Vince McMahon is returning to WWE, and he’s looking to sell.
But anyone with thoughts of acquiring WWE has to weigh the baggage and scandals that come with McMahon.
One of those would-be suitors appears to be Endeavor. The entertainment giant’s president Mark Shapiro discussed the possibility on a The Ringer podcast in October: “When it comes to WWE? Yes, that would be something interesting and it would be worth exploring. Would we buy it? Who knows?”
The actions of another unapologetically macho and ruthless combat sports exec this week could make those questions harder to answer.
UFC president Dana White had a violent confrontation with his wife on New Year’s Eve in Mexico that was caught on video and emerged via TMZ on Monday. White and his wife, Anne, apologized for their conduct.
Would Endeavor — which owns UFC and is led by arguably Hollywood’s top power broker, Ari Emanuel — be willing to acquire WWE and let McMahon run the company in the aftermath of White’s domestic incident?
Endeavor hasn’t said a word publicly despite multiple inquiries from Front Office Sports and other outlets this week. There are no indications that Endeavor is ready to move on from White.
McMahon announced his retirement from WWE in July, days after the Wall Street Journal reported he paid millions of dollars to suppress sexual misconduct and infidelity allegations over a span of 16 years.
“There’s clearly some tension with the board, to say the least,” LightShed Partners analyst Brandon Ross said. “They didn’t want him to come back. I think he wanted to come back and continue to be a part of the company and regretted retiring.”
- At the time, industry experts thought his departure could lead to a sale to Endeavor, and FOS reported Comcast’s NBCUniversal was among the companies interested.
- CAA and Amazon have also emerged as potential bidders if WWE opts to sell.
- On Friday, FOS reported that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is likely to pursue a bid for WWE, as well.
But sale talk faded as chairwoman and co-CEO Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter, co-CEO Nick Khan, and chief content officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque have remained focused on running WWE as a public company. Its stock is up nearly 10% since Vince McMahon’s departure through this week — before news of McMahon’s return circulated.
With sale speculation kicking back in, WWE’s stock rose 17% Friday to close at $84.27.
WWE Won’t Come Cheap
McMahon, who holds sway over the company’s direction by owning most of WWE’s Class-B stock, rejoined the board along with allies Michelle Wilson and George Barrios.
“WWE has an exceptional management team in place, and I do not intend for my return to have any impact on their roles, duties, or responsibilities,” McMahon said in a statement released by the WWE on Friday.
McMahon purchased Capitol Wrestling Co. in 1982 from his father and turned pro wrestling — a patchwork of regional wrestling organizations at the time — into a national phenomenon.
- Early stars like Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Randy “Macho Man” Savage made what was then called the WWF a household name, with a national TV deal with NBC.
- WrestleMania, which debuted in 1985, became a major pay-per-view draw and spawned other PPV events over the years.
WWE is coming off its most profitable quarter in company history, and its market cap is $6.3 billion. Endeavor’s debt load sat at $5.43 billion per its last quarterly filing in November with a market cap of $10 billion, but Ross said a deal would still be workable for Endeavor.
UFC’s Meteoric Rise Under White
White and McMahon have feuded over the years, but White has also been open about his respect for McMahon.
“What that guy built and what he’s done is incredible,” White said in July. “He’s been doing it for 50-plus years…. He’s phenomenal. He’s a killer. He’s buried the hatchet in my back a few times, but that’s what you’re dealing with. You [don’t] deal with a killer and not expect him to try to kill you. Yeah, I have nothing but respect for Vince.”
That could be because White, like McMahon, was instrumental in building his business from relative obscurity. UFC was teetering on bankruptcy and still had the cage-fighting stigma Sen. John McCain referred to as “human cockfighting” in 1996.
- White convinced friends and Las Vegas hotel heirs Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta to purchase UFC for $2 million in 2001, making White president in the deal.
- White and others at UFC expanded a sport that was only sanctioned in a handful of states to put on shows nationwide.
- The promotion expanded beyond a strong PPV business with its first broadcast deal with Fox in 2011.
White remained president after Endeavor purchased a controlling interest in UFC in 2018 for $4 billion.
Endeavor acquired the remaining percentage for 100% ownership prior to its 2021 IPO.
Endeavor’s Risk Tolerance
Ari Emanuel, Endeavor’s CEO and brother of former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, has taken a moral stance on a number of issues in recent history — condemning Kanye West and Mel Gibson for their antisemitic tirades, and criticizing former President Donald Trump in a Chicago Tribune op-ed.
Will he act as decisively regarding White’s slapping of his wife? This isn’t the first incident involving White that’s drawn backlash, either.
- Before the Endeavor acquisition, White apologized after footage of him using an anti-gay slur ran on an MMA blog.
- White signed Greg Hardy after the former NFL player was accused of domestic violence. Hardy made his debut at UFC Fight Night 143 in 2019 the same card as Rachael Ostovich, who suffered a fractured orbital bone weeks before from her then-husband, MMA competitor Arnold Berdon.
- White has beefed with former fighters, and his attacks on reporters continued after Endeavor purchased UFC.
White and McMahon share a love of Trump. McMahon put Trump in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013. White spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention and described Trump as a “very good friend of mine” to Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson in September.
Emanuel, who is among the most reliable Democrat donors, may be able to look past politics in the interest of advancing UFC and possibly WWE’s business. The question now is what level of conduct would he be willing to tolerate from not one, but two, unpredictable partners who lead those companies?
“I don’t believe [McMahon’s history] will give Ari pause,” Ross said. “In terms of the Dana White piece of it, he’s been completely silent on that. He already has [White] in his hen house.”