This past Friday saw WWE release eight performers from their contracts, in a move that represented a throwback for the company, who for years had been avoiding the negative PR associated with releasing talent, by instead just not renewing contracts.
In years gone by, WWE had held many “Black Fridays”, the name fans had given to the somewhat regular clearing of the decks by the company. Typically, these Fridays would see the WWE website drip out a list of names, announcing that they’d released main roster superstars X, Y and Z, before wishing them all the best in their future endeavours.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the last few years whilst Linda McMahon had been attempting to run for office, these “Black Fridays” had become something of a rareity. Indeed, short of retiring, or doing something major to upset the office (I’m looking at you, Hulk Hogan), WWE-led releases were about as rare as WWE-announced drug test failures. I’m not saying that the McMahon-for-office campaigns meant that WWE held back on cuts, but it’s a nice little conspiracy theory, isn’t it?
With WWE having signed a lot of new talents lately, it was only a matter of time before there were some departures. Whilst WWE have announced fresh arrivals in NXT, short of the likes of Austin Aries, Shinsuke Nakamura, and expected-arrivals in Bobby Roode and Eric Young, the usual arrivals and departures in developmental are much of a muchness, especially financially.
But with the likes of AJ Styles and the not-Bullet Club pair of Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows going straight to the main roster, it was just a matter of time before the numbers game came to pass, and WWE wielded their axe. Now the dust has settled, here’s a quick look at the departed.
You know your career’s been a little goofy when the highlight of your wrestling career was “holding the Miz’s briefcase at WrestleMania 27. Alex Riley’s WWE career away from the Miz was hardly stellar – and amid speculation that he’d been punished for being less-than-glowing towards John Cena, less than a year after being a part of the WrestleMania main event, Riley was doomed to Superstars obscurity.
Riley’s moved from the in-the-ring to behind-the-mic, and to be fair, his commentary career wasn’t that bad. Had he not gone on a Twitter spree and campaigned for a return to the ring, he probably would have still been with the company today. However, he got his wish and returned to the ring in NXT, where he quickly became irrelevant after losing a feud with newcomer Kevin Owens in 2015. He took time off shortly after to have knee surgery, but his “Rage” character got next to no traction before being released. For those of you who liked Riley’s raging, he’s got one more match left to air, against Shinsuke Nakamura in NXT.
“Bad News” Barrett
Add this to the list of “potential unfulfilled”; had he been handled well in his early WWE career, Wade Barrett could have become the new British Bulldog, as far as being a British star who’d fly the flag in WWE. When he made his main roster debut as part of the Nexus, the focus was well and truly on Wade as the leader of the Nexus. Unfortunately, Wade found himself replaced by CM Punk and spun off into another group – the CORRE.
As a singles wrestler, Wade was perennially involved in or around the Intercontinental championship picture, being a five-time champion, but short for some flirtations with the WWE title, he was never really part of the main event scene. Probably his best run creatively would have been in 2014 as Bad News Barrett, reprising the character he’d played on “The JBL and Cole” show on YouTube. However, as is the case with a lot of heel acts, the “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you” catchphrase actually turned him into something of a babyface, to the point where the character was binned and replaced by King Barrett, after he won last year’s rushed King of the Ring tournament.
A product of Tough Enough – just about – Cameron’s career highlights were being “the first one eliminated from the Stone Cold Season” and “that one whose favourite match of all time was Alicia Fox vs. Melina”. In WWE, her in-ring career was thankfully brief – after being a part of the Funkadactyls (Brodus Clay’s dancing valets), she was largely just “there”. After taking time off to consider her options and start a music career, Cameron appeared in NXT for a few losing efforts, before getting future endeavoured.
Perhaps her most notable input came in her final week in WWE, with a post on Twitter supporting Ryback – who surprisingly didn’t get his marching orders – after he’d taken time off in protest at the way wrestlers are paid. Yes, that’ll be something we’ll be talking about soon…
Perhaps the most unpopular release, Damien Sandow spent a lot of time in the Zack Ryder bucket for seemingly being punished for being over when creative didn’t want him to be. Returning to WWE in April 2012 (after a brief run with the company in 2006-2007 as Aaron “Idol” Stevens), Damien Sandow was originally portrayed as a condescending, “better than you” heel who was supposedly smarter than everyone else. Whilst a solid character, and one that would form a decent pairing with Cody Rhodes as Team Rhodes Scholars – a team that would seemingly get a tonne of tag team title shots, but never win them – it wouldn’t be until his run as an impersonator where he would break out of the pack.
During a run where he cosplayed as characters such as Magneto, Paul Revere and Vince McMahon, Damien Sandow would become The Miz’s stunt double – Damien Mizdow. Frequently overshadowing the Miz, Sandow’s antics as the stunt double would be so entertaining, the crowd couldn’t help but cheer for him. Although WWE would throw us a bone every now and then, having Mizdow come close to winning the Andre the Giant battle royal before WrestleMania 31, the character would be quickly killed off, losing to the Miz in a “battle for the name”, before disappearing.
