During an episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver slams WWE for how it treats its wrestlers, and takes WWE boss Vince McMahon to task. Ever since buying its two leading competitors - WCW and ECW - in 2001, WWE has been the 800-pound gorilla at the center of the professional wrestling industry. Ever since buying the then-WWWF from his father in the early 1980s, McMahon has been - for better or worse - the owner, lead executive decision maker, and creative head of the company. McMahon has final say on anything and everything to do with WWE, so it would be accurate to say the buck stops with him.
While it's unlikely that WWE will return to the heights of the "Attitude Era" anytime soon - a time headlined by such giants as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock - McMahon's company is still earning money hand over fist, thanks to things like lucrative TV rights deals with USA and FOX, controversial but highly profitable live events in Saudi Arabia, and the immensely successful WWE Network streaming service.
WWE is currently heading toward its biggest annual show of the year, WrestleMania, which will take place at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium. That fact clearly played into Last Week Tonight host John Oliver's decision to dedicate much of Sunday night's episode to WWE. Oliver criticized the company for many things, including its virtual monopoly over wrestling, its questionable business practices, and McMahon's history of doing regrettable things on TV as "Mr. McMahon." His biggest target though was WWE's treatment of its wrestlers, which it classifies as "independent contractors" instead of employees. Watch Oliver's WWE segment below.
Since Oliver's WWE takedown aired last night, the segment has been receiving lots of mainstream coverage, and also been responded to by several former WWE wrestlers and on-air personalities. As one might expect, WWE isn't taking kindly to Oliver's myriad criticisms, releasing the following statement to THR:
John Oliver is clearly a clever and humorous entertainer, however, the subject matter covered in his WWE segment is no laughing matter. Prior to airing, WWE responded to his producers refuting every point in his one-sided presentation. John Oliver simply ignored the facts. The health and wellness of our performers is the single most important aspect of our business, and we have a comprehensive, longstanding Talent Wellness program. We invite John Oliver to attend WrestleMania this Sunday to learn more about our company.
Considering the harsh nature of much of Oliver's WWE comments, it seems unlikely that he'll take them up on their invitation to attend WrestleMania, and "learn more about our company." That said, if he decided to, he wouldn't have to travel far, as Last Week Tonight is based in New York City. It'll be interesting to see if any WWE fans do as Oliver suggested, and try to start chants or wave signs around suggesting that wrestlers be given health benefits and other considerations often not afforded to those classified as independent contractors. Wrestling fans as a group might not always bear the greatest reputation, but it can't be denied that they value the years of entertainment given to them by those who risk their health in the ring night after night.