WWE Logo
WWE Logo. Image Credits: Twitter

The World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Inc. is the largest platform for professional wrestling in the world. The foundation of this American integrated Media and Entertainment Company was laid in the 1950s as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation. WWE is the not just a grander stage for the professional wrestling promotion but has also branched out into other fields including movies, football, and other business ventures.

Over the years, with the theatrics involved in almost every event organized here, WWE has emerged as one of the most-watched professional wrestling games in the world. Ever since its inception, the WWE Company is regarded as one of the best for the professional wrestling promotion. Every year it hosts over 500 wrestling promotion events with around 36 million viewers in 150 plus countries.

WWE logo
WWE logo. Image Credits: Twitter

The headquarters for the company is located in Stamford, Connecticut which is about 30 miles away from New York City, while there are offices in the other major cities around the globe. However, in the later years, the Company’s talent roster was divided into three globally travelling brands. In 2002, it was divided into two distinct brands which were named after their two major TV shows – Raw and Smackdown. And then from 2006 to 2010, a third brand came into existence for their television show – ECW.

However, in terms of other professional wrestling promotions, WWE (formerly known as WWF) shows are not deemed as legitimate contests. These are considered as pure entertainment-based theatre performance with neat, storyline-driven, scripted, and choreographed matches.

Even though these matches still expose the wrestling performers to the risk of injury or even death, they are featured as one of the best-choreographed entertainment wrestling promotions. In the late 1980s, WWE publicly branded its products as the sports entertainment – acknowledging the product’s roots in the competitive sport and dramatic theatre

WWF Logo. Image Credits: Twitter

Incorporated on 21 Feb 1980, WWE was previously known as the Titan Sports Inc. that was founded the same year in South Yarmouth in Massachusetts. In 1982, it acquired Capitol Wrestling Corporation Ltd. which was the holding company for the World Wrestling Federation. However, around 15 years later, the Titan was renamed as the World Wrestling Federation Inc. in 1998 which was then changed to World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. in 1999.

And then in 2002, it was finally renamed as, the currently known, the World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. and ever since 2011, the company has officially branded itself solely as WWE.  The Chairman and the CEO of WWE, Vince McMahon is the majority owner of the company, retaining 42% of the outstanding stock of the company and 70.5% of the voting power.

History of WWE

Early history

The history of WWE dates back to the early 1950s, in 1953, when it was founded as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC). Over the years, it was renamed from time and again, undergoing through the names from World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) to World Wrestling Federation (WWF) to finally, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in 2002.

Now, WWE is the largest professional wrestling promotion platform in the world. It has promoted some of the most successful wrestlers and storylines, featuring some of the most iconic and significant matches and moments in the history of sports entertainment. WWE currently airs several high-profile programs such as Raw and SmackDown, hosts 12 pay-per-view events in a year including the WrestleMania.

Capitol Wrestling Corporation
Capitol Wrestling Corporation. Image Credits: Twitter

Meanwhile, it holds approximately 320 live events a year throughout 150-plus countries in the world. In 2014, WWE launched the first-ever 24/7 streaming network that would, eventually, showcase the entire WWE video library.

World Wide Wrestling Federation (1963–1979)

In 1963, Vincent J. McMahon and Toots Mondt had a dispute with the NWA over “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers being booked to hold the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Although the two controlled approximately 70% of the NWA’s booking and dominated the Northeastern United States, McMohan and Mondt were creating a monopoly on the World Heavyweight Championship.

They were accused by other NWA promoters of withholding Buddy making defences in their cities as the two defended their own cities. The NWA, then, sent former 5-time World Champion and legitimate wrestler Lou Thesz to Toronto to face Buddy Rogers on January 24, 1963. The World Wide Wrestling Federation was not an immediate creation as one might have thought after the Rogers fell for one less to Thesz.

Vincent J McMahon
Vincent J McMahon. Image Credits: Twitter

Meanwhile, in protest, both – Mondt and McMahon eventually left the NWA and, thereafter, formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). They brought along with them Willie Gilzenberg, long time boxing and wrestling promoter in New Jersey. In June 1963, Gilzenberg was named as the first president of the newly formed WWWF.

The 25th January 1963 is marked as the official beginning of the WWE with Buddy Rogers winning a fictitious tournament in Rio de Janeiro on April 25, 1963, as he defeated the long-time Capitol Sports favourite – Antonino Rocca. In truth, Rocca was no longer in the area as he was working for Jim Crockett Sr. in the Carolinas.

Buddy Rogers, also, had already suffered what would later be a career-ending heart attack on April 18th in Akron, Ohio and was in an Ohio hospital during the time the alleged tournament took place. Mondt left Capitol in the late 1960s and, although the WWWF had withdrawn from the NWA, Vince McMahon Sr. quietly re-joined the company in 1971.

World Wrestling Federation (1979–2002)

The Golden Era in professional wrestling

After the establishment of the Titan Sports Inc. in 1980 in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, Vincent J. McMahon’s son, Vincent K. McMahon bought Capitol from his father in 1982. He took control over the entire company after the sealing the deal on 6 June 1982.

The deal between the two McMahons was a monthly payment basis where if a single payment was missed, the ownership would revert back to McMahon Sr. and his business partners. However, the World Wrestling Federation (or WWF) was not solely owned by Vince Sr. but also by Gorilla Monsoon, Arnold Skaaland and Phil Zacko.

Vince McMahon
Vince McMahon. Image Credits: Twitter

The junior McMahon wanted to seal the deal and he took several loans and deals with other promoters and the business partners to take full ownership of the company by May or June 1983. He partnered with three others receiving roughly $815,000 among them and Vincent J McMahon receiving roughly $185,000.

After this, the junior McMahon started an expansion process that fundamentally changed the wrestling business for WWF in the country. Meanwhile, at the annual meeting of the NWA that was held in 1983, the McMahons and the former Capitol employee Jim Barnett – all withdrew from the organization.

