Professional wrestling is a wonderful art form, combining sport and entertainment aspects to create a one-of-a-kind universe for fans around the world. The love has spread for so many throughout the years and continues to do so here in 2021. For a majority, that love for professional wrestling came through seeing World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Whether it be wrestlers, fans, referees, commentators, or those who work at the very top. WWE, or for many WWF at one time, was the pathway into loving professional wrestling. And there have always been other avenues to learn of the art and enjoy it, but WWE has been the “king” of the pro wrestling world for decades now. That being said, the never-ending batches of WWE releases have shown to those who stay loyal, wrestlers or fans alike, they (WWE) do not care about that love.
Rather, they care about their pockets and nothing more. Their employees have become more expendable than ever before. WWE fans have often become an afterthought. And the company continues to make record money because of the deals they continue to make. With record money they make off of TV deals with NBC Universal and FOX, you would think that money is no problem. Yet every batch of WWE releases is reported as “budget cuts.” Never anything more. Never a reason besides John Laurinaitis calling up countless talents in the middle of a global pandemic to say “sorry, but we are getting rid of you due to budget cuts.” Oh, and they are making record quarters money-wise every couple of months, often days apart from certain releases. WWE has always had cuts from their roster, but 2021 has taken this to an extreme.
WWE does not care about anything but their money which is why enough is enough for fans, wrestlers, and everyone who once loved WWE or still does.
Disclaimer: This article regarding the WWE releases does not reflect upon the thoughts of all the Last Word on Sports staff. These are Scott’s thoughts and only his.
Before continuing on, here’s a list of everyone who has been released by WWE since the beginning of 2020 featuring wrestlers, on-air personnel, and backstage personnel.
2020 (50 overall talents): Dash Wilder, Scott Dawson, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, Primo, Epico, Rusev, Rowan, Zack Ryder, Drake Maverick, Curt Hawkins, Heath Slater, Eric Young, Curtis Axel, Gerald Brisco, Lio Rush, Sarah Logan, Mike Kanellis, Maria Kanellis, EC3, Cain Velazquez, No Way Jose, Mike Chioda, Kurt Angle, Aiden English, Akam, Rezar, Ace Steel, Aleksandar Jaksic, Cezar Bononi, Dan Matha, Deonna Purrazzo, Edgar Lopez, Faisal Kurdi, Hussain Aldagal, Josiah Williams, Kassius Ohno, Kendo Kashin, Marcos Gomes, Mars Wang, MJ Jenkins, Mohamed Fahim, Nick Ogarelli, Serena Deeb, Taynara Conti, Tino Sabbatelli, Yifeng, Zelina Vega, Sarah Stock, Mike Rotunda.
2021 (62 overall talents with reported corporate releases as well not listed): Bray Wyatt, Andrade, Steve Cutler, Lars Sullivan, Samoa Joe, Chelsea Green, Mickie James, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Mickie James, Tucker, Bo Dallas, Kalisto, Wesley Blake, Mojo Rawley, Velveteen Dream, Drake Wuertz, Jake Clemons, Skylar Story, Ezra Judge, Alexander Wolfe, Kavita Devi, Jessamyn Duke, Vanessa Borne, Braun Strowman, Aleister Black, Ruby Riott, Buddy Murphy, Santana Garrett, Lana, Matt Martel, Chase Parker, Fandango, Tyler Breeze, Ariya Daivari, Killian Dain, Marina Shafir, Sunil Singh, Samir Singh, Curt Stallion, August Grey, Arturo Ruas, Tony Nese, Tino Sabbatelli, Ric Flair, Jeff Jarrett, Tom Phillips, Adnan Virk, Canyon Ceman, Bronson Reed, Mercedes Martinez, Bobby Fish, Jake Atlas, Leon Ruff, Kona Reeves, Tyler Rust, Ari Sterling, Asher Hale, Giant Zanjeer, Zechariah Smith, Desmond Troy, Stephon Smith
While some of the stories for some of the names listed here are released for a real reason other than budget cuts, the majority come down to WWE “cutting costs” and giving their former talent no reason at all other than it being “budget cuts.” There is no plausible reason as to why someone as beloved as Bray Wyatt is getting let go except for having to save money that they would make back in a couple of days. Over 100 names are listed with every batch in 2021 having a more and more surprising name. One of the most upsetting parts of all of this? WWE talent that remains on the roster and survives the releases continue to seem speechless going off just their Twitter reactions.
