The fourth season of Succession came early for fans of WWE. The wrestling company has been engulfed in drama after its CEO retired in disgrace amid a sexual misconduct scandal, only to abruptly return months later against the board's wishes — leading to his own daughter's exit and rumors that the company could be sold to Saudi Arabia. Here's a complete timeline of the ongoing chaos:
On June 15, 2022, The Wall Street Journal breaks the news that the WWE board is investigating a "secret $3 million settlement" CEO Vince McMahon paid to a "departing employee with whom he allegedly had an affair." The probe reportedly began in April 2022.Skip advert
According to the report, board members learned of this agreement after receiving anonymous emails from a friend of the woman beginning March 30. The emails claim the woman was hired as a paralegal in 2019 and that McMahon doubled her salary, from $100,000 to $200,000, after they began a sexual relationship. She allegedly signed a separation agreement in January 2022 preventing her from discussing the relationship. A WWE spokesperson tells the Journal that the relationship was consensual.
But the Journal says the board's investigation "unearthed other, older nondisclosure agreements involving claims by former female WWE employees" against McMahon and head of talent relations John Laurinaitis. One of the anonymous emails reportedly claimed McMahon "gave" the former paralegal "like a toy" to Laurinaitis; she reportedly became an assistant for Laurinaitis in 2021. McMahon is also accused of using personal funds to pay these former employees.
Just two days after the Journal's report, WWE announces on June 17 that McMahon has "voluntarily stepped back" from his responsibilities as CEO and chairman of the board "until the conclusion" of an investigation into "alleged misconduct" by him and Laurinaitis. However, WWE says McMahon will retain his role as head of creative content.
But McMahon's daughter, Stephanie McMahon, is named interim CEO and interim chairwoman. She was formerly the company's chief brand officer, but she announced she would be taking a leave of absence just weeks earlier, on May 19, "to focus on my family."
Hours after McMahon's step back is announced, though, he surprisingly makes an appearance on WWE SmackDown, opening the show as the crowd cheers for him. McMahon doesn't directly address the situation but says he wants to "remind" viewers of WWE's slogan "then, now, forever, and the most important word is together" — possibly signaling he doesn't intend to resign.
A few weeks later, on July 8, The Wall Street Journal reveals more misconduct allegations against McMahon.Skip advert
A new report says McMahon allegedly agreed to pay over $12 million to four women to "suppress allegations of sexual misconduct and infidelity" over the past 16 years. This includes an alleged $7.5 million agreement with a former wrestler who reportedly alleged McMahon coerced her into performing oral sex on him, "then demoted her and, ultimately, declined to renew her contract in 2005 after she resisted further sexual encounters."
Another settlement was reportedly with a WWE contractor who alleged McMahon sexually harassed her; she allegedly claimed she received unsolicited nude photos of McMahon and presented them to the company, ultimately receiving a $1 million settlement in 2008. Additionally, in 2006, a former manager was paid $1 million to "keep quiet" about a sexual relationship with McMahon, the Journal says. These agreements are in addition to the previously reported $3 million settlement with the former paralegal.
This same report reveals another new detail: that head of talent relations John Laurinaitis allegedly had a sexual relationship "with the same former paralegal" who received the $3 million settlement. The board is also reportedly investigating a $1.5 million nondisclosure agreement reached with an employee in 2012, who alleged she had an affair with Laurinaitis and was demoted after breaking it off. Laurinaitis has been placed on administrative leave, the report adds.
Later in the month, the Journal says the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors are investigating the payments, and WWE confirms it received "regulatory, investigative and enforcement inquiries, subpoenas or demands."
On July 22, McMahon abruptly announces in a terse tweet (sent at the end of the day on a Friday) that it's "time for me to retire." The company soon confirms the news in a statement, which does not acknowledge the sexual misconduct allegations as the reason. "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," McMahon says.Skip advert
WWE subsequently confirms that McMahon's daughter, Stephanie McMahon, has been named permanent co-CEO along with Nick Khan, as well as Chairwoman of the Board. However, Vince McMahon makes a point to note he is still the company's majority shareholder and will, therefore, "continue to support WWE in any way I can."
Stephanie McMahon's husband Paul Levesque (a.k.a. Triple H) also becomes head of creative, and he's later promoted to chief content officer.
The following month, WWE says its board investigation into McMahon's alleged misconduct is "substantially complete." According to the Journal, it found that there were about $20 million in expenses that should have been recorded in WWE's financial statements, including $14.6 million to settle sexual misconduct allegations from 2006 through 2022. The investigation also reportedly finds McMahon paid $5 million in unrecorded expenses as contributions to former President Donald Trump's charity.
This same month, PWInsider reports John Laurinaitis has been "quietly" fired by WWE.
In November 2022, WWE says a special committee's investigation into McMahon's alleged misconduct "is now complete and the special committee has been disbanded," adding that management is now "working with the board of directors to implement the recommendations of the special committee related to the investigation."
Just five months after his retirement, The Wall Street Journal reveals in December 2022 that McMahon has "told people that he intends to make a comeback," believing he "received bad advice from people close to him to step down and that he now believes the allegations and investigations would have blown over had he stayed."Skip advert
This detail is included in a larger report about how McMahon is now facing legal demands from two women who accused him of sexual assault. Former wrestling referee Rita Chatterton reportedly demanded $11.75 million in damages after accusing McMahon of raping her in a limousine, and a "lawyer for a former spa manager said that Mr. McMahon assaulted his client in 2011," the Journal writes.
Weeks later, McMahon releases a shocking statement on Jan. 5 announcing he is electing himself to WWE's board, in addition to former WWE co-presidents Michelle Wilson and George Barrios, and removing three board directors. He's able to do so because he is still the company's majority shareholder. "Mr. McMahon expects to assume the role of executive chairman of the board," his statement says. Two other board directors also resign.
The board "previously rebuffed an attempt from McMahon to return to the company," according to ESPN. In a December letter, the board said his return would be a mistake, a conclusion "based on a variety of factors, including non-public information the board has become aware of and the risks to the company and its shareholders of placing a greater spotlight on these issues," per The Hollywood Reporter.
Bryan Alvarez of Wrestling Observer addresses the rumor that "Vince is selling to the Saudis and he's going to go private," noting he also heard these rumblings. "This is not some crazy, made-up story that someone pulled out of thin air," he says. "Everybody was talking about it." But Alvarez says WWE "does not appear to be sold yet." Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer also reports WWE is looking to sell by mid-2023, and he confirms Saudi Arabia is "in the hunt," as is Endeavor, which already owns UFC. Meltzer adds that WWE CEO Nick Khan recently met with Disney CEO Bob Iger, sparking speculation Disney could be in the mix.
CNBC says WWE's rival All Elite Wrestling is also interested in a merger, though the report notes this is likely a "long shot" and that AEW hasn't had talks with McMahon or Khan.
Meanwhile, Meltzer says on The Dan LeBatard Show that the WWE board previously voted not to bring McMahon back because "there's other things that haven't even come out publicly that they're worried about." He also speculates that despite Triple H still being in charge of the creative side of WWE for now, "I'm sure that [McMahon's] goal is to be back in charge, fully, of the company, and run the creative of the company."