Sandow would return to TV as “Macho Mandow”, aping the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage, in a tag team with Curtis Axel (whose Axelmania character played off of Hulk Hogan). Unfortunately, Hogan’s parting of the ways with WWE last summer meant that that act was also killed off. Although he’d return to TV at the end of 2015, calling him an afterthought would be an overstatement, and whilst he would get good reactions from fans who wanted to see him, it was clear that Damien Sandow would be the 2016 epitome of “creative has nothing for you”. Fortunately, this isn’t his first time around, so I can’t see him hurting for work on the independent scene.
For a character signed to play a comedy bull, the former Mascarita Dorada’s two-and-a-half-year run with WWE has been nothing short of remarkable. Signed to become the mascot of Los Matadores, El Torito’s role in matches was largely restricted to being either bullied, or delivering slashes or hurricanranas to opponents.
He was used as a wrestler, with a feud with Hornswoggle giving us the WeeLC match prior to Extreme Rules in 2014, and a follow-up hair vs. mask match the following month in May 2014. However, Torito found himself the odd man out when the Matadores turned heel before disappearing from TV, and with the Matadores being repackaged, there was no use for El Torito, who’ll likely return to Mexico and pick up where he left off.
While we’re on the topic of El Torito, he was the last big-time feud for Hornswoggle, whose release from WWE ends a ten-year run with the company. Originally debuting in May 2006 as “Little Bastard”, the repackaged Hornswoggle would largely have a career playing a tertiary role, as a foil/sidekick for many a guy, with runs involving DX, Finlay and 3MB. He did however, have three major storylines (in no order): being unveiled as the anonymous Raw General Manager in 2012, being the last ever WWE Cruiserweight Champion in 2007, and being unveiled as Vince McMahon’s illegitimate son also in 2007.
Although Hornswoggle’s run with WWE was largely that of a mascot, you can’t say that he didn’t leave a mark in the company!
Marella’s release came as something of a surprise, mostly because everyone had assumed that he’d not been under contract after retiring with a neck injury in July 2014. Originally debuting in April 2007, as a “fan from the crowd”, Marella won the Intercontinental title on his first night in, Marella found himself firmly slotted in the midcard – but that wasn’t a bad thing.
A storyline romance with Maria saw him get an involvement at WrestleMania 24 – albeit one where he was beaten up by Maria in the end, along with newly-inducted Hall of Famer, Snoop Dogg. He then transitioned to another romance/relationship with Beth Phoenix, giving him another run with the Intercontinental title, and the short-lived Honkameter (where Marella tried in vain to beat the Honky Tonk Man’s run as Intercontinental champion). He played a woman for a while, winning the “Miss WrestleMania” battle royal at WrestleMania 25, then transitioned into a comedic tag team with Vladimir Koslov.
Marella’s role on the card was often one of comedy relief, and he played it well. Bizarrely, he received “almost did it” style pushes, being the last man in at the 2011 Royal Rumble, ultimately losing to Alberto del Rio, and the next month was the last man pinned in the Elimination Chamber for the World Heavyweight Championship. By the end of his run in WWE, Marella had formed a partnership with Emma that was dying a death, largely because Emma had been given a typical NXT call-up without any character development (beyond being “someone in the crowd”).
The final release from this past week was the former Dutch Mantell – ending (yep) a three-year run which had it’s ups and it’s downs. Debuting for WWE again in February 2013, Colter portrayed the manager of Jack Swagger, with the character being a caricature of Tea Party politicians, and their anti-immigrant beliefs. Unfortunately, the act largely relied on the partnership with Swagger as the “Real American”, and although Colter remained effective when Cesaro joined the group later that year, it was largely a sticking plaster for when Jack Swagger was out injured.
Upon returning from injury, Swagger joined Cesaro as the “Real Americans”, still under Colter’s command, but once that group dissolved after WrestleMania 30, the clock was starting to tick on Colter’s WWE career. Whilst the Swagger/Colter act remained relevant, thanks in part to a long, long feud with the newcomer Rusev, Swagger’s stock dived after taking repeated losses to the Russian/Bulgarian.
Colter would be written off of television with a broken leg at the hands of Rusev at the end of 2014, but would return briefly in late 2015, as the man responsible for bringing back Alberto del Rio to WWE. That pairing made no sense from day one, and was dropped barely six weeks after del Rio’s return, with Colter being taken off TV, never to return.
Of course, prior to this act, the man better known as Dutch Mantell had been a prolific booker, working for TNA, Jerry Jarrett’s Memphis wrestling group and promotions in Puerto Rico, so you’d be surprised that WWE couldn’t find any use for him behind the scenes.
Whilst WWE would look at this as getting rid of dead wood, pretty much all of the above still have some involvement in wrestling – should they want it. Alex Riley and Cameron had been vocal about not being prominent in WWE, so lets see whether they appear on the independent scene, or whether they suddenly lose their “love” for wrestling now WWE’s stopped calling.