McMohan worked to get WWF on syndicated television all over the United States. However, this rivalled the other promoters and disrupted the well-established boundaries of the various wrestling promotions that were in use ever since the inception of the NWA in the 1950s.

Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan. Image Credits: Twitter

McMahon gained significant traction when he hired American Wrestling Association (AWA) talent Hulk Hogan, notably for his appearance in the film Rocky III. He signed Roddy Piper as Hogan’s rival, with Jesse Ventura joining them as an announcer, shortly afterwards.

Other wrestlers such as Jimmy Snuka, The Iron Sheik, Junkyard Dog, Greg Valentine, and others joined the roster. Several of these wrestlers who joined the Company later were former AWA or NWA talent.

However, huge capital investment was made in the national tours which eventually led WWF to the verge of financial collapse. The future of McMahon’s experiment came down to the success or failure of McMahon’s groundbreaking concept, WrestleMania.

It was a major success and was (still is) marketed as the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. Although NWA’s Starrcade was already running in North America, McMahon believed that WrestleMania was different from other wrestling supercards.

The intention behind WrestleMania was for it to be accessible to those who did not watch wrestling and it was enough to make the difference in McMahon’s eyes. He’d secured a deal with MTV to cover the event and invited celebrities such as Mr T. Muhammad Ali, and Cyndi Lauper to participate in it. The event and hype surrounding it led to the term “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection”, basically because of the cross-promotion of the popular culture and professional wrestling.

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali. Image Credits: Twitter

The hero face of the brand, Hulk Hogan and McMahon worked together to lift up the Company and expand the WWF business for the next several years. In 1985, they introduced Saturday Night’s Main Event on NBC which was later marked off as the first professional wrestling event broadcasted on television sets ever since the 1950s.

The 1980s “Wrestling Boom” peaked with the WrestleMania III pay-per-view at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987, which set an attendance record of 93,173, a record that stood for 29 years until WrestleMania 32. And then, in 1988, the rematch of the main event of the WrestleMania-III recorded the most-watched wrestling match in the history of the North American television industry. The main event of the “most-watched” rematch was held between the WWF champion – Hulk Hogan and André the Giant.

In 1985, Titan moved its offices to Stamford in Connecticut and then, a new Titan Sports, Inc. (originally WWF, Inc.) was established in Delaware in 1987. A year later, it was consolidated with the Massachusetts entity in February 1988.

The New Generation Era (1992 – 1997) – The rivalry of the Monday Night Raw and World Championship Wrestling’s (WCW) Monday Nitro

In 1992, the WWF was hit with the serious allegations of steroid abuse and distribution in the state. The situations became difficult for the Company as the allegations regarding the sexual harassment by the WWF employees followed them the next year.

McMahon was exonerated and the Company faced the trial for the allegations. But apart from the financial crisis, the allegations tagged along with the bad publicity which saw many WWF wrestlers, including the face of the WWF Hulk Hogan, drawn over to the rival promotion – World Championship Wrestling (WCW).

WWF promoted the young wrestlers, featuring the likes of Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, Bret Hart, and The Undertaker, under “The New Generation” to come out of the tight spot they were in because of the challenging WCW.

The Undertaker
The Undertaker. Image Credits: Twitter

Thereafter, in January 1993, WWF came up with its own flagship cable program – Monday Night Raw. Countering the competition by the Company, in September 1995, WCW launched its own Monday night program – Monday Nitro that was telecasted in the same time slot as Raw.

Until mid-1996, the two shows were traded wins in the rating competition known as – the Monday Night Wars. By then, Nitro began two-year rating domination which was majorly fuelled by the New World Order led by former WWF performers – Hogan, Scott Hall (or the-then Razor Ramon), and Kevin Nash that made WCW as the dominant promotion. But a variety of factors (including a radical rebranding to highly sexualized and violent shows geared towards older teens and adults) coalesced to turn the tide in the WWF’s favour by the end of the decade.

Montreal Screwjob – The Attitude Era (1997–2002)

In the 1997 Survivor Series program, Vince McMahon (the owner of the-then WWF) and former employees of the Company covertly manipulated the pre-determined outcome of the match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. The manipulation, famous as “shoot screwjob” in the professional wrestling terminology, occurred without Hart’s knowledge.

This resulted in Hart who was the reigning WWF World Heavyweight Champions, in losing the match and the title to Michael. This infamous, controversial and unscripted professional wrestling incident had McMahon facing a real-life controversy and Bret Hart’s controversial departure from the Company.

Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels. Image Credits: Twitter

This incident became famous as the Montreal Screwjob and proved to be one of the several founding factors in the launch of the Attitude Era, along with the creation of McMahon’s on-screen character – “Mr McMahon”. Austin was slowly brought in as the new face of the company even though he was promoted as an antihero, starting with his “Austin 3:16” speech shortly after defeating Jake Roberts in the tournament finals at the King of the Ring pay-per-view in 1996.

On May 6, 1998, Titan Sports, Inc. was renamed World Wrestling Federation, Inc. A year later, it was renamed World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. Another year passed and on 29th April 1999, the WWF was back on the television – with a special program known as SmackDown, airing on the fledgeling UPN network.

By August 1999, the Thursday night show became a weekly series, competing directly with WCW’s Thursday night program named – Thunder on TBS. On October 19, 1999, World Wrestling Federation, Inc. launched an initial public offering as a publicly-traded company, trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) with the issuance of stock then valued at $172.5 million. The company has traded on the NYSE since its launch under ticker symbol WWE.

Raw Is War
Image Credits: Twitter

By the fall of 1999, the Attitude Era had turned the tide of the Monday Night Wars in WWF’s favour. After Time Warner merged with AOL, Ted Turner’s control over WCW was considerably reduced, and the newly merged company announced a complete lack of interest in professional wrestling as a whole and decided to sell WCW in its entirety.

