World Wrestling Entertainment
Capitol Wrestling Corporation
Roderick James "Jess" McMahon was a boxing promoter whose achievements included co-promoting a bout in 1915 between Jess Willard and Jack Johnson. In 1926, while working with Tex Rickard (who actually despised wrestling to such a degree he prevented wrestling events from being held at Madison Square Garden between 1939 and 1948), he started promoting boxing in Madison Square Garden in New York. The first match during their partnership was a light-heavyweight championship match between Jack Delaney and Paul Berlenbach.
Around the same time, professional wrestler Joseph Raymond "Toots" Mondt created a new style of professional wrestling that he called Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling to make the sport more appealing to spectators. He then formed a promotion with wrestling champion Ed Lewis and his manager Billy Sandow. They persuaded many wrestlers to sign contracts with their Gold Dust Trio. After much success, a disagreement over power caused the trio to dissolve and, with it, their promotion. Mondt formed partnerships with several other promoters, including Jack Curley in New York City. When Curley was dying, Mondt moved to take over New York wrestling with the aid of several bookers, one of whom was Jess McMahon.
Together, Roderick McMahon and Raymond Mondt created the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC). The CWC joined the National Wrestling Alliance in 1953. Also in that year, Ray Fabiani, one of Mondt's associates, brought in Vincent J. McMahon to replace his father Jess in the promotion. McMahon and Mondt were a successful combination, and within a short time, they controlled approximately 70% of the NWA's booking, largely due to their dominance in the heavily populated Northeast region. Mondt taught McMahon about booking and how to work in the wrestling business. Due to the dominance in the Northeast by the promotion, American Wrestling Association legend and WWE Hall of Famer Nick Bockwinkel referred to the CWC as the "Northeast Triangle" to signify a triangle-like shape covering the CWC's territory, with Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Maine being the "points" of the triangle.
World Wide Wrestling Federation
The NWA recognized an undisputed NWA World Heavyweight Champion that went from wrestling company to wrestling company in the alliance and defended the belt around the world. In 1963, the champion was "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. The rest of the NWA was unhappy with Mondt because he rarely allowed Rogers to wrestle outside of the Northeast. Mondt and McMahon wanted Rogers to keep the NWA World Championship, but Rogers was unwilling to sacrifice his $25,000 deposit on the belt (title holders at the time had to pay a deposit to insure they honored their commitments as champion). Rogers lost the NWA World Championship to Lou Thesz in a one-fall match in Toronto, Ontario on January 24, 1963, which led to Mondt, McMahon, and the CWC leaving the NWA in protest, creating the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in the process.
In April, Rogers was awarded the new WWWF World Championship following an apocryphal tournament in Rio de Janeiro. He lost the title to Bruno Sammartino a month later on May 17, 1963, after suffering a heart attack shortly before the match. To accommodate Rogers' condition, the match was booked to last under a minute.
Mondt left the company in the late sixties. Although the WWWF had withdrawn from the NWA, Vince McMahon Sr. still sat on the NWA Board of Directors, no other territory was recognized in the Northeast, and several "champion vs. champion" matches occurred (usually ending in a double disqualification or some other non-decisive ending).
In March 1979, the WWWF became the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). The change was purely cosmetic, and the ownership and front office personnel remained unchanged during this period.
World Wrestling Federation
In 1980, the son of Vincent J. McMahon, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, founded Titan Sports, Inc. and in 1982 purchased Capitol Wrestling Corporation from his father. The elder McMahon had long since established the northeastern territory as one of the most vibrant members of the NWA. He had long since recognized that professional wrestling was more about entertainment than actual sport. Against his father's wishes, McMahon began an expansion process that fundamentally changed the sport.
The WWF was not the only promotion to have broken ranks with the NWA; the American Wrestling Association (AWA) had long ago ceased being an official NWA member (although like the WWF, they seldom left their own territory). However, neither of the defecting members attempted to undermine the territory system that had been the foundation of the industry for more than half a century.
Other promoters were furious when McMahon began syndicating WWF television shows to television stations across the United States, in areas outside of the WWF's traditional northeastern stronghold. McMahon also began selling videotapes of WWF events outside the Northeast through his Coliseum Video distribution company. He effectively broke the unwritten law of regionalism around which the entire industry had been based. To make matters worse, McMahon used the income generated by advertising, television deals, and tape sales to poach talent from rival promoters. Wrestling promoters nationwide were now in direct competition with the WWF.
Hulk Hogan, due to his appearance in Rocky III, had a national recognition that few other wrestlers could offer, which is what led McMahon to sign him. Roddy Piper was brought in, as well as Jesse Ventura (although Ventura rarely wrestled in the WWF at that point due to the lung disorder that caused his retirement, moving to the commentator booth alongside Gorilla Monsoon). André the Giant, Jimmy Snuka, Don Muraco, Paul Orndorff, Greg Valentine, Ricky Steamboat, and the Iron Sheik (Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri) rounded out the roster. Hogan was clearly McMahon's biggest star, but there was debate as to whether the WWF could have achieved national success without him.
