For WWE, it’s seconds after a £7billion tee-off

It is famous for dramatic in-ring altercations watched by a devoted army of fans. But now there’s a heavyweight fight going on behind the scenes for the giant corporation World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Several US conglomerates as well as the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund are vying for control of the £5.5 billion manufacturing group.

And to make it even more intriguing, there’s a dispute between two generations of the McMahon family who controls the company – with commentators saying the situation resembles the power struggles on TV drama Succession more than the flamboyant antics of WWE wrestlers.

Thousands of UK retail investors will eagerly watch as City wealth manager Lindsell Train, popular with UK savers, is among the leading shareholders.

The London-based company owns a more than 17 per cent stake currently worth £551m and investors could be lining up for a lucrative payday.

Slapstick: Donald Trump on Vince McMahon in a'Billionaire Fight'

Slapstick: Donald Trump on Vince McMahon in a ‘Billionaire Fight’

WWE, which films and licenses professional wrestling matches to television networks around the world, has boosted the showbiz careers of stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena.

Those vying for ownership of the company reportedly include the Saudi Public Investment Fund, telecoms giant Liberty Global, which owns Virgin Media O2 in the UK, and Endeavor Group, which controls martial arts tournament Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Whoever triumphs will own a media monster which made £1.1bn in revenue and £230m in profits last year.

Professional wrestling is big business internationally and WWE is at the top of the pile with an estimated 36 million viewers in 180 countries.

The franchise is known for its offbeat theatrics, starring characters like The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Macho Man Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan.

But last year, a similarly dramatic saga unfolded in the WWE boardroom centered around its longtime boss and founder, Vince McMahon, a former wrestling commentator.

In February, a report emerged that he was targeting up to £7.3bn for the company – 33 per cent more than its current market value – and put his 40 per cent stake at around £2.9bn.

McMahon, 77, bought the company from his father 40 years ago before dominating the industry during a professional wrestling boom.

He even created his own on-screen persona, playing a villainous version of himself, often involving handling piles of cash, before strutting into the ring in a business suit, only to be beaten by his wrestling employees. A particularly sensational episode occurred in 2007 when McMahon faced Donald Trump in a staged feud dubbed the “Battle of the Billionaires.” It culminated in Trump shaving the head of the WWE boss.

McMahon suddenly retired last July after a spate of allegations that he paid about £9.7million in hush money to former WWE employees, which he denied. He was succeeded by his daughter Stephanie, 46, a former professional wrestler who debuted with WWE in 1999.

She is married to Paul Levesque – better known by his stage name Hunter Hearst Helmsley or “Triple H”.

He is also the company’s Chief Content Officer, responsible for WWE’s storylines and in-ring action.

Daddy's Girl: Stephanie McMahon, daughter of kingpin Vince, in her wrestling days

Daddy’s Girl: Stephanie McMahon, daughter of kingpin Vince, in her wrestling days

But things went haywire in January when Vince – who remains the majority shareholder of WWE – returned to the board in dramatic fashion in a coup in which he ousted several other members and replaced them with loyalists.

He was reinstated in his former role as Chairman of the Board.

Stephanie, long thought to be the heir to the throne, resigned shortly thereafter and left the company.

The comeback set the stage for frenzied speculation about the future of WWE. The company said it returned to conduct a “strategic review,” which many interpreted as possibly involving a sale.

Some industry experts think the huge sum McMahon is asking is too big for most buyers to swallow.

“I don’t think many buyers will be willing to pay £7.3 billion,” said Brandon Thurston, editor of the Wrestlenomics blog and podcast. “If that really is Vince’s asking price then only the Saudis come close.”

Thurston added that McMahon was unlikely to agree to a deal that would see him leave the company permanently.

McMahon also appears to have fixed fences with the company over its allegations of misconduct.

A file revealed he had paid the company £14.1million earlier this month to cover costs linked to an internal investigation into the matter.

With such staggering amounts at stake and the hearts of millions of wrestling fans, the war for WWE heads for a tense showdown before McMahon finally decides to back out.

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