World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE, is an American integrated media and entertainment company that is primarily known for professional wrestling. WWE has also branched out into other fields, including movies, football, and various other business ventures.
The WWE name also refers to the professional wrestling promotion itself, founded in the 1950s as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC). It is the largest wrestling promotion in the world, holding over 500 events a year, with the roster primarily divided up into three globally traveling brands and is available to about 36 million viewers in more than 150 countries. The company’s global headquarters is located in Stamford, Connecticut, about 30 miles from New York City, with offices in major cities around the world.
As in other professional wrestling promotions, WWE shows are not legitimate contests, but purely entertainment-based performance theater, featuring storyline-driven, scripted, and choreographed matches, though matches often include moves that can put performers at risk of injury, even death, if not performed correctly. This was first publicly acknowledged by WWE’s owner Vince McMahon in 1989 to avoid taxes from athletic commissions. Since the 1980s, WWE publicly has branded its product as sports entertainment, acknowledging the product’s roots in competitive sport and dramatic theater.
The company’s majority owner is its chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon, who retains a 42% ownership of the company’s outstanding stock and 70.5% of the voting power.
The current entity, incorporated on February 21, 1980, was previously known as Titan Sports, Inc., which was founded that same year in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. It acquired Capitol Wrestling Corporation Ltd., the holding company for the World Wrestling Federation, in 1982.
Titan was renamed World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Inc. in 1998, then World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. in 1999, and finally the current World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. in 2002. Since 2011, the company has officially branded itself solely as WWE though the company’s legal name was not changed.
History of WWE
WWE Started With the Name Capital Wrestling Corporation and its running with the name WWE. All the Company names and periods are given below.
Capitol Wrestling Corporation (1953–1963)
WWE’s origins can be traced back as far as the 1950s when on January 7, 1953 the first show under the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC) was produced. There is uncertainty as to who the founder of the CWC was. Some sources state that it was Vincent J. McMahon while other sources cite McMahon’s father Jess McMahon as founder of CWC. The CWC later joined the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and famous New York promoter Toots Mondt soon joined the CWC.
World Wide Wrestling Federation (1963–1979)
Vincent J. McMahon and Toots Mondt were very successful and soon controlled approximately 70% of the NWA’s booking, largely due to their dominance in the heavily populated Northeastern United States. In 1963, McMahon and Mondt had a dispute with the NWA over “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers being booked to hold the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
Mondt and McMahon were not only promoters but also acted as Buddy’s manager and were accused by other NWA promoters of withholding Buddy making defenses in their cities versus only defending in Mondt and McMahon’s own cities thus maintaining a monopoly on the World Heavyweight Championship.
In a now infamous situation, the NWA sent former 5-time World Champion and legitimate wrestler Lou Thesz to Toronto to face Buddy Rogers on January 24, 1963. Thesz recalls this was not planned and prior to the match remembered telling Buddy “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
Buddy agreed to lose the fall and title in a one fall match versus the traditional two out of three fall matchup that most World Title matches were defended. Once word reached back to Mondt and McMahon, at first they simply ignored the title change. From January until April 1963, Buddy Rogers was promoted as the NWA World Champion or simply the World Heavyweight Champion in their area.
The World Wide Wrestling Federation was not an immediate creation as once thought the day after Rogers one fall loss to Thesz. Mondt and McMahon both eventually left the NWA in protest and formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in the process. They brought along with them Willie Gilzenberg, long time boxing and wrestling promoter in New Jersey.
In June 1963, Gilzenberg was named the first president of the World Wide Wrestling Federation. The WWE traditionally views this as beginning of their history with Buddy Rogers winning a fictitious tournament in Rio de Janeiro on April 25, 1963 when he defeated long time Capitol Sports favorite Antonino Rocca.
In truth, Rocca was no longer in the area as he was working for Jim Crockett Sr. in the Carolinas. Buddy Rogers also had already suffered what would later be a career ending heart attack on April 18 in Akron, Ohio and was in an Ohio hospital during the time the alleged tournament took place. Mondt left Capitol in the late 1960s and although the WWWF had withdrawn from the NWA, Vince McMahon, Sr. quietly re-joined in 1971.
