History of World Wrestling Entertainment

History of World Wrestling Entertainment

Infobox Company
company_name= World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.
company_
company_type=Public (nyse2|WWE)
foundation=1952
location=Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.
key_people=Vince McMahon, Chairman
Linda McMahon, CEO
Shane McMahon, Executive Vice President of Global Media
Stephanie McMahon, Executive Vice President of Creative Writing
industry=Professional wrestling, sports entertainment
products=
revenue=profit USD$400.05 million (2006)cite web|title=World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Reports Q4 Results|publisher=WWE.com|url= http://corporate.wwe.com/documents/4QF2006PressReleaseFINALdoc.pdf|accessdate=2006-08-28|format=PDF]
operating_income=profit $70.54 million (2006)
net_income=profit $47.05 million (2006)
num_employees=460 (April 2006, excluding wrestlers)cite web|title=WWE 2006 10-K Report|publisher=WWE.com|url=http://corporate.wwe.com/documents/200610-K.pdf|accessdate=August 28|accessyear=2006|format=PDF]
homepage= [http://www.wwe.com/ www.wwe.com]

This is the history of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a sports entertainment/professional wrestling promotion.

Beginning/Capitol Wrestling

Roderick James "Jess" McMahon was a boxing promoter whose achievements included co-promoting a boxing match in 1915 between Jess Willard and Jack Johnson. In 1925, while working with Tex Rickard (who despised wrestling to such a degree that he prevented wrestling events from being held in Madison Square Garden) he started promoting boxing in Madison Square Garden in New York City. The first match during their partnership was a light heavyweight championship match between Jack Delaney and Paul Berlenbach.

Around the same time, former professional wrestler Joseph Raymond "Toots" Mondt had a revolutionary concept. He decided to take wrestling to a higher level, bringing it out of back alleys and rough areas into sporting arenas. He also made wrestling more exciting with his "Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling." His next move was to form a promotion with Ed Lewis and Billy Sandow. They persuaded a lot of wrestlers to sign contracts with the newly named 'Gold Dust Trio'.

Eventually, the trio dissolved and the promotion did also, after a disagreement over power. Mondt formed partnerships with several promoters. When Jack Curley was dying, Mondt knew that New York wrestling would fall apart. Realizing this he gained help from several bookers, one of these being Jess McMahon.

Together, Jess and Mondt created the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC). There is not a lot of information on the early days of the CWC, but it is known that it joined the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in 1953.

Mondt had been using Antonino Rocca as a main eventer. He was successful in the role and Mondt was pleased to have him as part of the company. Unfortunately, Mondt was unable to keep Rocca happy.

In 1953, Ray Fabiani, one of Mondt's other associates, brought in Vincent J. McMahon, who replaced his father Jess in 1953 (around the time the CWC became a territorial member of the NWA). They controlled all of the Northeastern wrestling circuit.

Vince Sr. and Toots Mondt were a formidable combination: within a short time, they controlled around 70% of the NWA's booking -- given what a far-reaching organization the NWA was, that was a significant achievement. Mondt taught Vince Sr. about booking and how to work in the wrestling industry. This was the start of the wrestling revolution.

In 1956, the CWC signed a deal with WTTG Channel 5 to air live professional wrestling shows.

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 belt, 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 would honor 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 mid-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 supposedly suffering a heart attack shortly before the match.

Toots Mondt left the company in the late sixties for unclear reasons, probably due to old age.

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 was restarted into the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). The front office personnel remained unchanged during this period and the ownership belonged to
Vincent J. McMahon. At some undetermined point, McMahon transferred stock amounting to a total of 50 percent to Phil Zacko (his longtime business partner), Arnold Skaaland, and Gorilla Monsoon

World Wrestling Federation

In 1980, the son of Vincent J. McMahon, Vincent K. McMahon, founded Titan Sports, Inc. and in 1982 purchased Capitol Sports from his father and associates (Monsoon and Skaaland were given lifetime employment with WWF, and all three minority holders received cash payments). After discovering at age 12 that the wrestling promoter was his father, Vince became steadily involved in his father's wrestling business until the latter was ready to retire. The elder McMahon had already established the northeastern territory as one of the most vibrant members of the NWA by recognizing that pro wrestling was more about entertainment than sport. Against his father's wishes, McMahon began an expansion process that would fundamentally change the sport, and place both the WWF - and his own life - in jeopardy.

