In light of the recent WWE releases, Pro Wrestling Musings contributors sit down to discuss the potential futures of the wrestlers affected by WWE’s latest ‘cost cutting’ exercise.
1. The WWE has released a number of human beings to protect their company’s value, again. This isn’t unusual behaviour for a corporate entity, but as human beings it’s jarring for us to witness. Discuss.
[CW] I’m not actually going to sit here and criticise WWE for this, latest feat of uncaring. WWE have acted in accordance with the priorities and cultural attitudes of the current age. We live in a time where brands, corporations and celebrities have taken the places of communities, religions and monarchies. We are all complicit in the profiteering of companies, Google, Apple and Amazon. Companies that shamelessly cater to the rich and put profit ahead of people.
Until we see an almighty social reckoning with political and societal change there is little point in criticising WWE for performing cultural norms. We should feel sorry for the talent and use this as a symptom of our cultures and bear that in mind when we vote and when we examine our own lives.
[SA] On one level this feels like WWE criticism eating its own tail: WWE can be the monopolistic behemoth stockpiling talent that they have no intention of utilizing just to choke off the growth of potential competitors. Or it can be the cold corporation putting hard times on their loyal crew with heartless layoffs, but it can’t really be both. But that begs the question: why aren’t they stockpiling these talents? If you put to the side the communitarian arguments against monopolistic strategies, strategically it seems like a good call to keep talents happily collecting paychecks in catering rather than busily building competing brands. Do they really see in these names no net value to their competition? One theory I’ve heard is that the move is intended to make their books look as black as possible in advance of justifying their performance to investors in their Q1 call. But the voting power of WWE common stock is so ridiculously diluted, they don’t have to be beholden to their money marks if they genuinely see a future strategic advantage to a minor current expense. Perhaps time will prove that it was the children who were wrong, all along.
But if even ONE talent (cough Samoa Joe) proves to be a major net asset to one or more of WWE’s upstarts in the next few years, it will show that this move was less hard-headed strategy and more sheer short-sightedness.
[WP] It’s not a surprise that WWE have done this. For a company that is happy to enter into massive contracts with countries that (allegedly) murder journalists, lying about budget cuts whilst sitting on those piles of Saudi and Peacock cash is just a walk in the park. The fact that they did it on exactly the same date as last year is an unnecessarily cruel, and frankly dumb thing to have done. It means that in years to come people will come out of Wrestlemania talking about who is about to be cut, rather than anything else. Perhaps the most galling thing about the majority of these releases is that they have affected wrestlers who were in the position they were because of terrible booking, and yet those responsible for said booking will likely benefit financially from these ‘budget cuts’.
All we can do as individuals on this is to stop giving WWE money, and I hope that this latest act accelerates the decisions of some to cancel their subscriptions and stop paying for WWE merchandise.
[AB] My biggest issue with this is the reasoning, Budget cuts especially after they just hired a heap of NXT new wrestlers. They also did this last year then posted a record profit. WWE have always had releases and all companies will do it so we can’t fault them for doing so. WWE used to do these releases during the year, but it now seems like they have decided to condense it into one mass release right before their Q1 investors call.
2. The biggest name released thus far is Samoa Joe. Where do you see him ending up and do you think his injury situation affecting that?
[GFE] Samoa Joe was one of my fantasy signings for AEW who could offer him the stage he deserves, the schedule and workload he needs and the future possibilities that'd interest him in coaching and commentary.
Word is that WWE didn't medically clear Joe so it's unlikely we see him going on a tour of the indies or Japan. Although a return to Impact or ROH could also be on the cards.
[CW] I am under the impression that Joe was side-lined in WWE due to concussion issues. Like Daniel Bryan this effectively rules out a stint in New Japan or any other hard-hitting Japanese company, unless my assumptions of the limitations of the human body are wrong.
AEW offers Joe and the rest of the WWE releasees a new option, a comparative salary and a larger platform formerly unavailable out with the WWE. Joe carries a history and a reputation that means a late-career run in AEW would be a fitting and deserving end to his career.
