Stephanie McMahon Makes On-Screen WWE Return To Open WrestleMania 40 Night 2

After resigning from her position of WWE co-CEO in January 2023, Stephanie McMahon sent the wrestling community into a whisper storm 15 months later when she appeared at the 2024 Hall of Fame ceremony. On Sunday, "The Billion Dollar Princess" found her way back to WWE in a more direct capacity, appearing in Philadelphia for WrestleMania 40 to open the show on its second and final night.


After taking to the microphone to greet the Philadelphia faithful, Stephanie acknowledged WrestleMania 40 as the first iteration of the event in the "Paul Levesque Era". After reminding the global, diverse audience of their common love for professional wrestling, she took a page out of her husband's book and repeated his iconic "Are you ready?" catchphrase to an excited WrestleMania crowd.

Growing up as a part of the McMahon family, Stephanie was present for the first WrestleMania at just eight years old, back in 1985. She's either been present or involved in almost every WrestleMania since, but did not appear at last year's WrestleMania 39 and has been largely absent from the conversation around the product in the year-plus since, despite being heavily tied to it going back to her on-screen debut in 1999. Her name finally came up again when it appeared in the high-profile Janel Grant lawsuit against her father and former CEO of WWE, Vince McMahon, and John Laurinaitis, as well as WWE itself. The lawsuit resulted in Vince himself stepping down from his positions in WWE and TKO Group Holdings, but his daughter is now back on camera.


Stephanie's return suggests a Vince-free era of WWE

The first time Vince McMahon publicly retired from WWE — following the initial Wall Street Journal reporting that ultimately precipitated the Grant lawsuit — he was back within six months, even reportedly influencing creative decisions from a distance. As a result, after this second resignation, there are some in the wrestling community that have expressed skepticism as to whether he's really gone. Stephanie's reappearance on WWE programming, however, heavily implies Vince's legitimate departure from WWE, given the father and daughter's corporate history with one another.


Stephanie and Vince are widely believed to have a strained professional relationship, since the gaps in Stephanie's involvement at WWE have coincided with reports of Vince's backstage politics for the past two years. Rumors of a soured relationship between them began in 2022, prior to Vince's first departure, when reports of Vince blaming Stephanie for poor ad revenue numbers during her reign as WWE's Chief Brand Officer came out amidst Stephanie's own initial departure from WWE. Stephanie announced she was taking a leave of absence in May 2022, but that ended up being short-lived, as she was thrust into the role as co-CEO and Chairwoman of WWE following her father's first retirement. Stephanie continued in the role of Chairwoman until January 2023, when she abruptly resigned from her executive role not even one week after Vince reportedly reinstated himself onto WWE's board of directors. The close proximity between her father's return and Stephanie's abrupt departure suggest a potential connection.


It should be noted that Stephanie has never officially cited her father as a motivator for either her short-lived 2022 break from WWE or her extended 2023 resignation. She has also never gone on record to speak about his involvement with her alleged "burial" following her sudden abdication of the Chief Brand Officer title. However, if the circumstantial evidence is true and there is legitimately a tense relationship between Stephanie and Vince, Stephanie's WrestleMania 40 return may imply that Vince is disconnected enough from WWE that Stephanie feels comfortable enough to be publicly associated with the company.

Stephanie christens this era as the Paul Levesque Era

More concrete evidence implying that Vince has truly been removed from WWE is Stephanie's proud proclamation that WrestleMania 40 was the first of the "Paul Levesque Era." Paul "Triple H" Levesque, Stephanie's husband, has been WWE's Head of Creative and Talent Relations since July 2022, eventually settling into the title of Chief Content Officer. While fans initially believed that Levesque had sole creative control over WWE , Vince's January 2023 comeback and subsequent creative interference muddied those waters significantly, even after Levesque retained his duties following the company's merger with UFC and the creation of TKO Group Holdings under Ari Emanuel. But Emanuel's ownership of WWE would prove to be Vince's undoing, as he blocked Vince from interfering in Levesque's creative and ultimately asked him to resign in the way of the Janel Grant lawsuit. Stephanie's christening of this era as the "Paul Levesque Era" — which was a theme throughout WrestleMania week — suggests that Levesque now has primary, if not full, ownership over WWE's storylines, and if Levesque has dominant control over WWE's storylines, it can be assumed that Vince does not.


Whether Stephanie's appearance was a one-off cameo or indicative of a more permanent return to WWE is unclear. However, between her decision to appear at WrestleMania 40 in such a public capacity and her announcement of the "Paul Levesque Era," one can assume that her return — whatever capacity it may be in — is a signal that WWE is operating independently of its disgraced ex-CEO.

During WWE's post-show press conference Sunday night, Levesque didn't say anything to discourage this reading of events, and he certainly seemed to suggest that Stephanie is back in WWE for good now that her father is out of it.

"So great to have her back home," Levesque said. "To have her back here, to see the doubt leave her by being here for the last few days, to see her confidence come back, and to know that this is her home — all of you, all of us, all this business, it's her home, and as much anybody on the planet, she belongs here. And hopefully she knows that now."