When Vince McMahon announced he would step down from his seat atop World Wrestling Entertainment in July 2022, the pro wrestling business went berserk. McMahon, a man living without much shame, became the focal point of lawsuits alleging improper sexual behavior between himself and another employee at WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque would then take the reins and appeared off to the races.
Then in early 2023, McMahon was back. He made a surprising return to his own company and, after a series of exits and maneuvers, helped orchestrate a sale of his company to Endeavor, merging them with the Ultimate Fighting Championship into ‘TKO.’ WWE being sold was often rumored and discussed, but it happening for real felt like an absurd experience. McMahon appeared to regain a presence over the creative direction of the shows also. He oftentimes made adjustments that were reminiscent of the ones that would occur while he was in charge.
But it turns out that with the Endeavor sale gone through, McMahon might not have the power that he initially thought he would. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso recently either spoke about or published reports that indicated Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel called for Vince to be steered away from WWE creative.
Meltzer discussed the turn of events on Wrestling Observer Radio (Transcription via Cageside Seats) on Monday:
“Well, he [McMahon]’s out of creative. It’s a big story because Ari Emanuel, when they were on the verge of closing the deal, and had actually closed the deal in April, did media rounds [saying], [Vince will be in charge of the company [WWE], and if me and Vince have a disagreement, it goes the way Vince wants because Vince is the guy.’
“So when the deal went through, it only really went through about a month ago, and already, Vince is out of creative because of Ari Emanuel.”
Barrasso’s SI report indicated that Emanuel was also responsible for Vince losing power.
“Multiple contacts within the WWE and UFC have confirmed that Ari Emanuel, who wields power as the Endeavor CEO, is behind the change. Emanuel has long been a firm believer that, in order for an organization to be as effective as possible, people need to do the job they are assigned. In this case, that approach has empowered Levesque to exert his full influence in the company’s creative sphere.”
The key thing for, or in some cases working against, Vince is the fact that WWE has been making a lot of money. Like. A LOT of money. They shatter gate records for their events like it’s nobody’s business lately. There was even a report emerging earlier this week that the company won’t even be able to provide comps for the WWE Survivor Series in the Chicago suburbs, as it’s a legit sellout at Allstate Arena.
WWE also announced its new rights deal for Friday Night Smackdown, which will return to the USA Network after five years on Fox, earlier this Fall.
And why is all this bad news for McMahon? It’s simple: He wasn’t there for a lot of it.
All the money that they’ve made, the attendance records, the upswing in television ratings? Much of it can be attributed to a time when he was not there. WWE started to percolate last April after a critically acclaimed WrestleMania 38 event in Arlington, Texas. But since last July, they have gone full speed ahead.
This is all to say nothing about the morale impact of McMahon’s absence either. Years of McMahon horror stories have turned away wrestlers and fans of all kinds over the years. While a lot of it can be argued as overly anxious, too reactive, or sometimes straight-up fear-mongering, there is often a sense of confusion and uncertainty in the air. If Vince is out of creative power, then it alleviates all that. No fear of changes to the show would be present if he’s completely ousted from creative.
In effect, as Barrasso wrote, it’s appeared to have completely empowered Triple H to run creative his way. His booking of the NXT developmental brand frequently gained notoriety, especially for the way that the brand utilized its women. Women’s wrestling has seen significant increases in WWE, but even while McMahon ran Raw and Smackdown, the shows sometimes felt ‘behind’ the competitiveness, skill level, and chiefly the embrace necessary to appreciate and present them at a high-caliber level. Women’s sports continue to rise in popularity and television ratings, and while there have been peaks and valleys, WWE has mostly stayed in line with the rest of the world. Spurred now perhaps without any interruptions, there is now a significant opportunity now to go full throttle.
Apropos of nothing, on the night that the story emerged that Vince was out of power? This week’s episode of ‘Monday Night Raw’ featured 18 different women’s superstars across the three hours of television, either in matches, angles, segments or some combination of the three. Women lately have been making their presence really felt on the shows. Considering who now appears to have the keys to the car, that should come as no surprise.
(And hey: If the mood is right, and if the women are going to be featured heavily and pushed so heavily? Maybe fire up Evolution: The Sequel. An idea free of charge to take under consideration)
The next piece of business on the agenda for the company may actually determine just how much power McMahon has. While ‘Friday Night Smackdown’ secured its deal, ‘NXT’ and ‘Raw’ still have to be hashed out. The indications appear to be that it will be sorted out early next year.
If Emanuel played this the way he did with WWE Creative, then how much power will McMahon have over those proceedings? Being deemed trustworthy to negotiate a deal and trustworthy to create cognizant television programming are two different trades, obviously. McMahon presided over the sale of WWE and worked with the people at Endeavor. He’s also been at the forefront of the company while they pieced media deals of the past together.
But it may not be insignificant that Emanuel and Endeavor appear to have shut the door on McMahon in one area, especially when you consider how long he was at the helm of the company. And especially when you consider the way things have carried out since the spring. But when the proof has been in the pudding, and it is for this long, then the decision is easy for Emanuel and Endeavor to make.
In a way, if this winds up as the beginning of the end, it’s a bit ironic isn’t it?. Since the mid-1980s, WWE has been the preeminent wrestling company in the United States and among the most recognizable brands in the entire world. McMahon saw his company rise not just on his shoulders, but the shoulders of the greatest names in professional wrestling history.
But since around the 2010s, the WWE brand was front-and-center. WWE not only became the top wrestling company in the game but it has felt like a self-operating machine. The wrestlers have, at times, been seen as interchangeable. Spokes in the wheel, while the motor chugs along town to town, city to city, country to country at times. The WWE brand was above the WWE superstar, and no wrestler was bigger than the company.
After decades of being labeled as the guy where the buck stopped, McMahon may just now be a face on the board, no longer able to tinker and toy with creative for WWE’s television shows. Funnily, as Meltzer alluded to, just like his father found himself in that spot after turning the company over to his son.
Now, you just wonder if this will be the only time Endeavor says, “That’s against the rules, and you can’t sit with us.”
Perhaps it won’t, but when something happens once, it may be bound to happen again.