World Wrestling Federation (1979–2002)
Vincent J. McMahon’s son, Vincent K. McMahon, and his wife Linda, established Titan Sports, Inc., in 1980 in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts and applied trademarks for the initials “WWF”. The company was incorporated on February 21, 1980, in the Cape Cod Coliseum offices.
The Golden Era (1982–1992)
The younger McMahon bought Capitol from his father in 1982, effectively seizing control of the company. The actual date of sale is still unknown but the generally accepted date is June 6, 1982; however this was likely the date the deal was struck. On WWF television, Capitol Wrestling Corporation maintained copyrights and ownership past the June 1982 date.
The World Wrestling Federation was not solely owned by Vince Sr but also by Gorilla Monsoon, Arnold Skaaland and Phil Zacko. The deal between the two McMahons was a monthly payment basis where if a single payment was missed, ownership would revert to McMahon Sr. and his business partners.
Looking to seal the deal quickly, McMahon Jr. took several loans and deals with other promoters and the business partners (including the promise of a job for life) in order to take full ownership by May or June 1983 for an estimated total of roughly $1 million with the three business partners receiving roughly $815,000 among them and Vincent J McMahon receiving roughly $185,000. Seeking to make the WWF the premier wrestling promotion in the country, and eventually, the world, he began an expansion process that fundamentally changed the wrestling business.
At the annual meeting of the NWA in 1983, the McMahons and former Capitol employee Jim Barnett all withdrew from the organization. McMahon also worked to get WWF programming on syndicated television all across the United States. This angered other promoters and disrupted the well-established boundaries of the different wrestling promotions, eventually ending the territory system, which was in use since the founding of the NWA in the 1940s. In addition, the company used income generated by advertising, television deals, and tape sales to secure talent from rival promoters.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, McMahon noted:
In the old days, there were wrestling fiefdoms all over the country, each with its own little lord in charge. Each little lord respected the rights of his neighboring little lord. No takeovers or raids were allowed. There were maybe 30 of these tiny kingdoms in the U.S. and if I hadn’t bought out my dad, there would still be 30 of them, fragmented and struggling. I, of course, had no allegiance to those little lords.
New Generation Era (1992–1997)
The WWF was hit with allegations of steroid abuse and distribution in 1992. This was followed by allegations of sexual harassment by WWF employees the following year. McMahon was eventually exonerated, but the allegations brought bad public relations for the WWF, and an overall bad reputation. The steroid trial cost the company an estimated $5 million at a time of record low revenues. This helped drive many WWF wrestlers over to rival promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW), including 1980s babyface hero Hulk Hogan. During this period, the WWF promoted wrestlers of a younger age comprising “The New Generation”, featuring Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, Bret Hart, and The Undertaker, in an effort to promote new talent into the spotlight.
In January 1993, the WWF debuted its flagship cable program Monday Night Raw. WCW countered in September 1995 with its own Monday night program, Monday Nitro, which aired in the same time slot as Raw. The two programs would trade wins in the ensuing ratings competition (known as the “Monday Night Wars”) until mid-1996. At that point, Nitro began a nearly two-year ratings domination that was largely fueled by the introduction of the New World Order (nWo), a stable led by former WWF performers Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall (the former Razor Ramon), and Kevin Nash (the former Diesel).
The Attitude Era (1997–2002)
As the Monday Night Wars continued between Raw Is War and WCW’s Nitro, the WWF would transform itself from a family-friendly product into a more adult-oriented product, known as the Attitude Era. The era was spearheaded by WWF VP Shane McMahon (son of owner Vince McMahon) and head writer Vince Russo.
1997 ended with McMahon facing real-life controversy following Bret Hart’s controversial departure from the company, dubbed as the Montreal Screwjob. This proved to be one of several founding factors in the launch of the Attitude Era as well as the creation of McMahon’s on-screen character, “Mr. McMahon”.
Before the Montreal Screwjob, which took place at the 1997 Survivor Series, former WCW talent were being hired by the WWF, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind, and Vader. Austin was slowly brought in as the new face of the company despite being promoted as an antihero, starting with his “Austin 3:16” speech shortly after defeating Jake Roberts in the tournament finals at the King of the Ring pay-per-view in 1996.