The NWA was not the only wrestling outfit in operation; the American Wrestling Association (AWA) had long ago ceased being an official NWA member, and controlled the US Northern Midwest. But in neither instance did the defecting member attempt to undermine, and destroy, the territory system that had been the foundation of the industry.

The first step McMahon's attempt to go national was to sign AWA superstar Hulk Hogan, who, due to his appearance in "Rocky III" had a national recognition that few other wrestlers could manage. To play Hogan's nemesis, he signed North Carolina badboy Roddy Piper, and also Jesse Ventura (although Ventura never wrestled in the WWF at that point due to the lung disorder that caused his retirement). It has long been a point of contention whether McMahon could have gone national without Hogan's presence, or vice versa.

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 would use 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. The WWF bought off talent all around Canada and U.S. including the likes of the British Bulldogs and the Hart Foundation who were based with Stampede Wrestling. Eventually in the 1980s, WWF was able to sign Dusty Rhodes who had been a legend during the regional territory days.

According to several reports, Vince Sr. warned his son: "Vinny, what are you doing? You'll wind up at the bottom of a river."Fact|date=November 2007 In spite of such warnings, the younger McMahon had an even bolder ambition: the WWF would tour nationally. However, such a venture 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 sports entertainment concept, WrestleMania. WrestleMania was a pay-per-view extravaganza (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 super card 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".

There were attempts in the Deep South to keep the legacy of the regional territory system alive. Several regional territories in the Deep South merged together to form Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP). Starrcade and The Great American Bash were the Jim Crockett Promotions version of "WrestleMania". However JCP had trouble competing against the WWF. JCP even ran a few shows outside its regional base. The promotion was sold off becoming WCW, which ended up becoming the main competition for the WWF until 2001.

The Golden Age

The new formula of what McMahon deemed sports entertainment was a resounding financial success at the original WrestleMania in 1985. 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.

In addition to Hogan, there were other muscular singles stars who were making their mark in the WWF including the Ultimate Warrior, Ricky Steamboat, and Paul Orndorff. Not only did WWF have a dominant singles division, the tag team division had a myriad of excellent teams such as The Rockers, Demolition, The Hart Foundation, The British Bulldogs, and The Fabulous Rougeaus. In 1987, the WWF would also add more to the company's success and produced what was considered to be the pinnacle of the entire 1980s wrestling boom, WrestleMania III. [cite web|url=http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/Wrestlemania20/WrestleMania3.html |title=Steamboat - Savage rule WrestleMania 3 |last=Powell |first=John |publisher=SLAM! Wrestling |accessdate=2007-10-14 ] Thanks to the success of WrestleMania, additional pay-per-views were produced such as SummerSlam, Royal Rumble, and Survivor Series. The Survivor Series stressed the elimination tag format. The Royal Rumble had a 30-man battle royal which, in 1993, would stipulate where the winner faces the WWF Champion at that year's WrestleMania. SummerSlam became the major hit of the summer. This era was noted for some of its excellent matches. Some memories included the Hogan v. Warrior bout at WrestleMania VI in the SkyDome, Steamboat vs. Savage Intercontinental Title match at WrestleMania III and Hogan v. Andre the Giant at that same pay-per-view.

The steroid trials and subsequent years

The World Wrestling Federation suffered one of its biggest hits in the company's history when the Federal Government began to investigate a steroid scandal involving Dr. George Zaharian, the company's doctor at the time. Reputedly, steroid use was rampant among wrestlers within the company (both in the wrestling circuit and the WBF, Vince McMahon's bodybuilding league) supplied through Zaharian. Zaharian himself received counts of litigation regarding his distribution of illegal supplements through many athletes across the sporting spectrum. However, the tip-off that gave authorities cause to charge the WWF was shipment details to various WWF stars. Some of the larger names, most famous of which was Hulk Hogan, gained infamy when news of their long-time steroid use was revealed. Hogan, in particular, lost much fan confidence due to the allegations.

