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The backstory: Vince McMahon, a big name in wrestling with a legacy dating back to the 1950s, played a vital role in turning WWF (World Wrestling Federation), now WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), into a global entertainment giant. He eventually changed the game with scripted matches, famous wrestlers and mega-events like "WrestleMania." WWE hit a billion in sales in 2022 and recently struck a 10-year, US$5 billion deal with Netflix.
But in 2022, McMahon faced trouble when he stepped down as WWE's CEO over accusations of misconduct. After a quick investigation, he surprisingly returned to the board in January of last year and got back his position as executive chairman. In a major move last year, WWE joined forces with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), forming TKO Group in a US$21.4 billion deal, securing its place in both wrestling and entertainment.
More recently: Last Thursday, Janel Grant, a former WWE employee, filed a lawsuit against McMahon, accusing him of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault and trafficking. The lawsuit, filed in a Connecticut court where WWE is based, alleged McMahon pressured Grant into a "sexual relationship" and engaged in explicit behavior. Grant's lawyer, Ann Callis, has said she wanted the lawsuit to stop further harm, saying WWE knew about McMahon's alleged wrongdoing.
The development: McMahon has again resigned as executive chairman of TKO after this most recent lawsuit. In his statement, McMahon cited his respect for WWE and TKO as the reason for stepping down. He emphasized his commitment to defending himself against the allegations, stating that Janel Grant's lawsuit contains false information. In an email to staff seen by CNN, WWE President Nick Khan informed them of McMahon's departure from his roles as executive chairman and board member without providing specific details.
"The organization is well aware of Mr McMahon's history of depraved behavior, and it's time that they take responsibility for the misconduct of its leadership," said Ann Callis, Janel Grant's lawyer.
"Mr. McMahon does not control TKO nor does he oversee the day-to-day operations of WWE. While this matter predates our TKO executive team's tenure at the company, we take Ms. Grant's horrific allegations very seriously and are addressing this matter internally," said a TKO spokesperson in a statement.
"Out of respect for the WWE Universe, the extraordinary TKO business and its board members and shareholders, partners and constituents, and all of the employees and Superstars who helped make WWE into the global leader it is today, I have decided to resign from my executive chairmanship and the TKO board of directors, effective immediately," said Vince McMahon in a statement.
"I stand by my prior statement that Ms Grant's lawsuit is replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and is a vindictive distortion of the truth," said McMahon in the statement. "I intend to vigorously defend myself against these baseless accusations, and look forward to clearing my name."