TKO Vince McMahon The Rock Dwayne Johnson Nick Khan Ari Emanuel Screen grab: CNBC

Even before announcing its new rights deal with Netflix and that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been appointed to its parent company’s Board of Directors, this figured to be a massive week for WWE.

On Saturday, WWE will host its annual Royal Rumble Premium Live Event (formerly pay-per-view), which marks the start of the road to WrestleMania. Between the return of CM Punk, a heavily hinted at in-ring return for The Rock and the sheer spectacle of the second-biggest wrestling event of the year, this year’s Royal Rumble already possessed plenty of buzz, which was only amplified by this week’s news about Netflix and Johnson.

All of the positivity surrounding WWE, however, came to a screeching halt on Thursday with The Wall Street Journal reporting that new allegations of sexual assault and trafficking have been made against Vince McMahon in a lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by the same woman whose relationship with McMahon had been the subject of an internal investigation in 2022, with other allegations of sexual misconduct and non-disclosure agreement payments resulting in the WWE founder temporarily retiring from the company.

In addition to McMahon, former WWE head of talent relations John Laurinaitis is named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The allegations against McMahon, simply put, are horrifying, and include claims that the woman was sexually assaulted by McMahon and Laurinaitis at WWE’s headquarters.

The full lawsuit can be read here. Warning: It includes very graphic details regarding sexual assault and harassment.

While the initial allegations against McMahon and his Succession-like power play to return to his role as WWE’s CEO before merging the company with UFC to form TKO Group Holdings received plenty of attention at the time, they also seem to have become a distant memory for many. As Johnson celebrated his appointment to the TKO board by ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, McMahon — now TKO’s chairman — was right by his side, along with WWE president Nick Khan and TKO CEO Ari Emanuel.

It would have been hard to have imagined McMahon being front and center (literally) for the company a mere year ago and in light of Thursday’s lawsuit, it’s even harder to fathom now. The new lawsuit raises obvious questions about the scope of WWE’s previous investigation into the allegations against McMahon, as well as his future with the company.

While McMahon was ultimately able to put himself back in power with WWE, remaining there might not be as easy. TKO’s decision to remove him from the WWE creative process shows that he no longer has the final say, and even though he has allies on the company’s board, it can’t be overstated how damning these accusations are.

TKO bosses already have a history of standing by UFC president Dana White through his controversies and now we’ll see whether they’re willing to do the same for McMahon. But regardless of McMahon’s future with the company, there is also a short-term fallout worth keeping an eye on.

Netflix can’t be happy that its transformative deal with WWE has just been overshadowed by these allegations, nor can The Rock. And it will be worth monitoring the post-Royal Rumble press conference that McMahon’s son-in-law, WWE chief content officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque, is scheduled to host.

The Royal Rumble weekend is often full of surprises in the ring. Unfortunately, this one will now be overshadowed by news outside of it.

[The Wall Street Journal]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.