Inside Vince McMahon And Oliver Luck's Tense Relationship

Even after his 2022 retirement amid a slew of scandals (per Fox News), Vince McMahon remains a towering figure in the world of sports entertainment. Under his direction, the WWE (formerly WWF) became a massive force in media, let alone the world of professional wrestling. McMahon took over the company from his father and guided it toward becoming a multi-billion dollar entity, per Macrotrends.

While the WWE was nothing short of an absolute success story, another famous attempt by McMahon to expand his sports entertainment empire didn't quite pan out the way he would've hoped: the XFL professional football league. The first incarnation of the upstart football league was announced in 2000 and played its first — and only — season in 2001, per NBC Sports, which termed it one of football's "most memorable experiments." However, the league earned a strange place in American pop culture and maintained a legacy strong enough to relaunch in 2020.

This time, McMahon enlisted former NFL player Oliver Luck to be the league's commissioner. The second iteration of the XFL failed as well, even though a major reason for the failure was completely out of the league's control, and wound up pitting McMahon and Luck against each other in a legal battle.

The first XFL

The idea behind the first incarnation of the XFL was to start a league that fused the entertainment value of the WWE with football. According to the Daily Mail, McMahon took a major step forward for the league shortly after he announced his plans by inking a deal with NBC, which came on as the league's exclusive broadcast partner.

The league was assembled in just a single year, with teams like the Las Vegas Outlaws and Orlando Rage taking shape with rosters of players whose jerseys featured nicknames on the back instead of their real names. This added a touch of professional wrestling flair and became one of the most memorable aspects of the original league, with players like Rod "He Hate Me" Smart becoming fan favorites.

The first XFL game kicked off — figuratively speaking; the XFL didn't have kickoffs, as this YouTube clip demonstrates — with McMahon growling into a microphone at midfield, "This is the XFL!" While the league did offer some technological breakthroughs, especially on the broadcast side, the onfield product wasn't enough to sustain public interest, and the league folded after just one season.

The return of the XFL

Since its demise, the XFL has been a cultural touchstone for a lot of people, and as such, McMahon tried to capitalize on the popularity of late '90s and early 2000s nostalgia by bringing his notorious football league back from the dead. However, XFL 2.0 was considerably different from its predecessor, which had worn its WWE attitude-era influences on its sleeve. McMahon enlisted former Houston Oilers quarterback Oliver Luck to serve as the league's commissioner (via Pro Football Reference).

The league debuted in 2020, and while it looked like the latest incarnation of the XFL could have the staying power to make it through the first season and then into a second, the league was struck with something entirely out of its control: the COVID-19 pandemic. The league, like much of the sports world, shut down and was unable to complete its 10-week regular season. With no games to broadcast or sell tickets to, the XFL's financial situation became untenable and the league filed for bankruptcy, per The Athletic.

This presented a problem. Luck had signed a five-year deal to serve as XFL Commissioner, and as such felt that he was still due to be paid for the rest of the deal, despite the league's failure. McMahon felt otherwise, and the disagreement was headed for the courtroom.

Luck vs. McMahon

McMahon's refusal to pay Luck stemmed from his claim that he had already fired Luck for cause. According to The Athletic, McMahon alleged that the reasons for firing Luck were two-fold. The first part, per USA Today, had to do with Luck's signing of wide-receiver Antonio Callaway. McMahon had announced before the league began play that they wouldn't sign players with off-field issues — there had been sexual assault accusations against Callaway (per Fansided) — and argued that Luck signed Callaway to the XFL's Tampa Bay Vipers without telling him. Secondly, McMahon stated that Luck abandoned his position at the onset of the pandemic.

One month before Luck and McMahon were scheduled to go to trial in 2022 over their dispute, Luck's legal team announced that the two parties had settled the case outside of court. This came after the judge handling the case threw out all of McMahon's claims against Luck except the signing of Antonio Callaway, limiting McMahon's chances of reaching an outcome in his favor. The XFL has since been sold to a group headed by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and is scheduled to return — again — in February 2023.