The Pennsylvanian Federal Office made strong efforts to have the WWF prosecuted over the issue, despite most of the alleged activities happening out of state in Connecticut. However, Dr. Zaharian had been based in Penn State for most of the transactions, hence their eagerness to forge ahead with the case. The prosecution against the WWF rested upon two particular shipments of steroids addressed from Vince McMahon to Hulk Hogan (one of which was dated two days after the WWF had actually appeared at the arena, thus making the accusation null and void). Over much deliberation, ultimately McMahon and the company were acquitted of the charges.

Despite the legal victory, the company suffered heavily from the publicity it caused. Ratings and Pay-Per-View buyrates fell as a result. Merchandise and ticket sales plummeted and for a while the company looked seriously towards bankruptcy.

The New Generation

In response to the steroid trials, the WWF decided to go in a new direction. In order to bolster it's repuation amongst the public, the company came up with it's "New Generation" tagline. In an effort to distance itself from the muscle-bound theatrics of the "Federation Years", the company chose to push smaller, more agile performers whose focus was primarily upon their technical prowess and their athletisim as opposed to their looks. Performers such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, Diesel and others emerged in this newfound spotlight. However, the business had begun to experience a lull, partly due to the popularity of the WWF fading as well as WCW not quite managing to take advantage of the WWF's weakening fortunes.

During 1991 and 1992, wrestling's popularity suffered as bland storylines and over-the-top gimmicky characters turned many fans away. The WWF's poor direction was strongly criticized as uninteresting and not in touch with the current times. WCW themselves were in a position of evolution, yet they failed to capitalize until late 1993-early 1994 when Eric Bischoff became Executive Producer of WCW's creative product. However, once WCW begun to innovate and evolve their product, the WWF failed to view them as a threat and subsequently lost ground.

Fans had also grown tired of the WWF's familiar faces. Acts such as the Ultimate Warrior had begun to outlive their welcome. Hulk Hogan was slowly becoming boring and stale, his reputation damaged by the steroid scandals. The larger, less mobile workers had become passé compared to the newer, quicker, more athletic performers. The industry had begun to experience a change in it's popularity and fortunes.

Soon, WWF performers such as Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall emigrated to the growing WCW empire. Incentives such as a lighter schedule and a higher guarantee of money (while performers earned less of a guaranteed wage in the WWF, the incentive structured payment scale meant some wrestlers could actually earn more. However, the performer tends to work more in order to earn the money) helped convince performers of the benefits working in WCW would hold.

Starting near the end of 1996, the WWF began to experiment with edgier content, throwing in more adult themes and more hard-hitting bouts in an attempt to try and claw back their fanbase who had been slowly pulled over to WCW's programming. WCW had begun to gain traction due to the growing nWo and the influx of a edgier, more brash product. Quicker, more agile superstars from Japan, Mexico and Europe had raised the bar, while the edgier stories and cliffhanger endings of the shows had viewers eagerly anticipating the next show. The WWF continued to lag behind, but they slowly gained on the competition through employing similar tactics and edgy content.

Monday Night Wars

Under Eric Bischoff, World Championship Wrestling, the new name for NWA super territory Jim Crockett Promotions after its purchase by Ted Turner in 1988, began using its tremendous financial resources to lure established talent away from the WWF. In 1995, Bischoff upped the ante, creating "WCW Monday Nitro", a cable show on Turner's TNT network, to directly compete with the WWF's flagship show, "WWF Monday Night RAW". Eventually, on the strength of its newly-acquired WWF talent and the groundbreaking nWo storyline, WCW overtook the WWF in television ratings and popularity.

McMahon responded by stating that he could create new superstars to regain the upper hand in the ratings war, and at the same time tightening contracts to make it harder for WCW to raid WWF talent. Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were elevated to the top of the card, gaining popularity based mostly on the excellence of their in-ring abilities, a far departure from the Hogan era. Despite this, the WWF was losing money at a rapid rate. WCW's reality-based storylines drew attention away from the WWF's.

In 2004, WWE published a DVD entitled "The Monday Night War", which chronicles the battle between the two organizations. Critics say the DVD is one-sided, with the WWF being presented as good and hardworking and WCW portrayed as evil and its success a fluke.

