Ring of Honor (ROH) announced two weeks ago that their parent company, Sinclair Broadcasting, is shutting down the promotion after December’s Final Battle pay-per-view and will take the first quarter of 2022 to reimagine ROH. All talent will be released from the contracts at the end of the year but can work wherever they want immediately.
As a result, over 50 wrestlers are on the open market. Then, last Friday, WWE released 18 wrestlers, thus making the realm free agency a more competitive place. With approximately 70 talents vying for contracted work, the belief that ROH’s hiatus is a permanent vacation, and AEW and Impact signing many of WWE’s prior releases, there are not enough spots to go around.
Worse, for an elect few, their careers are irrevocably altered or over.
Mass releases have become the norm in WWE since the pandemic began, and Friday was the latest batch, which occurred after their quarterly investor’s call. Main rosters releases were Keith Lee, Mia Yim, Karrion Kross, Eva Marie, Lince Dorado, Gran Metalik, Harry Smith, B-Fab, and Nia Jax.
NXT releases were Scarlett, Ember Moon, Franky Monet, Jessi Kamea, Katrina Cortez, Jeet Rama, Oney Lorcan, Trey Baxter, and Zayda Ramier. There seem to be new reports coming out every couple of hours on why a person was released, their reported backstage reputation, and the added complexity of vaccinations.
Gran Metalik and Lince Dorado asked for their release a couple of months ago, while Oney Lorcan was reportedly unhappy with his use. Ultimately, they got what they wanted.
Harry Smith: Smith worked dark matches with the idea of eventually making him the face of NXT UK. This is the second time the company has released Smith, and his future working in a major company is not promising. Smith had a falling out with New Japan Pro Wrestling and Major League Wrestling (MLW) and didn’t or couldn’t sign with AEW despite Jim Ross heavily pushing for him. He’s also not a charismatic performer, which is a must, even for a legacy performer.
Ember Moon: It’s hard to see what WWE creative did not see in Ember Moon. She’s an outstanding in-ring performer, decent enough on the microphone, and has a distinctive look. She’s tailored made for AEW and would improve their women’s division tenfold.
B-Fab: The female attraction of Hit Row debuted on SmackDown two weeks ago. Now, she’s gone. B-Fab complemented the stable with her charisma and swagger. However, from a wrestling perspective, she wasn’t ready for the main roster. Honestly, she wasn’t ready for NXT television, either. While B-Fab had something to offer as a character, WWE didn’t feel it was enough.
Eva Marie: Vince McMahon has put a lot of bad performers on television because he believed they could make him money. In the case of Eva Marie, she offered absolutely nothing during her first WWE run, and she offered even less this time around. Eva was protected to such a degree because she literally didn’t know how to wrestle. Tripping over herself in Alexa’s Playground was a horrible piece of acting, which is saying something considering we are talking about the wrestling business.
Karrion Kross: WWE fast-tracked Kross’ ascension to the main roster before the ink was dry on his contract. He was given everything—elaborate entrance, booked as a killer, and his wife, Scarlett as his valet. However, somewhere along the way, the favor Kross curried with fans vanished.
Kross’ in-ring ability paled in comparison to the likes of Cole, Gargano, and others. Although fans quickly turned on him, WWE stayed the course and promoted him to the main roster as NXT Champion. Kross was booked as a dominant force in his debut match against Jeff Hardy and lost, making the worst of first impressions.
Physically, Kross was one of the bigger wrestlers in NXT but an average-sized wrestler on the main roster. To be blunt, he looked like a regular dude playing a monster who didn’t bump often and showed no explosiveness with his offense. Take a key component of his act away in Scarlet, replace her with a gladiator helmet, mix it all together, and you have a recipe for disaster.
In the end, Kross was booked poorly in a role he wasn’t talented enough to pull off.
Nia Jax: While it’s never a good look to celebrate anyone losing their job, especially before the holidays, many fans are happy about Nia’s release. Her carelessness in the ring and not knowing her own strength caused a slew of scary moments where wrestlers got hurt.
Interestingly, Nia is the only wrestler named publicly as unvaccinated. Especially since the wrestling media has been careful not to drop any names. Nia publicly responded to the reports stating WWE never brought up her vaccination status.
Nia explained her absence stating she was on a company-approved mental health break.WWE sent her an itinerary for a November 15th return. Nia requested more time off, never heard a response for her request, and was released a few days later.
Nia’s post-WWE career will be interesting to observe because the 37-year-old has only known WWE. While a few independent promotions can afford to bring her in for a match here and an autograph signing there, living off that form of income is a hustle.
Does Nia have the desire to hustle on the independent scene? It is easier for a former star to acclimate back to high school gyms and elks lodges than it is for someone like Nia, who’s only known first-class settings.
ROH is no longer an option. Impact Wrestling presumably wouldn’t or couldn’t meet her quote, and her wrestling style is the complete antithesis of the AEW product.
Perhaps, signing with the latest revival of Women of Wrestling (WOW) is Nia’s best option. They need star power, which Nia provides, and concerns with work rate won’t be a problem since WOW heavily edits their matches. Plus, WOW is funded with that Jeanie Buss money (LA Lakers) so they can pay Nia’s price tag.