[SA] There is too much we don’t know to be sure what will happen with Samoa Joe. He is a fantastic color commentator, but AEW already has a surplus of those, and joining a smaller promotion’s booth would be a hell of a step down for such a legend. But we really don’t know what’s going on with him medically. If this is one of those cases where he could get cleared to perform, except for the WWE being paranoid about liability, we may soon see him on a Moxley-esque tear, levelling ALL of the promotions like Gojira.
[WP] Joe’s injuries certainly look to have had an impact on the decision for WWE to release him, although it seems incredibly short-sighted to get rid of someone who not only could come back fantastically in an in-ring capacity, but who has also shown that he has got the chops for commentary. Standing out as a WWE commentator is a bit like winning a ‘nicest guy’ award at a BNP rally, but he’s still shown that it’s something he can do.
Unfortunately his injury status completely plays into where he goes next. If Joe was fit and raring to go I’d love to see him smashing into the likes of Ishii and Suzuki in New Japan, and a G1 run would be electric. He’s also more than shown over his career that he is capable of superb character work, and that means he would be tailor-made for AEW. But he’s 42 years old and has been wrestling for 20 years at this stage. Maybe he just wants a bit of a lie down...and it would be very well earned.
[AB] I will be in the minority here, but I don’t want to see Joe in AEW for a year at least, AEW has a lot going on in its roster story wise and I just don’t know how Joe would fit into the current AEW landscape. I’d like to see him work a few other promotions before maybe going over. Fantasy booking him leading an attack on AEW invasion style would be so awesome. However, give me Eddie vs Joe in a promo off and I’ll be so happy.
3. The Iiconics have both been released, where do you see them ending up. Will they stay together and are you surprised that one wrestler was released more so than the other?
[GFE] I don't know if one was released more than the other. They clearly preferred Peyton Royce but Billie Kay was obviously much more 'over'. This is the "budget cut" that shocked me more than any other. Splitting them up made zero sense and releasing them makes even less.
Peyton Royce is married to Shawn Spears so I'm hoping that can act as a bridge into AEW. The Iiconics are hilarious and a great act. They would also provide an invaluable role in the women's division as, due to their comedy, they are fairly immune to taking losses and their personalities would add much needed character to the women's division.
Just imagine them running down Tay Conti, Yuka Sakazaki, Riho, Red Velvet or Leyla Hirsch before a match and then being torn apart by any of those badass babyfaces. AEW just can't pass them up.
[CW] The Iiconics humour, personalities and likability are very much welcome on our screens. The WWE’s moronic handling of them is baffling and has denied audiences the chance to see how these talented personalities can further their characters.
Again, they fit AEW because of that. We’ve already seen what the AEW method of talent development can do for burgeoning in-ring talent, something that Peyton Royce in particular fits the bill of.
Failing a spot in AEW, these two would be a shining light in any other American company.
[WP] These releases feel like the most egregious on the list. They were a great tag-team who worked superbly well together, in a promotion that desperately desperately needs female tag teams for that almost laughable division. But WWE, in their infinite wisdom, split them up for no reason and then gave neither of them any sort of story as singles stars. Even then Billie Kay was, by all accounts, fantastically over and many have praised her efforts over the Wrestlemania weekend. The whole situation just feels as if they are too charismatic for WWE, and that sums up that promotion more than anything.
As with Samoa Joe their natural charisma makes them a perfect fit for AEW, and I’d happily see them either as a tag-team or with Peyton Royce, inarguably the better wrestler of the pair, as the competitor with Billie as the mouthpiece. Either way I think this will be a release WWE hugely regret.
[AB] This was the biggest shock for me, both are extremely well-liked backstage, and everyone loved them, Billie was over with the fans. Payton had just had a fire promo on Raw Talk and a championship shot. As a fellow Aussie this sucked because I was a huge fan of them and their work together. I image they will stay together after all they have been together for nearly ever.
4. Women’s wrestling legend, Mickie James has been released. Where does she spend the latter stages of her career now? Does she continue wrestling or focus on her music career?