On May 6, 1998, Titan Sports, Inc. was renamed World Wrestling Federation, Inc. It was renamed World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. a year later.
World Wrestling Entertainment / WWE (2002–present)
On May 5, 2002, the World Wrestling Federation announced it was changing both its company name and the name of its wrestling promotion to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) after the company lost a lawsuit initiated by the World Wildlife Fund over the WWF trademark. Although mainly caused by an unfavorable ruling in its dispute with the World Wildlife Fund regarding the “WWF” initialism, the company noted it provided an opportunity to emphasize its focus on entertainment.
First brand split (2002–2011)
In March 2002, WWE decided to create two separate rosters, with each group of wrestlers appearing on one of their main programs, Raw and SmackDown!, due to the overabundance of talent left over from the Invasion storyline. This was dubbed as the “brand extension”.
Beginning in 2002 a draft lottery was held nearly every year to set the rosters, with the first draft to determine the inaugural split rosters, and subsequent drafts designed to refresh the rosters of each show. On May 26, 2006, WWE announced the relaunch of ECW as a third WWE brand. The new ECW program aired until February 16, 2010. All ECW wrestlers at that point became free agents that could sign either Raw or SmackDown.
On April 7, 2011, WWE, via the WWE Corporate website, announced that the company was ceasing use of the full name World Wrestling Entertainment and would henceforth refer to itself solely as WWE, making the latter an orphan initialism. This was said to reflect WWE’s global entertainment expansion away from the ring with the ultimate goal of acquiring entertainment companies and putting a focus on television, live events, and film production. WWE noted that their new company model was put into effect with the relaunch of Tough Enough, being a non–scripted program (contrary to the scripted nature of professional wrestling) and with the launch of the WWE Network (at the time scheduled to launch in 2012; later pushed back to 2014). However, the legal name of the company remains as World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.
End of the brand split (2011–2016)
Beginning with the August 29, 2011 episode of Raw, it was announced that Raw would feature talent from both Raw and SmackDown, and would be known as Raw Supershow (the “Supershow” suffix would be dropped on July 23, 2012). Championships previously exclusive to one show or the other were available for wrestlers from any show to compete for; the “Supershow” format would mark the end of the brand extension, as all programming and live events from when the original announcement was made until July 2016 featured the full WWE roster.
In 2013, the company built the sports medicine and training facility WWE Performance Center in the east Orange County, Florida in partnership with Full Sail University from Winter Park, Florida. The training facility is targeted at career and athletic development for the company’s wrestlers. Full Sail is also home base to WWE’s NXT brand, which over the years has grown and expanded from a small developmental territory into a globally touring brand in its own right. On August 20, 2019, it was announced that NXT would have a weekly, live, two-hour show Wednesday nights on the USA Network (which began September 18), whereby NXT’s designation as a third main roster brand became official.
Second brand split (2016–present)
On May 25, 2016, WWE announced a relaunch of the brand extension, billed as the “New Era”. Following that announcement, Raw and SmackDown now each feature their unique rosters, announcers, ring sets/ropes, and championships. A draft took place to determine which wrestlers would appear on what show. SmackDown also moved from Thursdays to Tuesday nights, which began on July 19 (the night of the aforementioned draft), and airs live instead of the previous pre-recorded format.
On November 29, 2016, WWE introduced a new program specifically for their cruiserweight division (wrestlers 205 lbs. and under) called WWE 205 Live. The program focuses exclusively on those wrestlers who qualify for the division. The cruiserweights – who first became a fixture in WWE with the Cruiserweight Classic tournament – were originally exclusive to the Raw brand at the onset of the 2016 brand extension, before landing their own brand.
On December 15, 2016, it was announced that WWE was establishing a new WWE United Kingdom Championship, with the winner being decided by a 16-man tournament to air on WWE Network featuring wrestlers from the UK and Ireland during January 2017. WWE executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque said the eventual plan with the new title and tournament was to establish a UK-based brand with its own weekly TV show. WWE subsequently launched its UK-based brand as an offshoot of NXT, NXT UK, in June 2018, with Johnny Saint serving as inaugural general manager.