In March 2001, McMahon acquired all the rights to WCW’s trademarks, tape library, contracts and other properties from AOL Time Warner for an estimate of $7 million. Eric Bischoff, who was fired off as the President of WCW in Oct 1999, was also reported to be nearing to seal the deal but McMahon beat him to it.

Shortly after WrestleMania X-Seven, the WWF launched the Invasion storyline, integrating the incoming talent roster from WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). With this purchase, WWF now became by far the largest wrestling promotion in the world. The assets of ECW, which had folded after filing for bankruptcy protection in April 2001, were purchased by WWE in mid-2003.

World Wrestling Entertainment (2002-2011) 

Rebranding of the Company

In 2000, the conservational community – World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Nature filed a suit against the World Wrestling Federation (now named WWE) for unfair trade practices. Both parties had shared the initials “WWF” since 1979. The conservation organization claimed that the professional wrestling company had violated a 1994 agreement regarding international use of the WWF initials.

On 10 August 2001, a UK court ruled in favour of the World Wide Fund for Nature. The World Wrestling Federation filed an appeal in October 2001 but they lost the claim. On 5 May 2002, the World Wrestling Federation made the big announcement to change the initials of both the company name and the name of its wrestling promotion to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

First brand split (2002–2011)

The overabundance of the young talent left over from the Invasion storyline had given the idea of the “brand extension”. Thereafter, in March 2002, WWE decided to extend its brand (that was later dubbed as the “Brand Extension”) and created two separate rosters.

Each group of wrestlers were to appear on one of their main programs – Raw and SmackDown. To set the rosters, a draft lottery was held nearly every year. The first draft determined the inaugural split rosters and the subsequent drafts designed the rosters of each show in the following years.

WWE Raw Logo
WWE Raw Logo. Image Credits: Twitter

On 26 May 2006, WWE announced the re-launch of ECW as the third WWE brand and the new ECW program was aired on 16 Feb 2010. All ECW wrestlers at that point became free agents that could sign either Raw or SmackDown.

The End of the brand split (2011-2016)

From 29 August 2011, Raw was announced to feature talent from both Raw and Smackdown. It was to be known as Raw Supershow, the suffix was then dropped on 23 July 2012. The previous championships, that were exclusive to one show or the other, were available for wrestlers from any show to compete for. Meanwhile, the “Supershow” format would mark the end of the brand extension, as all programming and live events from when the original announcement was made until July 2016 featured the full WWE roster.

In 2013, the company built the sports medicine and training facility WWE Performance Center, extending its branches in the sports and entertainment, in the east Orange County, Florida in partnership with Full Sail University from Winter Park, Florida.

WWE SmackDown Logo
WWE SmackDown Logo. Image Credits: Twitter

The training facility is focussed at career and athletic development for the company’s wrestlers. Full Sail is also the home base to the NXT brand of WWE. Over the years, it has grown and expanded from a small developmental territory into a globally touring brand in its own right.

On 20th August 2019, it was announced that NXT would have a weekly, live, two-hour show Wednesday nights on the USA Network. It was finally aired on September 18; meanwhile, NXT’s designation officially became the third main roster brand of the company.

New Era – The Second Brand Split (2016 – present)

After splitting the brand into two extensions in 2011, WWE announced a re-launch of the brand extension on 25th May 2016 and billed it as the “New Era”. Now, both Raw and SmackDown feature their unique rosters, announcers, ring sets/ropes, and championships. A draft took place to determine which wrestlers would appear on what show. On 19 July, SmackDown was moved from Thursdays to Tuesday nights and was air live instead of the previous pre-recorded format.

And then, on 29 November 2016, WWE introduced a new program specifically for their cruiserweight division that was called WWE 205 LIVE. The program focused exclusively on the wrestlers who would qualify for the division – wrestlers 205 lbs. and under. The cruiserweights were the original-exclusive to the Raw brand at the onset of the 2016 brand extension and became a fixture in WWE with the Cruiserweight Classic Tournament.

WWE 205 Live
WWE 205 Live. Image Credits: Twitter

ON 15 December 2016, WWE announced to establish a new WWE United Kingdom Championship. The Championship will be a 16-men tournament that will be aired on WWE Network, featuring wrestlers from the UK and Ireland during January 2017.

According to the WWE executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque, the tournament was to establish a UK-based brand with its own weekly TV show. WWE subsequently launched its UK-based brand as an offshoot of NXT, NXT UK, in June 2018, with Johnny Saint serving as inaugural general manager.

WWE (2011–present)

On 7 April 2011, WWE announced through their corporate website that the company was ceasing use of the full name – World Wrestling Entertainment. They announced to refer the company solely as WWE, making the latter an orphan initialism.

The goal of the decision was to reflect WWE’s global entertainment expansion away from the ring with the ultimate goal of acquiring entertainment companies and putting a focus on television, live events, and film production.

WWE Network
WWE Network. Image Credits: Twitter

WWE noted that their new company model was put into effect with the re-launch of Tough Enough, which contrary to the scripted nature of the sport was a non–scripted program of the professional wrestling, and with the launch of the WWE Network. However, the legal name of the company, till date, remains as World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020–present)

Like the other nations, in March 2020, the pandemic COVID-19 affected the American onset of the virus. On 11 March, the episode of the NXT was filmed without the spectators at the WWE Performance Centre facility based in Orlando.

Because of the rapidly spreading epidemic disease, three out of the four major sports leagues had announced, two days earlier to the episode, that they have closed the locker rooms as a precautionary measure. And then like all the other sports, WWE officially announced on March 12 that its weekly programs, beginning with the following night’s episode of SmackDown, would be filmed at the Performance Center with no spectators and only essential staff present.

Meanwhile, the WrestleMania 36 was scheduled to take place on 5th April at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. But before that, on March 16, WWE announced that the event would also be held behind closed doors in Orlando. WrestleMania, as well as Raw and SmackDown, was shifted from live broadcasts to a pre-recorded format. NXT, on the other hand, continued to air from Full Sail University, but with similar restrictions.