The death of Brian Pillman

On October 5, 1997, the day of the WWF's "In Your House: Badd Blood" pay per view in St. Louis, Brian Pillman was found dead in a Minnesota hotel room. He was 35 years old. While he had a documented history of abuse of prescription drugs, an autopsy found that a previously undetected heart condition - arteriosclerotic heart disease - had led to his death. Pillman did not know that he was about to become a father once again when he died. A tribute episode of Monday Night Raw was held in his honour.

The Attitude Era and The Montreal Screwjob

The WWF/WCW feud reached new heights in November 1, 1997, when WCW offered a contract to Bret "The Hitman" Hart. Hart was worth up to a reported nine million dollars over the course of three years. The WWF and Vince McMahon countered with an offer worth much less, but for a much longer period, with greater creative control. Bret Hart took the offer, but after several months of financial hardship and sharply falling profits, McMahon was uncertain if he could write Hart's paychecks. McMahon alerted Hart of the situation prior to Hart's match with Shawn Michaels in Montreal, and allowed him to re-open negotiations with WCW. Despite a great sense of loyalty to the WWF, Hart took WCW's offer and was set to appear on their programming by the end of 1997.

While Hart's departure was not a surprise, the WWF was concerned about the fact that the man about to leave was the WWF Champion. Earlier in the WWF/WCW feud, the WWF Women's Champion, Alundra Blayze, signed with WCW while in possession of the belt and threw it in a trashcan on WCW Nitro (imitating a heavily publicized act by heavyweight boxing champion Riddick Bowe). Hart promised that no such thing would ever happen and put an agreement in place that the announcement of his departure would be delayed until the belt could be transitioned to a new champion. However, McMahon was concerned that the word would get out and he sought a way to get the belt off Hart before the deal.

Hart used his contractual control over his booking during that year's Survivor Series pay-per-view at Centre Molson in Montreal, Canada. He let it be known to WWF management that he would drop the title on a couple of conditions; not losing to Shawn Michaels or in his home country of Canada. McMahon would deviate from the agreed finish of their match at Survivor Series to allow Shawn Michaels to win the title from Hart. During the match Shawn Michaels put Bret Hart in a Sharpshooter, which Hart was in the process of countering when the referee Earl Hebner, under instruction from Vince McMahon, told the timekeeper to ring the bell to end the match and announced Michaels the winner. Bret Hart was so infuriated at the fake victory he spit in McMahon's face before leaving the ring. Later, in a confrontation with McMahon that same night, Hart punched McMahon in the face, giving him a black eye.

This event set the stage for the turning point in the WWF/WCW feud. McMahon, who had previously acted only as a play-by-play announcer on television, used the backlash stemming from his real-life role as WWF owner in the Montreal Screwjob to cast himself as the evil company owner "Mr. McMahon" in WWF programming, a dictatorial ruler who favored heel wrestlers who were "good for business" over "misfits" like Stone Cold Steve Austin. This led to the Austin vs. McMahon feud, which was the cornerstone of the next phase of development

The death of Owen Hart

On May 23, 1999, WWF wrestler Owen Hart fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri, during a WWF pay-per-view event. Hart was in the process of being lowered into the ring from the rafters of Kemper Arena when a malfunction occurred. He fell 50 feet, landing chest-first on the top rope, throwing him into the ring. Hart was transported to the Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The WWF announced the death of Owen Hart to the home viewers during the event, but not to the crowd in the arena. The rest of the event continued as scheduled. Much criticism has been directed at WWF management for continuing the event despite their knowledge of Hart's death.

The WWF aired a special broadcast the next night, entitled "Raw Is Owen", where many wrestlers broke character and expressed their grief over Hart's death. Hart's widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company.

