On Sunday, WWE announced the release of The Ascension (Viktor & Konnor), Luke Harper, and Sin Cara from the roster in a move that was somewhat surprising considering the current landscape of the industry. WWE has been scooping up any wrestler with name value, re-signing wrestlers to lucrative five-year extensions, and not granting releases to avoid supplying talent to the competition, All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
So, what changed? Is WWE merely cutting costs, or is there more than meets the eye?
Luke Harper publically asked for his release from WWE in April while Sin Cara expressed his desire to leave a few weeks ago. The Ascension was out of sight, out of mind on television. Unfortunately, they never showed the promise of their NXT run on the main roster due to the way they were booked from the jump.
Sin Cara is a character that never got over whether it was Lucha libre superstar Mistico, who the role was designed for or Jorge Arias, who took over the part when Mistico left the company in 2014. Luke Harper is the big missed opportunity of the four wrestlers that were released. Reportedly, Vince McMahon was never high on him, despite his talent. All four will be looking for work, however, where will they land?
When it comes to The Ascension, the word on the street is that Viktor is a tremendous worker but never got the chance to show it. Konnor is a big guy that is serviceable in the ring. Do they stay together as a team, or do they go their separate ways? While their tag-team act is their most viable commodity, NXT was a long time ago. Perhaps, Viktor decides to bet on himself and work the independent scene to build his name back up.
Jorge Arias will have to reinvent himself fundamentally. He’ll probably find work in Mexico; however, being able to charge a high price for his services in the states will be a challenging venture. Arias never had a viable name beforehand, and WWE owns the Sin Cara character.
Even if Arias comes up with a new gimmick, promoters will feel the need to market him as “formerly Sin Cara.” Honestly, fans might not even care for a wrestler who was so low on the totem pole. If Arias starts churning out five-star classics and becomes the belle of the indy ball, then he won’t need “Former WWE Superstar” etched under his name on an event poster.
Presumably, Luke Harper has the most to gain from his release. The soon to be rechristened Brodie Lee had an excellent reputation for putting on awesome matches before he signed with WWE and continued to do so as a member of the Wyatt Family.
AEW is his most anticipated landing spot because he’s a talented big man, and AEW could use more physical stature on their roster. New Japan Pro Wrestling wouldn’t surprise me either as Harper/Lee has a Bruiser Body look to him that could pay dividends.
The question remains, though, why did WWE cut these wrestlers after having a firm no release policy? This is pure speculation, however, maybe Vince McMahon no longer sees AEW as a threat. Of the ten weeks AEW Dynamite and NXT have gone head to head on Wednesdays, the ratings show AEW won eight of those meetings.
However, NXT won two of the last three weeks with only losing the previous week’s rating by only 1,400 viewers. While specific demographics have recently come into play when comparing ratings, NXT’s hold on people over 50 years old is strong while they are almost neck and neck with the more coveted demos that AEW previously dominated.
It is feasible that Vince McMahon believes he’s either winning the war against AEW, or he’ll win soon enough. If that’s the case, it’s easy to see why WWE has changed its release policy. Several wrestlers are still publically campaigning for their release, and with more cuts rumored to occur, those public requests could be granted.
It stinks getting fired at any time of the year, especially around the holidays. Even though two of the four wanted out, high paying indy gigs are not guaranteed. Besides, those only last so long before the wrestler is no longer a novelty and promoters begin to pay less. Best of luck to the four gentlemen as this new era of wrestling continues to be full of surprises.