On 13th April, the Live broadcasting was restarted but with the existing arrangements still in full form.

WWE stated to ESPN.com, “We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times”, and that the company’s programming “bring[s] families together and deliver a sense of hope, determination and perseverance”.

Triple H
Triple H. Image Credits: Twitter

Meanwhile, the reports suggested that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had deemed WWE a business-critical to the state’s economy. Analysing the current situations globally, he added an exception under the state’s stay-at-home order for employees of a “professional sports and media production” that is closed to the public and has a national audience.

But media and the other criticised the Governor of Florida saying that DeSantis’ actions happened on the same day a pro-Donald Trump political action committee led Linda McMahon, who was previously a part of Trump’s cabinet, pledged to spend $18.5 million in advertising in Florida.

Meanwhile, it was also on the same day that Vince McMahon was named part of an advisory group created by Trump to devise a strategy in re-launching US economy.

The major impact of the Coronavirus on the entire world was the series of cuts and layoffs announced by the global companies. On 15 April, WWE (also) announced a series of cuts and layoffs that included the releasing of a number of performers such as Karl Anderson, Kurt Angle, Aiden English, EC3, Epico, Luke Gallows, and Curt Hawkins.

Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle. Image Credits: Twitter

The referee Mike Chioda, and multiple NXT/Performance Centre trainees and staff were also released by the Company. The WWE executives took a pay cut, while the company suspended the construction on its new headquarters for at least six months. This action did not sit well with the fans and the executives working with the Company and soon they were tagged as “livid” for the layoffs and cuts.

After the brutal protest from both – fans and several media outlets, WWE claimed that these actions were “necessary due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic”. WWE also claimed to have “substantial financial resources. Available cash and debt capacity currently total approximately $0.5 billion”. DeSantis’ claimed WWE was “essential”, which meant that the company’s revenues loss would be limited.

WWE Network and Distribution Deals

On 24 February 2014, WWE launched a 24/7 streaming network that broadcasted all the past and the present WWE shows, pay-per-views along with the shows from the WWE Library. Within a year of its launch, the network reached to 1,000,000 subscribers and WWE claimed that it was, thereafter, “the fastest-growing digital subscription service ever”.

Meanwhile, in May 2014, WWE and NBC Universal had signed a new contract that would see both Raw and SmackDown continue on NBC owned networks – the USA Network and Syfy. In January 2016, SmackDown changed networks to the USA Network while the NBC Universal contract would be due in 2019.

WWE Raw Logo
Image Credits: Twitter

On 17 November 2016, WWE signed a multi-year agreement with Sky Deutschland to distribute WWE’s premier pay-per-view events and broadcast Raw and SmackDown Live on SKY Sports from April 2017. On 10 April 2017, WWE and DAZN made the announcement to live stream Raw and SmackDown in Japan and Japanese commentary for the first time. And then two weeks later, on 27 April, WWE signed another agreement with TV5 to broadcast one-hour editions of the SmackDown roster.

On 12 May 2017, Sarah Media and WWE, then, announced to televise Raw and SmackDown in a new multi-year agreement. On July 10, WWE and AB1 extended their partnership into its 18th year with a new, multi-year agreement to broadcast the WWE programming.

Ten days later, WWE announced another multi-year agreement with SuperSport to broadcast WWE programming live for the first time in more than 50 countries. Meanwhile, on 1st August 2017, WWE and FOXTEL extended their partnership into its 18th year with a new agreement to broadcast WWE programming.

On August 8, WWE and Canal 1 signed a new agreement to broadcast One-hour editions of Raw and SmackDown. A week later, WWE and Nine Network announced a broadcast agreement to air weekly one-hour versions of Raw and SmackDown. And then on 24 August, WWE and Flow announced a multi-year agreement to televise WWE’s flagship programmes Raw and SmackDown.

On 7 September 2017, WWE and TVA Sports announced a multi-year agreement to air a weekly, one-hour only edition of Raw in French in Canada. On October 24 2017, WWE and Sport TV announced a multi-year agreement to air Raw and SmackDown.

WWE SmackDown
WWE SmackDown. Image Credits: Twitter

On 15 December 2017, WWE and IB SPORTS announced that they’ll extend their partnership with a new agreement to broadcast WWE programming live for the first time in South Korea. Three days later, WWE and SPS HD, announced an agreement to broadcast Raw and SmackDown on SPS Sports for the first time in Mongolia.

On 13 December 2017, WWE and Facebook announced a new Internet in-ring series called WWE Mixed Match Challenge that will stream live in the U.S. exclusively on Facebook Watch.

Premiering on January 16, 2018, the 12-episode series will feature wrestlers from both the Raw and SmackDown rosters competing in a single-elimination mixed tag-team tournament to win $100,000 to support the charity of their choice. Each episode was scheduled to be 20 minutes long and air at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

The WWE Wellness Program

Time and again, media has raised its eyebrows over the legitimate wellness program of the wrestlers run by the WWE. The World Wrestling Federation introduced the drug-testing policy in early 1987 which was initially run by the in-house administrator.

Four years later in 1991, the wrestlers were subjected to independent testing for anabolic steroids for the first time. But the idea of independent testing was ceased by 1996 as it was deemed too expensive with the company going through a difficult financial crisis. It was during this time that the company’s competitor – World Championship Wrestling, Or say WCW, became overwhelmingly popular in the wrestling industry.

WWE
WWE. Image Credits: Twitter

Following the end of the drug policy, the known Attitude Era years recorded the rampant steroids abuse among the other things going on behind the stage with the wrestlers and the working staff. In late 2005, a high-profile and among the most popular talented wrestler – Eddie Guerrero was found unconscious in his hotel room at the Marriott Hotel City Center in Minneapolis by his nephew, Chavo.

After his sudden death, in Feb 2006, a Talent Wellness Program was initiated by WWE. The program conducted the screening of the comprehensive drug, alcohol, and cardiac among the wrestlers participating in the program. The policy tests for recreational drug use and abuse of prescription medication, including anabolic steroids.

Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero. Image Credits: Twitter

Under the guidelines of the policy, talent is also tested annually for pre-existing or developing cardiac issues. The drug testing is handled by Aegis Sciences Corporation, while the cardiac evaluations are handled by New York Cardiology Associates P.C. The Wellness Policy requires that all talent “under contract to WWE who regularly perform in-ring services as a professional sports entertainer” undergo the testing. But the part-time competitors are exempted from testing.

After the double-murder and suicide committed by one of its performers, Chris Benoit, with a possible link to steroid abuse encouraged by WWE, the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested that WWE turn over any material regarding its talent wellness policy.

In August 2007, WWE and its employees defended the program in the wake of several busts of illegal pharmacy that linked WWE performers to steroid purchases even after the policy was put into place. Ten professional wrestlers were suspended for violating the Wellness Policy after reports emerged they were all customers of Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Florida.

According to a statement attributed to WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt, an eleventh wrestler was later added to the suspension list. Here is the list of those ten wrestling superstars with the substances purchased by them:

  • Charlie Haas: anastrozole, somatropin, stanozolol, nandrolone and chorionic gonadotropin
  • Chavo Guerrero: somatropin, nandrolone and anastrozole
  • Edge: somatropin, Genotropin, and stanozolol
  • Funaki: somatropin
  • John Morrison: somatropin, anastrozole, testosterone, stanozolol and chorionic gonadotropin
  • Ken Kennedy: anastrozole, somatropin and testosterone
  • Randy Orton: somatropin, nandrolone, stanozolol
  • Shane Helms: testosterone, Genotropin and nandrolone
  • Sylvain Grenier: somatropin, nandrolone, genotropin and stanozolol
  • Umaga: somatropin
  • William Regal: stanozolol, somatropin, genotropin and anastrozole

Booker T, Snitsky and Chris Masters were also alleged to purchase the steroids, but the purchases they made are not of public record.

The Wellness Policy helped the physicians to diagnose one of its performers with a heart ailment which, otherwise, would have gone unnoticed until it was too late. In August 2007, the then-reigning United States Champion – Montel Vontavious Porter (Hassan Assad) was diagnosed with Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome. Had it not been diagnosed by the physicians, it could have been potentially fatal. The ailment was discovered while Assad was going through a routine Wellness Policy checkup.

On September 13, 2010, WWE updated their list of banned substances to include muscle relaxers. All the updated list of the banned substances for the WWE wrestlers are posted on WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT, INC. (“WWE”) 2006 SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND DRUG TESTING POLICY (“Policy”).

WWE scandals: Legal disputes and controversies

The 1990s drug scandal

During the 1980s and 1990s, Dr George Zahorian was thought to have routinely distributed steroids and other drugs to WWF wrestlers, supposedly with the approval of WWF owner Vince McMahon. After this steroid controversy engulfed the promotion, in 1993, McMahon was indicted in the federal court, forcing him to temporarily cede control of the WWF to his wife Linda.

Linda McMahon
Linda McMahon. Image Credits: Twitter

The case went to trial in 1994, where McMahon himself was accused of distributing steroids to his wrestlers. The prosecution presented the former WWF performer as their notable witness – Kevin Wacholz (or famous as Nailz). Nailz was fired after a violent confrontation with McMahon.

He testified that McMahon had ordered him to use steroids, but his credibility was called into question during his testimony as he repeatedly stated that he “hated” McMahon. The jury, later, acquitted McMahon of the charges; he resumed his role in the day-to-day operations of the WWF.

Owen Hart’s death

On May 23, 1999, Owen Hart (an American-Canadian professional and amateur wrestler) fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event. Hart was performing a stunt and was in the process of being lowered via harness and grapple line into the ring from the rafters of Kemper Arena for a booked Intercontinental Championship match against The Godfather.

Owen Hart
Owen Hart. Image Credits: Twitter

In keeping with the Blazer’s new “buffoonish superhero” character, he was to begin a dramatic entrance where he was supposed to be lowered to just above ring level, at which time he was to act “entangled” and then release himself from the safety harness and fall flat on his face for comedic effect—this necessitated the use of a quick-release mechanism.

It was an elaboration on a Blue Blazer stunt done previously on the Sunday Night Heat before Survivor Series in 1998. While being lowered into the ring, Hart fell 78 feet (24 m), landing chest-first on the top rope (approximately a foot from the nearest turnbuckle), throwing him into the ring.

Hart had performed the stunt only a few times before. His widow Martha had suggested that by moving around to get comfortable with both the harness and his cape on, Hart unintentionally triggered an early release. Television viewers did not see the incident.

WWF broke the ‘Kayfabe’ by having the television commentator – Jim Ross repeatedly telling the watching live audience on pay-per-view that what had just transpired was not a wrestling angle or storyline and that Hart was hurt badly, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation. While several attempts to revive him were made, he died from his injuries. The cause of death was later revealed to be internal bleeding from blunt force trauma.

Jim Ross
Jim Ross. Image Credits: Twitter

However, the WWF management controversially chose to continue the event. And then later, Jim Ross announced the death of Hart to the home viewers during the pay-per-view, but the crowd in the arena were still uninformed. The show went on and the news about the tragic death of the performer was never released commercially by WWF Home Video.

Fifteen years after his death, in 2014, the WWE Network aired the video of the original broadcast for the first time. A small photo tribute is shown before the start informing fans that Hart died during the original broadcast. All footage of Hart was edited out of the event.

The statement reads, “In Memory of Owen Hart May 7, 1965 – May 23, 1999, who accidentally passed away during this broadcast.”

Four weeks after the event, the Hart family sued WWF over how dangerous and poorly planned the stunt was, with the harness system being defective. After over a year and a half into the case, a settlement was reached on November 2, 2000, which saw the WWF give the Hart family US$18 million.

