Last Wednesday, WWE released 10 wrestlers precisely one year to the day where they released 20 wrestlers at the beginning of pandemic. Then and now, budget cuts were cited as the reason for the company releasing various talent. Some of the releases were not surprising, while other releases are mind-boggling, while some never got a fair shake.
– Billie Kay: (Signed with WWE in 2015) For many, this is the most shocking release of the bunch. Billy Kay worked WrestleMania last weekend. Her character as a singles act since separating from Peyton Royce has been one of the more entertaining aspects of SmackDown. While she’s not the best wrestler in the ring, again, she’s entertaining, and professional wrestling needs characters as much as it needs technical wrestlers.
– Peyton Royce: (Signed with WWE in 2015) This one is also shocking as Peyton and her former tag team partner, Billie Kay, are fan favorites. There were signs of a push for Royce a few weeks ago when she cut a fiery promo which led to a match Auska. It was her best in-ring performance. Sadly, it was too little too late. Going forward, the now-former Peyton Royce will go by Cassie Lee.
– Kalisto: (Signed with WWE in 2013): Kallisto is a marvelous worker who had a few breakout moments during his WWE tenure. He’s a former NXT Cruiserweight Champion, NXT Tag Team champion, and United States Champion. In some ways, WWE hoped Kalisto would be the heir apparent to Rey Mysterio. It never would have panned out because Rey Mysterio is a once-in-a-lifetime wrestler, and those are considerable expectations to place upon someone. Kalisto also wasn’t the best on the microphone, which limited the elevation of his career. He will not have much difficulty getting work once his 90-Day no-compete clause is up.
– Wesley Blake: (Signed with WWE in 2013) Some might look at this list ask who is Wesley Blake. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to understand why. Blake has not wrestled since 2020, but he was aligned with King Corbin as half of the Knights of the Lone Wolf, with Steve Cutler. In February, Cutler was released for reportedly throwing a maskless party that caused a third COVID outbreak in the Performance Center. WWE often sees tag teams as an entity with no individual value. With Cutler gone, the Knights were scrapped with Blake left flailing in the wind.
– Mickie James: (Returned to WWE in 2016) James, who hadn’t wrestled since September of 2020, is one of the best women’s wrestlers you will find, past or present. However, James was presented more or less as an old veteran than a valued act. There is a lot of female talent in NXT waiting for the call-up to the main roster. WWE probably believed their own narrative, which happens way more than it should, and felt James is too old to be a star.
It’s hard to believe they couldn’t find a way to utilize James in any capacity, especially as a trainer in the Performance Center. However, what if Mickie James did not want that role and still desires to be a star? If that is the case and WWE only saw her as a stepping stone, it’s not hard to see why she was released. James is married to NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis. NWA looks like a solid landing spot, Ring of Honor is rebooting their women’s division, and of course, there’s AEW. James will have a lot of options.
– Tucker: (Signed with WWE in 2013). Tucker’s release falls in the category of a wrestler who didn’t get a fair shake. Tucker was one-half of Heavy Machinery with Otis, and WWE broke up the team way too soon. Otis went on to bigger and better things, including a well-received romantic storyline with Mandy Rose, and won the Money in the Bank ladder match.
Tucker, on the other hand, did absolutely nothing. It seemed like they forgot he was even there. Most tag teams eventually break up and feud with each other. However, when Heavy Machinery broke up, the separation and the end of the feud all occurred on an episode of Raw where Tucker lost to Otis.
After a loss to Ricochet, Tucker hadn’t wrestled since October of 2020. We didn’t see him again until WrestleMania SmackDown when he was in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Like Wesley Blake, Tucker is far from a recognizable name. He’s going to have a tough time making a name for himself on the independence scene and convention circuit.
– Chelsea Green: (Signed with WWE in 2018.) Label this one under bizarre. In NXT, Green was paired with Robert Stone and rushed to the main roster where they didn’t use her for six months. Bad luck came Green’s way when she broke her arm during her SmackDown debut in November 2020. Reportedly, her arm took a little longer to heal than anticipated. Green was eventually medically cleared but never returned to television.
It’s weird they released someone who is uber-talented and wanted on the main roster in the worst way. Green is engaged to Matt Cardona, and it’ll be interesting to see where she winds up. Green has a lot of value. She’s a great wrestler, performer, and character. The proper promotion could help make Green a star, and in turn, Green gives the promotion a new attraction. Since she only appeared on WWE television a handful of times, Green will come off to most as something new instead of someone with strong WWE colors.
