The most important person in the history of professional wrestling is handing over the reins.
Vince McMahon is retiring as World Wrestling Entertainment chairman and CEO, he announced Friday. In a WWE news release, the 76-year-old McMahon further announced that his daughter, Stephanie, and current WWE president Nick Khan will be taking over as co-CEOs. Stephanie, who has been acting as interim CEO, will also take over as chairwoman, per the McMahon statement.
“Throughout the years, it’s been a privilege to help WWE bring you joy, inspire you, thrill you, surprise you, and always entertain you,” McMahon’s statement read. “I would like to thank my family for mightily contributing to our success, and I would also like to thank all of our past and present Superstars and employees for their dedication and passion for our brand. Most importantly, I would like to thank our fans for allowing us into your homes every week and being your choice of entertainment.”
The announcement comes as a major surprise — and McMahon’s retirement represents a massive shift in the world of professional wrestling, where he has been a fixture since buying WWE from his father in the 1980s. McMahon built WWE into a billion-dollar brand with a worldwide reach, a promotion that stood tall over the decades against its competition. However, on June 17, McMahon stepped down from his role as chairman and CEO in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report that revealed a WWE board investigation into a secret $3 million settlement given by McMahon to a former WWE paralegal. Stephanie took over as interim CEO.
But at the time, McMahon still kept his role as the head of WWE creative, and sources told ESPN that McMahon’s stepping down was done for optics. The statement released Friday to WWE investors has much more finality.
“I am extremely confident in the continued success of WWE, and I leave our company in the capable hands of an extraordinary group of Superstars, employees, and executives — in particular, both Chairwoman and Co-CEO Stephanie McMahon and Co-CEO Nick Khan,” McMahon’s statement read. “As the majority shareholder, I will continue to support WWE in any way I can. My personal thanks to our community and business partners, shareholders, and Board of Directors for their guidance and support through the years.”
It was also announced by WWE on Friday that McMahon’s son-in-law and Stephanie’s husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, was returning to the company as head of talent relations, though it was immediately unclear if that is related to McMahon retiring. The Wall Street Journal followed up with another report about alleged McMahon improprieties on July 8. The newspaper reported that the board was investigating $12 million given to four former WWE employees or contractors to silence allegations about McMahon’s sexual misconduct.
The $12 million included an alleged $7.5 million to a former woman WWE wrestler who said that McMahon coerced her into having oral sex, demoted her, and then didn’t renew her contract in 2005 after she resisted further sexual encounters with him.
McMahon will leave a complicated legacy, one rife with scandals, including charges that he provided his wrestlers with steroids levied against him by the United States government in 1994. A jury found McMahon not guilty.
Late in the 1990s, McMahon, who also worked in front of the camera as a play-by-play announcer for years, became a key on-screen character during one of the hottest time periods for WWE. His evil boss character, Mr. McMahon, going up against blue-collar anti-hero “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, is one of the most memorable storylines in WWE history. The feud helped WWE overtake WCW, the rival promotion that WWE later purchased.
WWE became a publicly traded company in 1999. Its top two television shows, Raw and SmackDown, have been among the top-rated shows on cable since the 1990s.