Disputes with rival companies

In 1996, the parent company of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) – Titan Sports sued World Championship Wrestling (WCW) for the serious implications over Scott Hall and Kevin Nash (Razor Ramon and Diesel) invading WCW on the WWF’s behalf.

However, this led to a series of lawsuits filed by both companies with the Monday Night War heating up. The lawsuits went on for years before they ended with a settlement in 2000. One of the terms gave the then-WWF a right to bid on WCW’s assets if the company were liquidated. In March 2001, AOL Time Warner, the then-parent company of WCW, cancelled WCW’s television shows and sold the company assets to the WWF.

On May 23, 2012, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA, now Impact Wrestling) sued former employee Brian Wittenstein and WWE. The suit alleged that Wittenstein violated a non-disclosure agreement and shared confidential information (representing a comparative advantage in negotiating with wrestling talent under contract with TNA) with the WWE.

TNA Wrestling
TNA Wrestling. Image Credits: Twitter

After this, he was subsequently hired by WWE. TNA asserted that Wittenstein violated the agreement by downloading confidential TNA trade secrets and providing that information to WWE.

WWE fired Wittenstein and alerted TNA officials about the disclosure of the information. But TNA claimed that WWE had access to the information for three weeks prior to disclosure and in this time, the WWE used secret contract information, attempting to poach their talent in violation of Tennessee’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

On 15 January 2013, the lawsuit was formally withdrawn without prejudice, by the plaintiff, TNA, under a “Notice of Voluntary Nonsuit” that offers no ruling on the merits of the suit and allows TNA to potentially re-file at a later date.

Dispute with USA Network

In April 2000, USA Networks had filed a lawsuit against World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. in a bid to keep ‘Raw Is War’ and other WWF programming after the WWFE opened up a bidding a month ago. Viacom’s proposed bid included a $30-million to $50-million equity investment in the company and carriage on broadcast, billboards and radio of both wrestling matches along with the then-launched XFL.

On 27th June 2000, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled in favour of the WWFE. The next day, Viacom won the rights to all WWF programming for $12.6 million including ‘Raw Is War’ on TNN/Spike TV. The lawsuit focused on USA’s contention that it did not have to match every aspect of a Viacom offer to satisfy a right of the first refusal clause in its contract that allowed its deal with the WWFE to continue.

In 2005, WWE’s programming (excluding SmackDown!) moved back to USA Network (now owned by NBC Universal), maintaining its relationship to this day.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF): The name dispute

In 2000, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature sued the World Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE) for unfair trade practices. Both parties had shared the initials “WWF” since 1979. The conservation organization claimed that the professional wrestling company had violated a 1994 agreement regarding international use of the WWF initials.

WWF Logo
WWF Logo. Image Credits: Twitter

On 10 August 2001, a UK court ruled in favour of the World Wildlife Fund (now named as World Wide Fund for Nature). WWF (or WWE) filed an appeal in October 2001 but on 10 May 2002, the World Wrestling Federation changed its Web address from WWF.com to WWE.com, and replaced the company name, along with the name of the wrestling promotion, to “World Wrestling Entertainment”, now known as WWE. Its stock ticker also switched from WWF to WWE.

However, the wrestling organization’s abandonment of the initials did not end the legal conflict between the two organizations. Later in 2002, the World Wide Fund for Nature petitioned the court for $360 million in damages but was not successful. A subsequent request to overturn by the World Wide Fund for Nature was dismissed by the British Court of Appeal on 28 June 2007.

In 2003, World Wrestling Entertainment won a limited decision which permitted them to continue marketing certain pre-existing products with the abandoned WWF logo. However, WWE was mandated to issue newly branded merchandise such as apparel, action figures, video games, and DVDs with the “WWE” initials. Additionally, the court order required the company to remove both auditory and visual references to “WWF” in its library of video footage outside the United Kingdom.

Starting with the 1,000th episode of Raw in July 2012, the WWF “scratch” logo is no longer censored in archival footage. In addition, the WWF initials are no longer censored when spoken or when written in plain text in archival footage. In exchange, WWE is no longer permitted to use WWF initials or logo in any new, original footage, packaging, or advertising, with any old-school logos for retro-themed programming now using a modification of the original WWF logo without the F.

Harry Slash and the Slashstones lawsuit

Harry Slash & the Slashstones are the American musical group who later produced music for the Extreme Championship Wrestling. Harry “Slash” Grivas and Roderick Kohn filed a lawsuit against WWE in June 2003 for their music being used for WWE programming and DVDs without the consent or payment of the producers.

It also asserted a violation of the rights to original music used by ECW that WWE had been using during the Invasion storyline of 2001. The case was resolved on both sides with a settlement as WWE purchase the catalogue outright in January 2005.

Ultimate Warrior related disputes

In 1993, Jim Hellwig, known as “The Ultimate Warrior” in the WWF, legally changed his name to the Warrior. This one-word name appears on all legal documents pertaining to Warrior as his children carry the Warrior name as their legal surname.

Warrior and the WWF engaged in a series of lawsuits and legal actions in 1996 and 1998, where both the parties sought a declaration that they owned the characters, Warrior and Ultimate Warrior, under both contract and copyright law. The court ruled that Warrior was legally entitled to use the gimmick, costuming, face paint designs, and mannerisms of the “Warrior” character.

The Ultimate Warrior
Ultimate Warrior Photo by WWE, Inc. [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

On 27 September 2005, WWE released a DVD documentary focusing on Warrior’s retrospective wrestling career, titled The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior. The DVD featured clips of his more notable feuds and matches along with commentary from WWE stars past and present (most of which are unflattering). The DVD provoked some controversy because of the allegations charged by Warrior of libel by WWE against him.

In January 2006, Warrior filed another lawsuit against WWE in an Arizona court over the depiction of his wrestling career in The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD. On September 18, 2009, Warrior’s lawsuit in Arizona was dismissed. During Warrior’s falling out with WWE, he commented that WWE has decided to not acknowledge.

