A Storyline From The Attitude Era? Stephanie McMahon Levesque’s Resignation As WWE CO-CEO Smells.
There’s nothing like writing about corporate drama playing out in your backyard. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been embroiled in a roller-coaster ride for the past decade, and the roller-coaster finally crashed earlier this year when its founder and Chairman of the Board, Vince McMahon, was forced to step aside after news reports revealed that he reached multi-million dollar settlements with employees over alleged sexual harassment and assault.
For one, I welcomed him stepping aside. Rumor had it that he was a notorious control freak and the WWE’s ability to create compelling programming over the past decade noticeably waned as he grew older. When All Elite Wrestling (AEW) kicked off over a year ago, it instantly produced a far superior product due its storylines and use of talent. There were suddenly questions of whether we were seeing a return of the Monday Night Wars and whether Vince McMahon’s creative leadership could keep the WWE at the top of the food chain in professional wrastling. Many of us looked at the work done by WWE legend and Vince’s son-in-law Paul Levesque (Triple H) in NXT and openly expressed our belief that Vince needed to step aside and let him take the creative reigns.
Vince did step aside under the pressure of shareholders and the WWE’s board of directors in December 2022. Stephanie McMahon Levesque and Nick Khan replaced him as CEOs, and Triple H took over the reigns as creative director. The WWE’s programming improved dramatically, and it has become a comparable product to AEW again.
Vince McMahon’s absence was short-lived though. Several days ago, the news broke that he was returning as Chairman of the Board to broker the sale of the WWE and that the WWE had retained JP Morgan to manage the sales process. Today, January 10, 2023, Stephanie McMahon Levesque announced that she was resigning as co-CEO and issued a statement supportive of her father as well as Nick Khan and her husband Triple H.
I smell a heel storyline brewing. The timing of Stephanie’s resignation is no coincidence. The WWE has always been a McMahon family business, and, as long as Vince is alive, he will keep his hands in the business. Stephanie’s resignation seems like a deliberate tactic to me, but for what?
While Vince is the majority shareholder in the WWE, he still has a fiduciary duty to the other shareholders to act in “good faith and inherent fairness.” While his departure resulted in WWE’s stock price plummeting and his return saw it spike again, the long-term consequences for the WWE brand may be too much to overcome if the allegations against him continue to receive significant publicity. The nature of his fiduciary duty is ambiguous, and it is highly likely that minority shareholders will file a lawsuit against him to bounce him from the position of Chairman of the Board and bar him from the company. In today’s woke environment, they have a chance on that sort of lawsuit or similar machinations.
Stephanie becomes the back-up plan. By resigning now and playing nice with everyone, she preserves her position as the de facto best choice for keeping the value of the McMahon name involved in the WWE and protecting the minority shareholders’ interests. For the McMahon family, she becomes the person who keeps the business in the family since Shane McMahon has effectively removed himself from the picture.
While I do not expect Stephanie to take the lead in court against her father, I do envision a scenario where the WWE is not sold and that Stephanie McMahon Levesque is returned to the Chairwoman and CEO position by a court order. Unlike the fictional storylines that play out on the TV screen, this is a wild one with no scripted finish.
The odd thing is that the WWE has openly programmed these storylines in the context of competing promotions that it has bought. They were the culmination of Vince McMahon winning the Monday Night Wars with Ted Turner’s rival promotions, and they created some of the most iconic moments in WWE history. Who would have guessed that fiction would become a very realistic scenario in real life?
Vince McMahon may still be able to sell the WWE or remain as Chairman, but there’s a lot of fighting and conniving left to happen. Don’t be surprised if it ends with Stephanie McMahon Levesque and Triple H winning the legal Monday Night Wars though.