. That was supposed to be a WWE alternative.
The people at the top of the company are still well-versed in the core principles that made WWE so successful for decades under Vince McMahon. Stephanie McMahon, Levesque, the executive vice president of Raw and SmackDown Bruce Prichard and executive producer Kevin Dunn all learned from and worked under him. Khan was hired in August 2020 and has already left his mark on the company.
The WWE Way, much like the Patriots and Yankees Way is ingrained with them. So it’s unlikely Vince McMahon’s absence will immediately lead to drastic changes in how WWE does business and in its TV product – especially with much of the creative likely at least in pencil for SummerSlam and September’s Clash at the Castle pay-per-view. Doing things like that can be jarring to an audience.
Vince McMahon is now left to look for something else to fill his time. Maybe it’s a podcast with Conrad Thompson, maybe it’s babysitting the grandkids while Stephanie and Levesque run the company – the XFL at least is no longer an option. What he won’t be doing is running WWE, and that means at least one group of its fan base will be saying, “I told you so.”