— 紫雷イオ、Io Shirai (@shirai_io) August 7, 2021
My heart is broken.
— 𝔥𝔢𝔞𝔯𝔱𝔟𝔯𝔢𝔞𝔎 𝔎𝔞𝔦 💔 (@DakotaKai_WWE) August 7, 2021
— KUSHIDA (@KUSHIDA_0904) August 7, 2021
— RheaRipley_WWE (@RheaRipley_WWE) August 7, 2021
WWE is willing to take countless careers away from their wrestlers, pushing them to uncertainty, and this is where the idea of going to WWE has to be soured for talents worldwide and in the company moving forward. Trust is gone out the window. Loyalty that these performers have shown to the company has seemingly meant nothing with the likes of a Wyatt or Braun Strowman being released. For some time now fans and colleagues have been happy for wrestlers signing with WWE. Joyous at those chasing their dream and getting to the one place they have wanted to be all their career as they get a nice contract to go along with it. That feeling of happiness for those who now sign has to be fear, confusion, and hesitance from fans and wrestlers alike.
It comes down to this: How can anyone support WWE like they once did? The answer is simple. They cannot.
Loyalty is a funny word in all of this. For fans but those who work for the company that much more. Loyalty does not go hand-in-hand with WWE all these years later. There was a period where it was impossible to change up the Vince McMahon inner circle and those that he has had as his right-hand men. Impossible to see McMahon give up on his top stars by just releasing them. But just look at the past couple of years. Arn Anderson, one of the longest-tenured road agents the company has ever had, was fired. He’s gone on record saying that he didn’t want to be somewhere that he didn’t feel wanted. 2019 also saw Dean Malenko quit the company and while he hasn’t said anything on record too poorly about the company, he cites change on the outside of WWE as to the reason he left. If either of these men is still employed in 2020 or 2021, who knows if they are still there. After all, Gerald Brisco, one of McMahon’s true friends and closest men for a lot of the last three decades, was let go from WWE after 36 years with the company.
“Last night I received a call from WWE Chairman of the Board Vince McMahon to let me know after 36 years of dedication to WWE that I am no longer needed,” Brisco tweeted at the time.
36 years of dedication. All he was met with was his papers and a boot out the door. It doesn’t stop, whether you are close to the boss or not. At what point do those who sign with WWE or that are signed realize that there is no sense of loyalty to them? If this isn’t enough, maybe the continuous mishandlings of talent who remained loyal to the company are.
Zack Ryder, now going by his real name of Matt Cardona, was as loyal as they come in WWE. 16 years with the company. By all accounts, the man never complained and never asked for his release. We’d go months at a time without seeing Cardona on WWE television but he stood by and accepted it all because he loved the company he grew up on. There have been interviews of him saying that he never wanted to be anywhere else. Then in 2020, he was released in the first major batch of releases over the last year and a half. His loyalty, in the end, meant nothing and he was without a job. It’s a credit to Cardona for what he’s managed to do since but there was never a time that he necessarily saw himself leaving. That is telling.
Mickie James is another good one to bring to the table. She was willing to essentially be forced into retirement and become a backstage agent as well as commentator. All she asked for was for them to give her a retirement run that she had earned and deserved after all of her years in the company. James wanted to put someone over on the way out and pitched multiple storylines to make that happen. They never budged and she was released earlier this year. James then received all of her belongings in a trash bag from the company with a sticky note simply saying “Mickie” on it in the mail. Classy. Loyalty, again, means nothing to this company.
