To say WWE’s overall management and booking of its wrestlers has been lacking as of late is an understatement. But the company’s recent management of its talent has degraded as both main event wrestlers and new arrivals feel its effects.
Mass releases aren’t new to the company. Wrestlers who hadn’t been on TV for a while, because of an injury or because they were on their way out, could be on the chopping block. Now, however, the WWE is cutting established wrestlers who have been performing on TV week after week and even newly-signed wrestlers and clipping their wings before they get any wind under them.
The release of 18 wrestlers this past Thursday proves that WWE’s booking and management issues leave no wrestler safe, whether they occupy the main event card or are new arrivals.
This month’s releases saw the primordial golden shovel placed firmly in the dirt on the squandered potential of some of NXT’s best talent, Keith Lee, Karrion Kross, and Ember Moon.
NXT, where much of the WWE’s talent would build themselves up before joining the main rosters of the more well-known Raw and Smackdown shows, used to be a haven for newer wrestlers to learn the ropes and hone their craft. NXT was the baby Paul Levesque, better known by his wrestling persona Triple H. Under his leadership, what was essentially the WWE’s “minor league” because a main event of its own. But now that Triple H has stepped down from overseeing the brand, wrestlers he spent years developing with long term storylines and popular gimmicks have been repackaged or dropped entirely by WWE CEO Vince McMahon before even making it to the main roster. Behind the scenes, the WWE is even more melodramatic than what’s on screen.
This year alone, WWE has released 71 wrestlers according to Gamespot, which is enough to make up an entire roster of talent from any other wrestling promotions around the world. In the past, approximately five names were at most mentioned in a list posted by the company on their webpage. Now, releases are done en masse.
During the company’s third quarter earnings call on November 4, McMahon, chief brand officer and McMahon’s daughter Stephanie McMahon, and chief revenue officer Nick Khan touted how well the company was doing during the pandemic. They touted the WWE’s popularity on TikTok, how newer talent were shaping up on its rebranded NXT 2.0 show, and even compared their superstars to Marvel heroes saying, “each superhero is their own individual franchise, and WWE has just begun to unlock some of our incredible IP.” The trio also mentioned tapping into the “immense popularity of NFTs” with its trading cards and collectables, but I don’t have enough spoons to tackle that dumpster fire.
Ultimately, the meeting revealed that the company earned $43.5 million in net income and $255.8 million in revenue in tickets, merch costs, and its pay-per-view SummerSlam this quarter; a 15 percent increase from the previous quarter’s earnings.
The WWE of today is more concerned with building home-grown talent than featuring wrestlers who made it big in the indie wrestling scene, according to Cultaholic. Since taking over NXT, McMahon, along with senior vice president Bruce Prichard, has made the brand indistinguishable from the main roster.
Rather than letting a wrestler’s persona shine during in-ring storytelling, NXT 2.0 leans on over-produced video packages, camera angles that ogle its female wrestlers, and matches that end far too quickly. All of these issues have persisted on the main shows for the last few years, as well.
Keith Lee and Karrion Kross were wrestlers who were already popular among NXT fans, but once they made it to the main roster, they were trapped in Vince’s rebranding purgatory. Lee’s cool entrance theme music was taken away, had a shirt thrown on him, and was randomly renamed Keith “Bearcat” Lee. His soft-spoken, eloquent promos where he would display his verbose vocabulary politely but poignantly would also be a thing of the past. Suddenly, he was reduced to the tired, one-dimensional angry Black dude who frowns as he squashes his opponents.
Kross arguably had the worst main roster call up in WWE history as he went from being a final boss in NXT alongside his manager and wife Scarlett Bordeaux to a solo performer in a gladiator in a gimp suit. That was before yet another repackaging again with a persona I can only describe as Agent 47 from Hitman. Ember Moon had star power written all over her with her in-ring ability and goddess of war mixed with wolf-like aesthetics. But she was overlooked by McMahon and sent back to NXT before being fired.
Main roster wrestlers like Nia Jax, who comes from the same wrestling family dynasty as her cousin The Rock (yes, that Dwayne “The Rock ‘’Johnson), weren’t safe. Jax was allegedly released due to her vaccination status as all WWE wrestlers were advised to get vaccinated but were never told they had to, according to Cultaholic. However, Jax refuted the claim on Instagram and said she didn’t even know about her release until after it happened.
Aside from Lee, Moon, and Jax, much of the WWE’s Black talent got the boot last Thursday, which is especially frustrating given the promise each of those wrestlers displayed in the ring.
Notably, Mia Yim, who is also Lee’s fiancé, was booked into a faction called Retribution, WWE’s idea of what Antifa was during the Black Lives Matter protests. She also got axed this week after spending time on the bench due to contracting coronavirus.
While I know, or at least hope, many of the released wrestlers will end up better for it in the long run, my heart bleeds for those who are still employed at WWE who likely feel they can’t voice their frustrations at how they are being managed backstage. The knee-jerk reaction to WWE wrestlers losing their jobs can’t always be that they’ll end up with main competitor All Elite Wrestling. Although the newer wrestling promotion has proven they have a better sense of management of former WWE wrestlers, they aren’t a Band-Aid to WWE’s management failings.
Change must happen within the WWE so that talent not only feels valued but also assured that their work won’t dwindle away due to a “necessary” budget cut called for within the same sentence that the company brags about its earnings.