In 2005, Warrior went on to call Todd Grisham, now former WWE announcer, a “queer”. Meanwhile, he referred to Droz, a former WWF wrestler who fractured two discs in his neck and is quadriplegic, as a “cripple”. Warrior also passed comments about the victims of Hurricane Katrina referring to them as “poor, mostly black New Orleanians without cars.” He condemned Martin Luther King Jr. Day and made disparaging remarks towards the LGBTQ community, criticizing Heath Ledger’s parenting style after Ledger’s death, and expressed rejoicing when Bobby Heenan was diagnosed with cancer.

Warrior returned to WWE to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. During his induction, he mentioned that WWE should create an award to honour those behind the scenes called the Jimmy Miranda Award, named after a long time WWE employee who died.

Warrior died three days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. WWE decided to create the Warrior Award, an award for people “who embodied the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior.”

In October 2017, WWE used the tagline “Unleash Your Warrior” when promoting Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Ever since Warrior’s death, WWE has been accused of whitewashing and ignoring Warrior’s bigoted and controversial past comments. Pro Wrestling Torch described Warrior in real-life having made public “vile, bigoted, hateful, judgmental comments”, citing as an example that regarding Bobby Heenan’s cancer diagnosis, Warrior said, “Karma is just a beautiful thing to behold.”

Vice wrote, “Completely whitewashing his past and elevating his likeness to a bland symbol of corporate altruism is shockingly tone-deaf, especially for a company that’s atleast outwardly trying to appear progressive, inclusive and diverse.”

Domestic violence and criminal issues

Under Section 9.13(a) of WWE’s booking contract, commonly known as the “morals clause”, the company has a zero-tolerance policy involving domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. Upon arrest and conviction for such misconduct, a WWE talent shall be immediately suspended and its contract terminated.

  • However, on 10 May 1983, Jimmy Snuka’s girlfriend Nancy Argentino (then 39 years old) was found dead in their hotel room, hours after Snuka defeated José Estrada at a WWF TV taping at the Lehigh County Agricultural Hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The wrestler was arrested 32 years later on 1 September 2015, and charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for Argentino’s death. This eventually led WWE to suspend his Legends contract (a long-term deal to make infrequent, non-wrestling appearances) and removed his Hall of Fame page from its website. However, Snuka never stood trial due to his poor health, and he died on January 15, 2017.
  • In June 2003, Eddie Fatu (or “Jamal” or “Umaga”) was released after his involvement in a bar fight.
  • After the involvement of Chris Benoit‘s murder of his wife and son, and then his suicide in June 2007, the WWE removed mentions of Benoit in its broadcasts and its merchandise.
  • On November 30, 2012, Thomas Latimer was charged with battery of a law enforcement officer and disorderly intoxication in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was, then, released from his NXT contract by the WWE. Latimer had previously been arrested in January 2011 for driving under the influence.
  • On December 10, 2017, Rich Swann was arrested in Gainesville, Florida on charges of battery and kidnapping/false imprisonment. The victim was identified as his wife, Vannarah Riggs. According to the arrest report, Swann and Riggs had gotten into an argument over Swann critiquing Riggs’ performance at a show that night. When Riggs tried to get away from Swann, he grabbed her in a headlock and dragged her back into his car (as stated by the witnesses present there). WWE suspended Swann indefinitely and released him on February 15, 2018. He was originally scheduled to face Drew Gulak in a match to determine the number one contender to the Cruiserweight Championship – Enzo Amore the following night on Raw. But the match was cancelled in light of his domestic violence arrest.
  • On 22 January 2018, the Phoenix Police Department confirmed that Eric Arndt (Enzo Amore) was under investigation for an alleged sexual assault that was reported to authorities in October 2017. Later that day, Arndt was suspended by WWE for the violation of their zero-tolerance policy for matters involving sexual harassment and sexual assault. WWE released a statement indicating that he would remain suspended until the matter was resolved. In an interview on January 23, a woman accused Arndt of raping her in a Phoenix, Arizona, hotel room on 19 October 2017. As a result, his scheduled title defence against Cedric Alexander at the Royal Rumble was cancelled. The next day, Arndt was fired from WWE and the title was vacated. Later on Twitter, Arndt “fully and unequivocally” denied the allegations imposed against him. On 16 May 2018, the Phoenix Police Department ceased their investigation due to insufficient evidence.

Relationship with Saudi Arabia

In December 2013, it was announced that WWE would begin holding shows in Saudi Arabia. In April 2014, WWE held their first house shows in Riyadh, the first event ever in Saudi Arabia, which were three separate shows at the Green Halls Stadium. Since then, the Company has been promoting wrestling events in Saudi Arabia. However, in contrast to the regular WWE events, female wrestlers were banned from appearing in events held in Saudi Arabia until 2019.

WWE
WWE. Image Credits: Twitter

Many events in the country promoted by WWE have been subjected to criticism due to curtailing LGBT equality, leading a war of attrition in Yemen, and suppressing women’s rights. These were condemned by activist groups such as Code Pink and several politicians.

The quality of the events themselves was also largely criticized by both fans and critics. In fact, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter gave the relationship between WWE and Saudi Arabia their annual Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic Award in both 2018 and 2019, the first time in history that it was given twice to the same recipient.

Championships and Accomplishments

Current Championships of WWE

WWE divides its roster between five brands, where wrestlers exclusively compete, along with some minor exceptions. The three primary “Triple Crown” brands that WWE promotes are Raw, SmackDown, and NXT. Speciality brands include 205 Live, which is for male wrestlers 205 lbs. and under (designated as cruiserweights), and NXT UK, which is for wrestlers based in the United Kingdom (both of these speciality brands are considered as being part of NXT).

Raw, SmackDown, and NXT – each have a primary and secondary championship for male wrestlers, a singles championship for the female wrestlers, and a tag team championship, again, for the male wrestlers. There is also one tag team championship for female wrestlers, which is shared between the three brands.