If these, among the 100-plus names listed that have been released, don’t paint the picture of how WWE and loyalty (don’t) go together, then this should be the “cherry on top.” The Big Show and Mark Henry had forever been referred to as WWE-lifers. All the work they did behind the scenes in the community representing the company, an infinity of times standing up for decisions made by the company in terms of booking, and simply being the ultimate team player made it feel as though being a WWE-lifer was for them. Of course, Big Show was in WCW before joining WWE but after 20 years with the company, it’s alright to call him a WWE-lifer. For Henry, he had never been a part of another wrestling company and did not envision himself doing so until this year hit.
Big Show was the first shocking domino to fall. On Feb. 24, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) announced the signing of Paul Wight. The sheer surprise of Wight going anywhere that wasn’t under the McMahon tree showed the cracks in the WWE system more than maybe any release. It was a shock to the system of wrestling and as we have learned since Wight was sick of feeling underappreciated and felt this was the way for a lot of talent who get up in age and are no longer seen as main eventers or “attractions.” Acting as though someone like Wight isn’t seen as an attraction is a joke in itself but if you have followed WWE over the last decade and a half, Wight hasn’t been the attraction he should have been.
It was almost three months to the day from Wight’s signing that Henry showed up at AEW’s Double or Nothing to announce his signing with the company. Someone who had stuck by WWE and defended them endless times was now gone and signed with the competition because they were unwilling to allow him, like Wight, a chance to be involved and not just be seen as damaged goods and a novelty act to walk out there at Raw Legends Night. At one time, loyalty to talent was the one thing WWE had on their side after years and years of wrongdoing. Unfortunately for all those still with the company, that is gone and the times are changing in the pro wrestling world for the better elsewhere.
We’ve come to a time in this profession that we could not have said a decade ago. There are other outlets like never before. There are ways to watch wrestling around the world that there weren’t five years ago. Wrestling is growing and WWE is thankfully no longer the end all be all in the art. WWE, led by Vince McMahon and Nick Khan, has become nothing more than a content-creating company that happens to have professional wrestling involved. After all, it is a publicly-traded company that shows it works more like a normal business than a professional wrestling company anymore. A disturbing matter of fact seeing that WWE has never and will never be seen as more than a pro wrestling company as much as they want to be. Nor should they be either. If this doesn’t signal how little importance there is in their morals of loyalty and trust, then we’re not sure what does. It was two years ago that WWE was willing to sign anyone and everyone to a contract for massive money to just keep them away from AEW. Now they look at themselves as more indestructible as ever despite every move they make destroying their image, their reputation, and their place in the world of professional wrestling the more time goes on.
As much as AEW believes they began a revolution in the world of wrestling (they have made something special), WWE has made themselves more of a villain than ever before. Thankfully for all these WWE releases, there are greener pastures than the one company nowadays. Social media likes getting into an uproar every time someone gets released with the hope these incredible talents get brought in by AEW, but there’s a reason that wrestling is so healthy right now even if WWE makes you think otherwise. AEW, ROH, IMPACT Wrestling, NJPW, NWA, GCW, MLW, PWG, NOAH, AAA, Beyond. The list goes on much further than this but there are homes for these wrestlers besides WWE and that is the beautiful part of this ugly, never-ending story with WWE. There is more wrestling out there and that is a bright spot to this.
WWE’s own doing will be a detriment to the company more than anything else. Showing the worldwide pool of wrestlers that are signed, that become free agents, and that WWE hopes to sign one day that there is little care to who they are as a person and a talent is what will change everything for WWE. And that isn’t even detailing the treatment of talent who go from NXT to a show like Raw and SmackDown, which has been a topic of conversation for weeks now as well.