[GFE] Mickie James is another who I see as invaluable to AEW's women's division. Not only as a veteran and an experienced pro who has proven herself time and time agin, least of all late last year. But also, as a bigger name who people will recognise. It's one thing that division is really missing. An immediate title contender who could also get over the younger talents.
Mickie James is married to NWA World Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis so I wouldn't be surprised if, much like Thunder Rosa, she works both NWA and AEW. Alternatively, a return to Impact wouldn't surprise me. But I'm hoping AEW do the smart thing and snap her up.
[CW] In the aftermath of the WWE’s ‘Women’s Revolution™’, Mickie James’ legacy has suffered somewhat. She isn’t remembered quite on the level of Stratus or Lita but seems too good to be in the same pile as McCool or Maryse. Unfortunately for James, her recent WWE run has normalised her even further.
The AEW, yes AEW again(!), women’s division is going in the correct direction and a signing like James could have a similar effect that many people expect Christian to have on the men. I wouldn’t see her as a potential world title winner, nor do I see Christian as such, but she can be a main event challenger and foil for many a burgeoning talent.
[WP] Mickie James’ social media posts in the aftermath of her release suggest she will be looking to stay in wrestling, and from her most recent stint in WWE, short and pathetically booked as it was, she’s still more than able to go. For me, Mickie doesn’t get nearly enough respect for her role in the development of the women’s division within WWE, and I have no doubt that whilst she still has a lot to give in the ring, her experience and talent also make her a fantastic asset in terms of training and development for future stars. With the AEW women’s division finally starting to turn itself around, I think Mickie James would be a superb acquisition for Tony Khan’s crew.
[AB] Get her into AEW immediately, she would bring so much to the division.
5. Chelsea Green had barely got started in WWE and finds herself released after her latest push in WWE was derailed by injury. What next for Chelsea Green?
[CW] One of the four women in the four-way match at All In, Chelsea Green knows Cody and Brandi personally, do not rule out her appearing in AEW. However, for her, I would prefer to see her in Impact or NWA first. That being said I do think she has something that could see her ultimately hit the heights of an AEW career.
[WP] Another example of WWE seemingly giving up on a wrestler because of injury, Chelsea Green should still have a great future ahead of her. She is part of AEW history with her part in the women’s match at All In, and also has links within Impact where partner Zack Ryder is currently plying his trade. Green also has the benefit of having a ready-made character to slot in wherever she goes, and I suspect the ‘Hot-Mess’ t-shirts are already selling well on ProWrestlingTees. She would fit in well at both Impact and AEW, and of course these days there’s no reason why she couldn’t fight in both companies. I just hope that she can steer clear of injuries, because I think there is a very talented performer waiting to show what she can do.
[AB] As I write this, I’ve just finished listening to her first interview after being released with Fightful and she’s defiantly committed to push. She seems to be a girl with a plan or at least going to work hard to get into a new promotion. She said she’s got lots of friends in every company so she can probably go anywhere.
6. Another great wrestler, Kalisto also finds himself without a contract. Famous for that ‘Lucha stuff’ botch, Kalisto has some very obvious Rey Mysterio energy but ultimately has been on the fringes for the last few years, where does he end up?
[GFE] Kalisto, or Samuray del Sol as he'll likely be known moving forward, has a history in AAA and I'd be surprised if he doesn't return at least for appearances here and there. He'd be an asset anywhere he goes and I could see him in various companies all over the world.
[CW] Not an AEW guy for now, perhaps not ever, but a supremely talented worker nonetheless. When/if international travel ever goes back to how it was, I wouldn’t rule out a junior run in New Japan. Apart from that, Kalisto could wrestle anywhere in Mexico, Japan or the US out with the big two.
[WP] I cannot say I’ve ever been a huge Kalisto fan, and I think his stint in Lucha House Party may have harmed his credibility somewhat (as it did with all three members). That said, he’s a fantastic in-ring performer and I would love to see him have a run in the Best of Super Juniors in New Japan. That would really tell us what level he is currently at, and could also put him in the shop window for other promotions around the world.
