WWE Recruits & Releases: How Does The Landscape Look After 2 Years?

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Hello! Today, we are looking at WWE recruits and releases of the past two years, and how it has drastically changed the landscape. Management has cited their key reason for releasing so many talents as “budget cuts”. All the while, stating how much WWE has profited during the pandemic. In the past two years, we have seen the biggest turnover in wrestling talent since WWE introduced ECW as a third brand.

There are other factors behind the releases. Before AEW debuted in 2019, WWE acted as the virtual monopoly. It hoarded talent for years. Yes, it would annually release like clockwork, but it was always signing just as, if not more, to replace them. It would test potentials at the Performance Center, NXT and NXT UK. Only a special few bypassed this stage, like AJ Styles, The Good Brothers, and Mike Kanellis (Bennett) with his wife, Maria. WWE had the means, and the money, to not only develop talent away from TV for a long time, but to keep established stars contracted and sidelined at home without repercussions.

This changed with AEW because WWE was no longer the only show in town. Now, wrestlers need not look at the company as the be-all and end-all. Before 2019, if you wanted to live your dream as a wrestling superstar, WWE was your only option. Talent were desperate to accept anything they were given, even if it meant dealing with ridiculous storylines & gimmicks. Legends like Shawn Michaels would say things like “if you’re not in the game” (can’t find the exact quote). You had to stay in WWE’s good books to have a chance, because if you’re working the independents, the chances of making it are slim because you won’t be called upon. You had to prove your undying loyalty to a company who had more talent than it knew what to do with.

Also, AEW Dynamite contributed to killing the philosophy of NXT. Back in August, before the rebrand, I wrote an article called: The Rise & Fall Of NXT – Where Did It Go Wrong?


The ‘IT’ Factor

In this, I highlighted all the positives which made NXT a success. Then, I pointed out how WWE killed its identity by relying too much on beating Dynamite in the ratings. They plugged it as a pseudo third brand for so long and tried convincing fans that NXT was on an even playing field to Raw & SmackDown. Everybody knew this was untrue. NXT was a developmental brand, and bringing back Finn Balor & Charlotte Flair to spike ratings was a cheap move.


I won’t go further in to this, because it’s in the past now, but what is important was my conclusion. What I saw was NXT with an identity crisis, and it needed to get back to basics. It needed to rebrand, get rid of those who weren’t helping, and get back to developing young talent. I hadn’t expected this, but WWE did exactly what I was hoping for. They could see what I was seeing and made it “2.0”. I’m not the biggest fan of ignoring the history of NXT, nor am I enamored by its colorful presentation, but I am impressed with WWE’s drive for change. I’m happy to see fresh faces getting the spotlight, and while we have mainstays like Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano keeping some familiarity, everything feels new and I’m more interested in the product.

Yeah, I know some hate it because it’s not how it used to be. They promoted NXT like a more polished Ring Of Honor. Like some kind of glorified underground independent promotion. You’d feel honored talking about NXT with anyone else who watched it, because the casuals who only tuned in for Raw & SmackDown were missing out on something special. Yes, NXT has become more like sports-entertainment, but this is a good thing, because it means the superstars are more prepared for Raw & SmackDown. They are less likely to be drastically altered and struggle on their way to being future endeavored. The new NXT is more in line with what Vince McMahon wants, which is better for the talent, whether we like the product more.

With this comes a new philosophy for recruiting talent. Apparently, WWE only wants those who are young, big, and entertaining. It is shying away from signing “small indie wrestlers”, instead focusing on young talent who stand out for the way they look and act. WWE wants characters, and it will sign smaller talent if they are special, but its old school mentality is that of finding those with “It”.


When you see a wrestler for the first time… and you’re like, wow, I bet they will be a big star one day. They force your attention either without trying, or because they are special enough to keep it. However, it’s also about how the talent conducts themselves. It doesn’t matter how talented somebody is. If they aren’t easy to work with, have an inflated ego (and can’t play politics), or they prove to be a liability, WWE will eventually get rid.


We cannot continue without mentioning Nick Khan, who has taken on responsibility for the releases. However, he does so while stating there is a collective deciding, and Vince McMahon remains the boss.

