Last night on Raw, Heath Slater made his surprising return to WWE in the opening segment of the show.
For anyone who missed it, Dolph Ziggler made reference to Drew McIntyre leaving his former friends—like himself—behind him when he pursued the WWE Championship. Another of those being the leader of McIntyre’s former stable, 3MB, Heath Slater.
The One Man Rock Band brought up McIntyre’s statement from The Bump wherein he said he would grant Slater a title shot, only to not be able to follow through with that. While McIntyre won the title on The Grandest Stage of Them All, Slater was watching WrestleMania 36 and crying in support of his friend while unknowingly heading toward a release from WWE.
— WWE (@WWE) July 7, 2020
Slater came to Raw for what he was owed: a title shot. He got it, in what amounted to roughly 10 seconds of punches followed by a Claymore and a pinfall with McIntyre retaining. That was followed by Ziggler lashing out at Slater, only for McIntyre to make the save and embrace his buddy, who was all smiles, as if he didn’t just talk about how he has to find a way to feed his kids.
It’s only been a few hours since then, and I’m already seeing the wheels turning out there from people suggesting this is going to happen with a laundry list of others who were released on Black Wednesday.
Suddenly, the fantasy booking options are coming out. Is Rusev going to come back and be paired with Lana again, now that she’s no longer with Bobby Lashley? Will Kassius Ohno fill Sami Zayn’s shoes and team up with Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura? Maybe Mike and Maria Kanellis will blah blah and No Way Jose will such and such while Lio Rush does yadda yadda?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no. Those aren’t going to happen. And if you’re getting your expectations high, you’re unfortunately setting yourself up for disappointment and can’t blame WWE when it doesn’t take place.
Of course, you could make the argument that anything can happen in the world of professional wrestling. We’ve seen plenty of oddball scenarios play out that nobody could have seen taking place. But it’s highly unlikely that WWE will make a habit out of this during the pandemic and bring any other Superstars back for cameos like they did with Slater.
So Why Did They Do It, Then?
McIntyre is the face of the company at the moment. He’s a priority Superstar who gets different treatment and attention, as there is a bigger focus on him compared to most others.
For instance, you’re not going to see Eric Young get brought back because he has no ties to anyone who could justify his return. Nobody’s clamoring for the epic confrontation between Young and Killian Dain to reference SAnitY. Hell, Dain is barely there as it is.
Ziggler is a former partner of McIntyre’s and to tell that aspect of the story, there weren’t many options available to pick from.
Jinder Mahal is injured. Had he not been, it’s doubtful WWE would do this. He’d probably be the one feuding with McIntyre right now in a proper storyline with Ziggler on the outs entirely, if that were the case.
Since he wasn’t available for in-ring action, who else is there? You can’t go with Cody Rhodes, as he’s in AEW. At some point, he and Sheamus will cross paths, but The Celtic Warrior is firmly in a feud on SmackDown with Jeff Hardy. It would muddy the waters to crossover in this fashion and there’s no way they’d make him a sacrificial lamb to help tell Ziggler’s storyline.
Slater was the only option and their time to use that card was running out.
These 90 day no-compete clauses are about to expire next week or so. If they didn’t pull the trigger now, they probably wouldn’t ever be able to. It’s not like they could just bring Slater back 4 months from now while he’s signed to Impact Wrestling or something, even if they try to rehash it with Mahal.
Now or never. If Slater wouldn’t have agreed, WWE probably would have just alluded to him in the promo and had some other variation of the segment.
This was arguably the most important thing they could have done with any of the released Superstars, but even this wasn’t essential, which means its incredibly unlikely anyone else will be jumping through those hoops.
But What About Drew Gulak and Drake Maverick? They Returned!
Yes, it’s true that Drew Gulak was released, only to not miss a single episode of SmackDown and come back.
It’s also true Drake Maverick was fired, then let to compete in the Interim NXT Cruiserweight Championship Tournament before being granted a new contract and signing to the black and gold brand.
Those are different circumstances, though, for a variety of reasons.
With Gulak, his contract expired. He wasn’t released as part of a cost-cutting tactic. More than anyone who was fired, Gulak was actually receiving a solid push, too, which means he had demonstrated his value to WWE.
Someone like EC3 or Curtis Axel weren’t in the same boat. They hadn’t been seen in a long while and were used as enhancement talent then, anyway.
WWE probably put out the statement about releasing Gulak as a negotiating tactic while he said “okay, let my contract expire and we’ll keep talking” to put the ball partially in his court, too. Then, they settled on something and it’s as if there wasn’t even a lapse. He’s just a normal member of the roster again. It was a hiccup.
Maverick, I’d argue, saved his job with his impassioned Twitter video. He had the perfect storm of momentum, being one of the first to get his story out there, had genuine feelings that garnered the right sympathy, was already scheduled and advertised for a multi-week appearance setup and is probably just a great guy, too. I’m sure WWE didn’t mind saving a bit of face by rehiring someone for good P.R., too, while Triple H likely was trying to keep Maverick’s job, as well as others, and got his way for that one.
But even that isn’t a short cameo like the Slater situation. Maverick was actively talking about how he didn’t want to lose his job with WWE, while plenty of others who were released on Black Wednesday are excited to spread their wings and go elsewhere. Some specifically wanted out from the start and this was less of a firing and more of an allowed quitting.