The multi million-dollar machine we know today as ”’World Wrestling Entertainment”’ had humble beginnings in the north east of the United States in 1963. It was formed to supersede the original Capitol Wrestling Corporation in protest against the decision of the National Wrestling Alliance to crown Lou Thesz as its champion over Buddy Rogers. The new promotion was known as World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). They had already establishing a strong following in New York, and the WWWF took advantage of the large Italian following of wrestling there and had Bruno Sammartino defeat Buddy Rogers in 47 seconds later in 1963. Sammartino became the cornerstone of the fed, lasting seven years as the WWWF champion, and serving the promotion as it’s main draw card for many years even beyond that.
For a time in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the WWWF was a member of the NWA. But at the insistence of incoming owner, Vince McMahon Junior, they broke away for a second time and changed their name to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). When Vince took full control from his father, Vince Senior, Vince proceeded to do something no one was prepared for – a nationwide expansion. Taking a lot of risks, and through sometimes questionable business tactics aimed at the main competition – and through a huge push of their champion, Hulk Hogan, Vince created an empire. He created the event that changed wrestling forever, Wrestlemania. He also created a product known openly as sports entertainment, giving the first mainstream recognition of the fictional nature of pro wrestling.
The WWF set the standard, and World Championship Wrestling tried to match it. Through questionable tactics of their own, WCW put the WWF under a lot of pressure. It didn’t help in the mid 1990’s when Vince McMahon Junior was brought to court on various charges concerning steroid provision and use. That case fell over thanks to some poor prosecution although it didn’t help the WWF. But November 1997 changed that. The Montreal Screw Job was a very public showing of the genuine discontent between Vince McMahon Junior and Bret Hart – the rumblings of which could still be felt more than a decade later, especially by the willing fall guy – Shawn Michaels.
That – plus the famed Austin v McMahon feud at the forefront of what is now known as the Attitude Era – saved the WWF from near extinction, and threw the pressure back onto WCW – who buckled and finally folded in March 2001.
In May 2002, the WWF gave in to a hostile court injunction by the World Wildlife Fund over the initials “WWF”, and changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). This petulant act wrecked a long established name and forced the company to virtually start from scratch with the new name.
In November 2005, WWE was rocked by the sudden death of Eddie Guerrero. This caused the company to make more serious efforts to control the general use of drugs within it’s organisation. However it did not prevent the actions of Chris Benoit in late June 2007, and the negative publicity caused WWE to introduce a Wellness Program and take stronger action. In November 2007 WWE started naming names as to who was suspended under the Wellness Program.
In another ground breaking move, WWE created the WWE Network as an online on demand service provider, going live in February 2014. The company has continued to make money even though it has more or less struggled in various ways since the name change in 2002 – but whether one likes it or not, it is still the market leader in professional wrestling. It has been able to continue to function in a limited manner during the COVID-19 pandemic.