You probably already know that the company WWE is a hotbed of political maneuvering and Machiavellian plots. Wrestler A sabotages Wrestler B to enhance their own career. Former-wrestler turned executive promotes his own people to isolate long-running, big-toothed production heads. But all of this information usually comes from rumours and ‘shoot’ interviews. They rarely come from mainstream pieces of journalism.
That’s exactly what happened over the weekend, when Ian Frisch posted his ‘Breaking Kayfabe: An Inside Look At WWE’s Unlikely Business Empire’ article over at Vice Sports.
The piece focuses in on the backstage business culture in WWE, specifically on the sibling rivalry between Shane and Stephanie McMahon. It’s like a more deplorable version of Game of Thrones. Just without the incest. But that’s only because the Vince fathering Stephanie’s child storyline was dropped. Yeah, that was a thing.
Shane left WWE back in 2009. He wanted “to do it on my own”, and make a success of himself outside of his father’s company. According to the Vice article’s two senior-level sources though, his resignation was “at least partially due to a real-life power struggle with his father and sister,” and “that tension hasn’t gone away.”
In Shane’s absence, Stephanie was promoted to executive vice-president of creative, although she was apparently only in a management position rather than a creative one, and her husband Triple H’s role behind-the-scenes continued to grow in influence. But in 2012, WWE was met with a stagnant product, falling ratings and, arguably most importantly, the company’s stock falling to a new low.
This was when Triple H started work on NXT – his way to secure future success for the company – but in the Vice article’s biggest revelation, it’s also exactly when the prodigal son returned to try to steal WWE from his sister and brother-in-law’s grasp.
Despite a WWE spokesperson originally denying this meeting ever took place, only later on confirming when asked about it specifically, Shane set up a surprise meeting through Kevin Dunn with his father in March 2012. Dunn has been Vince’s right-hand man for almost three decades, and is the second-highest paid employee behind Vince himself. He’s part of the company’s old guard, meaning he’s not a Triple H guy.
The meeting was held in a separate building from WWE headquarters and essentially consisted of Shane pitching to his dad that he’d take over all of creative, including the writer’s room, with his friend James Frey – a very successful author and media producer.
According to Frisch’s source, “when Stephanie found out Shane was going to be there, she went white in the face and [Triple H] freaked out…Kevin Dunn is very close to Shane, and there’s tremendous tension between Kevin, and [Triple H] and Stephanie. They feel like the company is theirs, but they don’t have power to control Kevin.”
It’s been rumoured for years that Triple H and Stephanie are slowly replacing many top roles in WWE with their people, making Dunn more and more isolated. This is me speculating here (but I have watched enough Game of Thrones episode to consider myself an expert), Dunn tried to partner with Shane to reassert himself in WWE against Stephanie and Triple H.
The other big focus of the article was how cutthroat WWE’s working environment is, with a former senior-level executive describing Vince’s leadership style as:
“First, you’re the second coming of Christ and Vince loves you. Then, over time, he decides you are a moron and he can’t get wait to get rid of you. It’s a slow, painful death…it has happened so many times. It really damages people, what they experience there.”
An image WWE did themselves no favours in disproving, when the day after this article was published, Tom Casiello – an Emmy-Award winning writer and producer who has been overseeing both Smackdown and Raw since 2014 – was fired by WWE.
What do you think of WWE’s backstage politics? Copy and paste some Game of Thrones catchphrases in the comments down below.