There is one championship for the cruiserweight wrestlers shared between NXT, NXT UK, and 205 Live, which is the only championship with a weight limit in the promotion. And one male singles, one female singles, and one male tag team championship for NXT UK wrestlers. And then, there is also one tertiary championship, which is accessible to anyone, regardless of gender or WWE status.

Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins. Image Credits: WWE

At present, there are 18 championships held in WWE. Among the five current brands, 22 wrestlers hold the championships (including an interim champion, and two double champions) as of July 22, 2020. The list includes the number of times the wrestler has held the title, the date and location of the win, and a description of the winning bout. Meanwhile, the Champions listed below are divided into five categories.

Raw

Raw is one of the primary brands of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The brand was first established on March 25, 2002, during a special episode of Monday Night Raw and went into effect one week later on April 1. The brand was discontinued for a period, during the second split of the brands, between August 2011 and July 2016.

Wrestlers assigned to the Raw brand, wrestle predominantly on the eponymous television program, the supplementary show, main Event, and on Raw branded or co-branded pay-per-view events and WWE Network events.

Here is the list of the current champions in the Raw.

Raw
Championship Current Champions Reign The Winning Date Days Held Location
WWE Championship Drew Mclntyre 1 March 25/26, 2020 117/116 Orlando, Florids
United States Championship Apollo Crews 1 May 25, 2020 56 Orlando, Florids
Raw Tag Team Championship The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford) 1 March 2, 2020 140 Brooklyn, New York
Raw Women’s Championship Asuka 1 April 15, 2020 96 Stamford, Connecticut

SmackDown

The WWE brand, SmackDown, was first established on March 25, 2002, with a draft on Monday Night Raw and went into effect one week later on April 4. Like RAW, the brand was discontinued for a period between August 2011 and July 2016.

Wrestlers assigned to SmackDown wrestle predominantly on WWE’s weekly Friday Night SmackDown television program on Fox, as well as branded and co-branded pay-per-view events and WWE Network events. The brand has also appeared in the Mixed Match Challenge and the Interbrand Worlds Collide events. During the first brand split, they also competed on an exclusive supplementary show, Velocity, and on ECW, under a talent exchange program.

Here is the list of the current champions of the SmackDown brand of WWE.

SmackDown
Championship Current Champions Reign The Winning Date Days Held Location
Universal Championship Braun Strowman 1 March 25 or 26, 2020 117 or 116 Orlando Florida
Intercontinental Championship AJ Styles 1 June 8, 2020 42 Orlando Florida
SmackDown Tag Team Championship Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura 1 (2, 1) July 19, 2020 1 Orlando Florida
SmackDown Women’s Championship Bayley 2 October 11, 0219 283 Orlando Florida

NXT

Founded in 2010, NXT was intended to serve as a farm system (developmental territory) for WWE’s main roster. But, over time, the wrestling pundits and fans came to view it as its own distinct entity, and it eventually became a global brand, as WWE’s third major “Triple Crown” brand (gaining the status alongside Raw and SmackDown).

NXT’s status was elevated when it moved to the cable network USA in September 2019, and when it became included at that year’s Survivor Series event. Originally holding its shows primarily in the Orlando in Florida, NXT expanded its reach over time, having embarked on national and international tours, being praised for its high quality of wrestling and for captivating storylines.

Listed below are the names of the current champions of the third WWE brand.

NXT
Championship Current Champions Reign The Winning Date Days Held Location
NXT Championship Keith Lee 1 June 1, 2020 19 Winter Park, Florida
NXT North America Championship Kieth Lee 1 January 22, 2020 180 Winter Park, Florida
NXT Tag Team Championship Imperium (Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner) 1 May 13, 2020 68 Orlando, Florida
NXT Women’s Championship lo Shirai 1 June 7, 2020 43 Winter Park, Florida

NXT UK

NXT UK is the United Kingdom-based brand of WWE that was first established on 15 December 2016. The brand’s namesake show, NXT UK, had its first tapings in July 2018 and premiered on 17 October 2018 on the WWE Network.

Here is the list of the current champions from the NXT UK brand.

NXT UK
Championship Current Champions Reign The Winning Date Days Held Location
NXT United Kingdon Championship Walter 1 April 5, 2019 472 Brooklyn, New York
NXT UK Tag Team Championship Gallus (Mark Coffey and Worfgang) 1 October 4, 2019 290 Brentwood, England
NXT UK Women’s Championship Kay Lee Ray 1 August 31, 2019 324 Cardiff, Wales

 

Shared Titles
Championship Current Champions Reign The Winning Date Days Held Location
NXT Cruiserweight Championship Jordan Devlin (Champion) Santos Escobar (Interim) 1 January 25 (Devlin), June 3, 2020 (Escobar) 177 and 47 Orlando, Florida
24/7 Championship R-Truth 37 June 27, 2020 23 Orlando, Florida
Women’s Tag Team Championship Bayley and Sasha Banks 2 May 26, 2020 55 Orlando, Florida

 

Other Accomplishments
Accomplishment Latest Winners Winning Date Location    
King of the Ring Baron Corbin September 16, 2019 Knoxville, Tennessee    
Money in the Bank (Men) Otis April 15, 2020 Stamford, Connecticut    
Money in the Bank (Women) Asuka  April 15, 2020 Stamford, Connecticut    
Royal Rumble (Men) Drew Mclntyre January 26, 2020 Houston, Texas    
Royal Rumble (Women) Charlotte Flair January 26, 2020 Houston, Texas    
Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic The BroserWeights (Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne) January 29, 2020 Winter Park, Florida    
André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal Braun Strowman April 7, 2019 East Rutherford, New Jersey    
WrestleMania Women’s Battle Carmella April 7, 2019  East Rutherford, New Jersey    
WWE World Cup The O.C. (Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson) October 31, 2019 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia    
Tuwaiq Trophy The Undertaker February 27, 2020 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia