Last night WWE released eight wrestlers from their contracts. Exactly two weeks earlier, shortly after WWE touted better-than-expected performance on a quarterly earnings call, the company released 18 wrestlers. Those were just the latest of several rounds of roster cuts so far in 2021, with 80 wrestlers losing their job throughout the year. That comes on the heels of over 50 wrestlers being released last year, during the height of the pandemic. WWE executives cite “budget cuts,” despite the company seeing record profits since the start of 2020. Various factors have played into the releases; some unhappy wrestlers requested a release, others were cut as part of a larger movement within the company towards younger and more physically imposing wrestlers, while a few were justifiably let go in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. Still, this is the longest sustained period of bloodletting in WWE’s recent history, and represents an about-face from the company’s recent attempts to hoard talent and keep them away from other promotions. Some wrestlers were let go less than a year after signing with the company; some were fired in the middle of storylines, or shortly after making their debut on the main roster. More than one set of romantic partners lost both their jobs, and some wrestlers were laid off within months or even weeks of relocating to the Orlando area by the company’s request. From the outside, there’s not much rhyme or reason to the releases; some of the company’s most popular stars were cut alongside relatively new wrestlers who seemed like can’t-miss superstars and fresh recruits who never even made it to TV. In short, it’s an incredibly turbulent time for the WWE roster, with WWE’s moves baffling both outside observers and, often, the wrestlers themselves.
WWE’s moves might seem unpredictable, but we here at Paste have noticed a pattern behind all of these releases. After closely analysing the company’s personnel moves this year, we feel like we can predict WWE’s next round of roster cuts with a fairly high level of certainty. According to WWE’s roster page, there are currently 217 performers signed to the company’s four different brands; this includes wrestlers, announcers, commentators, on-air authority figures, and pretty much anybody who appears on WWE television outside of the referees. Assuming the goal is to turn WWE’s roster into a leaner, cheaper, more stock price friendly version of itself, and given the releases of the last two years, we forecast that the following wrestlers will be released from WWE over the next few rounds of cuts—probably wrapping up by Christmas, although don’t count out one last round in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. We’ve scoured the facts and cracked the code, and based on what we’ve seen, this is who we expect WWE to release soon.
This is based on WWE’s current roster, according to the WWE website. It’s entirely possible the company fired another dozen or so people in the 30 minutes it took me to set up this post.
Flash Morgan Webster
Kay Lee Ray
King Xavier Woods
Queen Zelina Vega
The Brian Kendrick
That will leave nine performers under contract. Given the direction WWE has been headed in for years, that should be enough to fill up the three hours of Raw, two hours of NXT, two hours of Smackdown, two hours of NXT UK, one hour of WWE Main Event, and half-hour of something called “205 Live” that WWE produces every single week. Roman Reigns, of course, will continue to be the centerpiece of the show, speaking directly into the camera for over 10 hours a week as Paul Heyman trembles behind him. About four times a year Brock Lesnar, one of three wrestlers still on the roster, will come out to stare Reigns down and maybe have a tug of war over Reigns’ championship belt. Whatever time isn’t filled by Reigns will feature R-Truth, the only other full-time wrestler still under contract, doing comedy solely for the enjoyment of Vince McMahon. Twice a year John Cena and the Undertaker will each do their entrance to piped-in chants of “you’ve still got it.” Pat McAfee will also be there, for some reason, as WWE continues to hope that his mainstream success brings in any new fans at all. Vince and Stephanie McMahon will watch on from backstage, as their staff of 35 TV writers furiously rewrite every script even after the show has already started. It’ll be the culmination of Vince McMahon’s ultimate dream, an efficient, streamlined, fat-free version of what he’s always wanted WWE to be. And across America, two million people will still tune in on Friday nights, and 1.5 million on Mondays. It won’t be good for wrestlers, or the wrestling industry, or the enjoyment of the millions of former wrestling fans who tuned out during WWE’s near-monopoly throughout the ‘00s and ‘10s, but it will more closely reflect McMahon’s vision for what wrestling should be, and as he himself would tell you, that’s some good shit, pal.
Satire aside, and in all honesty, the way WWE treats its employees (who, of course, are somehow defined as “independent contractors,” despite WWE handling every aspect of their career while under contract) has long been shameful. The unpredictability created by these rampant, unexpected cuts can only make things worse, as now anybody outside of the biggest stars must feel expendable. And even some main eventers must worry in the back of their heads, as both Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman were at the top of the card when they were unceremoniously fired earlier this year. With Ring of Honor releasing all of its talent as it eyes a transition back to a more traditional indie promotion, and WWE releasing scores of talent every month, this is the most unstable the labor market in wrestling has been in years—and it comes during a pandemic that is still very real, and still greatly cutting into both independent wrestling shows and the ability to get booked internationally in Japan or Europe. Unlike Ring of Honor, though, which has operated at a loss throughout the pandemic, and whose parent company Sinclair Broadcasting (yes, that Sinclair Broadcasting) is struggling with its debt-laden regional sports networks, WWE’s coffers continue to swell as the company guts its rosters, revealing how out of touch they are with their fanbase and the future by releasing some of the most promising potential superstars in the company. Regular, widespread cuts might make sense for shareholders, but it’s a terrible way to treat your employees, and another sign that wrestlers desperately need a union to protect their interests.