Nick Khan Talks About The NXT Rebrand:

We are doing a complete revamp on NXT, led by Triple H/Paul Levesque, who is really one of the architects of the original NXT. We want our system to be an easy system where people who want to be superstars, they know how to get to us, and we can get to them. In terms of an NXT rebrand, look for it in the next couple of weeks. It’s going to have a whole new look. It’s going to have a whole new feel, and we believe because a lot of the ‘Indie wrestlers’ if you will, have come through our system and are in our system with SmackDown and Raw now, we don’t want to just keep doing that same thing, we want to look elsewhere for great young talent.

Talking About The Myriad Of Releases:

“There’s a collective of us. And keep in mind, in WWE there’s one boss. That’s Vince, as we all know. So between Bruce Prichard, who oversees the entire creative process, between Kevin Dunn who oversees all of our production, between Stephanie McMahon, [Triple H], all are involved in these decisions, with ultimately Vince making the final decision on everything. I think ultimately what’s looked at is – Is this person, for us, going to move the needle, now or in the imminent future?

We’re always looking for what’s next. We live in the present, we live in the future. We don’t live in the past. So when people leave and they move on in their life and their careers, that’s good by us. For us, it’s what works for us and our product at that moment in time and again, what’s gonna work down the road. And largely in part, the existing roster is based on that.”

WWE has changed its philosophy because the business has changed. It could afford to keep wrestlers on, but it would not have goodwill with talent if it were to continue keeping those they have no intention of using. Therefore, they let them go so they can be happy making a living elsewhere. WWE rarely releases anyone making them tons of money. If it happens, there are justifiable reasons.


Unlike others, WWE rarely makes a big deal of its signings. For example, AEW hypes up each signing (on social media) by announcing the wrestler is now “Elite”. WWE doesn’t do this. They quietly sign talents and we’ll never know unless we look them up. The past two years have been daunting. We look at the lists of releases being shared online, but nobody lists those who have been brought in to replace them. Honestly, I didn’t know of many of these until I started my research on this piece. With that said, let’s get in to the “Before & After” images I have made up. Much thanks to The Smackdown Hotel for its extensive roster database. This would not have been possible without it.

How It Works

– This is not 100% accurate! It does not include every wrestler or staff member in WWE, but I have found it to be most accurate. The database focuses on those working on TV and key backstage personnel, ignoring those who are contracted to work in WWE’s offices, production, or developing in the Performance Center.

– The “Before” roster (left) is from January 1st 2020, a couple of months before the pandemic began. The “After” roster (right) represents WWE after this week’s releases. There are several superstars who were signed after 1/1/2020 who did not make it to this week. Because of this, their images will not appear, but I will mention as many of them as possible.


– Anybody with an “X” sign was released, retired, or let go in any other way, between January 1st 2020 and this week. I would not place an X on anybody who passed away (RIP Howard Finkel & Pat Patterson) out of respect. Green bars represent new talent who (don’t have to be fresh faces) appeared since 1/1/2020. For example, I highlighted MVP & John Morrison because WWE brought them back in this time period. I did not consider marking part-timers.

– I know that announcers, interviewers, hosts, and others are bunched in with the superstars. It would have taken a monumental effort to remove each person, so I treated them the same as anybody else. Their personalities can affect the overall products, therefore, I think it’s fair to see if WWE changed the way they manage them.

– Any numbers I cite are estimated. I’d have to count every list of releases and signings WWE has made in the past two years to give accurate numbers, which would be excessive and unnecessary.


– The point of this? To see how WWE has allocated its new talent after releasing the old. Is there a pattern? Was it really about budget cuts? Did it need to be this extreme? Let’s find out.

WWE Men’s Roster – January 1st 2020

What we see here is a boatload of talent being shown the door. WWE cut back on its male roster across Raw, SmackDown, 205 Live, NXT, and NXT UK more than anything else. This will become clearer as we look at the others. I made one tiny mistake here. Tatsumi Fujinami is still signed to a legend’s contract and should not have been marked. For anybody having trouble making out the names, here they are:

