Vince McMahon is in the middle of a corporate firestorm, but he still opened the company’s wrestling telecast “Smackdown” on Friday.
“Mr. McMahon,” the executive’s in-ring persona, kept things short.
“It’s a privilege as always to stand before you here tonight,” McMahon said to the crowd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
McMahon told the audience that he was there to simply remind the crowd of the four words that make up the “WWE signature.”
“Those four words are ‘then,’ ‘now,’ ‘forever,’ and the most important word is ‘together,’” he said. “Welcome to Smackdown!”
McMahon then left the ring as his theme song, “No Chance in Hell,” played.
The longtime chief of the wrestling company is being investigated by the company’s board for agreeing to pay a secret $3 million settlement to a former employee he allegedly had an affair with, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
On Friday morning, the company announced that McMahon has agreed to step away from his role as chairman and CEO while the investigation is ongoing.
His daughter Stephanie McMahon will serve as interim CEO and chairwoman, the company said in a statement on Friday.
As for McMahon’s in-ring persona, he won’t be going anywhere for now. McMahon will retain his role regarding WWE’s creative content and will appear as his character during matches as the investigation plays out.
The separation agreement was reportedly made in January between McMahon and the former unnamed employee. It prevented the employee, who was hired as a paralegal, “from discussing her relationship with Mr. McMahon or disparaging him,” according to the Journal.
The investigation, which began in April, has “unearthed other, older nondisclosure agreements involving claims by former female WWE employees of misconduct by Mr. McMahon,” the Journal said. Other misconduct claims were reportedly found against John Laurinaitis, the company’s head of talent relations.
“I have pledged my complete cooperation to the investigation by the special committee, and I will do everything possible to support the investigation,” McMahon said in a statement Friday. “I have also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they are.”
McMahon added in the statement that he loves the WWE and is “committed to working with the Independent Directors to strengthen our culture.”
“It is extremely important to me that we have a safe and collaborative workplace,” he said. “I have committed to doing everything in my power to help the Special Committee complete its work, including marshaling the cooperation of the entire company to assist in the completion of the investigation and to implement its findings.”
As Friday’s appearance on “Smackdown” shows, McMahon has been an integral part of the WWE for decades, both as an executive and as a wrestler himself.
He turned the company into a global media powerhouse, which currently has major broadcasting and streaming deals with Fox and NBCUniversal. McMahon has also helped to create many famous wrestlers, including The Rock, John Cena and Stone Cold Steve Austin, all of whom have crossed over into pop culture.
— CNN Business’ Jordan Valinsky contributed to this report.