World Wrestling Entertainment

Q&A: WWE's Stephanie McMahon

August 21, 2020

By Charlotte Wilder

Stephanie McMahon has not only seen it all, but she's done it all.

And this week, the WWE's chief brand officer sat down with Charlotte Wilder to discuss everything from her time as a WWE Superstar to the future of women in professional wrestling.

CHARLOTTE: I think the last time I saw you was at Gronk’s beach party in Miami.

STEPHANIE: Oh, yes! Did I go to that?

C: Oh, you did. Can you believe that was this year? That was 2020.

S: I know, that’s crazy. I mean so much has happened to say the least. But Gronk was a part of WrestleMania, and he did become the 24/7 Champion.

C: He’s a two-sport champion now. People forget that.

S: They do, they do, and they shouldn’t. It’s very important.

McMahon on The ThunderDome

C: So, there was some big news out of WWE this week. The ThunderDome is debuting on SmackDown. How is that going to enhance your experience. What is going to be different about this?

S: So many things are going to be different. Not only are we now going back to arena setting ... but now we are going to the Amway Center, which is where we have our residency. It allows us the opportunity to have state of the art production with pyro, with drones ... And we’re going to have 1,000 people. We’re going to mix the audio, so we will have audio from the fans that are virtual and also mix in some crowd audio from previous events because we want it to feel as alive as possible and really we’re just getting back to the spectacle that is WWE.

McMahon on virtual fans

C: That is going to be so exciting. How do you think the Superstars are going feel after performing in front of none, virtual or real?

S: From the Superstar perspective, I think it’s going to help. My hats go off to our talent and the fact that they’ve been performing without that live interaction. I mean, our fans are part of our show. They are our secret sauce. And we have really been missing them, so it’s exciting to get them back. I think that it’ll definitely provide that real time feedback that our Superstars need or crave, I should say, when they are in the ring. And then I think for the audience it is obviously a very different way to be involved, but they are such a part of our show. We need them.

McMahon on her WrestleMania experience

C: That is so exciting. Well, speaking of Superstars, you’re a Superstar in your own right, and we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of your match against Lita. It was historic. You main evented Raw for the first time for the Women’s Championship, and I was wondering, when was the last time you watched that match?

S: A few years ago I think I watched it. When I watched it back, I realized just how poor of a Superstar I actually am in terms of my athletic capabilities in the ring, But, what an incredible privilege that was, to main event Raw with Lita – with Rock as a special guest referee. And the Hardy Boys were in Lita’s corner and Kurt Angle and Triple H, I think, wound up coming out in my corner. And let’s just say, the Rock really cheated. I shouldn’t have lost. You can watch it. You can watch it back. He cheated. And Lita won the title from me. But, it was a farce to say the least.

Stephanie McMahon re-watches highlights of her match vs Lita 20 years later

Stephanie McMahon joins Charlotte Wilder to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her Women's title match that headlined Raw against Lita.

McMahon on match training

C: What was the training like for that for you?

S: It’s funny, I’ve been in training for quite a long time since I became a character, much to the chagrin of my brother who never wanted me anywhere near the ring. But, I realized as a character on the show, I played the bad guy, right? And ultimately, I was going to need to know how to do some things in the ring. So, I had started training a few years before – just really learning the basics, and we actually had to put that match together because I’m not a trained professional wrestler. And we really had to choregraph that match pretty tightly. And we did, and it was very involved, but it was so much fun.

C: It looked great. I mean you guys certainly nailed it. Did you feel good afterwards? You were like wow, "We really executed on that?"

S: I did. I felt great, but there were moments where maybe I didn’t execute as well as I would have wanted to. But at the end of the day, it was fun. And it was a great story, and it did big ratings, and it really helped position Lita as the Women’s Champ, which was what it was designed to do.

McMahon on the role of women in WWE

C: Totally, that’s so great. Now, in terms of women in the company from the time of your match against Lita, from Lita’s ascension, to essentially having Sasha and Bayley be the face of the company – I think you could say right now – how have you seen the women’s role in the sport evolve over the past 20 years?

S: It’s evolved tremendously. I think women have gone from being nice to have to being needed. The whole women’s evolution that’s happened in our business, when you think about even the way we started recruiting and training athletes; we started – and I should say my husband, Triple H, because he’s in charge of the development –recruitment and training of our Superstars, and he started recruiting elite female as well as male athletes and training the women the same as the men – giving them the same match time, the same opportunity, the same number of reps. And like anything else, the more reps you have, the better you’re going to be. And these women just really stole the show and rose to the occasion. The audience started chanting, "this is wrestling" and "women’s wrestling."