Adam Cole, Aiden English, Akam, Aleister Black, Alexander Wolfe, Andrade, Ariya Daivari, Arturo Ruas, Big Show, Bo Dallas, Bobby Fish, Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Bronson Reed, Buddy Murphy, Cain Velasquez, Cezar Bononi, Chris Parker, Christian, Curt Hawkins, Curtis Axel, Daniel Bryan, Dash Wilder, EC3, Epico, Eric Young, Erick Rowan, Fandango, Jack Gallagher*, Gran Metalik, Greg Hamilton, Heath Slater, Josiah Williams, Kalisto, Karl Anderson, Kassius Ohno

Keith Lee, Killian Dain, Kona Reeves, Lars Sullivan*, Ligero*, Lince Dorado, Lio Rush, Luke Gallows, Matt Hardy, Matt Martel, Mauro Ranallo, Mike Kanellis, Mojo Rawley, No Way Jose, Oney Lorcan, Primo, Rezar, Rusev, Samir Singh, Scott Dawson, Steve Cutler, Sunil Singh, The Undertaker, Tino Sabbotelli, Tom Phillips, Tony Chimel, Tony Nese, Travis Banks*, Tucker, Tyler Breeze, Velveteen Dream*, Wesley Blake & Zack Ryder

*Released after allegations of sexual abuse or history of sexist/racist comments

That’s 69 superstars overall. The Undertaker is the only retiree, and Howard Finkel passed away (RIP). However, there are more who I picked up on:

Karrion Kross, Harry Smith, Trey Baxter, August Grey, Curt Stallion, Jake Atlas, Ari Sterling, Leon Ruff, Stephon Smith, Tyler Rust, Zechariah Smith, Asher Hale & Giant Zanjeer

It brings the estimated total to 82. Losing The Undertaker is significant, but we know it was his time. Big Show wasn’t doing anything, despite just starring in a comedy show plugged by WWE. Christian was another who wanted a great run after Edge returned, but management wasn’t going for it.

Out of the full-timers, the biggest losses were Daniel Bryan, Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman, and Rusev. Nobody else had featured in prominent spots on the main roster. For many, the frustration of seeing NXT build champions like Adam Cole, Keith Lee, Karrion Kross, Aleister Black, Andrade, & The Revival, only for them to be let go? It’s an enormous sign that the black & gold brand was not working how WWE intended. Every other listed superstar struggled to break through the glass ceiling.

As a brand, WWE entirely dismantled 205 Live. All the mainstays of the Cruiserweight division were let go, or moved over to NXT. It now serves as a second show for NXT talent to get noticed. Do you know which brand was the least hit? NXT UK. Alexander Wolfe did not prove his worth as the fourth member of Walter’s Imperium stable, and both Travis Banks & Ligero were let go because of sex abuse allegations. This tells us the NXT UK roster is doing its job, while 205 Live had been dead in the water for so long it needed a change of purpose.

WWE Releases
WWE Men’s Roster – Present Day

You may already see how much WWE has scaled back on its male talent. However, management has signed many new superstars and staff to its ranks. Some were already with the company, but have since begun appearing on TV (like Adam Pearce). Another minor mistake, I seem to have missed out Dominik Mysterio. Let’s list those here:

Adam Pearce, Andre Chase, Ashante Adonis, Bron Breakker, Brooks Jensen, Brutus Creed, Carmelo Hayes, Charlie Dempsey, Dante Chen, Dominik Mysterio, Duke Hudson, Gable Steveson, Grayson Waller, Guru Raaj, Hachiman, Harland, Ikemen Jiro, Jimmy Smith, Joe Gacy, John Morrison, Josh Briggs, Julius Creed, Kevin Patrick, LA Knight, Levi Muir, Lewis Howley

MVP, Malcolm Bivens, Malik Blade, Nash Carter, Nathan Frazer, Odyssey Jones, Rampage Brown, Reggie, Robert Stone, Rohan Raja, Ru Feng, Sam Stoker, Santos Escobar, Saurav, Sha Samuels, Shanky, Solo Sikoa, Teoman, Timothy Thatcher, Tony D’Angelo, Top Dolla, Trick Williams, Veer, Von Wagner, Wade Barrett, Wes Lee & Xyon Quinn

This makes an estimated 53 additions. If we take out those who aren’t technically new (Pearce, Barrett, MVP & Morrison) that’s 49. Like I said before, many of these names you won’t be aware of, even more so if you don’t watch the NXT brands or 205 Live. Who would I consider the biggest success stories?

