It’s spring-cleaning time for World Wrestling Entertainment, which means it’s time for several wrestlers to be rocked by their WWE releases.
Now, it’s customary for there to be some talent releases in the immediate weeks after WrestleMania. But these are not customary times.
WWE is in a pretty rocky situation as the coronavirus pandemic continues. No ticket sales, no merch sales, and not a lot of money coming in.
Cuts have to come from somewhere. There’s a handful of talents likely to land on their feet.
But there are just as many whose journey has – for all intents and purposes – reached the end of the line.
Here’s where we think some of last week’s WWE releases might land.
Drake Maverick – Nowhere/The Indies
This was probably the most heartbreaking of all the WWE releases.
Not long after WWE announced their springtime hatchet job, Drake Maverick took to Twitter. He tearfully lamented that he was cut without being able to say goodbye to his friends. And, worse, he expressed serious concerns about how he would care for his family.
— Drake Maverick (@WWEMaverick) April 15, 2020
Normally, several solid months – even years – of minimal exposure on WWE television gives you a new lease on life in the indies. You can live off of that “as seen on WWE” for a good two or three years on the independent circuit.
But, again, these aren’t normal times.
Maverick was a jack-of-all-trades for Vince McMahon. The general manager of 205 Live, comedy fodder in the 24/7 “division,” and a solid in-ring hand.
Unfortunately, this is one case where being outside Vince’s insane sphere of influence will hurt a talent. Maverick, ultimately, goes back to being another cruiserweight. And the fight to get back to a relevant spot in pro wrestling will be a very, very tough one.
Like I said. Easily the saddest of all the WWE releases.
Karl Anderson And Luke Gallows – New Japan Pro Wrestling
Anderson and Gallows have tumbled in limbo for as long as they’ve been in WWE. Honestly, I’m a little surprised they didn’t get their WWE releases before signing a new 5-year deal last year.
But these are guys who don’t need the aforementioned “as seen on WWE” bump. Anderson and Gallows are well-known enough in pro wrestling that they can pretty much write their own ticket.
Having said that, AEW doesn’t seem like they would jump at the chance to sign them. With an already-packed tag team division (which might become more packed if the company’s rumored interest in the Revival is true), All Elite doesn’t need another pairing.
They have the serious wrestling pedigree that Ring Of Honor covets, but if we’re being honest? They’re too good for the current ROH product. Ditto for Impact.
When NJPW comes out on the other side of the pandemic, Anderson and Gallows might be exactly the WWE releases the company is looking for.
Heath Slater – Nowhere/The Convention Circuit
Heath Slater has kids. And he has his WWE release.
Where former 3MB bandmates Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre fought their way back into Vince’s good graces to capture WWE gold, Slater won’t be so lucky.
His run as a tag champ with Rhyno was Slater’s peak. He’s got comedy chops, but not the kind that would carry him very far on the independent scene.
Slater has charisma and just enough in-ring talent to get by but not enough to keep him vital on the indies. If he wants to pursue it, I think there is an opening for him at wrestling conventions, and he might have enough name value and longevity in the business to launch a podcast.
Much as I hate to say it, Heath Slater’s in-ring career ended the day he found out he was one of dozens of WWE releases.
Lio Rush – Ring Of Honor
Out of all of last week’s WWE releases, Lio Rush’s might have surprised me the most.
Rush and WWE have had their differences, to be sure. But after months as Bobby Lashley’s comic relief, Rush was starting to relocate his niche in the cruiserweight division.
He has the talent and the charisma to make it in AEW, but that’s a brand where he just isn’t needed. AEW has its share of flip-and-fly guys.
But on top of in-ring skills and charisma, Rush has also displayed an edge to his character. Despite showing a knack for getting laughs in WWE, Rush can play “serious competitor” pretty well. Which makes him a good fit for ROH.
Rush may not necessarily thrive long-term in ROH (who does, really?), but he’s a rarity among the WWE releases. A skillset that fits perfectly with an existing company that still has decent TV exposure.
Sarah Logan – All Elite Wrestling
If you’ve ever read any of our AEW: Dynamite reviews, one thing AEW sorely lacks is consistency in its women’s division.
Sarah Logan might be the only one of last week’s WWE releases who would help fill that gap.
Maria Kanellis also got the ax from WWE, but she has something of a reputation for being difficult to work with. And she comes with husband Mike Kanellis (also let go) as a packaged deal. And AEW doesn’t need Mike.
Enter Sarah Logan, who was the rock (no, not that Rock) in the Riott Squad faction. She was the group’s workhorse, and she has the ability to work a crowd.
