The most powerful family in wrestling will always and forever be the McMahons.
World Wrestling Entertainment has come a long way from the days of Vince McMahon Sr. starting and running the company up until passing the reigns to the Vince McMahon wrestling fans learned to despise during the “Attitude Era.”
And one day the most powerful person in wrestling might be Stephanie McMahon — Vince McMahon's daughter. When Stephanie isn’t playing one half of “The Authority” on WWE programming alongside her husband Paul “Triple H” Levesque, she’s the chief brand officer for the company.
Stephanie recently chatted exclusively with Yahoo Sports about making her return to a WWE ring as a competitor following an 11-year layoff, the WWE’s policy on domestic violence and a rumor regarding the stars of “Total Divas.”
YS: You made your return to a WWE ring as a competitor at SummerSlam — and your first match as a mother. Did you have to sit down with your daughters ahead of time and did they watch the match?
SM: Yes on all counts. I brought my daughters actually to Staples Center to watch me live in the ring — to watch their mother compete in the ring. It was a very proud moment for me. I worked incredibly hard for it and I wanted them to be a part of that experience. They supported me in my training all along and it took a lot of extra time for me to really get into shape to be able to compete in the ring. It’s not as easy as it looks and it had been almost 11 years since I had actually wrestled. And yes, I did explain to my daughters, but I’ve been explaining all along because as you know, I’m married to Triple H, who in my opinion is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. And in order to watch their dad compete against the likes of Brock Lesnar or The Undertaker, I would always explain to them exactly what was happening in the ring, how we make things look like they hurt when they don’t, and the story that we’re telling. They’re involved and aware of what’s going to happen, but at the same time just like our fans who know the difference between storytelling and reality, they still allow themselves to get swept up in the story and have an awesome time. When I came back from the ring and I walked backstage, I ran into my children and my mother, who were all clapping and chanting, “You still got it.” It was something I will never forget.
YS: Your on-camera persona is so vastly different from the Stephanie McMahon in real life. Do you ever struggle with turning the switch on when the cameras are rolling?
SM: I just like to have fun. Being able to play the bad guy as my character is on TV as a member of The Authority and being probably one of the ultimate villains on the show. I love to play the bad guy. It’s just so much fun. And yes, it is a dramatic contrast to who I am in real life, but I like to have a lot of fun in real life too. Maybe it’s my alter ego coming out, I’m not sure, but I certainly do like to embrace the dark side on camera.
YS: We’ve seen professional leagues crack down on players accused of domestic abuse the last couple of months. What’s the WWE’s policy on domestic abuse and has the company addressed the superstars on this topic?
SM: We have a zero tolerance policy for domestic abuse. Upon arrest for such misconduct, our superstars are immediately suspended and should there be a conviction, that superstar or diva would be terminated.
YS: What’s the strategy behind the WWE Network rolling out video advertisements and what should subscribers expect in the coming months in terms of new content?
SM: The strategy is obviously a business decision to have limited advertising on the WWE Network. We want subscribers to know that there won’t be commercial breaks during scheduled programming, so your shows won’t be interrupted. It’s going to be very limited advertising in between the shows themselves. There will also be the occasional advertising before our video on demand content, but not before every video.
We are going to be rolling out more video on demand content from our library and we are excited for that. New shows, new programming, we have the announcements rolling out.
YS: Does the WWE Network plan on carrying WrestleMania 31?
SM: Absolutely. WrestleMania is part of the network offering. That’s the biggest value we could give our fans.
YS: We saw a shift in the wrestling industry when the No. 2 promotion, WCW, went out of business in 2001. Thirteen years later, the fate of another No. 2 promotion in TNA appears to be in limbo. Are you of the belief that a healthy competitor is good for the WWE’s bottom line?
SM: I think competition is always healthy, but what we look at as competition is everything out there —all entertainment and sports programming because we really are such a unique hybrid — there’s nothing like us in the world. Monday Night Football is a competitor to Monday Night Raw. Yes, I think competition is incredibly healthy, no matter where it comes from.