And then you fast forward to Monday Night Raw, it was in February 2015, and there was at the time a Diva’s tag match – so four women that lasted all of 30 seconds, and our fans had had enough. And they started a hashtag called "#GiveDivasAChance" that trended worldwide for three days, specifically asking for longer matches, more athleticism, better storylines, better character development. And we responded in the biggest way we possibly could with our chairman and CEO, also my father, Vince McMahon, and he said, "We hear you, keep watching #GiveDivasAChance." Then, at WrestleMania, which is akin to our Super Bowl, our biggest WrestleMania yet, over 101,000 people at AT&T stadium. We had Lita, who is now a Hall of Famer, go out and introduce the rebranding of the Divas division to the Women’s division. She unveiled a new championship belt more akin to the men’s and announced that our women would now be called Superstars, same as the men.

And from there we had the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble, the first ever women’s match at Hell in a Cell, the first ever all-women’s pay-per-view, Evolution, which by the way, trended No. 1 worldwide for over 2.5 hours during the last game of the World Series, and Sunday Night Football. So that’s a powerful statistic in and of itself. Then our women headlined WrestleMania from MetLife stadium – over 80,000 people, broke the gross revenue record for an entertainment show. And we had our first ever women’s match in Abu Dhabi, which took us six years to actually be able to do. And during that match, there was a chant of men and women chanting "This is hope." And that’s not a typical WWE chant, "This is hope." It was really powerful. And the women in the ring, it was Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks, talked about seeing tears in the eyes of little girls in the front. And that’s what the power of people can be and the impact of change that you can have. 

McMahon on WWE Evolution

C: That’s amazing. Yeah, it’s been so fun to watch the women just sort of shoot up into the stratosphere. You mentioned Evolution, and FOX re-aired the matches, and I was in a watch party with some of the Superstars, and I talked to Charlotte and Alexa Bliss afterwards and they were saying that it was so moving. And especially when everyone took a picture together at the end of the night. Everyone kept bringing that up, and I wondered what that night was like for you?

S: Oh god, I’m so proud of that night. Actually, I have goosebumps – I’m sure you can see with just you talking about it and talking about our female star’s reactions and what they felt. That day, even just walking around the building, there was something so special in the air. Whether it was the security guards, the people working backstage, the janitorial staff, our superstars, makeup artists, executives – whoever it was backstage, it was like they knew this was something different. And they knew they were a part of history, and they were all in support of it. I’ve never seen the makeup room quite so expansive. I mean we had like 20 makeup artists. It was crazy. But it was a very powerful night, and female athletes and celebrities showed up from all across the U.S. They were there to support this movement, and they were there to support one another. And it was very powerful. And I’m just so proud of it. And the women killed it. The show was incredible. The matches were off the charts. I mean it overdelivered in absolutely every way. I’m just, proud is the word.

Stephanie McMahon on Evolution PPV: 'That day there was just something so special in the air'

Stephanie McMahon talks to Charlotte Wilder about her memories of the historic first ever all-women's PPV - 'Evolution'.

McMahon on balancing two roles

C: That’s so cool. I’d never seen it before, I’m fairly new to wrestling fandom – ah sorry, WWE fandom. And I was just blown away. It was really cool talking to the Superstars about what a huge deal that was for them. Now for you, you’re an executive, you have been in ring though, as we saw earlier, and I believe it was WrestleMania 36? It was one of the first times I ever really watched a match. And what does it take to sort of bounce back between the two roles?

S: Well, it’s just something I’ve sort of kind of always done and kind of always seen my father do, my brother do, my husband do. So, it just goes with the territory. But everyone in WWE wears so many hats, especially our Superstars. When you consider the fact that they are brands in and of themselves. They are constantly representing themselves on social media through various platforms. They are performers. They do cameos. They do public appearances. They walk red carpets. They do movies, televisions shows. Then they are out representing brands and partners and doing meet and greets and signings. I think, it goes with the territory. When you are a WWE Superstar, it covers the gamut. It really does. It takes a special person to be a WWE Superstar.