Adam Cole is a perfect example as we await his decision on where he will end up moving forward. Fightful Select reported Friday that the impending free agent was headed to SmackDown on Friday to sit down and talk with the boss himself, Vince McMahon. Cole is documented to be a lifelong WWE fan. His dream has always been to get to WWE and he has accomplished that goal. In his career thus far with the company, Cole has become one of the greatest superstars in the history of NXT. He is the longest-reigning NXT Champion of all time, he has won everything there is to win on the brand and has reached the point where he should be receiving more. That being said, it’s no secret that Karrion Kross, the reigning NXT Champion, lost on his first night on the main roster and is 1-2 since joining Monday Night Raw. Keith Lee, called up last year, has returned to the company after a long, unexplained layoff to seemingly receive the same exact odd treatment as Kross.
All of this is important because, by every account, Adam Cole should be on his way to the main roster and straight into the main event. His accolades in NXT say that he can carry a brand, be a world champion, and be a top player for Vince McMahon. Yet, if someone like Kross isn’t someone receiving the treatment that people expected, why is it to be believed Cole is going to head to the main roster and do anything more than chase around the 24/7 Championship, something that is beneath the wrestlers already doing that, let alone Adam Cole. Add in that his friends and colleagues are receiving their release papers on what feels to be a weekly basis no matter their status in the company and you begin to understand why despite his incredible positioning in NXT, this man has yet to sign a contract extension. The fact that Cole, a person who wanted nothing more than to be in WWE, is considering moving on is what should signal fans and wrestlers that this is a potential trend to arise for the company.
There’s a reason for harping on all of this and pointing out the fact that this is the final straw for WWE. A Saudi Arabia deal, retaining wrestlers accused in the #SpeakingOut movement, and an overall declining product as they side with old-timers over making new stars have all been negative marks on the company over the last number of years which has lost them many fans. The direction that WWE is heading right now by treating their employees like nothing more than chess pieces rather than the human beings they are sets a dangerous precedent that cannot be recovered from in the eyes of anyone paying attention. It becomes a situation of “fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you.” Fans don’t appreciate what is happening to the talent they care about. Talent doesn’t appreciate the pain and sudden impact that is continuously springing upon them as they watch their friends and colleagues lose their jobs in seconds. At this point, it is reaching unrecoverable measures.
Measures that lead to more record-low viewership. Measures that see a big name like Daniel Bryan say enough is enough and it’s time to move. There are layers to this and the more WWE shows their hand that their talent is expendable in their eyes, the more the layers are peeled to realize that WWE is not the same as it was 20 years ago.
What is a true coincidence of this timing is that John Cena, the man who will be main eventing SummerSlam in two weeks against Roman Reigns, called the company “less stable” in an interview as they continue to prefer older talent over the new ones. That remains more true as the days go by. Paying Goldberg millions to show up two times a year means that releasing over 60 talents in less than six months is the way for WWE. It’s a pathetic method and one that shows that Cena, someone out of the WWE circle for the majority of the last three years, has a better understanding of the business and what is happening rather than the man who writes the show week in and week out. If Cena can’t reason with the company, then who really can? No one. That makes this a painful reality.
However, the fact of the matter is that in the end, WWE is not going anywhere. Casual fans will still see their favorites like Charlotte Flair, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins on any given night and not bat an eye at the dozens of wrestlers who have been released over the last year. Legends will be paid unbelievable amounts of money to return because McMahon doesn’t think he has the star talent. Those casual fans will eat that up too. TV deals that reach the billions guarantee that WWE isn’t going to be poorly affected and show they are a powerhouse company no matter who they release. But there’s a time coming that those “favorites” that casual fans love so much will be willing to call it and take offers from other companies that are willing to treat them and the people around them like human beings. We are still a long way from that drastically changing, but these mass WWE releases will have an effect that makes the pro wrestling landscape evolve more and more each passing day.
The last 24 hours have been sad. All anyone can hope for is that this is the last of the mass releases, the wrestlers who were released land on their feet, and those who remain in WWE can not have to worry for their careers moving forward. And maybe, just maybe, change will come in the coming months and years to make it clear that these business practices are unacceptable in every sense. Remain vocal and be heard.
More from LWOS Pro Wrestling
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.