History will be made for fans of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) this Sunday, when for the first time the main event of its showpiece pay-per-view will be an all-female affair.
WrestleMania is the biggest night of WWE's year and has been building to a match featuring superstars Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch, which will be screened to an estimated audience of 800 million homes worldwide.
In October 2018, WWE hosted its first all-women pay-per-view event titled "Evolution" and has seen a rapid rise in popularity for female characters, all leading to this headline match taking place at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey this weekend.
WrestleMania is WWE's most valuable pay-per-view worth over $200 million, which gives it a greater brand value than Major League Baseball (MLB). However, WWE as a whole is worth at least 10 times that, with some estimates suggesting it could be more like $3 billion.
The drive for redefining attitudes toward women in the sports entertainment industry has come in the wake of many years where they were treated more as sex objects through the "WWE Divas" era. The company responded to social media calls from fans to #givedivasachance in 2015, with WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon tweeting at the time: "We hear you. Keep watching."
Speaking exclusively to CNBC in the build-up to Wrestlemania this week, WWE superstar and former Wrestlemania headliner Big Show said: "What's brought us here is the evolution of the sport. The sport had to evolve. From the way the sport changed in the 80s, the 90s the product had to evolve. Now we are getting such incredible athletes on both sides in our women's division and in our men's division. Quite frankly it's neck and neck."
Financially WWE is in a very healthy position, even before this weekend's event. In the fourth quarter of 2018 it reported revenue of $272 million, which was an increase of 29%. It also announced a rise in subscribers to its WWE Network streaming service as well, rising by 7% to 1.59 million.
However, the company has not escaped recent controversy. Last year, WWE was criticized for going ahead with its Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia, which followed the murder of the U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
WWE has an ongoing multi-year contract with Saudi Arabia, which it chose to honor, but ironically it's also a country where it was against the law for female wrestlers to compete.
Sunday night also saw British comedian John Oliver run a segment on his "Last Week Tonight" show accusing the WWE of not providing wrestlers with good enough care.
WWE then released a statement refuting the allegations saying, "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."
Shares of WWE briefly dipped around 2% on Monday after the program aired, before recovering as WrestleMania weekend approaches.