SUCCESSOR LIABILITY AS TO ECW AND WCW
(Against WWE, on Behalf of the Particularly Named Plaintiffs)
- Plaintiff incorporates by reference each and every prior and subsequent allegation as though fully set forth herein.
- Extreme Championship Wrestling (“ECW”), a professional wrestling promotion engaged in the business of wrestling entertainment, was owned and operated by Paul Heyman until it filed for bankruptcy in April, 2001. On or around early 2003, WWE (then WWFE, Inc.) finalized the purchase of ECW. However, WWE had been using ECW’s name, performers, and music since 2001, and even filed for the ECW trademark on July 13, 2001. After ECW’s bankruptcy proceedings ended in 2003, WWE had acquired any and all remainder of ECW’s business operations, including its extensive video library.
- World Championship Wrestling (“WCW”), a professional wrestling promotion engaged in the business of wrestling entertainment, was owned and operated by AOL Time Warner until on or around March, 2001 when WWE (then WWFE, Inc.) purchased WCW. Linda McMahon commented on the acquisition of WCW’s name, extensive video library, and other property rights as “the perfect creative and business catalyst for our company”. See Id. WCW, Inc. is now a Delaware subsidiary of WWE. See WWE’s SEC Filings, List of Subsidiaries, available at https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1091907/000120677408000468/exhibit21-1.htm.
- Prior to WWE’s purchases, ECW and WCW each maintained separate and distinct wrestling promotions with their own titles, belts, and performers. Each promotion had exclusivity contracts with performers, which required buy-outs for intra-promotional performances. Both ECW and WCW were wrestling organizations that directly competed with WWE until WWE’s total acquisition of the companies.
- Both ECW and WCW were known for their violent performances, including dramatizing brutal head trauma. See the following example of WWE’s ECW produced merchandise:
From left to right, respectively: “ECW One Night Stand”, produced by WWE and available for purchase at WWEshop.com; “The Rise & Fall of ECW”, WWE produced and available for purchase at WWEshop.com; “Blood Sport ECW: The Most Violent Matches”, WWE produced and available for purchase at WWEshop.com.
- The Plaintiffs who wrestled for ECW sustained repeated head trauma while performing for ECW and are suffering from, and are at further risk of, long-term, latent, occupational injuries such as CTE.
- The Plaintiffs who wrestled for WCW sustained repeated head trauma while performing for WCW and are suffering from, and are at further risk of, long-term, latent, occupational injuries such as CTE.
- Upon respective acquisition, both WCW and ECW’s normal business operations ceased and WWE assumed the liabilities and obligations of WCW and ECW that is ordinarily necessary for the uninterrupted continuation of normal business operations of WCW and ECW. WWE had acquired both ECW and WCW’s names, royalties, and normal business operations.
- On March 23, 2001, Vince McMahon addressed both WWF and WCW fans and wrestlers about the acquisition of WCW, noting a special simulcast on both WWE’s Raw and WCW’s Nitro programs later in that event where Vince McMahon would discuss the total acquisition of WCW. The same night it was fictionally announced that Shane McMahon had bought WCW. See King, Adam, “WWF Raw Is War 3.26.2001”, The King’s Wrestling Recaps, https://kingsrecaps.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/wwf-raw-is-war-3-26-2001/ (March, 19, 2012). Evidencing the complete and seamless merging of the two wrestling entities with WWE, Jim Ross and Paul Heyman, the founder of ECW and now WWE employee, discussed WWE’s successful acquisition of WCW. “The creation of a new WCW was forming in WWE”. See “Big Bang: The untold story of the WCW pay-per-view that almost never happened”, WWE Network, WWE.com, http://www.wwe.com/article/big-bang-untold-story-wcw-pay-view-almost-happened, last visited November 6, 2016; see also screenshot below:
Night of Merger: Last Regular WCW Show Features Simultaneously broadcast WWE Raw and WCW Nitro with Vince McMahon and Shane McMahon announcing their control and ownership. March 26, 2001.
- WCW’s particular business of professional wrestling was uniquely maintained after WWE’s acquisition, and upon information and belief, its corporate model was mostly left intact, even maintaining a continuity of ownership by carrying over high level management such as WCW’s former president Eric Bischoff, WCW’s Vice President of Talent John Laurinaitis, Arn Anderson as producer, Diana Myers from the legal department, Aaron Blitzstein in marketing, Rob Garner in advertising, and Steve Barrett in production. “The Sale of WCW to WWE”, Wrestling-Online.com. WCW’s operation and structure maintained its departments, including production and creative. WWE further maintained continuity of ownership with WCW by keeping a certain amount of Shane McMahon’s ownership interest in WCW after the acquisition. Eric Bischoff, the former head of WCW and creative force behind the Monday night wars between WWE and WCW was hired by WWE to continue the storyline tension between the two brands. WWE bought around 25 WCW wrestler contracts immediately as part of the purchase to aid in the continuation of this tension between WCW and WWE as they performed under the WCW brand.
