Photo Caption: WWE Raw crowd from the March 9, 2020, show in Washington, DC. The last WWE show to feature a live audience. Photo Credit: DDT Divas
It’s been a month since WWE and its owner Vince McMahon was tangled in coronavirus-related controversy. A series of unfortunate events for WWE and its chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon lead to constant media coverage and talent releases. WWE and McMahon may have had one of the roughest months in recent years. But realistically speaking, life has been rough for us all because of COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus. In the United States, there are 1,435,098 reported cases as of May 16. The life most people knew no longer exists. Like everyone else in the world, the wrestling industry was forced to adapt to a new way of life.
Even when other sports leagues had suspended games, mainstream wrestling companies have continued working. In fact, the March 9 episode of RAW was the last WWE event performed in front of a live crowd. Since the March 9 episode, WWE continued to entertain fans by performing shows in its Performance Center (PC). And WWE was not going to let a global pandemic ruin its WrestleMania plans. Instead of canceling or postponing WrestleMania 36, WWE decided to hold the show at its PC. WrestleMania 36 delivered and entertained. But just when everyone thought things would work out for WWE without any issue, the mess hit the fan.
Thursday, April 9, 2020: Florida Declares Sports Media Essential
When many WWE fans found out that WWE had only pre-recorded a few episodes after WrestleMania 36, they weren’t sure what the company would do. Like most places in the United States, Florida state government put in place a stay-at-home order that began on March 26.
Knowing this, many fans assumed WWE would relocate to some other state. Nope.
On April 9, the State of Florida and its Governor Ron Desantis released a memorandum, adding essential services to the state’s Executive Order 20-52 (EO20- 52). According to the memorandum:
While the memorandum doesn’t specifically mention pro-wrestling or WWE, many media outlets began to report and cover the memorandum. Other sporting leagues and wrestling companies that have a national audience could operate in Florida. Naturally, many wrestling fans and media companies question the Florida government on its decision to allow WWE to produce live shows in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Major news outlets. like CBS News, Vice, Sports Illustrated, and NPR reported and asked the question: Is WWE an essential business? Well, if you ask the Florida state government, WWE is critical to the Florida economy. And on April 10, one day after Florida’s memo is released, WWE announced it will be airing its shows live.
Thursday, April 9, 2020: America First Action SuperPAC Invest Millions in Florida
The statement that WWE is critical to Florida’s economy may have been interpreted in multiple ways. So when news broke that America First Action SuperPAC provided funds to the state of Florida.
In 2016, President-elect Donald Trump nominated Linda McMahon, wife of Vince McMahon, as the Administrator of the US Small Business Administration (SBA). The Senate confirmed McMahon, and McMahon served as the 25th Administrator of the US SBA from February 2017 to April 2019. She resigned from her SBA leadership position in April 2019. McMahon moved on to chair the America First Action SuperPAC, a pro-Trump Super PAC.
On April 9, America First Action SuperPAC invested a combined $ 26.6 million to North Carolina and Florida. $ 18.5 million was invested in Florida, $11.3 million to Orlando and $7.2 million to Tampa, The other $ 8 million was provided to North Carolina. According to America First Action SuperPAC, the funding is for broadcast advertisements in the Florida and North Carolina media markets.
But what most wrestling fans will find interesting, Orlando and Tampa were the only Florida cities to receive the Super PAC investment. These two locations have close ties to WWE. WWE’s Performance Center is located in Orlando and WrestleMania 36 originally was planned to take place in Tampa.
Monday, April 13, 2020: XFL Files for Bankruptcy
On Monday, April 13, 2020, Alpha Entertainment, the XFL parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Chapter 11 bankruptcy is commonly referred to as reorganization bankruptcy because it allows businesses to reorganize their debt. Alpha Entertainment’s decision to file for bankruptcy came only days after laying off employees and suspending league operations. According to Alpha Entertainment’s bankruptcy filing, the company had liabilities between $10 and $ 50 million. The filing also showed that Alpha Entertainment had 1,000 to 5,000 creditors. A few of the creditors listed in the filling includes the St. Louis Sports Commission, 47 Brand, Ticketmaster BlueDigital, Tampa Sports Authority, and DC Stadium, LLC.
Alpha Entertainment was established in 2017 by Vince McMahon but is a separate entity from WWE. McMahon reportedly sold WWE stock, $272 million, in 2019 to reboot the XFL. Originally, the XFL was scheduled to play a 10-week regular season and a two-week postseason. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the league was only able to play for five weeks.
Alpha Entertainment owns the XFL, but WWE owns 23.5% of class B interest. This may shock some WWE shareholders because according to Alpha Entertainment’s website, McMahon personally funded Alpha Entertainment, LLC.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020: Darkside of the Ring: Season 2 Episode 5
The most disturbing and dark Vince McMahon/WWE news last month was McMahon’s alleged involvement in the Nancy Argentino murder investigation. Vice’s episode of Darkside of the Ring Season 2 Episode 5, titled “Jimmy Snuka and the Death of Nancy Argentino aired on April 14.
Premiering in 2019, Darkside of the Ring is a TV documentary series that explores the dark and controversial subjects and events within the pro-wrestling industry. Each episode focuses on a specific subject. Episode five looked into the 1983 death of Nancy Argentino, the girlfriend of WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy Snuka.