And while AEW’s women’s division is improving, Sarah Logan could go a long way to making it better and keeping it better. This is one of a select few WWE releases that AEW should go after.
Rowan – Impact/The Indies
Oh, Rowan. The guy spent years as Bray Wyatt’s muscle. And a year ago he was Daniel Bryan’s muscle.
Now he’s one of a couple dozen WWE releases.
Rowan has size and talent, and as shown in the aforementioned run with Bryan, he has charisma. But not enough to carry him in Japan, ROH, or AEW.
If Rowan wants to stay in the semi-pro’s, it’s going to have to be Impact. He’d be taking a hell of a pay cut, but he’d be a decent shot in the arm to Impact. A company that’s basically wrestling version of a baseball team that’s had 36 rebuilding years in a row.
Aside from that, his best bet is the indies. Rowan will land somewhere – his size makes him too much of an attraction for him not to. But as this list of WWE releases goes, he won’t land anywhere substantial.
Zack Ryder – Podcasting
When the list of WWE releases hit the internet last week, Cody almost immediately took to Instagram to voice his support of the former Internet Champion.
View this post on Instagram
I’d like to take a moment to say how proud I am to be a friend of @zryder85 – In a world of weekend warriors and “play wrestlers”, this dude exudes passion and drive for pro-wrestling like no other. Through 14 years to see him CONSISTENTLY try to better himself(whether that be his in-ring work, or watching him physically mold himself and his body into such a specimen DRUG FREE with hard work and will). I have a little rule, and that’s that if you’ve ever “gotten over” in wrestling…you can always do so again. That rule being fully applicable to Matt now. At 34 years young, his best wrestling days are ahead of him. Cheers to a great start and 14 years of unrelenting blood, sweat, and tears. Future endeavors are limitless when you actually endeavor. I chose this picture because it was one of my last days at WWE, watching 80,000+ people applaud as Matt won gold was an eruption not only live in the arena but in the locker room as well. Hearing Dolph coordinate for his father to come over the rails(meanwhile I was ass deep into a broken ladder and stuck but had the best seat in the house) and seeing father/son embrace, I thought I’d be jealous or bitter, but I was truly happy and proud for one of my peers. Congratulations my friend, and good luck!
But that shouldn’t be an indication that Cody thinks his buddy would be a good fit for AEW. Because he wouldn’t be.
It’s sad that WWE wasted Ryder for more than a decade, but there’s really nowhere for him to pick back up. His run with WWE was too long to lower himself to go to Impact. He isn’t a “serious” enough talent for an MLW, ROH, or NJPW. And he’s too big a name to go on the indies and not come across as the sad “what could have been” guy.
What Ryder does have, though, is 14 years’ worth of stories and connections. Wrestling podcasts are a dime a dozen anymore, but Ryder could potentially have a pretty successful one if he decided to go that route.
When it comes to his in-ring career, though, Ryder’s was done the minute those WWE releases hit the news sites.
Rusev – All Elite Wrestling
There’s no doubt in my mind that when the smoke clears on the pandemic and the shock of these WWE releases, Rusev will land in AEW.
His departure from WWE has long been a matter of “when” rather than “if.”
But there’s no uncertainty when it comes to his upside. WWE squandered it once when they let Rusev lose momentum after his feud with John Cena at WrestleMania 31.
And they squandered it again by shrugging the “Rusev Day” phenomenon off as just T-shirt fodder. All because they didn’t intend for it to actually get over.
Rusev spent his whole WWE tenure showing off his incredible skillset. And the fans noticed. Even if WWE didn’t.
Big wrestling fans will follow Rusev to AEW, a company that’s had great success basically creating brand new identities for guys like Jake Hager. Who has a similar style and background to that of Rusev.
Losing your job is never good for anybody. But when it comes to this roster of WWE releases, Rusev might have hit the jackpot.
So, full disclosure, I’m not an expert. I’m a fan of pro wrestling, and I’m a fan of hard-working pro wrestlers who can get themselves over in spite of anything.
WWE was full of these guys. It still is full of these guys, and the company does nothing with them.
And let me say that I will never be happier to be wrong than I will be when I find out the WWE releases I said would toil on the indies or who were down for the count come back better and more over than ever.
Pro wrestling is, and has ever been, a cyclical business. Companies tend to hit devastating lows before bouncing back to unthinkable heights.
Such, I hope, is the case for all who got their WWE releases last week. And having gone on record as not being the biggest fan of how WWE conducts their business?
I hope all of those released are able to rub the best of their future endeavors in WWE’s face.
All images courtesy of WWE.