WWE moves to dismiss MLW’s amended complaint of antitrust, provides copies of C&D letter and War Games agreement

WWE on Friday filed a motion to dismiss MLW’s amended complaint in the lawsuit between the companies that has been ongoing since January 2022.

MLW previously alleged WWE violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. MLW’s allegations include accusing WWE of interfering in MLW’s media deals with Tubi, VICE, and, most recently, Reelz.

In the motion filed Friday, WWE argued that MLW still “failed to allege antitrust claims for monopolization or attempted monopolization,” under the conditions defined by the law.

WWE’s lawyers wrote that MLW’s sale of media rights to Reelz, where MLW Underground currently airs on Tuesdays, undermines the latter’s allegations.

Additionally, WWE points to MLW’s purported admission in its complaint that AEW expanded its media rights deal with Warner Bros Discovery and that Women of Wrestling sold rights to CBS Media Ventures shows that producers of pro wrestling content other than WWE are able to thrive in the market.

WWE claims “MLW does not even attempt to define relevant markets for wrestlers or arenas,” in regard to MLW’s allegations that WWE has prevented competitors from gaining access to arenas and wrestling talent.

According to WWE, MLW hasn’t sufficiently argued that pro wrestling content can’t be substituted for any range of non-wrestling media content, stating:

In attempting to define professional wrestling as an antitrust market, MLW simply asserts that “professional wrestling presents scripted athletic performances featuring theatrical gimmicks and creative storylines… If true, networks and streaming services could easily consider American Ninja Warrior or Tchaikovski’s The Nutcracker as alternatives.

In the amended complaint, MLW described a market for pro wrestling media rights that is dominated by WWE because the market leader collects 92% of the revenue related to that market.

WWE responds, arguing that if it were to cease operations, other wrestling companies wouldn’t necessarily gain all the revenue that WWE once received.

“MLW needed to allege that WWE’s revenue from NBCUniversal and FOX would somehow be dispersed among rival wrestling promotions without regard for WWE’s superior quality or acumen,” lawyers for WWE argued.

News last month that Reelz will stream live on Peacock was followed by reporting that MLW Underground won’t air on Peacock’s stream of Reelz at 10 pm on Tuesdays because WWE has an exclusivity agreement with the NBCUniversal streaming service, requiring WWE to be the only pro wrestling content on the platform. That’s a subject MLW took issue with in its updated lawsuit.

WWE claims Reelz sought distribution through Peacock after Reelz made its agreement with MLW, and that MLW’s related claims don’t constitute anticompetitive conduct because MLW could still try to make deals with any other streaming platform like Amazon Prime, Roku, Pluto, Apple TV, or others.

WWE denied MLW’s claim that the former blacklists talent who work for MLW, writing:

MLW is well aware that this assertion is false. It alleges that WWE hired Davey Boy Smith Jr., who was previously contracted by MLW and who, after leaving WWE, began working again for MLW. In addition, WWE has hired numerous talents after they fulfilled their contractual obligations with MLW, including Matt Riddle and Kevin “Karrion Kross” Kesar.

WWE’s ownership of talent-related intellectual property was also raised in MLW’s complaint. In response, WWE cited the 1997 case between WWE and TBS, in which WWE (then-Titan Sports, Inc.) sued World Championship Wrestling’s parent company over the nature of the WCW debuts of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

“[A] federal district court has already ruled that WWE’s ownership interest in the characters delineated on its television product are as legitimate as DC’s ownership interest in Superman,” WWE’s lawyers from K&L Gates noted.

“At base, MLW is grousing that it cannot develop its own characters and would prefer to steal WWE’s copyrighted characters… Indeed, even during the course of this litigation, WWE has had to send MLW a cease and desist letter regarding its attempted theft of the ‘Enzo Amore’ character owned by WWE.”

WWE filed as an exhibit to the motion a copy of a cease and desist letter from K&L Gates to MLW, dated June 3, 2022. The letter demanded MLW stop using the Enzo Amore and nWo marks. Eric Arndt, known as Enzo Amore in WWE, performed more recently using the name Real1 in MLW. However, before using the name Real1, he used the name nZo, a name WWE points out sounds identical to “Enzo” when spoken.

WWE identified the nWo trademark as being allegedly violated because a design with the letters “nZo” in the style of the nWo logo was purportedly being merchandised.

According to wrestling database cagematch.net, the last match in which Arndt used the nZo name in MLW was on April 1, 2022. He began using the Real1 name on May 13, 2022. That timing precedes the letter by just under a month but it’s possible WWE and MLW had previous contact about the use of the nZo name.

The letter alludes to and includes a copy of a 2019 written agreement between WWE and MLW over the use of the War Games trademark. The June 2022 letter showed purported uses of the War Games trademark by MLW on YouTube. WWE claimed those uses were a breach of the parties’ earlier agreement, in which WWE and MLW agreed that MLW would be allowed the use of the War Games trademark in episode 22 of MLW Fusion but would not in the future use the trademark and would delete any uses that WWE notified MLW about. In exchange, MLW agreed, according to the contract, to abandon its trademark application related to the trademark that was previously underway.

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

This article is available for everyone because of support from our subscribers.


Support quality reporting on the wrestling business