7. Andrade is still unattached, where do you see the man with WWE’s second highest rated match of all time (on GRAPPL) ending up?
[GFE] In February Tony Khan said, "When we get through this tournament and through this pay-per-view [Revolution], I’d be interested to see where she’s at," regarding Thea Trinidad. So, I wouldn't be surprised if AEW want to reignite that brilliant act and are now waiting on the moment to strike.
If that happens though, it's almost certain that Andrade will be allowed to wrestle in Mexico and Japan as well as potentially on the indies. I also wouldn't be surprised if AEW hold off on this as Andrade seemingly wants to wrestle all over the place and given AEW really don't need to sign more men's wrestlers immediately.
Whatever happens, I'm sure we'll see Andrade wrestling all over the place. But Andrade really is a talent that all the big companies should be begging for.
[CW] Kenny Omega’s mystique was built off his Wrestle Kingdom match with Kazuchika Okada. The video of that match went around the internet attached to the question, ‘is this the best wrestling match ever?’ By the end of 2018 Kenny Omega’s matches with Okada and Naito were all over GRAPPL and CAGEMATCH’s top matches of all time lists.
In AEW Kenny Omega has hugely acclaimed matches against Fenix, PAC and the tag involving Page and the Bucks to his name however he doesn’t have the wide selection of tippy-top tier opponents he had in NJPW. Andrade could be such an opponent.
A match between Kenny Omega and Andrade could threaten to break the 4.8/5 mark on GRAPPL with the Revolution tag match currently being the highest rated AEW match by far (Cody/Dustin sits second with 4.54/5). Andrade’s match with Johnny Gargano for the NXT Title holds a 4.85/5 on GRAPPL.
In short, Andrade could be a dance partner for Kenny Omega performance to remind fans of the genesis of his legend.
[WP] I think that maybe we need to see a few explosive performances from Andrade, or La Sombra, just to remind us all just how good he really is. In what has become a very stale New Japan roster, his introduction could be massively beneficial for both parties, and the idea of him facing off against Naito, Okada, Jay White, Ishii etc etc is mouth-watering. From there the world would be his oyster, and whilst much has been made of his lack of skill in a promo, his in-ring ability alone makes him a perfect fit for AEW. Add on the potential link-up with old manager Thea Trinidad and you’ve got the makings of a potential AEW World Champion.
[AB] I hope to see Andrade gets into the g1, I think that would be so much fun to see.
8. The other wrestlers released by WWE this time around are former Hype Bro Mojo Rawley, former NXT Champion Bo Dallas, former Heavy Machinery member Tucker and former NXT Tag Champion Wesley Blake. Where do you see these guys end up?
[CW] I find it hard to be all that interested in any of these men’s next steps. I hope they all find a landing spot, but I’m not convinced any will make waves. Rawley to Impact makes sense, I could see Dallas or Tucker ending up in a few promotions and doing an okay but unspectacular job, and Blake could join up with former partner Cutler and find a role on NWA, Impact or RoH.
[WP] Whenever these releases come around there are a few that do seem to make sense with neither the wrestler or the promotion benefiting from them staying under contract. That certainly seems to be the case with Bo Dallas and Mojo Rawley who simply never really got it going in WWE despite both having their talents. Both could use somewhere like NWA or Impact to reinvigorate their careers though, and I certainly hope they are given that chance if that’s what they want to do.
Tucker and Blake both feel more like victims of WWE’s terrible booking. As with the IIconics, Heavy Machinery were split up for no reason with no payoff, and that was that for Tucker. I think there is more to him as a wrestler than people think, but it will just be a case of whether he is able to come up with something a bit different. As for Wesley Blake, it must be painful for him and Steve Cutler to watch Jaxson Ryker palling around with Shane McMahon whilst they are out of a job, largely due to Ryker’s unpleasantness. Blake in particular was a huge part of the greatest-days of NXT tag-wrestling, and whether it’s with Cutler or with old partner Buddy Murphy (who I suspect wants out of WWE right now) I hope he gets that opportunity.