Last week, Endeavor finalized their acquisition of WWE and merged the brand with UFC to launch TKO Group Holdings. It’s brought some renewed attention to former WWE and current TKO Executive Chairman Vince McMahon.
A profile piece published today (Sept. 20) by the Los Angeles Times is the most high-profile example of that attention.
In his most audacious play yet, Vince McMahon agreed to merge WWE with UFC to form a company worth $21.4 billion. But casting a pall over the merger are ongoing federal investigations into McMahon’s conduct. https://t.co/l5EkE400s2— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) September 20, 2023
Much of the article will be familiar to wrestling fans (at least ones who follow all aspects of the business on sites like Cageside Seats). It summarizes McMahon’s life, from before he purchased the then-WWF from his father for $1 million in 1984 to the culmination of the Endeavor deal. Stacy Perman’s profile chronicles the growth of the company under Vince’s leadership, growth that occurred despite things like the 1990s “Ring Boy” scandal and McMahon’s own indictment & acquittal on steroid charges.
The new information in the LA Times article mostly pertains to the past year-and-a-half, an eventful stretch which saw Vince briefly resign while the WWE Board investigated payments he made to women who accused him of sexual misconduct. He returned against the Board’s wishes, leading to a shake-up of its membership, the exit of his daughter Stephanie from the company, and eventually its sale to Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor.
Ignace Lahoud, one of the Board members who resigned when McMahon used his position as principal shareholder to force his way back into power at WWE, goes on record for the first time with the Times.
Lahoud found the explosion of allegations disconcerting and did not believe McMahon’s return was judicious.
“It wasn’t aligned with my way of seeing what governance is,” he said, adding, “There was a misalignment with what my values are.”
Perman also spoke to sources “close to the Board” on background who offered insight into the investigation and all that followed. One said Vince “wasn’t happy” about being asked to step down at the start of the investigation. Another spoke on the Board makeover which followed McMahon’s return in January of this year:
“He’s the kind of person who expects loyalty,” said someone close to one of the ousted directors, adding that McMahon viewed its investigation as an act of disloyalty, even though the board was doing its job.
One section of the exposé getting play online focuses on the federal government’s ongoing investigation into McMahon’s alleged misconduct, and the potential ramifications of it:
Both the nature and the scope of the ongoing government investigations remain unclear.
The inquiry could be “much broader than the one company and its one majority shareholder,” said attorney Jacob Frenkel, chair of Dickinson Wright’s Government Investigations & Securities Enforcement Practice Group and a former senior counsel in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
In an August SEC filing, WWE reported that it had “received voluntary and compulsory legal demands,” from various agencies, “concerning the investigation and related subject matters.”
Representatives of the SEC and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, where WWE is headquartered, declined to comment.
Depending on the potential findings, McMahon could face criminal and/or civil liabilities that could prevent him from serving as an officer or director of a public company, as well as a clawback of any “ill-gotten gains,” Frenkel said.
While interesting, none of this is particularly surprising. The insights into Vince’s temporary “retirement” and return fit with what we’ve always heard about his character and approach to business. His ongoing legal jeopardy is something most wrestling observers are aware of, but probably don’t take seriously given how many scrapes McMahon’s emerged from relatively unscathed in the past. His not only weathering the WWE Board’s investigation but parlaying it into a sizable stake in & leadership position with TKO is just the latest example of why so many consider Vince to be “bullet-proof”.
On a lighter note, the LA Times piece does include a couple examples of how strange our little world seems to outsiders.
The Montreal Screwjob comes up as an example of Vince’s ruthless approach to doing business, and Perman covered it like any journalist would:
A spokesperson for TKO said that McMahon declined to comment about [Bret] Hart and the “Montreal Screwjob.”
And wrestling fans are getting a kick out of the LA Times assessment of the current pro wrestling landscape...
New and reinvigorated wrestling rivals have entered the ring, including the National Wrestling Alliance and All Elite Wrestling, founded by Tony Khan, son of billionaire Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC, in 2019.
We guess to the mainstream world, a promotion run by the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan probably seems like it should be a big deal (no offense, NWA fans).
Los Angeles Times subscribers can read “Vince McMahon’s last stand” here.