The disgraced public face of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Vince McMahon, was reinstated atop the company’s board of directors, and later named “executive chairman,” despite revelations that he used company funds to pursue settlements for allegations of sexual assault.
CNBC reported on April 3 2023 that WWE was acquired by Endeavor Group, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) mixed martial arts circuit, in a deal that would see both promotions combine to form a new publicly-traded company. McMahon will serve as this new combined company’s executive chairman.
The acquisition of WWE and formation of the new company was the culmination of an unlikely return that began just under three months earlier, when the business site Wrestlenomics reported on January 6 2023 that McMahon returned to WWE’s board of directors. Two onetime WWE executives, George Barrios and Michelle Wilson, were also named back to the board. Their returns were made possible by the removal of board members JoEllen Lyons Dillon, Jeffrey Speed, and Alan Wexler.
The company announced on January 10 that WWE’s board of directors “unanimously” elected McMahon its executive chairman and confirmed that former WWE president Nick Khan will remain the company’s chief executive officer. That same day, McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon, separately announced that she had resigned as WWE chair and co-CEO alongside Khan:
WWE announced in a statement confirming Vince McMahon’s return that two other board members, Ignace Lahoud and Man Jit Singh, had resigned.
Singh had reportedly led the board’s investigation into alleged sexual assault that led to McMahon abruptly “retiring” as chief executive officer and chairman in July 2022; reports around that time stated that McMahon had secretly used around $14 million in company money to settle assault claims. A month later, WWE discovered an additional $5.6 million in “unrecovered expenses.”
McMahon’s return came a day after the Wall Street Journal reported that he sent a letter to the WWE board saying that he wanted to lead “a strategic-review process”:
[McMahon] believes there is a narrow window to kick off a sales process because WWE’s media rights—including for its flagship programs “Raw” and “SmackDown”—are about to be renegotiated
The Journal added:
The board responded last month in a letter to Mr. McMahon that it was prepared to initiate a review process and would welcome working with him on it. However, it said it unanimously agreed that Mr. McMahon’s return to the business wouldn’t be in shareholders’ best interest, according to people familiar with the letters.
“There is no assurance that this process will result in a transaction,” WWE said in a statement confirming McMahon’s return.
The newspaper had previously reported that Vince McMahon’s representatives were contacted in November 2022 by attorneys representing two separate women, both of whom had accused him of attacking them in incidents years apart.
The WSJ reported that one of the attorneys who contacted McMahon’s representatives did so seeking $11.75 million in damages on behalf of Rita Chatterton, a former WWE worker who had already publicly accused the longtime pro wrestling promoter of raping her; the second lawyer represented a former spa manager at what was described as “a five-star resort in Southern California,” who said that McMahon assaulted her in 2011, which prompted her husband to attend a WWE event in the area wielding a baseball bat and intent on confronting McMahon.
Despite reportedly saying he would not pay settlements to either women; however, the Journal reported on January 19 2023 that he did reach a settlement with Chatterton in December 2022, a month after his counsel was contacted.
“Mr. McMahon denies and always has denied raping Ms. Chatterton, and he settled the case solely to avoid the cost of litigation,” said McMahon’s lawyer Jerry McDevitt.
However, McMahon struck a different tone in discussing the April 2023 merger with UFC.
“I’ve made mistakes both personally and professionally,” McMahon told CNBC. “I have owned up to every single one of them and then moved on.”
The WWE board had asked McMahon to “confirm his commitment to repay expenses incurred by WWE” in the course of investigating the allegations against him.
Chatterton first publicly accused McMahon in 1992, saying that he had raped her inside a limousine six years earlier after promising to give her a contract worth $500,000 a year — more than most in-ring talents (classified as “independent contractors”) would earn. After initially opting not to sue him out of fear for what it could do to her parents, however, Chatterton found the statute of limitations had expired for allegations like hers.
“As far as wrestling goes, I guess I’m the first in a lot of things,” she told New York magazine in June 2022, shortly after the initial reports of McMahon’s secret settlements came to light. “As far as I know, I’m the first to come out with the whole issue of what a scumbag he is.”
In August 2022, the hush money story took yet another turn:
Even after Vince McMahon, the former WWE chief executive, retired from the company amid an investigation into his hush money payments to women, news of additional payments is still coming out. The latest revelation involves former president Donald Trump.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that $5 million of McMahon’s $19.6 million in unrecorded company expenses went to Trump’s charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, in 2007 and 2009.
The payments were made in years when Trump — who was a reality TV star on NBC’s “The Apprentice” at the time — made appearances at WWE events, including 2007’s WrestleMania 23 and WWE’s Monday night showcase “Raw,” in 2009….
New York state has enacted a one-year “lookback” window for adult survivors of sexual assault to file lawsuits against their attackers, which took effect in November 2022. A similar window established by a separate law in California is set to expire on December 31 2023.
Update January 5 2023, 2:12 p.m. PST: Updated to reflect reporting saying that Vince McMahon contacted WWE executives saying he intended to reinstate himself to the company’s board of directors and sought to oversee the company’s possible sale. — ag
Update January 6 2023, 8:45 a.m. PST: Updated to reflect Vince McMahon being reinstated to WWE’s board of directors. — ag
Update January 10 2023, 3:49 p.m. PST: Updated to reflect the resignation of Stephanie McMahon as WWE co-chief executive officer. — ag
Update January 19 2023, 10:49 a.m. PST: Updated to reflect a settlement reached in December 2019 between Vince McMahon and Rita Chatterton. — ag
Update April 3 2023, 1:13 p.m. PST: Updated to reflect the acquisition of WWE by the Endeavor Group, and Vince McMahon being retained as “executive chairman” for a new company formed by WWE and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. — ag