MLW sues WWE for allegedly interfering in deals with Tubi and others

MLW is suing WWE.

Among other allegations, the suit filed Tuesday claims WWE pressured Fox-owned streaming service Tubi in August to terminate a media distribution deal with MLW the day before it was to be announced.

Major League Wrestling, which is led by CEO Court Bauer, also claims in the anti-trust suit that WWE interfered with MLW’s dealings with cable network VICE, as well as pay-per-view streamer FITE.


MLW and Tubi agreed to a distribution deal on July 22, 2021, the complaint states, and MLW content was set to debut on the free ad-supported platform on September 11.

The parties are said to have planned to announce the deal on August 10. However, sometime around August 9, WWE’s chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon allegedly met with Tubi executives. The suit implies MLW content was scheduled for a Tuesday night time slot on Tubi, which would mean it would air head-to-head with WWE’s NXT program on the USA Network.

WWE would conceivably view a competitor working with a Fox-owned property as a conflict of interest because Fox airs Smackdown, WWE’s most-watched program.

Tubi has actually aired other wrestling content from lesser-known wrestling brands, but none with the profile or media distribution ambitions of MLW.

Allegedly, Stephanie McMahon pressured Tubi and other Fox executives to not allow MLW to air in direct competition to NXT. Ultimately, though, Stephanie is said to have pushed Tubi to end the deal with MLW altogether.

“On August 9, 2021 — the night before a planned press release about the Tubi-MLW deal — as a result of WWE’s pressure and interference,” the complaint reads, “MLW received a letter purporting to terminate the License Agreement.”


WWE CEO Vince McMahon was allegedly behind interference in MLW’s relationship with VICE.

When WWE learned about the business relationship between MLW and VICE, which began in May, then-head of WWE Studios Susan Levison is said to have contacted a VICE executive, saying Vince was “pissed” about VICE putting MLW content on the network. The complaint states “Levison warned a VICE executive to stop airing MLW programs.”

Replays of MLW’s weekly program Fusion aired on VICE for several weeks in May. MLW’s one-hour “Fightland” special later aired on the network on October 7.

The unnamed VICE executive allegedly told Levison, “I think that this is illegal what you’re doing” and that WWE’s action might violate antitrust laws. Levison is supposed to have responded, saying she “could not control [Vince] McMahon.”

Levison left WWE late in May when dozens of employees were laid off as the Studios, Advanced Media Group, and Television departments were consolidated under executive producer Kevin Dunn.

WWE’s relationship with A&E is pointed to as a source of Vince’s leverage over VICE. A&E owns a 20% stake in the VICE network, and, according to the complaint, a majority of VICE’s production operations.

WWE and A&E partnered for a series of biographies on WWE personalities that aired on A&E in 2021.

VICE’s “Dark Side of the Ring” series also “focuses on WWE storylines and include[s] input from individuals associated with WWE,” the suit notes.

MLW blames WWE for the VICE relationship not lasting beyond the October 7 special.

“WWE’s interference resulted in VICE withdrawing from negotiations over airing new MLW content and in VICE airing only a single MLW program,” the filing states.

The Fightland special’s viewership measured at 40,000 viewers (including 16,000 in the 18 to 49 age demographic) in a 10 pm Thursday time slot following an episode of Dark Side of the Ring. The same time slot over the previous four weeks averaged 63,000 viewers (29,000 in 18 to 49), Wrestlenomics reported at the time.


Even a deal with FITE is alleged to have been interrupted by WWE. The distributor of various live pay-per-view events approached MLW about a deal to distribute events, but later abandoned negotiations. MLW points out WWE’s then-senior vice president of strategy and operations, Gregg Bernard, was also working as executive advisor of corporate development for FITE. That, as well as FITE’s previous distribution of WWE content, “further illustrates WWE’s dominance and unfair competition in the market.”

Bernard left WWE in June 2021, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Comments from Court Bauer and WWE

MLW distributed a press release Tuesday night that included comments from founder and CEO Court Bauer.

“WWE has been wrongfully depriving its competitors of critical opportunities for many years, but its latest conduct has been even more unconscionable,” said MLW CEO Court Bauer.  “I think we speak for the rest of the professional wrestling world when we say that this anti-competitive behavior has to stop.”

WWE also commented Tuesday night.

“WWE believes these claims have no merit and intends to vigorously defend itself against them.”

Additional claims of damage

MLW claims it took on many expenses in anticipation of the Tubi deal before it was terminated. Among those, the planning of the September 11 event at the NYTEx Sports Centre in the Dallas area, that was later canceled; hiring of various staff and additional wrestlers, and increased salaries.

Because it expected to begin working with Tubi, MLW says it “ceased all talks with other potential partners in mid-July 2021”.

It seems this means MLW potentially missed out on alternative business opportunities, but portions of the complaint are redacted. MLW cites protecting “confidential information reflecting the sensitive terms of an agreement between MLW and a non-party to this action” as reason for the redaction.

When the Tubi deal ended before it began, MLW claims its ticket sales dropped 40% “within weeks” and that MLW’s value as a company suffered.

MLW claims WWE tried to “poach” MLW talent, airing footage of an unnamed wrestler without MLW’s consent. WWE is also alleged to have tried to get MLW wrestlers to reveal proprietary information about MLW’s business.

“As a result of WWE’s wanton misconduct,” the complaint states, “MLW has suffered and will suffer monetary damages and irreparable harm, resulting from, among other things, continued loss of brand recognition and valuable talent, posing a serious risk that its business will be destroyed.”

A dollar amount MLW is seeking isn’t specified. Rather, MLW seeks “an amount to be calculated at trial” in addition to a declaration that WWE’s actions violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. MLW also seeks attorneys’ fees, among other expenses.

With Tubi headquartered in San Francisco, the case is filed with the U.S. District Court of Northern California.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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