  • Top Dolla & Ashante Adonis for already making it to the main roster.
  • Veer looking to branch out as a formidable singles wrestler on Raw.
  • Dominik Mysterio winning the tag titles with his Dad, I guess?
  • Santos Escobar for keeping the Cruiserweight title going in NXT during the pandemic.
  • MSK’s Wes Lee & Nash Carter winning the NXT Tag Titles quickly after debuting.
  • LA Knight’s feud with Cameron Grimes and winning the Million Dollar title.
  • Bron Breakker’s exceptional start to his NXT 2.0 career.
  • Reggie forever keeping the 24/7 title? It’s something.
  • Timothy Thatcher’s run on the old NXT. Where is he now?

However we look at it, WWE has considerably scaled back on its male talent. Will this benefit them in future? Only time will tell. Let’s move on to the women’s divisions.

WWE Women’s Roster – Before & After

Are you seeing this? Despite WWE cutting back so hard, it now looks like WWE is featuring more women than before the pandemic. We’ll figure out how that is, but first, let’s list those who are no longer on the books. Kairi Sane is still with WWE as an ambassador, but I include her because she stopped wrestling:

Billie Kay, Cathy Kelley, Charly Caruso, Chelsea Green, Deonna Purrazzo, Ember Moon, Jazzy Gabert, Jessamyn Duke, JoJo, Kairi Sane, Killer Kelly, Lana, Maria Kanellis, Marina Shafir, Mia Yim, Mickie James, Nia Jax, Peyton Royce, Rachael Evers (Ellering), Renee Young, Ruby Riott, Santana Garrett, Sarah Logan, Taynara & Vanessa Borne

There are a few others who were signed after January 1st 2020, and have since been released, including: Eva Marie, Franky Monet, Scarlett Bordeaux, B-Fab, Mercedes Martinez, Katrina Cortez, Skyler Story (Brandi Lauren) & Zayda Ramier

Many will admit the biggest loss of talent here is Mickie James, who hasn’t been used well since before the Diva’s title era. After WWE made a bunch of releases (including Ruby Riott), it made a big fuss about getting Eva Marie back… and we know how that turned out. Nia Jax is a surprise, even to herself, although she’s often seen as a liability (by critics) to those she works with. Ember Moon & The IIconics are former champions, but it didn’t save them.

Deonna Purrazzo probably gained the most from being let go, enjoying plenty of time on top of Impact’s Knockouts Division. The releases of Franky Monet and Scarlett are confusing to anybody who really knows what they are capable of. B-Fab, having literally just signed a new contract and being drafted to SmackDown, was another surprise no one saw coming. A long way to go as a wrestler, but she was an integral part of Hit Row’s setup. Again, NXT UK was the least hit, with only two getting their release.

With that said, there have been about 33 losses in two years. Here’s who has joined WWE in the meantime:

Aleah James, Alyse Ashton, Amale, Amari Miller, Angel Hayze, Aoife Valkyrie, Blair Davenport, Cora Jade, Dani Luna, Elektra Lopez, Emilia McKenzie, Erica Yan, Francesca Brown, Gigi Dolin, Indi Hartwell, Ivy Nile, Jackie Redmond, Jacy Jayne, Kacy Catanzaro, Lash Legend, Megan Morant, Mei Ying, Meiko Satomura, Raquel Gonzalez, Samantha Ryan, Sarray, Stevie Turner, Valentina Feroz, Yulisa Leon & Zoey Stark

That’s 30 names. So while WWE has made many cuts in the past two years, it has kept its roster of women at a similar size. Where have they placed the new girls? The NXT UK Women’s division was one of the smallest in the company, but has since been bolstered with 10 new signings, including current champion Meiko Satomura. It has lost Piper Niven (Doudrop) and Kay Lee Ray, but keeps Xia Brookside, Jinny, Isla Dawn, and Nina Samuels on top of the latest signings.

Meanwhile, NXT has seen at least 18 fresh faces since early 2020. To make room for them, talent like Bianca Belair, Rhea Ripley, Toni Storm, Shotzi, Tegan Nox, Aliyah and Xia Li have moved up. However, Mandy Rose has gone back to NXT and won the title, just to bring some needed star power to the division.

What do these facts tell us? WWE felt many of their current female stars were not cutting it, so they were let go and replaced accordingly. From the latest crop, I would say Indi Hartwell & Elektra Lopez are the most impressive, but it remains to be seen whether Blair Davenport (Bea Priestley), Ivy Nile, Cora Jade, Toxic Attraction, and Aoife Valkyre will become what WWE hopes they can be. I like Lash Legend too; she has the gift of the gab, but it’s early days.

WWE Releases

To clear up any confusion, the orange bars indicate a change of role. For example, Finlay used to be a producer, but now works as a coach. WWE reduced its team of producers from 31 to 26. Pat Patterson sadly passed away. Aside from him, those who were cut entirely (not reassigned) include:

Gerald Brisco, Jeff Jarrett, Kurt Angle, Lance Storm, Mark Henry, Matt Hardy, Mike Rotunda (IRS) and Sonjay Dutt

There are now five coaches after cutting Sarah Stock & Serena Deeb, leaving Sara Amato the only female trainer. With the ambassadors, Ric Flair got frustrated with creative, but did not blame WWE on the way out, saying that Vince McMahon is like a brother to him. Edge got back in to wrestling, while both Sting & Mark Henry moved on to AEW. Booker T being cut is a mistake, he was reassigned as an analyst. John Cone is more of an oversight. He worked as a referee and backstage, but now works as a producer.

The only new producers in the past two years are Molly Holly and Sylvain Grenier. Aside from Finlay, other reassigned talent include: Samoa Joe, The Brian Kendrick, Kairi Sane, Kane, The Undertaker & Titus O’Neil – Taking these facts in to account, WWE lost at least 13 (incl. Patterson) personnel from its teams of producers, coaches and ambassadors. WWE replaced them with 9 others.

Next up are some numbers to compare roster sizes from 1/1/2020 to the current day, according to the database:

All WWE 2020: 273 >>> All WWE Present: 262

Raw 2020: 52 >>> Raw Present: 55

SmackDown 2020: 53 >>> SmackDown Present: 48

NXT 2020: 72 >>> NXT Present: 74

NXT UK 2020: 49 >>> NXT UK Present: 55

205 Live 2020: 19 >>> 205 Live Present: 29

Conclusion

Did WWE need to release over 100 talents in the past two years? Probably not. Could it afford to keep them on? Definitely. As a business looking to make profit, do you keep using products you no longer feel benefits you in the long term? No, you move on and get something better. While there are questionable names, many of whom would have undoubtedly provided (given better handling), you’d like to believe that WWE is a better judge than we are. They have the numbers, and all we see is what they put out on TV each week.

I’m not here to defend WWE’s practice of releasing so many talents during a pandemic. I find many of its business decisions to be cruel and remorseless. WWE could have waited to make many of these releases, especially back in April 2020, when wrestlers needed to provide for their families. Other companies took care of their talent, while WWE only had their profit margins in mind. Yet, I feel like this had been brewing for some time. WWE creative is unsustainable, it isn’t capable of writing for hundreds of talent across five brands and the network. WWE has struggled in recent times because it got too big for itself to handle.

All of that talent. We know WWE hoarded because they didn’t want other companies to have them. They could afford to do so, but now that’s no longer the case. They had to do more than a little spring cleaning. I wouldn’t call it a purge, but it was a concentrated effort to burn large amounts of fat. Not just to trim down, but to lose considerable weight and tone up with a new outlook and fresh talent. WWE has lost little in terms of numbers. As we see, it still sports the biggest roster in wrestling by far, yet it could still stand to slim down even more.

While it sucks to see so many losing their dream jobs, it leaves the wrestling business in a healthier place. Other companies are bound to pick them up, and it leaves AEW scratching its head over who they want to join its ranks. Anybody who signs with WWE now, they have to deliver. There’s no hanging around for years until you get called up. If you underperform, cannot deliver, or you’re difficult to work with, WWE has shown that no one is safe from the chop. I like that! It’s supposed to be the #1 company in the business. If you’re not ready, then you don’t deserve to be there. Simple as that.

Do you think WWE has done the right thing with its releases? Out of the newest signings, who do you believe has the biggest potential? And do you think it has the right philosophy for NXT 2.0? Please let us know in the comments. Thank you for reading!

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