C: Yeah, the amount of energy and command of a crowd has just blown me away and the psychology that goes into selling a story while you’re doing things that most people would break bones doing is very impressive.

S: That is why I do not belong in the ring.

C: Listen, I feel you, I would last one nano-second.

McMahon on the best part of the bob

C: So, what for you right now is the most fulfilling aspect of your role?

S: It’s just a privilege to be able to represent WWE – to be a part of helping grow our business around the world. But most importantly, it’s our mission to put smiles on people’s faces and for me, it’s our work that we do in the community. I mean, of course building and growing our brand is hugely important, especially as a business. But what I love the most is when I get to hug a little kid who is having a really hard time or go visit children who are sick in the hospital. Or just bring a smile to someone’s face who is having a tough time, because that is what we get to do every day. And one of my big goals actually is to help bring what that feels like to the rest of our employees, because without them, this whole machine doesn’t happen. Every single person, whether it’s production staff, truck drivers on the road, someone working behind a computer in a cubicle, accounting, finance – the less glitzy roles. It takes everybody to make this happen, and I want them to somehow feel what we get to feel from these kids and these people because that’s what WWE is all about.

C: That’s got to be great, too, for the ThunderDome, for getting to bring people back in.

S: Bring our people back in, yes!

McMahon on the upcoming SummerSlam

C: So speaking of the ThunderDome, SummerSlam is coming up. What are the matches you’re most excited for?

S: Well, of course, Asuka, in both Women’s Championship matches. I mean Asuka could win all the gold. We could see that – you never know what is going to happen. And especially Sasha and Bayley, they’ve been misbehaving a little bit, so I’m anxious for them to be put in their place. And of course, The Fiend vs. Braun Strowman. That is going to be a good one. There’s just so many. All of the matches I’m looking forward to.

C: I love it. I talked to Bray yesterday, and he was very excited for The Fiend’s match.

S: I heard about that.

McMahon on her favorite storylines

C: Do you have any storylines you particularly love in WWE right now? Or is that like choosing a favorite kid? Can you not do that?

S: Well, I’m not going to choose a favorite child or Superstar for sure, but right now I think one of the most intriguing storylines is The Fiend and Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss. Like, where exactly does Alexa fit into all of this? As soon as you put a woman into the equation, things become a lot more interesting.

C: I’ve always said that. Can you give us any hints? Or are we just going to have to find out?

S: Of course you’re going to have to find out.

C: I figured.

S: I don’t know anything.

Which SummerSlam storyline is Stephanie McMahon most intrigued by?

Stephanie McMahon talks with Charlotte Wilder about SumerSlam 2020; which match she's most looking forward to and which storyline she's most invested in.

McMahon on the next steps for women in WWE

C: So what is next for women in WWE to accomplish that hasn’t been done yet?

S: Well, a few things. I think, for me personally, I don’t want it to be a big deal anymore when our women are the main event. I think that they just should be equally alongside the men. And I think there needs to be parity on the roster. I’d love to see an equal number of men and women equally represented. Of course, at times that would ebb and flow, but I think that would be very important. And just more storylines, more women, more storylines. I think that we’ve done a good job – I really do – but I think we can do even better.

Stephanie McMahon on what more she hopes to see women accomplish in WWE

Stephanie McMahon joins Charlotte Wilder and discusses what further heights she hopes the women of the WWE can achieve from here.

C: That’s great. Now, I have to ask, is there any chance we can see another Evolution?

S: I hope so. I’m trying.

C: Great. Same. Tell them Charlotte Wilder wants it, and they’ll be like, "Oh for sure. Done."

S: Yes! Start another hashtag.

C: There we go! Well, thank you so much for your time, Steph. I know you’re very busy, and I really appreciate it.

S: No, this was great. Thank you for your time. I can’t wait to meet you in person and get you to another show.

C: I love it. Maybe at another Gronk beach party. Who knows?

S: Oh yes. Of course, we can start there, and then go to the show.

C: Let’s do it, let’s do it. Take care.

S: Thank you. You too.

You can watch the full interview here:

Stephanie McMahon: 20th anniversary of title match, Future of Women's Evolution | Charlotte Wilder (Exclusive 1-on-1)

Stephanie McMahon joined Charlotte Wilder to discuss her memorable title match with Lita in 2000 to main event RAW, the turning point of the Women's Evolution, and what she hopes the women of the WWE can accomplish next.

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