It’s only a little over 1 p.m. on the East Coast this afternoon and the story of Vince McMahon stepping down as WWE CEO and chairman only continues to gain traction. A big part of that is because McMahon is also scheduled to appear tonight on “WWE Friday Night SmackDown”, and will reportedly be addressing his temporary absence in character. As it turns out, some in WWE are very wary of what that address may entail.

Fightful Select discussed McMahon’s scheduled “SmackDown” appearance and other details regarding him stepping down as CEO in a lengthy report early Friday afternoon. They confirmed that McMahon will continue his creative duties for WWE going forward, and noted that several sources in WWE were frustrated over that decision, thus believing McMahon stepping down to be superficial.

This would appear to back up a report from CNBC’s Alex Sherman earlier today, which suggested that McMahon stepping down and being replaced by his daughter, Stephanie McMahon, as CEO was ultimately little more than an “optics play”, in an attempt to make sure McMahon continued to have control over WWE.

As for McMahon’s appearance on “SmackDown” tonight, Fightful noted they couldn’t confirm the in-character aspect that was reported by Sherman earlier. A talent Fightful spoke to thought McMahon’s appearance was “a cheap rating ploy in the middle of something serious” and as such believes WWE’s culture/presentation will remain the same and that McMahon will largely remain in charge.

Sources from multiple WWE departments also told Fightful that they would attempt to communicate to WWE higher-ups, and potentially McMahon himself, that appearing on “SmackDown” tonight would be a bad idea. This was corroborated by another wrestler, who expressed their fear that McMahon would attempt to turn this into a “Vince vs. The World”, which McMahon had previously done after the US government took him to trial for suspicion of supplying anabolic steroids in the early 90s.

McMahon was found acquitted in that trial in July of 1994, and in the past has used the victory in court in storylines and for other uses. A source who had long been close to McMahon stated that the current scandal was the biggest threat to McMahon and his power in WWE since his acquittal.

Finally, Fightful also confirmed Sherman’s earlier report that the “SmackDown” script had been torn up last night. As of their report, Fightful noted that several sources had told them they were still waiting on a script for tonight’s show.

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