JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Considerable — almost seismic — events have occurred in the world for pro wrestling since the debut of the “Going Ringside” podcast. From the WWE-UFC merger to Jacksonville based AEW starting to make a major footprint in the international market. Everyone from Wall Street to media executives across the county are gearing up for some potential major changes happening in the world of Sharpshooters, Huracarranas and Diamond Cutters. (Apologies to Sting, Scott Steiner and Randy Orton for the previous sentence — they call those moves something else)
Let’s start with the WWE-UFC merger
At the beginning of April the wrestling world changed in a structural way like the industry hasn’t seen in decades. That’s when WWE announced its buyer and it was Endeavor, the parent company of UFC. The two mammoth fighting based entities are coming together in a merger that’s still working itself out. Ari Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor will retain 51% of voting shares in the company while Vince McMahon and WWE will retain 49%. The most recent reports show the two entities will merge into a company called New Whale Inc. Under the new structure of the Board of Directors there will be eleven members. Endeavor will get six voting members and WWE will get five. Both Ari Emanuel and Vince McMahon will be on the board.
Since the article about New Whale, more developments have surfaced that the company will be called the TKO Group and be traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol TKO.
There has been at least one lawsuit filed due to the merger. The website Ringside News put out the story that a group called Ademi LLP is investigating the merger and whether shareholders are benefiting from a reasonable price for the company. It’s unclear whether this will affect the merger in any meaningful way or is more designed to protect shareholders in the companies.
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Vince McMahon turns 78 in August
There has been debate among wrestling fans since Vince McMahon returned to an active role in WWE in the lead up to the merger following a lengthy hiatus from the company following a sexual harassment scandal.
But something that will be inevitable eventually is McMahon can no longer manage the company even if he retains his 49% share of the company. McMahon will turn 78 in August. As far as longevity of the longtime WWE owner, his father Vince Sr. passed away at the age of 69. But his mother Vicky Askew lived to be 101 and passed away only a few years ago. So it’s unclear how long he can stay on board the company. Then the question becomes: who takes over when he’s gone. With Ari Emanuel and Endeavor holding the majority of shares in the company, they will have the ultimate decision. While McMahon will retain his financial stake in the company the Endeavor side of the Board of Directors will inevitably decide who manages the WWE side of the company. WWE, of course, will have a large role in that decision but it’s not a guarantee that someone like McMahon’s son-in-law Triple H or daughter Stephanie will be guaranteed to succeed him.
Will Brock Lesnar be the face of the company?
There’s not a lot of clarity on what the new merged company will look like. WWE sources tell “Going Ringside” that decisions at that level aren’t really shared will lower level employees or on-camera talent. Current WWE Superstar Brock Lesnar is the perfect fit for the company being that he excelled in both WWE and UFC and drove ratings for both companies. It’s unclear whether there will be much overlap between the two sides of the company. But on a recent episode of “Going Ringside” former WWE and UFC star Ken Shamrock said he felt the crossover was inevitable. “Once the merger happens there’s no such thing as one company,” he said. “They may brand them that way. But when you’ve got two organizations owned by one company, you know what’s going to happen.”
It’s also unclear what will happen to the media rights deals for WWE. Currently WWE airs its primary shows Raw and Smackdown on USA and Fox respectively. Both media rights deals expire in 2024, while the deal with Peacock where the company streams its library of content expires in 2026.
WWE also appears to be keeping strong ties with Saudi Arabia. The company has upcoming Pay-Per-View events in the Kingdom as they have for several years which is a profitable market for them. Late last year reports surfaced that WWE had in fact been sold to a Saudi Arabian. Those reports proved to be incorrect. But the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, considerably more than WWE and Endeavor combined. Their deal is reported to be worth just north of $21 Billion. So watching the relationship between WWE and Saudi Arabia will be something for fans to watch in the coming years to see if the Kingdom makes a future move for WWE.
AEW also making major moves
Not to be outdone, WWE’s primary competitor Jacksonville-based All Elite Wrestling (AEW) has been making major moves with respect to its international market. Tony Khan’s company has been planning its “All In” Pay-per-view for August. Current reports show AEW sold around 70,000 tickets so far for the event. That would be the largest non-WWE live event of all time. It would be a considerable boon for the up and coming company. The site of Wembley Stadium is not a surprise for the Khan family who has considerable ties to both Wembley and London. Tony Khan and his father Shad (owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars) have taken their NFL Franchise to London for several years to play games in London. Many of those games are held in Wembley Stadium. In fact, Shad Khan unsuccessfully attempted to purchase Wembley Stadium in 2018.
There’s also debate over which high profile talent would be on hand for the show. One name that’s been discussed is CM Punk who infamously left the company following a backstage altercation involving other high profile stars last year. That altercation also reportedly affected other stars in the company like Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks.
One name that has popped up on social media as a possible performer could try and attract is Bill Goldberg whose contract with WWE recently expired. Goldberg’s potential arrival in AEW has not been confirmed beyond articles and social media chatter online.
And this isn’t the only move AEW has made internationally. Over the past couple years the company has signed cable deals in Germany, Africa, Japan, Australia and elsewhere.