According to several reports, the elder McMahon warned his son: "Vinny, what are you doing? You'll wind up at the bottom of a river." In spite of such warnings, the younger McMahon had an even bolder ambition: the WWF would tour nationally. Such a venture, however, required huge capital investment; one that placed the WWF on the verge of financial collapse. The future of not just McMahon's experiment, but also the WWF, the NWA, and the whole industry came down to the success or failure of McMahon's groundbreaking concept, WrestleMania. WrestleMania was a pay-per-view extravaganza (in some areas; most areas of the country saw WrestleMania available on closed-circuit television) that McMahon marketed as being the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. The concept of a wrestling supercard was nothing new in North America; the NWA had been running Starrcade a few years prior to WrestleMania, and even the elder McMahon had marketed large Shea Stadium cards viewable in closed-circuit locations. However, McMahon wanted to take the WWF to the mainstream, targeting the public who were not regular wrestling fans. He drew the interest of the mainstream media by inviting celebrities such as Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper to participate in the event. MTV, in particular, featured a great deal of WWF coverage and programming at this time, in what was termed the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection.
The original WrestleMania, held in 1985, was a resounding success. This event is sometimes credited as the debut of what McMahon called "sports entertainment", in contrast to his father's preference of pure wrestling. The WWF did incredible business on the shoulders of McMahon and his all-American babyface hero, Hulk Hogan, for the next several years, creating what some observers dubbed a second golden age for professional wrestling. The introduction of Saturday Night's Main Event on NBC in mid-1985 marked the first time that professional wrestling had been broadcast on network television since the 1950s. In 1987, the WWF produced what was considered to be the pinnacle of the 1980s wrestling boom altogether, WrestleMania III.
The WWF hit a low point in the wake of allegations of steroid abuse and distribution made against it in 1994; there were also allegations of sexual harassment made by WWF employees. McMahon was eventually exonerated, but it was a public relations nightmare for the WWF. The steroid trial cost the WWF an estimated $5 million at a time when revenues were at an all-time low. To compensate, McMahon cut the pay of both wrestlers and front office personnel – close to 40% in the latter case (and about 50% for top level managers such as Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Hart, who both left). This helped drive many WWF wrestlers to its only major competition, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), between 1993 and 1996. During this period, the WWF promoted itself under the banner of "The New WWF Generation," featuring Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, Bret Hart, and The Undertaker. In an effort to promote them and other young talent as the new superstars of the ring, the WWF began to play on the age restrictions which former WWF wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage (who by now were working for WCW) now faced. This is best seen in the "Billionaire Ted" parodies of early 1996 (a reference to WCW's owner and patron, media mogul Ted Turner) which culminated in a "rasslin'" match during the warm-up to WrestleMania XII.
Monday Night Wars
In 1993, the WWF broke new ground in televised professional wrestling with the debut of its cable program WWF Monday Night Raw. After becoming a runaway success, WCW in 1995 countered with its own Monday night cable program, WCW Monday Nitro, in the same time slot as Raw. The two programs would trade wins in the ensuing ratings competition until mid-1996, when WCW began a nearly 2-year domination that was largely fueled by the introduction of the New World Order, a stable led by former WWF superstars Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash.
The feuds and match types developed by the end of the mid 1990's began a new era in wrestling. The fans of the WWF seemed to favor what was posed to them as the bad guy instead of the good guy. The creative changes made by the WWF creative board saw wrestling take on a "street fighting," "bad attitude" approach, however despite the revolutionary changes in sports-entertainment that the WWF founded, these years remain the lowest of the WWF's financial income and a heavy loss in fandom to rival WCW. Throughout 1996 and 1997, the WWF lost much of its leading talent to WCW, including Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), Diesel (Kevin Nash), Psycho Sid (Sid Eudy), Alundra Blayze (Debra Miceli), and the late Rick Rude. The WWF replaced them with former WCW talent such as Vader (Leon White), Stone Cold Steve Austin, Brian Pillman, Mankind (Mick Foley), and Farooq (Ron Simmons). Eric Bischoff's public humiliation of the WWF, criticising them for signing WCW's sacked wrestlers and bragging that WWF wrestlers were signing for WCW due to higher pay, intensified the Monday Night Wars only for Nitro as the WWF struggled to regain its popularity.
