The world of professional wrestling is often awash with dramatic, soap opera-like storylines. But the real life stories behind the scenes can be just as gripping as the onscreen product itself.
In news that could have been ripped straight from an episode of Monday Night Raw during its ‘Attitude Era’ heyday, long-time leader and the public face of WWE, Vince McMahon, is stepping down as CEO and chairman during an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the WWE board is looking into a $3 million (£2.4 million) payment paid by McMahon to a departing female employee with whom he allegedly had a consensual affair.
During the investigation, McMahon will continue to oversee the wrestling organisation’s creative output, according to World Wrestling Entertainment.
Stephanie, his daughter, will act as interim CEO and chairwoman.
Here is everything you need to know.
What has happened?
According to the WSJ, the employee, who was employed as a paralegal in 2019, has had a separation agreement in place since January that prohibits her from revealing her contact with McMahon or disparaging him.
The WWE board’s inquiry, which began in April, uncovered additional, older nondisclosure agreements involving allegations of wrongdoing by McMahon and John Laurinaitis, WWE’s head of talent relations, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Aside from the investigation into McMahon and Laurinaitis’ alleged misbehaviour, WWE stated it will cooperate with an independent third party to conduct a full evaluation of its compliance programme, HR function and overall culture.
In May, Stephanie McMahon, the Chief Brand Officer of WWE and Vince’s daughter, said she would be taking a leave of absence from the majority of her organisational responsibilities.
Just weeks later, she is returning as interim CEO and chairwoman in her father’s absence.
“I have committed to doing everything in my power to help the special committee complete its work, including marshalling the co-operation of the entire company to assist in the completion of the investigation and to implement its findings,” she said in a statement.
Who is Vince McMahon?
For decades, McMahon has been WWE’s leader and most recognisable face.
When he bought the World Wrestling Federation from his father in 1982, wrestling matches were held in small venues and shown only on local cable channels.
Under McMahon’s leadership, the company underwent a massive makeover, culminating in the creation of WrestleMania, a high-profile live event that draws millions of spectators each year.
McMahon grew the company from a small local promotion in the northeastern United States to a global corporation - for the first time, WWE’s revenue crossed a billion dollars last year.
Hulk Hogan, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and John Cena are among the WWE stars who have become crossover sensations.
McMahon married his wife, Linda in 1966.
Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer reported the 17 June edition of his Wrestling Observer Radio show that Vince and Linda are still legally married, though the two hadn’t been together in a long time.
He didn’t say when they may have split up, but there have been suspicions that McMahon and Linda had separated since earlier this year, when McMahon referred to Linda as "his wife at the time" during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, before quickly correcting himself.
The remark sparked a lot of interest at the time, but no further information came to light.
What has he said?
“I have pledged my complete co-operation to the investigation by the special committee, and I will do everything possible to support the investigation,” McMahon said in a statement.
“I have also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they are.”
While the 76-year old has stepped down as CEO, he continues to control WWE’s creative output, and even made an appearance on Friday night’s (17 June) Smackdown, the first televised WWE event since the news broke.
McMahon was said to be in a “great mood” backstage at the show in Minneapolis, and was reported to be joking around, despite the weight of allegations currently on him.
Despite the increased number of viewers that will have been tuned in for his live statement on the show, McMahon didn’t mince his words during his brief speech.
“I’m here to simply remind you about the four words that we just saw in what we like to call, the WWE signature. Those four words are Then, Now, Forever and the most important one, Together. Welcome to SmackDown!” McMahon said.
His somewhat anticlimactic appearance - which was advertised as McMahon “addressing the WWE universe” - has drawn ire from fans, and failed to address the allegations or the board’s investigations.
An unnamed wrestler speaking to Fightful said they thought McMahon’s appearance was "a cheap rating ploy in the middle of something serious,” and that WWE’s culture and presentation will likely remain the same once the investigation is closed.