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By Mike Johnson on 2023-04-02 17:48:00

Note: I wrote this article on March 27th.  Given the reports making the reports, I'm running it again today.

"And it's been a long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell my myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass" - Counting Crows

With all the hype around this week as WWE charges into the most important week of their year and countless other promotions and events descend upon the City of Angels in California, I have to admit a bit of unease heading into Wrestlemania 39 at SoFi Stadium.

It has zero to do with the events.  I have no doubt there will be great wrestling across the scope of the week.  There’s too many great matches and talents involved for there not to be, unless the cosmos wants to play one giant practical joke on us all.   There will be blood.  There will be dives.   There will be brawls.  There will be grappling.  There will be spectacle and pyro and collected masses seeking to live vicariously as their favorites battle and their heroes strive to overcome the villains. 

By this time next week, the majority of pro wrestling fans will be basking in the afterglow of their own personal holiday season, but I continue to wonder what the future will look like after Wrestlemania 39 is in the books and World Wrestling Entertainment is onto the next chapter, not of their storylines, but of their company - and since what they do has a massive butterfly effect on every single aspect of the genre of pro wrestling, I wonder what the future will look like for all of us who love professional wrestling.

This very well could be the final Wrestlemania under the ownership of Vince McMahon and for WWE as it currently exists. 

No matter how much you may personally love (and for those who grew up as part of the post-national expansion WWF era, there’s a lot of nostalgia to love) or want to vilify McMahon (and there’s lots to vilify), the reality is there is a great likelihood that we are looking at the biggest change to the business since the day McMahon took over Capitol Sports from his father - and it's going to happen right before our eyes sooner than later.

The buzz within WWE is that there are multiple bidders at least interested in the company if the price is right.   As Ted DiBiase famously said, “Everybody has a price” and for Vince McMahon, it’s been leaked that the magic number is $9 billion.  While the idea, to me, that WWE today is worth more than Disney paid for Marvel and Lucasfilm COMBINED seems dicey, the reality is that if a company feels WWE is worth assimilating into their corporation, well, they are going to make that plunge and worry about the fallout later.

If and when they do, the WWE we knew as it existed is gone forever.  Whether that’s going to be a transformative move that takes the company to a higher plane of existence and acceptance in the mainstream or one that effectively neutralizes the company’s uniqueness as it becomes just another asset in a corporate fiefdom remains to be seen.  

Either way, the entire infrastructure will change.  The company’s sensibilities will change.  The internal goals will change.  Perhaps the entire leadership will change.  I know some scoff at the idea of anyone else running WWE but someone in the inner McMahon circle, but if I told you a year ago Vince McMahon would be outed for some pretty horrible behavior, would ask his departed daughter Stephanie to return to help run the company, only to then decide to look into selling the company that has defined his life, resurrecting himself and taking out his enemies on the WWE Board of Directors while effectively maneuvering his daughter into a position where she quits the company, would you believe me this was anything BUT a well played storyline on camera?

Of course not.

Nothing lasts forever and unless Vince McMahon has a huge change or heart (and can’t get what he thinks the company is worth), this Wrestlemania may indeed be the moment fans and historians look back on as “when it all began to change”, much as fans remember March 26th as the day The Monday Night Wars ended.

The question I continue to roll around in my brain is what would WWE look like if it’s acquired?

Could WWE follow the path of Lucasfilm when it was sold to Disney, where one major figurehead responsible for all the decisions (George Lucas) is replaced by a larger corporate mindset that charged headlong into tons of movies, programming and merchandise, creating a situation where the greatest film franchise of all time, Star Wars, was no longer pristine, beaten down by the law of averages.  For every Rogue One or The Mandolorian, there were things that never would've happened under Lucas’ watch that left long-time fans, who had grown up enraptured and in love with Star Wars, enraged and helpless, witnessing the foundation of what they cared about changed forever.  When you wait 40 years to see Luke Skywalker and Han Solo again and then they are killed off, you have to wonder why Disney would want to remove some of the most beloved characters they purchased, off the board.  

If someone else buys WWE, they could very well run it the way they believe it could be.  

That means changes that the audience, especially the diehard fans that live and die by every second of the programming, might not love.  Too many changes and missed opportunities and there’s always the chance that the brand suffers.  If it can happen to Star Wars, it can certainly happen to WWE.

Of course, there’s always a chance that being assimilated into a larger corporation could be the ascension point for WWE that it was for Marvel when Disney purchased them.  With Disney’s backing and the incredible producing abilities of Kevin Feige, Marvel became the predominant brand in the entire movie industry, empowered all the way to Avengers Endgame becoming not only the biggest film in the history of the world financially, but the greatest wish fulfillment moment, on a number of levels, for comic books fans who went from getting horrible made for video movies in the late 1980s and early 1990s to watching the combined might of The Avengers, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther and Wakanda’s mightiest warriors battle Thanos’ army in the most mind-blowingly fun film sequence anyone who ever heard the name Stan Lee could dream of.  Marvel isn’t perfect and it’s had some rough patches at times, but for the most part, their success over the last 25+ films would not have been the same without Disney.