McMahon managed to keep Bret Hart from reverting to WCW, and began a feud with Hart and Steve Austin. In Hart's absence after WrestleMania XII, Steve Austin became the new face of the company, starting with his Austin 3:16 speech, shortly after defeating Jake Roberts in the tournament finals at the 1996 King of the Ring pay-per-view. WrestleMania 13 saw Hart beat Austin in a critically acclaimed submission match, and shortly after saw Hart form The Hart Foundation. Austin and Shawn Michaels feuded with them for the majority of the year. This proved to be a major turning point in the company's marketing approach. Despite his strong long running image as a face, the Canadian Hart was turned heel in an anti-USA gimmick, whilst Steve Austin became cheered by fans despite efforts to design him as the ultimate heel (see tweener). Rocky Maivia joined the Nation of Domination stable after fans rejected his good guy image, and Shawn Michaels formed the street gang faction D-Generation X with Triple H and Chyna; similar to the Stone Cold Steve Austin character, DX was designed not to care for what the fans or other wrestlers thought of them. The Hell in a Cell match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker produced a fresh strong foundation for the WWF's creative board. 1997 ended with McMahon becoming widely despised by fans following Bret Hart's controversial departure from the WWF (see Montreal Screwjob), proving to be a founding factor in what was to kick start The Attitude Era.
By January 1998, the WWF began broadcasting more violence, swearing, and more edgy angles in its attempt to compete with WCW. After Bret Hart left for WCW following the Montreal Screwjob incident, Vince McMahon used the resulting backlash in the creation of his "Mr. McMahon" character, a dictatorial and fierce ruler who favored heels who were "good for business" over "misfit" faces like Austin. This, in turn, led to the Austin vs. McMahon feud, which, along with D-Generation X, officially began the Attitude Era. It also featured the established Monday Night Wars, where both WCW and the WWF had Monday night shows that competed against each other in the ratings. Many new wrestlers came into the WWF such as Chris Jericho, The Radicalz (Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko) and the 1996 Olympic gold medalist, Kurt Angle, whilst the characters of The Rock (renamed from Rocky Maivia), and Mick Foley (as Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love) were successfully re-invented to compete at the main event level. This era also saw the evolution of more brutal matches with different stipulations to increase viewership, mainly the furthering of Hell in a Cell (notably its second appearance featuring The Undertaker vs. Mankind) and the Inferno match (introduced by Kane against The Undertaker).
On April 29, 1999, the WWF made its return to terrestrial television by launching a special program known as SmackDown! on the fledgling UPN network. The Thursday-night show became a weekly series on August 26, 1999.
On the back of the success of the Attitude Era, on October 19, 1999 the WWF's parent company, Titan Sports (by this time renamed World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc.) became a publicly traded company, offering 10 million shares priced at $17 each. WWF announced its desire to diversify, including creating a nightclub in Times Square, producing feature films, and book publishing. ý In 2000 the WWF, in collaboration with television network NBC, announced the creation of the XFL, a new professional football league that debuted in 2001. The league had surprisingly high ratings for the first few weeks, but initial interest waned and its ratings plunged to dismally low levels (one of its games was the lowest-rated primetime show in the history of American television). NBC walked out on the venture after only one season, but McMahon intended to continue alone. However, after being unable to reach a deal with UPN, McMahon shut down the XFL.
Acquisition of WCW and ECW
The Attitude Era turned the tide of the Monday Night Wars into WWF's favor for good. After Time Warner merged with AOL, Ted Turner's power over WCW was considerably reduced, and the newly merged company decided to get rid of WCW entirely. In March 2001, WWF Entertainment, Inc. acquired World Championship Wrestling, Inc. from AOL Time Warner for a number reported to be around $7 million. With this purchase, WWF was now the largest wrestling promotion in the world, and the only one in North America with mainstream exposure. It remained so until the launch of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in 2002.
In 2000, the World Wide Fund for Nature (also WWF), an environmental organization, sued the World Wrestling Federation. The Law Lords agreed that Titan Sports had violated a 1994 agreement which had limited the permissible use of the WWF initials overseas, particularly in merchandising. Both companies used the initials since March 1979. On May 5, 2002, the company changed all references on its website from "WWF" to "WWE", while switching the URL from WWF.com to WWE.com. The next day, a press release announced the official name change from World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. to World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., or WWE, and the change was publicized later that day during a telecast of Monday Night Raw, which emanated from the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut. For a short time, WWE used the slogan "Get The 'F' Out." The company had also been ordered by the Lords to stop using the old WWF Attitude logo on any of its properties and to censor all past references to WWF, as they no longer owned the trademark to the initials WWF in 'specified circumstances'. Despite litigation, WWE is still permitted use of the original WWF logo, which was used from 1984 through 1997, as well as the "New WWF Generation" logo, which was used from 1994 through 1998. Furthermore, the company may still make use of the full "World Wrestling Federation" and "World Wrestling Federation Entertainment" names without consequence.