If WOW is not an option and the Indies are not lucrative enough or desirable for Nia, coupled with her reputation for hurting people, her career in wrestling might be over.
Keith Lee: Keith Lee’s release is the biggest shocker. Sadly, he’s another statistic; a seemingly can’t miss talent Vince McMahon couldn’t wrap his head around. After an exciting NXT run and memorable moments at Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble, Lee’s call up to Raw was announced the night before his debut.
Then, McMahon’s penchant for altering an NXT wrestler’s look began.
Lee had to wear a singlet and a pair of shorts to cover up his physique instead of going shirtless with long biker trunks. More changes followed as Lee’s “Limitless” theme music was changed to some generic garbage. His in-ring style was toned down by eliminating the high spots that made Lee standout in favor of the traditional lumbering big man work style of power moves.
Finally, a name change. Keith Lee was now “Bearcat” with claw mark imagery on his gear. Many believed the new name was a tribute to black wrestling pioneer Bearcat Wright. However, it was too random to be complementary.
It’s clear that McMahon didn’t get Keith Lee, felt he was out of shape and still feels bigger wrestlers should exclusively work one style. While Lee didn’t have a typical body of a WWE Superstar, he was far from looking like a slob. His ability to do moves that most big men can’t do endeared him to fans, making Lee stand out in an industry that thrives on standout personalities.
Keith Lee was stripped of what made him unique on the main roster. As for Lee’s future destination, all signs point to AEW as he fits their style of wrestling like a glove.
With so many former WWE names still on the open market between various mass releases, what about the talent from Ring of Honor? For all the good ROH did for the wrestling industry, the emergence of AEW took away the one thing they had going for it. A national wrestling-centric promotion.
Despite ROH’s world-class talent over the years, their television show never looked like must-see TV. The sporadic airing of their syndicated show prevented communal viewing, which is a must to grow an audience.
ROH’s partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling allowed American wrestling fans to see wrestlers and enjoy matches they otherwise never would have seen. It was a wonderful time for wrestling fans, but there is one glaring problem. ROH failed to create any for their own stars.
The biggest indicator of ROH’s inability to create new stars was Matt Taven winning the ROH World Title at the New Japan/ROH coproduced G1 Supercard event at Madison Square Garden.
Taven was pushed as the promotion’s top heel. However, everyone inside MSG was indifferent to him when he entered the ring, and his win was damned with faint praise. The idea of people paying to see Taven lose the title at some point became “Really, that guy?”
ROH was never going to make a new star in the shadow of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Finally, ROH’s parent company Sinclair Broadcasting was never interested in creating the next big wrestling promotion. Instead, it was merely reliable programing for their slew of syndicated networks across the country.
ROH always had a glass ceiling, even before AEW entered the fold.
Jonathan Gresham, Bandido, and Rush will be the most sought-after names? Everyone else on the male side of the roster has either been fired from WWE or is too small and old for WWE’s reported new requirements.
Wrestlers in their early to mid-20’s with a minimum height and weight of 6’2 and 220 lbs.
Even independent wrestling promoters with the deepest pockets only have so much money to throw around. Wrestlers who venture out to the independent scene after time spent in a top promotion charge a premium while the iron’s hot.
Once the novelty wears off, the high price tag wrestlers change for their services begins to go down. Promoters made all the money they could off the wrestler’s initial appearances and either won’t or can’t afford to pay the wrestler again at their desired quote.
Independent wrestlers in this situation need consistent income and will eventually take the lower payday but will work more dates to make up for the premium income they once had.
i.e., The hustle of independent wrestling.
Some of the combined 80 + ROH and WWE wrestlers released from their contracted means of employment will get another contract elsewhere. Sadly, the majority have seen their final contract.
Those who cannot secure a contract will have to hustle on the independents if they want to remain in the industry. Let’s say an independent promoter wants to bring in both Jonathan Gresham and Keith Lee but only has enough money for one?
Keith Lee is getting the gig because he is more well-known and will presumably draw a bigger audience. That’s a booking Jonathan Gresham had last week that he doesn’t have anymore.
Some ROH talents will obtain steady work on the regional circuit where they started their wrestling journey. Mike Bennett, Matt Taven, Vincent, and Brian Milonas will take advantage of their New England roots while Silas Young and Beer City Bruiser will get offers in their stomping grounds of Wisconsin.
Still, local bookings will only go so far when making a living in the wrestling business.
Looking at coming attractions, Bray Wyatt’s 90-day no-compete clause just expired. NXT’s Johnny Gargano and Kyle O’Reilly’s contracts expire next month. Kevin Owen’s WWE deal is up in January, and Juice Robinson is free of his New Japan obligations in early February.
The free agency market is a gluttonous talent pool and will continue to overflow as WWE releases more wrestlers. AEW can’t sign everyone, which means not everyone is going to land on their feet.
Even if ROH returns from their hiatus, they will operate as an independent promotion, thus eliminating the last thing that made them one of the most desirable place to work.
Good luck to everyone navigating these changes in their professional lives.