The storylines presented onscreen may be one thing, but behind the scenes, the world of professional-wrestling can often be as dramatic and twist-filled as the public-facing product.
That’s certainly been the case with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) over the years, and now, another Succession-esque wrinkle in the tale of the McMahon family - who have run the company behind the scenes for decades - has come to light.
Just months after long-time CEO Vince McMahon stepped down and announced his retirement as chief executive and chairman of WWE during an investigation into alleged misconduct involving the long-time leader and public face of the organisation, he returned to the company under contentious circumstances, and has possibly sold it to an even more controversial buyer.
So what exactly is going on? Here is everything you need to know.
Has Vince McMahon returned to WWE?
McMahon first stepped down and announced his retirement as chief executive and chairman of WWE during an investigation into alleged misconduct in July 2022.
The 76-year-old faced an investigation for alleged misconduct after the Wall Street Journal reported claims he had paid an ex-employee $3 million to keep quiet about an affair.
The long-time wrestling promoter had been head of the world’s most successful pro-wrestling company since 1982, when he bought the company from his father, and his departure signalled a potential sea-change for the business, with the ensuing staff shake-ups
But late last year, a rumour surfaced claiming McMahon was second-guessing his decision to retire and was attempting to find a way back into the business. That report turned out to be true on 5 January, when the Wall Street Journal reported McMahon was actively contemplating a comeback to WWE in order to push the sale of the organisation.
A day later, an SEC filing revealed McMahon had officially reinstated himself to WWE’S Board of Directors (despite internal e-mails suggesting strong pushback against the move), with existing board directors resigning to make way for McMahon’s own appointments.
His return was largely assumed to be to help usher through a sale of the company, with McMahon claiming to the board his reinstatement would give WWE the best possible chance at returning favourably for its investors.
The board fired back in a carefully worded email repost which suggested they thought things were going just fine without McMahon. Nonetheless, he came back, and today (11 January) it was revealed that, less than a week after her father exited retirement, Stephanie McMahon has resigned as the co-CEO of the firm.
Stephanie McMahon acknowledged in a statement that she had taken a previous leave of absence prior to her father stepping down as CEO due to his sexual misconduct and hush money controversies, but that her departure now constituted her “official resignation”, saying that she would now be "cheering on WWE from the other side of the business."
Some have suggested Stephanie’s decision to leave could be in light of further allegations against her father, which have not yet been public, and which the Board of Directors said they had knowledge of in their email exchanges with Vince.
Would she - a person who has worked hard to bolster WWE’s women’s division - really want to be complicit in her father’s return if, down the road, it’s only going to lead to further public image embarrassment? This is all speculation of course, and what comes next remains to be seen.
One thing’s for sure though, it’s likely to be just as entertaining as WWE’s in-ring product.
Has McMahon sold the WWE to Saudi Arabia?
The most recent twist in the tale is that, according to reports, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has purchased WWE, and the company will “go back to being private" for the first time since becoming a publicly traded corporation in 1999, per Steven Muehlhausen of DAZN.
WWE has had a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia in recent years, and has been promoting events in the country since 2014; in 2018, it announced a 10-year strategic partnership with the General Sports Authority, which would include the hosting of pay-per-view events.
Since then, WWE has been holding two "large-scale events" in the country per-year at stadium venues in either the capital city of Riyadh or Jeddah, a biannual arrangement it is expected to uphold until at least 2027.
The partnership has come under fire over Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights, including its repression of LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, as well as the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Previously, some WWE wrestlers have opted out of the Saudi performances due to concerns about the government’s policies.
It should be noted that, at the time of writing, WWE has not yet confirmed or denied the DAZN story that it has been sold to the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.
Financial experts had identified Comcast, Disney, Amazon, and Netflix as potential buyers, and although there were rumours that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund would enter the race as a bidder, recent betting odds made public on Tuesday (10 January) indicated that Comcast - the second-largest broadcasting and cable television company in the world by revenue - was thought to be the most likely candidate to acquire WWE.