The end of the Attitude Era

The Attitude Era is considered to have ended after WrestleMania X-Seven following a slow decline in ratings.cite web|title=Take up thy wrestling boots and walk - Now and Then|publisher=lordsofpain.net|url=http://www.lordsofpain.net/news/2007_/articles/1193772789.php|accessdate=2008-01-07] Despite this, the WWF kept most of their audience in this transitional period, fueled with a combination of new factors leading to a fresh product. For one, Chris Kreski took over head writer duties after Vince Russo left for WCW. Kreski was admired by many for heading a creative process that had well-planned storylines. Some of the more remembered angles from this time were Triple H vs. Cactus Jack feuding over the WWF Title, the Triple H/Kurt Angle/Stephanie McMahon love triangle, and the TLC feud between the Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian, and the Dudley Boyz. At the same time, injuries to Steve Austin and the Undertaker allowed WWF to focus on new stars such as Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, The Dudley Boyz, The Hardy Boyz, Rikishi, and Edge and Christian.

In late 2000, "WWF RAW is WAR" moved from the USA Network to TNN. This coincided with the return of Steve Austin, after being out for close to a year due to injury. Despite having their biggest star back, the WWF's ratings started to slowly decline. Chris Kreski left the company, and Stephanie McMahon became the head writer. Despite this, the WWF presented what is considered by many to be one of their greatest single cards of all time, WrestleMania X-Seven, headlined by the Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWF title. At the end of the show, Vince McMahon helped give Steve Austin the win, turning him heel in the process. Austin went on to form a union with Triple H called The Two-Man Power Trip, which carried WWF storylines for most of the Spring. But just as the next phase of the WWF began, the WWF lost two of their top stars, Triple H and Chris Benoit, to injuries. It was during this period that ratings took a serious blow, arguably due to the deaths of WCW and ECW, Steve Austin's heel turn and the absence of some big names.

The WCW/ECW "Alliance" InVasion

In the "InVasion" storyline, Shane McMahon acquired World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and WCW personnel invaded the WWF. For the first time since the Monday Night Wars, the WWF's purchase of WCW had made a major American interpromotional feud possible, but the "InVasion" (as it was called) turned out to be a disappointment. One reason was that many of WCW's big name stars were under contract to WCW's old parent company, AOL Time Warner, rather than WCW itself, and their contracts were not included in the purchase of the company. These wrestlers chose to sit out the duration of their contracts rather than work for the WWF for less money.

On July 9, 2001, the stars of WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (acquired by Stephanie McMahon in a related storyline) joined forces, forming "The Alliance" with WCW owner Shane McMahon and the new owner of ECW Stephanie McMahon, and supported and influenced by original ECW owner Paul Heyman. After months of feuding, at Survivor Series 2001, the WWF finally defeated WCW and ECW in a "Winner Take All Match" and this concluded the angle.

Undisputed Championship

In the aftermath of the Invasion angle, the WWF made several major changes to their product. Ric Flair returned to the company as a "co-owner" in storylines, feuding with Vince McMahon. Jerry "The King" Lawler returned to the "RAW" broadcast booth, after quitting earlier in the year. Several former Alliance stars were absorbed into the regular WWF roster, such as Booker T, The Hurricane, Lance Storm, and Rob Van Dam. Steve Austin's run as a heel was over, as he was accepted by the fans again as a babyface. And, for the first time ever, the WWF was left with two heavyweight champions. The Rock held the WCW Title while Austin held the WWF title. It was decided that a mini-tournament would be held at the Vengeance 2001 pay-per-view, consisting of Austin, the Rock, Chris Jericho, and Kurt Angle. The winner of that tournament would hold both titles. Jericho came out the victor that night, defeating both the Rock and Austin. This made Jericho the first WWF Undisputed Champion.

New World Order (nWo)

After the WWF bought WCW in 2001, Vince McMahon brought back Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall as the nWo, at the No Way Out 2002 pay-per-view on February 17 2002. In this storyline, the nWo was brought in as McMahon's allies in an attempt to "kill" the WWF so that McMahon would not have to share power with new WWF co-owner Ric Flair. However, Hulk Hogan left the group after he lost his WrestleMania X8 match with The Rock and was assaulted by Hall & Nash. Over time, more members joined the nWo such as X-Pac (formerly known as Syxx in WCW), Big Show (formerly known as The Giant in WCW), Booker T, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair & Goldust as semi-members.

The nWo reunion in the WWF was short-lived. Abruptly on July 15 2002, Vince McMahon, having regained full control of WWE from Ric Flair, disbanded the nWo.