YS: You mentioned Monday Night Football — has the programming on Monday Night RAW shifted this year (ie: The Rock’s return earlier in the month) based on when halftime was taking place on Monday Night Football?
SM: We always try to be strategic in terms of having our best content on when we know the most fans are available to watch.
YS: Is there any truth to the report that the wrestlers on Total Divas aren’t allowed to win the Divas championship?
SM: Absolutely not. I honestly don’t even know how that rumor got started.
YS: Last I checked, one of the talents addressed it, so I wanted to check with you.
SM: There is no policy. I think it would be awesome to have one of the Total Divas as our champion. I think it would drive interest in the storyline. I would never say never.
YS: Renee Young has been a great addition to WWE. Do you think she will be the first “voice” of RAW or Smackdown at some point during her WWE career?
SM: Renee has become an incredible force in terms of being an announcer and yes, I certainly hope she will become the first female play-by-play announcer. I think she is absolutely capable and has the opportunity in front of her.
YS: NXT, the WWE’s developmental system, has flourished over the last 18 months, and has attracted several high profile independent wrestlers (KENTA, Prince Devitt, Kevin Steen). How much is the NXT brand and the performance center a selling point for attracting new talent?
SM: NXT and the performance center is crucial to the success of our company. When you look at the performance center itself, it has seven rings. It has a play-by-play announce booth. It has green screen rooms to develop your mic skills and their character and who your character is. It is the most comprehensive development center the WWE has ever had. And according to some insiders in the NFL, they say it’s on par or even better than some of the training centers in the NFL. It is the ultimate destination for anybody who wants to be in our business. NXT in our partnership with Full Sail University then allows these performers to develop their character in front of a live audience and really work in front of television cameras. That audience again is such a part of our show. They know they are helping to decide the future of the WWE. They let us know when characters work and don’t work, but they allow that change to happen. For example, Adam Rose went from a character that was based on being a great white hunter to evolving into Adam Rose. They started chanting “Adam Rose” the first night he came out and they had never done that before. I think anyone who wants to be involved in our business wants to be in NXT.
YS: How did the WWE’s relationship start with Susan G. Komen and how is year three of the campaign going so far?
SM: Our relationship with Susan G. Komen started about three years ago and it started as a result of John Cena. John actually had a family member who had cancer and because of early detection, his family member survived and stayed strong and moving forward. And because our fanbase is almost 40 percent female, we recognized the opportunity to partner on such an important cause like breast cancer awareness and we were able to partner with Susan G. Komen and help spread the message about early detection to an audience that may have never heard of it before.
YS: During the month of October, RAW has had a couple of celebrity guests hosts that might not jive with the WWE viewing audience. How do you walk the fine line of trying to attract new eyeballs but not turn off your male fans?
SM: Just going back for a second, in terms of guest stars … we recently had Hoda [Kotb] and Kathie Lee [Gifford] who were part of a segment with Adam Rose and we had Joan Lunden. Those guest stars in particular were part of Monday Night Raw because of the partnership with Susan G. Komen. Going back to your first question on how the campaign is going this year, it’s going very well. The name of the campaign is “Courage Conquer Cure.” We are doing our pink-out as we have done for the past three years where we turn the middle ring rope pink. We have the Susan G. Komen logo on our stage and announcers table. We have branded merchandise from Hulk Hogan to John Cena to the Bella Twins and that co-branded merchandise as well as all of WWE’s merchandise has a percentage that’s donated to Susan G. Komen. And on “Total Divas,” we are going to be featuring Susan G. Komen as well.
And in terms of how do we not turn off the male audience, it’s because breast cancer impacts everyone. Whether you’re a mother or father, or a husband or a son, or a niece or a nephew or uncle, breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. WWE reaches 13 million people in the United States alone every single week. We have a following of over 420 million social media followers and that grows literally every week. And to have the opportunity to support all of the people who are fighting this disease or who are supporting a loved one that is facing this disease or to support the survivors who truly are the warriors. It’s a tremendous opportunity and one that our audience really does get behind.