– Bo Dallas: (Signed with WWE in 2008). The son of Mike Rotundo, AKA IRS, and the brother of Bray Wyatt is a former NXT Champion, Raw Tag Team Champion, and 24/7 Champion. Dallas seemed destined for success based on his strong performances as a heel in NXT. Over the past several months, there were rumors that Dallas was preparing for life after wrestling and bought a farm with his girlfriend, Liv Morgan.
– Mojo Rawley: (Signed with WWE in 2012) Mojo is a wrestler that WWE trained from scratch. The company had high hopes for the college football standout who did some time in the NFL. There were several big plans for Rawley that never came to fruition. Unfortunately, Rawley is typecast due to his limited role on television, where he always lost. Rawley tore his ACL last June.
It will be interesting to see what Rawley does next, considering he came into the business via WWE and never worked the independent scene or any other promotion. Some wrestlers in that scenario can’t fathom working in high school gyms and Elks Lodges after working in sold-out Arenas for WWE.
– Samoa Joe: (Signed with WWE in 2015) Samoa Joe will go down as WWE’s biggest missed opportunity in years. Joe was one of the best wrestlers on their roster and far and away their best promo guy. Joe stood out. He’s different. Many people can cut a promo saying they’re going to kick someone’s ass. With Joe, you believed it, which carried credibility that WWE hasn’t been able to manufacture in over a decade.
Joe suffered a concussion in February of 2020, transitioned to the commentary table, and it turned out he was the best commentator in WWE. Joe did commentary at WrestleMania and even wore a poncho during a thunderstorm inside Raymond James Stadium.
News broke over Mania weekend that WWE changed up the Raw commentary team. In the official press release, WWE removed Joe from the team; however, it specifically mentioned Joe was still a part of the active roster. Three days later, Samoa Joe was released from the company.
I’m going to speculate based on a story head WWE writer Bruce Pritchard told on his podcast. When Taz did commentary in 2002, it was supposed to be a one-off deal. However, Vince McMahon was so impressed with Taz on commentary; he instantly planned to make Taz a fixture at the table. The Brooklyn native wanted to remain a wrestler; however, Prichard noted, “Once Vince sees you in a certain light, that is the role you’re going to be in no matter how hard you try to avoid it.”
Samoa Joe on commentary was a one-off gig, and it received rave reviews. Perhaps, Vince was impressed to the point where he only saw Joe’s future as a commentator. Also, as many reports stated, Samoa Joe was recently medically cleared, there were reports citing he was not cleared. What if Joe wasn’t cleared? What if WWE felt they could never medically clear him?
– Final Thoughts: The release of Samoa Joe, Billie Kay, and Peyton Royce suggests this decision was made after WrestleMania. In the case of Royce & Kay, they weren’t the smoothest workers in the ring. WWE probably believed they reached their ceiling and didn’t hold their characters in the same esteem as the fans.
There’s more to Samoa Joe’s release than meets the eye. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something off with this one. I think more news will come out in time in terms of what specifically led to his release. Some people say he’s injury-prone, while others point to his weight as to why WWE decided to cut bait.
Maybe WWE never planned to feature Joe in a long term capacity. Remember when they first signed Samoa Joe in 2015? It was to a non-exclusive NXT contract with no ideas of putting him on the main roster. However, Joe impressed so much, WWE resigned him to an exclusive deal and eventually got called up to the main roster.
All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is the predicted landing spot for a lot of these wrestlers. While it’s never a bad idea to acquire talent, AEW has too many wrestlers on their roster with not enough mainline content to go around. I don’t know how they have space for more wrestlers, which is the problem WWE has. Too many wrestlers and not enough content space to do anything with them on television.
WWE releasing these wrestlers one year to the date of last year’s releases is in poor taste. Maybe they didn’t realize it, or perhaps they don’t care. Ultimately, holding off a day or a week wouldn’t have made a difference. While it absolutely stinks to lose your job, those released have a chance to utilize their potential in other avenues throughout the industry. Some will get picked up by other promotions when their no-compete clause expires in July. Others will have to bet on themselves to make an indelible impression.
***I want to give a special thank you to my wrestling promoting partner in crime, Ryan Andrews for his insight and contribution to this blog.***