- ECW’s particular business of professional wrestling was uniquely maintained after WWE’s acquisition, and upon information and belief, its corporate model was mostly left intact, even maintaining a continuity of ownership by carrying over high level management such Paul Heyman, and the ring-announcer Joey Styles. Notably, ECW wrestlers Rob Van Dam and Tommy Dreamer performed for WWE as early as July 2001. WWE maintained continuity of ownership with ECW by fictionally announcing that Stephanie McMahon’s bought an ownership interest in ECW after the acquisition. Paul Heyman, the founder of ECW, was hired by WWE on March 5, 2001 indicating ECW’s acquisition by WWE on Monday Night Raw. Paul Heyman continued to work for WWE, including as head-writer for WWE’s Smackdown! from 2002-03 and WWE’s developmental program OVW from 2005-06. Mr. Heyman was also directly involved with ECW’s brand relaunch in 2005 and 2006. Mr. Heyman left WWE in 2006, but returned in 2012 and currently performs for WWE. Further, ECW’s ring-announcer Joey Styles was hired by WWE and would ultimately become the lead commentator for WWE’s ECW on Sci-Fi from 2006-08.
- Although WWE began utilizing the WCW and ECW brands as early as March and April, 2001, by July, 2001 both the ECW and WCW names and wrestlers had been integrated into WWE wrestling entertainment performances and storylines, with both brands joining together on the July 9, 2001 Monday Night Raw, forming “The Alliance” against WWE. On July 22, 2001, WWE produced a Pay-Per-View event titled “Invasion” where all three brands were pitted against each other. This storyline extended until November 2001.
- The general business operations of WCW, ECW and WWE are the same. WWE intended to incorporate WCW and ECW into WWE’s business with as much continuity of structure and operation as possible. This included a continuity of key personnel such as WCW and ECW executives and performers.
- After 2001, the WWE continued to use the logo of both ECW and WCW to brand its televised matches, DVDs, T-shirts, wrestlers and numerous products, including the following examples:
- The below cover of WWE’s DVD Production published on July 22, 2001, which included both ECW and WCW brands prominently displayed alongside the WWF brand:
- The below WWE official merchandise, prominently labeled Extreme Championship Wrestling, ECW, of Balls Mahoney, of which the Estate is a Named Plaintiff:
- The below DVDs produced by WWE where WCW is prominently displayed:
- The below comparison of an original ECW Merchandise Catalog (1997) (left), and WWE’s August 29, 2005 ECW Magazine (right):
- After acquisition, WWE continued to brand programs and Pay-Per-View shows as WCW events. The WWE held WCW title matches featuring WCW wrestlers competing for WCW title belts. For example, in the July 2, 2001 Raw, the last 20 minutes were dedicated to WCW, with WCW-themed graphics, ring design, referee and announcers. In the show, Booker T defended his WCW World title versus Buff Bagwell. WWE continued to produce WCW events, programs, and media, through which WWE profited.
- WWE continued to brand programs and Pay-Per-View shows as ECW events. For example, the WWE’s documentary “The Rise and Fall of the ECW” published in 2004 was the second highest selling DVD in WWE history. In 2005, WWE held a Pay-Per-View event titled “ECW One Night Stand” and featured the Named Plaintiffs Terry Brunk, aka Sabu, Jon Rechner, aka Balls Mahoney, and Brian Knighton, aka Axl Rotten. In 2006, WWE aired a 191-episode series titled ECW on Sci-Fi which aired from June 13, 2006 until February 16, 2010. Other ECW Pay-Per-View events, programs, and media were produced by WWE, through which WWE profited.
- WWE continues to use the ECW and WCW brands for wrestling entertainment, including wrestling matches, media, and products. WWE has utilized the logos and tape libraries of the WCW and ECW before and after its purchases of their assets which continue to the present. This includes WCW and ECW clothing, videos, books, video games, DVDs, action figures, title belts, and many other forms of merchandise. WWE Network still airs many WCW and ECW original shows and newer documentaries.
- WWE held itself out to the world as the effective continuation of WCW and ECW, merging the two companies into profitable WWE brands and integrating the wrestlers into WWE storylines and performances. Through its actions, WWE assumed the liabilities necessary for the uninterrupted continuation of the businesses of ECW and WCW, such as their obligations under ordinary vendor and utility contracts.
- There was a continuity of management, personnel, physical location, assets, and general business operation between WCW, ECW, and WWE, in that WWE hired many of the top managers and talent professionals in WCW and ECW; WWE hired many of the wrestlers from the acquired organizations; WWE took over the assets of WCW and ECW, such as videos and other promotional items and used such items for its own profit; and the general business operation of the acquired entities, namely professional wrestling entertainment, was continued and maintained by WWE.
- As a result of WCW and ECW’s continuity of enterprise with WWE, ECW, WCW, and WWE are jointly and severally liable to the Plaintiffs as a successor in interest.
- As a result of the above mentioned facts, WWE is individually liable to the Plaintiffs under the doctrine of de facto merger for the obligations of WCW and ECW.
 On Friday March 23, 2001, WWF.com and WCW.com both posted the same press release stating that WWE had acquired WCW. See “The Sale of WCW to WWE”, Wrestling-Online.com, Timeline from January 11, 2001 to May 29, 2001, available at http://www.wrestling-online.com/timeline/the-sale-of-wcw-to-wwe/, last visited November 6, 2016.
 The WCW owned by AOL Time Warner subsequently changed its name to Universal Wrestling Corporation and ceased operating as a professional wrestling entertainment entity, existing solely to oversee existing contractual obligations and legal disputes.