As is their wont to do, WWE talent releases generally occur after Wrestlemania, and this year is no different. As announced on WWE.com, Santino Marella, Cameron, El Torito, Hornswoggle, Zeb Coulter, Damien Sandow, Alex Riley and Wade Barrett have all been released.
Many of the stars that were released have become inconsequential in terms of the current product. El Torito and Hornswoggle haven’t been seen on WWE television in months. El Torito reached the height of his success and popularity when he was packaged with Diego and Fernando as part of Los Matadores. With Los Matadores ended and returning as their former WWE Tag Team champion gimmick, Primo & Epico, El Torito’s usefulness had ran its course.
Hornswoggle’s release comes as a bit of a surprise because he has not been used on television in a substantial way since he was revealed as being the anonymous RAW general manager. The timing of his release is a bit odd, as nothing has changed recently to indicate that he could have possibly become an even less important part of the roster or that he was in the doghouse more than he was after his wellness policy violation last year. According to WrestlePro’s Twitter account, the miniscule mat maven will be appearing at their June 11th show, so it seems that his release did not include a noncompete clause.
Cameron’s star has been on the decline ever since she split from Naomi. As part of Brodus Clay’s Funkadactyls, she had a spot on the card every week and was tagging with Naomi after long. After the duo split, Naomi played the role of the betrayed baby-face and Cameron was the heel looking to move on. Whether it was simply her lack of in ring skills or another issue altogether, the typical push a heel gets from the break up of a tandem never seemed to materialize and Cameron was sent down to NXT, which may have been the worst place for her. The level of women’s wrestling in developmental exposed her subpar skillset when held up against one of the strongest women’s divisions in years.
Santino Marella has been retired since 2014 and his release does not come as much of a surprise, as he has not been used on television in any capacity. He was one of the WWE’s most successful comedic wrestlers during his tenure, starting off as a “lucky fan” who defeated Umaga for the Intercontinental title in his first appearance for the company. His win, which was made possible by with the assist of Bobby Lashley, was dubbed “The Milan Miracle”, firmly entrenched Marella as an underdog that fans loved rooting for. Why he has still been part of the company is at all is more perplexing than his release. In this same category of head-scratching releases, Zeb Coulter has also been released. Zeb, known to old school NWA and WCW fans as the dirty wrestler Dutch Mantell, was a manager for a pre-JBL Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw and The Blu Brothers in the mid-1990s known as Uncle Zebekiah. He reemergence on WWE television had him paired with Jack Swagger, Cesaro and most recently, Alberto Del Rio. Although effective as a mouthpiece that is able to draw heat, he became expendable after Del Rio joined the League of Nations. With no one to work with, it was only a matter of time before his release.
The last few WWE talent releases can be attributed more to the company’s mismanagement, not the work of the wrestlers themselves. Damien Sandow has been marginalized by the company, rarely getting any time on Monday Night RAW or Smackdown. After Sandow’s loss of the Money in the Bank cash in opportunity against John Cena, Sandow’s star fell. He was then placed in a tag team with Cody Rhodes as The Rhodes Scholars, which was cut short. Floating in a nebulous state, Sandow then reemerged as The Miz’s stunt double and garnered huge praise from fans as he mimed The Miz’s in-ring work and even during interview segments. After months of dutiful servitude, the two had an anti-climactic break-up which lead to absolutely nothing. With NXT as a viable option, it is a bit perplexing as to why he was not featured more prominently, especially since he was getting a reaction from the fan base. Perhaps this opportunity will allow him to make a name for himself in the independent circuit, as he certainly has the skills and charisma to succeed.
Alex Riley’s release comes at an interesting time as he was just featured on this week’s episode of NXT. He started out as The Miz’s “Rookie” and eventual right-hand man, assisting The Miz in keeping the WWE championship. He then worked as a color commentator on NXT and began to make his way back into the ring, but with the influx of new talent, it seemed that there just wasn’t a place left on the roster for Riley.
What is perhaps more shocking than the releases are the superstars that were not released. Ryan Reeves, commonly known as Ryback, released a controversial blog in which he detailed his displeasure with the company’s pay for talent. Ryback’s openly questioned the practices of the company being antiquated: “Why is it a guy who is told he is going to go out and lose and does everything he is told be paid not only less, but much less than said winner over a period of time. Every single performer for WWE sacrifices the same amount of time from home and their families and every single man or wom[e]n goes out and does what they are told”.
While some of his comments have merit, it was an interesting choice for him to decide to air this dirty laundry on the internet while still under contract. Not being released at this time may mean that he is staying with the company, but even he admits himself that “WWE may very well release me, which if it is the case so be it.” It may not have happened yet, but his acknowledgement that making his feelings public, coupled with his call for change may indeed grant him the creative control he wants, albeit with another company.
Similarly, Adam Rose took to social media recently, expressing his feelings on his suspension due to a wellness policy violation. He posted that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing and even posted his doctor’s note on his Twitter page to corroborate that he was prescribed Adderall for his ADHD. Shortly after he posted the letter, he took down all of his comments about the situation. Whether or not this means that the issues has been resolved or he has been reprimanded. His suspension has not been rescinded as of the time of this writing, but as with Ryback’s situation, it is worth keeping an eye on these two as well, as it does not seem as their vocal outbursts will bode well for their tenure with the company.
The last release was a bit expected, as Wade Barrett had decided not to re-sign with the company. On television, he was ousted from the League of Nations, essentially jettisoning him from the active roster. Barrett seemed to have the most promise from his season of NXT. He was tagged as the leader of the Nexus group, which shocked the world when they took over Monday Night RAW and attacked John Cena to close the show out. When the Nexus eventually disbanded, Barrett was then placed as the leader of a revamped Nexus group, called The Corre. When that did not work well he was reinvented yet again, as “Bad News” Barrett and most recently transitioned into King Barrett after winning the King of the Ring. His career has been marred by ill-timed injuries that derailed any forward momentum. Barrett took to social media to thank the fans and make it clear that this was a decision that he has made.
— Stu Bennett (@StuBennett) May 6, 2016
With the slew of moves, the WWE has cleared payroll and most importantly, television time to dedicate to the current stars that have risen to prominence in the new era. The next year bears monitoring, as the current dedication to popular mid-card talent may lead to more effective development of the stars the company has.