WWE Reactions To Vince McMahon's Investigation, Stephanie McMahon, More

WWE announced that Vince McMahon was voluntarily stepping down as CEO as a Special Committee of the WWE Board is conducting an investigation into misconduct. Stephanie McMahon will serve as interim CEO and interim Chairwoman just weeks after she stepped away from the company.

In the hours that followed, Fightful has spoken to well over a dozen employees, staff, talent and former employees who have worked with the McMahons, both close and at a distance.

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Beyond Vince McMahon stepping down as CEO, he will retain his creative duties and actually appear on Smackdown Friday, in what CNBC claims is an "in character appearance." We've not confirmed the in-character aspect. The immediate reaction that Fightful got when speaking to people in the company was frustration, as several said they viewed the move as a largely superficial move. Vince McMahon's personal responsibilities in running the company have dwindled in recent years, as he's erected a team led by Nick Khan to carry WWE into the next generation.

One talent said they saw Vince McMahon appearing on screen as a "cheap ratings ploy in the middle of something serious" and don't expect much of the culture or presentation of WWE to change with McMahon still around and in control of creative. "As long as Vince McMahon still has his creative duties, nothing can change. What could possibly be different? If he asks something of Stephanie as interim CEO, is she going to say no?" one wrestler said.

There are numerous sources across multiple departments in WWE who have stated to Fightful that they will communicate to higher up and possibly Vince McMahon himself that appearing on screen in-character isn't a good idea. One wrestler feared that McMahon would attempt to turn this into a "Vince McMahon vs. the world" type narrative that existed after the steroid trial, as seen in Stephanie McMahon's post-9/11 speech on Smackdown. However, the one source that we spoke to that was close to Vince McMahon now and during those eras agreed this is the biggest threat to McMahon's power since the steroid trial.

Fightful was told the same that CNBC was that the script for Smackdown was torn up, though we have learned some basic plans that were in store that we'll cross reference after the show. As of early Friday, several people Fightful heard from were still waiting on the script.

We noted recently that Stephanie McMahon was finally removed from internal production mailing lists, but was added back by the next show. With her stepping back in, there was a lot of optimism from talent specifically as she's well liked by them.

One top star said that they didn't really know what was going on, but that they've "heard in theory Stephanie McMahon is my boss, and that fucking rules." One former employee that worked directly with Stephanie McMahon before her team was disassembled said "The tone was always that she would be in that role eventually. She knows and breathes the business and she’s seamless." They also noted that the narrative around friction between Nick Khan and Stephanie McMahon wasn't something they'd personally experienced.

A female talent talking to Fightful said they think things can only get better from this point, and was hopeful that both the investigation and Stephanie McMahon as interim CEO would lead to better treatment for women in the company across the board. The talent went as far as to say they hope it results in women getting treated and paid equal to men there.

"I imagine it won’t change much. But I love Steph. So that’s good," said another top talent. "I imagine Vince keeps his position in creative and once the investigation is over he’ll take back over if he can."

Nearly unanimously, staff, employees and talent expect John Laurinaitis to be gone from the company, though one said "as long as Vince McMahon is around, he'll probably just come back unless he's Vince's latest scapegoat." Another talent said "From a creative aspect im hoping that things change but I doubt they will. From a business aspect I’m also hoping that things change, but also still doubt they will. Really the only thing that I think will actually change is Johnny will be fired which will be nice. Stephanie is great but I doubt she’s gonna suddenly be on board with healthcare and guaranteed contracts."

As far as talent go, on Wednesday they were briefed and told "The Wall Street Journal has published a report about WWE with allegations that we and our Board of Directors take seriously. We are cooperating fully with the investigation." There was then a follow up message that said "In the meantime it's business at usual -- Vince will be at TV this Friday. Thank you."

A message was sent to WWE staff Friday from Stephanie McMahon stating: "I will be returning from my leave of absence and assuming the role of interim Chairwoman and CEO. I love our company and am excited to continue to work with our President & Chief Revenue Officer Nick Khan and our Chief Financial & Administrative Officer Frank Riddick. And of course, I look forward to working with all of you. My door is always open."

Several WWE talent reached out to Fightful after Vince McMahon's Smackdown appearance

Some additional notes on the segment, it wasn't featured on internal full scripts as of 5:30 EST, or the rundown we gained access to at 7:50 PM EST. One person suggested that the segment did not happened as originally planned Friday morning. Vince McMahon was said to have been in a good mood backstage, and not outwardly reacting to the investigation.

"Business as usual" was a term constantly reiterated backstage. Few knew what Vince McMahon was going to say to kick off the show. What happened was Vince McMahon effectively explaining the "Then. Now. Forever. Together" tagline, saying "Welcome to Smackdown" and throwing the microphone.

Reactions that we received, unsolicited, ranged from confused to disappointed to "enraged."

A top talent immediately contacted Fightful and said it was "tone deaf and embarrassing," and believed it was his way of putting himself on screen as a power move to lessen the impact of an investigation's findings.

A former top talent who left the company said that "I'm happy it didn't last long, so I didn't have to sit through whatever bullshit he was going to say. But it shows that he has no accountability, especially when something is directly his fault."

Finally, a person who had worked with Vince McMahon said they were "enraged" by the appearance, and were hopeful that this was the type of situation he'd take more seriously. The person sourced was backstage at the show, and said that they were incredulous watching it unfold.

One female talent said that in light of the investigation and how this all played out she was "enraged" and questioned her desire to continue working for the company. The other female talent we heard back from said that the appearance "disappointed" her in light of how things have played out last week.

A longtime wrestler said that the segment unfolded pretty well how they thought it was, saying "he wanted people to tune in, and they did. They probably didn't stick around after that happened, but it seemed like he wanted to make sure everyone knew he wasn't going anywhere."

In the day that followed, numerous WWE talent at Smackdown reached out to Fightful to offer detail on Vince McMahon's demeanor at the show.

One Smackdown talent said they were expecting an eventful day, but noted that nobody knew what Vince McMahon was going to say. However, he "wasn't selling" the fact that he was being investigated, and was particularly jovial.

In addition, the person said that the show was a lot more relaxed than usual by the time it kicked off, with another adding that Vince was "happy" and it was cool to see considering that many expected a tense atmosphere. it was also said that Vince McMahon was very hands on Friday, even more than usual. One longtime staff member said they thought that was McMahon's way of establishing that he's still running the show.

"He's basically showing through his promo that he handles what's in front of him and he's not running" from it, another talent said.

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