World Wrestling Entertainment

In the late 1980s, the World Wrestling Federation's parent company, Titan Sports, filed for international trademark of the initals "WWF", which was disputed by the World Wildlife Fund. In 1994, the two companies had entered into an agreement over the rights to the usage of the initials. [ [http://contracts.onecle.com/wwe/wwf.settle.1994.01.20.shtml World Wildlife Fund and Titan Sports, Inc. legal settlement] ] However, the Federation's continued usage of the initials internationally led to a lawsuit.

The 2000 lawsuit was settled in 2002, and on May 6 2002, the company changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., or WWE, and eliminated all elements that used the term "Federation". This forced the company to issue new licensed merchandise such as apparel, action figures, video games, and home videos with the new WWE logo. Additionally, older footage which used the company's "scratch" logo or the spoken initials "WWF" had to be re-edited to eliminate such content. To facilitate public awareness of the change, for a short while, WWE adopted the slogan "Get the "F" out."

Brand Extension

In the aftermath of the Invasion storyline, Vince McMahon lobbied WWE's television carrier, TNN, for time on its schedule for a new show featuring the WCW brand. Reports say this idea was rejected owing to McMahon's failure with non-WWF projects, the XFL in particular.

Faced with a surplus of talent, even after the departure of several undercard wrestlers from both organizations, April 2002 saw the WWF undergo a process McMahon called the Brand Extension. The WWF was divided into two de facto wrestling promotions with separate rosters, storylines and authority figures. RAW and SmackDown! would host each division, give its name to the division and essentially compete against each other.

Wrestlers would become show-exclusive, wrestling for their specific show only. At the time this excluded the WWE Undisputed Championship and WWE Women's Championship, as those titles would be defended on both shows. In August 2002, WWE Undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar refused to defend the title on RAW, in effect causing his title to become exclusive to SmackDown! The following week on "RAW", General Manager Eric Bischoff awarded a newly created World Heavyweight Championship, with a design similar to the WCW World Heavyweight Championship belt, to RAW's designated #1 contender, Triple H.

Following the Brand Extension, a yearly Draft Lottery was instituted to exchange members of each roster and generally refresh the lineups.

Legends program and WWE Hall of Fame

The Legends program began informally with the return of the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony in 2004, held annually during WrestleMania weekends. The introduction of WWE 24/7, WWE's on-demand television service, and the success of career retrospective DVDs such as "The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection", "Roddy Piper: Born to Controversy", and "Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon" has invested WWE's present product with a sense of heritage, and allows a new generation of wrestling fans to witness matches and events they may only previously have heard of.

The death of Eddie Guerrero

On the morning of November 13 2005, Chavo Guerrero checked into a hotel with his uncle, Eddie Guerrero, in Minneapolis where they were both scheduled be a part of a planned "RAW" and "SmackDown!" "Supershow" (a show where both "RAW" and "SmackDown!" would take place the same night in the same arena). After Eddie missed a wake-up call, security opened his hotel room and Chavo found his uncle unconscious. Chavo attempted CPR, but 38-year-old Eddie was declared dead at the scene. Vickie Guerrero, Eddie's wife, later announced that an autopsy ruled the cause of death to be massive heart failure. Although he had been sober for four years, his past drug and alcohol problems had taken their toll on Guerrero, as had his gruelling wrestling work and WWE schedule.

Guerrero's death fell on the day that he had been scheduled to win a match for the World Heavyweight Championship versus Batista and Randy Orton. The company held tributes to Guerrero on both "RAW" and "SmackDown" during the week following his death. On April 1 2006 at the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremonies during WrestleMania 22 weekend, Guerrero's wife Vickie accepted his posthumous induction into WWE Hall of Fame by Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit and Chavo Guerrero.

Following Guerrero's death, Vince McMahon announced a new drug policy under which performers would be subject to random drug tests by an independent company and would receive regular medical physicals with an emphasis on cardiovascular health [http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/1613464] .