Stated in the Darkside of the Ring episode, McMahon allegedly accompanied Snuka to an interview with local detectives. After the meeting, the investigation grew cold until 2013. In 2013, the case was reopened. Snuka was charged with involuntary manslaughter and third-degree murder in 2015, but a judge dismissed the charges against Snuka because Snuka was deemed incompetent to stand trial. Snuka died in 2017. Even with allegations of involvement in a criminal investigation, WWE did not release a statement to the public.
Wednesday, April 15, 2020: WWE Fires and Furloughs Employees
The most controversial thing the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) discusses on a typical Wednesday is the self- proclaimed Wednesday Night Wars between WWE’s NXT and AEW’S Dynamite and Tuesday night’s episode of Darkside of the Ring. Before fans could engage in next-day conversation about Jimmy Snuka and the death of Nancy Argentino, wrestling news sites began to report that Vince McMahon, met with staff to discuss a coronavirus update and discuss staff releases and furloughs, According to Fightful Select, the conference call lasted about five minutes. WWE released a press release, stating it would implement several short term cost reductions by doing the following:
- Reducing executive and board member compensation;
- Decreasing operating expenses;
- Cutting talent expenses, third party staffing and consulting;
- Deferring spend on the build out of the Company’s new headquarters for at least six months.
By taking these actions WWE estimated it would save $4 million a month, and In just a few hours that day, WWE released the following wrestlers:
- Kurt Angle
- Rusev (Miroslav Barnyashev)
- Drake Maverick (James Curtin)
- Zack Ryder (Matthew Cardona)
- Curt Hawkins (Brian Myers)
- Karl Anderson (Chad Allegra)
- Luke Gallows (Drew Hankinson)
- Heath Slater (Heath Miller)
- Eric Young (Jeremy Fritz)
- Rowan (Joseph Ruud)
- Sarah Logan (Sarah Rowe)
- No Way Jose (Levis Valenzuela)
- Mike Chioda [referee]
- Mike Kanellis (Mike Bennett)
- Maria Kanellis
- EC3 (Michael Hutter)
- Aiden English (Matthew Rehwoldt)
- Lio Rush (Lionel Green)
- Primo (Edwin Colon)
- Epico (Orlando Colon Nieves)
WWE also furloughed several writers and producers. Despite making the decision to hold live shows after being considered an essential business, WWE still decided to future endeavor some employee. Former WWE superstar, No Way Jose, traveled all the way to Orlando to compete on that week’s Raw. He lost to Bobby Lashley on that night, unbeknownst to him, he would be cut Wednesday. Sarah Logan also completed on that week’s Raw, just to be released on Wednesday. The timing of the cuts couldn’t be worst for NXT superstars Dan Matha, MJ Jenkins, and Raw Superstar Curt Hawkins. Around that time, Matha was in a serious car accident. At that time, too, Jenkins’ bother-in-law passed away from the coronavirus. Hawkins’ wife publically revealed her pregnancy and talked about her family’s stressful current situation in such uncertain times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty and disruption in the pro-wrestling industry. While other mainstream pro-wrestling companies were trying to stay afloat without cutting employees, WWE, the biggest and most popular wrestling company, fired and furloughed employees. WWE even continued to develop storylines using released talent. The company continued to name drop Sarah Logan and allowed Drake Maverick to continue to complete in its NXT Interim cruiserweight championship tournament. In fact, Maverick is now the tournament’s underdog, and the NXT announce team has to remind fans that Maverick is fighting for his WWE career or trying to overcome obstacles., obstacles created by WWE.
Tuesday, April 21, 2020: Anonymous WWE Employee Submits Comment to Orange County
On Tuesday, April 21 an anonymous WWE employee named “John” submitted public comments to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners. According to John’s comments, WWE employees were being “forced to work” despite Florida’s stay at home order. John believed that if he did talk to WWE officials, there would be a possibility of him losing his job. (WWE furloughed and fired employees the week before.) WWE publically addressed the matter with a very corporate response:
Tuesday, April 21, 2020: Oliver Luck Sues the XFL
On April 21, former XFL commissioner Oliver Luck sued the XFL in federal court. While most of the lawsuit document is redacted, Luck cites wrongful termination as the reason for the legal action. According to the complaint, Luck received his letter of termination on April 9, three days before other XFL employees were laid off. The lawsuit alleges breach of contract. Luck was expected to make $20 million during his time in the XFL. He’s seeking unspecified damages, attorney’s fees and interest, and a declaratory judgment on fulfilling the terms of the contract.
April 2020 Was Wild!
April was a wild month for WWE and its CEO Vince McMahon. WWE is usually really good at maintaining a clean public image (in recent years). But in April, WWE was placed in the media spotlight and media scrutiny. To most wrestling fans some of the events that conspired aren’t surprising. WWE hoarded talent, signing wrestler who rarely received any TV time. The talent bubble was doomed to burst sometime, and it’s unfortunate that the most popular wrestling companies in the world, fired and furloughed staff during a global pandemic. So far, May has been mild for the company, but the month isn’t over yet.