But Marvel is the best case scenario for WWE, because if they are purchased by someone who would leave some of the current guard (think Paul Levesque in the Feige role), perhaps thinks would be incredible and we’d see a return to the enthusiasm and across the board energy that WWE employees had under Levesque, Nick Khan and Stephanie McMahon back in July 2022 when it appeared that Vince McMahon had exited for good - as opposed to the general malaise and stress that many of those within company currently feel as they wait to find out what their own future employment looks like.

After all, as we’ve seen with Disney’s takeover of 20th Century FOX and Discovery’s purchase of WarnerMedia, once those sales go through, entire divisions are bludgeoned and scores of employees are fired, since they are pretty much redundant.  If Universal buys WWE, they don’t need a WWE marketing team; they already have their own.  For all the talk of WWE moving into the new HQ, finally, starting next month, there’s no guarantees it happens if the company is sold - after all, when these things happen, tradition and legacy no longer matters.  

DC Comics was a NYC entity for its entire existence until one day, WarnerMedia decided it was to move to Burbank, CA.  Some moved, some didn’t, but DC was never the same again - and even after many corporate overloads being sold from one to the other, DC, as a film franchise, is still fighting to find its footing after a decade-plus of planning and execution.   Should someone else take over WWE, the history of what was and how the company used to do things, promote things, run things…it no longer matters.

Don’t believe me?  Think about how quickly the greatness of Jim Crockett Promotions dissipated after Turner Broadcasting purchased the company and put Jim Herd in charge, leaving us with a WCW that sputtered endlessly until Eric Bischoff, for a time, came up with the right formula, talent and backing to make a true run.

If WWE is overseen by any other company, what matters and what drove WWE for decades no longer matters.  It will be another asset that has to live and die by the bottom line of who’s in charge.  Whether you loved or hated the McMahon family, they effectively were the ones who maintained the ship when it came to professional wrestling and now, with them goes not just their own legacy, but the legacy and assets of WCW, Jim Crockett Promotions, ECW, Mid-South, Florida, Puerto Rico, Smoky Mountain Wrestling and lot more.  What happens if the new owners decide there’s no value in those libraries?  Didn’t think about that one, did you?

Sinclair Broadcast Group owned Ring of Honor and while they certainly missed their moment to take ROH to the next level, Ring of Honor was always safe in its hands.  But then the pandemic happened and the company's purchase of regional sports networks caused huge financial losses and suddenly, ROH was no longer safe and viable, so it was sold off to Tony Khan.  What happens if someone buys WWE and then issues within their company - that have zero to do with WWE itself - mean that massive cuts have to be made?

What if the new owners buy WWE company and decide to sell parts of the library off, or the touring gets shut down or they kill NXT because why would they care about talent development because WWE is just another TV show to them?  I'm walking down the path with a lot of this, but the reality is, if and when WWE is under someone else's purview, they aren't going to treat it as a family business that was fighting back from the brink of extinction at times.  It's going to be one of many assets that could find itself lost if it doesn't have someone able to protect it in a world where the financial forces that drive the economy have never seemed rockier.  

As WWE has cautioned in every public statement and SEC filing, of course there’s no guarantee there will be sale, but even if Wrestlemania 39 opens with Vince McMahon, free and clear and having paid of his debts to WWE from the special investigation, strutting to the ring as SoFi Stadium sings No Chance In Hell (and if that happens, they will) and there is no sale anytime soon, nothing lasts forever - and after the last year of insanity we’ve seen within WWE, the only guarantee is that at some point, everyone is heading into the direction of a WWE that is forever changed.

The question is that when that inevitable day happens - whether it’s a sale of the company or the death of Vince McMahon or something as unforeseen as The Wall Street Journal dropping a nuclear bomb on McMahon as they did last year - what will WWE look like when the dust settles, who is in charge and what does the entire wrestling business look like as it reconfigures itself around those changes?

A year ago, none of us would have suspected such a massive genre-changing event could be upon us.  It’s impossible to predict where we will be in a year - it could be nothing has changed or Tony Khan is welcoming everyone to Wrestlemania 40 or the show is now a Netflix special - we don’t know.

But what we do know is that this year could very well be the last time that WWE Wrestlemania is presented as it has been since its genesis, a McMahon family production, that has lasted the test of time as a very unique, strange, twisted yet beloved slice of entertainment.

WWE and the McMahon family have long been the incumbent in professional wrestling.  Sometimes, change is good.  Sometimes, it’s not.  You never truly know what you get when you wish for something, but if Vince McMahon truly wishes to sell WWE, none of us know what any of us are getting on the other side.

So if you love professional wrestling, enjoy this week. We have no idea what next year’s Wrestlemania week could look like, and we won’t for some time.  So, cherish what you have, because you never know when it could change or disappear forever.

Even if the initials and the company still exist, the WWE of today, inside and out, could be forever changed by the time fans are filing into Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field in 2024. 

Enjoy Wrestlemania 39 week.  It could very well be the end to a major chapter in pro wrestling history.

"A long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember the last thing that you said as you were leavin'
Now the days go by so fast
" - Counting Crows

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