Return of Extreme Championship Wrestling

On May 26 2006, after the success of the first ECW One Night Stand PPV a year prior, where WWE put on a show comprised of alumni from the now defunct Extreme Championship Wrestling, WWE announced the relaunch of ECW as a stand-alone franchise that would complement WWE's RAW and SmackDown! brands. The second ECW One Night Stand became the brand's kick-off show. The promotion would emanate on NBC Universal's Sci Fi Channel starting June 13, 2006. Although a puzzling decision, Sci Fi Channel's President Bonnie Hammer believed that ECW would fit the channel's theme of "stretching the imagination". The new show has drawn fierce criticism from followers of the original ECW for its similarities to the WWE product in contrast with the original's edgy, gritty presentation and variety of wrestling styles; and the systematic dismissal of ECW alumni in favour of WWE talent: in 2008, only four ECW alumni are listed on its roster, with Tommy Dreamer the only alumnus seen to any great extent on television.

The death of Chris Benoit

WWE wrestler Chris Benoit failed to appear at a WWE event on Sunday, June 24, 2007. The next day, Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their 7-year-old son Daniel were found dead in their Fayetteville, Georgia, home at around 2:30 p.m. EDT. At the time, the circumstances surrounding the death were still under investigation.

WWE canceled the scheduled live wrestling event broadcast on June 25 and instead aired a tribute to Benoit's life and career. In the following days, it was reported that investigators believe that Benoit murdered his wife and son over the weekend and hanged himself sometime on Monday.

Once details surrounding the death confirmed that the circumstances pointed to double murder-suicide, WWE.com swiftly removed any references to Benoit on their website, including all news articles relating to his death, summarizing any past matches to exclude his name, and ceasing the sale of any Benoit-related merchandise. On June 26, Vince McMahon stated that there would be no future mention of the Benoit double murder-suicide from WWE other than through his official statements. Even so, critics derided WWE for airing a memorial tribute before the full details had been revealed.

WWE HD

World Wrestling Entertainment began broadcasting in high-definition video (trademarked WWE-HD) in 2008, starting with its "Raw" show on 21 January, followed by "ECW on Sci Fi" the day after, then "Friday Night SmackDown" on January 25, with the 2008 Royal Rumble being the first wrestling pay-per-view event to be presented in HD. cite web|title=WWE Goes HD|url= http://corporate.wwe.com/news/2008/2008_01_14.jsp|publisher=WWE|accessdate=2008-01-15] [cite web|url=http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/wwehd|title='Redefining' television with WWE HD|accessdate=2008-01-24|publisher=WWE.com] [cite web|url=http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/hdtvwwe|title=WWE HD, Part II: Reinventing the wheel for WWE TV|accessdate=2008-01-24|publisher=WWE.com]

WWE Online

In 1997, Shane McMahon helped form WWE's digital media department and launched WWF.com (now known as " [http://www.wwe.com/ WWE.com] "), a site that receives more than seven million visitors a month.

On September 25 2006 WWE announced the creation of the [http://www.wwe.co.jp official Japanese WWE website] , and has stated that they may start a number of other official WWE websites in foreign languages in the future [http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/japanese] .

On November 17 2006, WWE.com reported that WWE officials and officials of DSE, the parent company of PRIDE Fighting Championships, had a meeting at WWE global headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. The meeting focused on the possibility of the two groups doing some form of business together in the future [http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/34401241] . But on March 27 2007, Nobuyuki Sakakibara, president of DSE, announced that Station Casinos Inc. magnate Lorenzo Fertitta, also one of the co-owners of Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, had made a deal to acquire all the assets of PRIDE FC from DSE after in a deal worth about USD$70 million, and therefore the deal between DSE and WWE has reportedly been called off [http://www.pridefc.com/pride2005/index.php?mainpage=news&news_id=1035] .

References

External links

* [http://www.wwe.com/ Official WWE website]
* [http://smackdown.wwe.com/ Official SmackDown! website]
* [http://raw.wwe.com/ Official RAW website]
* [http://www.ecw.com/ Official ECW website]
* [http://corporate.wwe.com/ Official WWE Corporate website]
* [http://www.wwe.co.jp/ Official Japanese WWE website]
* [http://finance.yahoo.com/q?d=t&s=WWE WWE Stock]


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