Cody Rhodes emerged victorious from World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Royal Rumble” on Saturday night, an annual marquee event for the company that culminates in a battle royale match in which 30 wrestlers enter the ring and fight it out until only one remains.
It was a bombastic end to one of the most consequential, and tumultuous, weeks in W.W.E.’s history. It began with the announcement on Tuesday that Netflix would pay $5 billion over the next decade for exclusive rights to W.W.E.’s flagship weekly show, “Raw,” and that Dwayne Johnson, one of W.W.E.’s most famous wrestlers — known in the ring as “The Rock” — would join the board of directors of its parent company, TKO Group.
In the days between the Netflix deal and “Royal Rumble,” however, came a stark reminder of how sordid legal entanglements from the company’s recent past could reverberate in the present.
On Thursday, a former W.W.E. employee, Janel Grant, sued Vince McMahon — the co-founder of what would become W.W.E. and the executive chairman of the board of TKO Group — and accused him of sexual assault and sex trafficking. W.W.E. was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which also accuses unnamed W.W.E. corporate officers of knowing about her claims against Mr. McMahon. Mr. McMahon called the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, a “vindictive distortion of the truth,” but on Friday he resigned from the TKO board.
Mr. McMahon, 78, is the most influential figure in the history of professional wrestling. He is not just the co-founder, with his wife, Linda, of the company that would become W.W.E., or a mere corporate officer. He is the person most responsible for transforming wrestling from a sleepy regional entertainment product into a globally televised spectacle.
He also appeared in the ring for decades, and is as well known as wrestlers like “The Rock” and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. In the 1990s, he adopted a swaggering, dictatorial in-ring alter ego who screamed at wrestlers, and he was the headliner at pay-per-view events. Well into this decade, Mr. McMahon retained control over W.W.E.’s creative direction.