- WWE CEO Vince McMahon shockingly retired in July amid an investigation into “hush money” payments.
- McMahon reportedly paid $14.6 million to four women to suppress sexual misconduct allegations.
- Paul “Triple H” Levesque has taken over all creative duties for TV shows “Raw” and “SmackDown.”
As WWE prepares for its biggest UK event in three decades this weekend, there appeared to be an air of optimism among WWE talent in Cardiff, Wales, on Friday.
Stars including Drew McIntyre, Rhea Ripley, and Damian Priest are all adjusting to seismic behind-the-scenes changes in WWE, following the retirement of longtime WWE chief executive Vince McMahon in July.
McMahon quietly exited his day-to-day duties as both chief executive and creative lead for its weekly television programs just weeks after the Wall Street Journal reported that he paid $14.6 million to at least four women in “hush money” agreements to suppress allegations of sexual misconduct and infidelity. WWE said that payments of up to $20 million made by McMahon between 2006 and 2022 were not appropriately recorded as expenses.
Since McMahon’s exit, his daughter Stephanie McMahon has been named co-CEO of WWE alongside the company’s president, Nick Khan. McMahon’s son-in-law and former wrestler, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, was also announced as taking over all creative duties for TV shows “Raw,” “NXT,” and “SmackDown.”
The new creative direction has already led to a boost in television ratings and is also proving popular with WWE’s wrestlers. Many of the stars had previously worked under Triple H — which stands for Hunter Hearst Helmsley — when he led the “NXT” brand before it was relaunched under McMahon’s purview last September.
“I have 100% faith in Hunter and the job he’s going to do,” Scottish wrestler McIntyre told Insider on Friday at a press junket ahead of Saturday’s “Clash at the Castle” event at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. “He’s been under the learning tree of Vince McMahon for years and years. He’s very outside-the-box thinking and he’s got [WWE legend] Shawn Michaels and an entire team of people with great minds lending a hand, so it’s an exciting time right now.”
While McMahon, 77, was often considered iron-fisted over every aspect of the WWE machine — he reportedly banned the use of the words “wrestler” and “wrestling,” for example — and out of touch with viewers, talent praised Triple H’s vision for WWE, its programs and comic book-like characters.
“Hunter does trust top talent to go with their gut, trust their instincts,” McIntyre explained. “Vince did as well, to be honest with you, but a lot of people, I think, were intimidated. Right now they’re feeling more like, ‘OK, we’ll give this a try. Hunter’s young and hip, he’ll let me do it.'”
However, McIntyre said that the wrestlers shouldn’t expect total free rein.
“If you do something and it doesn’t work, he’s going to reprimand you just like Vince would,” he added.
Australian star Rhea Ripley said she is “excited” for the future of WWE’s programs because “it’s feeling a lot like ‘NXT’ in a way, very family-oriented,” she said.
Ripley was moved over to “Raw,” one of WWE’s top-rated shows, in March 2021, which, at the time was overseen by McMahon.
“I knew I’d have to work extremely hard to show him who I am, because he didn’t know who I was at that time,” the former Raw and NXT Women’s Champion said.
Ripley’s experience of working with McMahon gives some insight into the rough passage newer WWE wrestlers have had in recent years in trying to win over the boss. Ripley began working “Raw” during the coronavirus pandemic when the show was filmed on a closed set, rather than in front of fans.
“When I first started, we were in the pandemic, so he couldn’t get a grasp on how the crowd really felt about me,” Ripley explained. “So, he thought about me in a different way to how the crowd felt, so it was hard to maneuver my way around without them because I was trying to please one person and then upsetting everyone else. Knowing that Triple H is in charge, he knows exactly who I am, so I’m excited.”
Former United States Champion Damian Priest and reigning Intercontinental Champion Gunther also expressed hope for life under Triple H.
“He was my first introduction into this company and we came up with how I was going to present myself [onscreen] together. So, there was no learning curve, or ‘Let me explain to him who I am,'” said Priest.
Austrian star Gunther added: “I worked with Triple H for a few years already, so I know what his vision is for us. It makes life easier for us.”
Gunther, who made his “SmackDown” debut in April, said that although he’s pleased to work under Triple H, he was nonetheless glad to have spent some time in a McMahon-led WWE before his retirement in July.
“With Vince, we got to know him a little bit. I’m actually glad we had the chance to do so because he’s the most legendary wrestling promoter ever. I don’t think anyone will surpass him when it comes to that. So, it was great to get at least a few weeks’ experience with him,” the Intercontinental Champion said.
Saturday’s “Clash at the Castle” event, named so because of the event’s proximity to Cardiff Castle, marks the first time WWE will hold a stadium show in the UK in 30 years. The last time was in 1992 when the company held its “SummerSlam” pay-per-view at Wembley Stadium in London.
More than 125,000 fans registered to buy tickets to the show when it was announced in April, despite the Principality Stadium having 74,500 seats.
Saturday’s card will be headlined by the UK’s own Drew McIntyre as he challenges Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns for the biggest prize in WWE.
“It’s wild. I was just pushing so hard to make the show happen in general, anywhere in the UK,” McIntyre told Insider. “The Principality is an amazing stadium. I can’t think of anywhere better. The fact that Drew McIntyre’s in the main event fighting for the title is not too bad either.”
WWE’s “Clash at the Castle” airs Saturday, September 3, at 1 p.m. ET on Peacock in the US and the WWE Network globally.