World Wrestling Entertainment has often been considered the biggest stage in the professional wrestling industry. That’s where icons like Hulk Hogan, The Rock and John Cena have hailed. But today’s WWE has evolved to a point where the company has expanded from its focus on developing its own superstars.
In recent years, the WWE has continued to bring in some of the top names on the independent wrestling circuit. Wrestlers like AJ Styles, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are part of a new revolution of incoming talents. That movement seems to be continuing with the WWE trying to aggressively sign a number of independent wrestling superstars.
The rumor mill has been stating that the WWE may have interest in Matt and Nick Jackson – The Young Bucks. However, they just signed a new two-year contract with Ring of Honor that makes them exclusive to ROH in the United States. While it might be sad news to some fans, the fact that they were on WWE’s radar shows the kind of talent they are open to.
All of the potential signings to the WWE could mean a number of current WWE Superstars would have to be released. Fans can likely point out a few that they want to see gone and there’s good reason for them to choose them. Some WWE superstars haven’t panned out the way fans were hoping. Others were just given a terrible creative direction from which they can’t be saved.
With both the incoming and outgoing flow of talents in mind, the following is a list of 10 wrestlers who are most likely to join WWE in 2017 and 10 who are most likely to be released by the WWE.
20 Join – Ivelisse
The WWE has not only brought in a lot of talented female wrestlers in the past few years, but there have been some good ones who have been let go. Ivelisse is someone who was unable to advance beyond the WWE developmental system both at Florida Championship Wrestling and NXT, but what she’s been able to do since her release in 2012 makes her one of the best currently on the independent circuit.
Ivelisse admits that she wasn’t happy with the backstage politics when she was with WWE a few years ago, but she has taken notice of how the mentality has changed, as seen through talents like Charlotte and Sasha Banks who have flourished from NXT to the WWE main roster. There’s a good chance she might be open to a return to the WWE.
19 Released – Rosa Mendes
While many of the names on this list are superstars who are likely to be cut for underperformance, that likely won’t be the main reason for Rosa Mendes’ departure in 2017. Her role on the main roster was changed to a SmackDown correspondent shortly after she announced her pregnancy in the fall of 2015, but she hasn’t been seen much after going on maternity leave after the birth of her first child in February.
Mendes has mostly been a valet and manager for various superstars. She’s considered average at best in the ring, but certainly not the worst. That is based on her last match of record from early 2015 during WWE live events. However, Mendes could very likely decide to put more of a focus on being a mom and decide to ask for her release from the WWE.
18 Join – Angelico
Lucha Underground certainly has a good amount of talent on their roster. It’s certainly become an intriguing roster that features a collection of wrestlers from the U.S., Mexico and other parts of the world. Angelico has quickly become one of the most talked about names with some of his daring leaps inside the Lucha Underground’s Temple. Certainly, the WWE has taken notice of wrestlers like Angelico.
Back in 2015, Angelico and Jack Evans spoke in an interview about how the WWE approached them with deals on multiple occasions. While neither accepted, one has to think it won’t be long until they finally decide to jump into the WWE. In Angelico’s case, he’d probably dive in head first into the fray that is the WWE Universe.
17 Released – Darren Young
After the first season of NXT in 2010, The Nexus faction gave us plenty of great wrestlers. Daniel Bryan had the best career, even though he had the shortest stint with the group. While a few of the Nexus members had successful WWE careers, Darren Young is not one of them. In fact, it’s amazing that he’s kept a job with the company for as long as he has. While other Nexus members like Justin Gabriel (a.k.a. PJ Black) and Skip Sheffield (a.k.a. Ryback) were released, Young remained.
There was some hope when he was teamed with Titus O’Neil to form the Prime Time Players, but the WWE seems determined to make them work as individuals. Young doesn’t have the charisma of O’Neil, which is why they brought in Bob Backlund as his “life coach.” But not even a legend like Backlund could get the fans behind “Mr. No Days Off.”
16 Join – Carlito
Carlito didn’t have the best ending to his WWE career after refusing to go to a drug rehabilitation program in 2010. This led to his release of someone who was definitely over as one of WWE’s best mid-card talents. In addition to winning tag team gold with his brother Primo, Carlito also held both the United States and Intercontinental championships. But there seems to be some interest from both parties seen this year.
In March, Carlito said in an interview that he was in the best physical condition in his life and would be open to returning to the WWE. The WWE also seemed to show interest as well. Just before the WWE Draft this summer, Carlito was one of the talents teased as hot free agents. The same article also included Mickie James, who recently returned to compete at NXT Takeover: Toronto.
15 Released – Erick Rowan
Erick Rowan is currently recovering from a torn rotator cuff for which he underwent surgery in October. The WWE likely won’t release Rowan until he is healthy enough to try and give it another go in the WWE, but with how the Wyatt Family has evolved in recent months, a returning Rowan might feel like the odd man left out. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper were able to form an alliance with Randy Orton that led to winning the SmackDown Tag Team Championship.
Rowan has never really been able to stand out as a singles competitor. In fact, he’s probably one of the most expendable members of the WWE main roster. But WWE officials will likely give him one more chance when he’s done with the four to six month recovery period. However, history shows us there’s no reason to get your hopes up for a Rowan revival.
14 Join – Jay Lethal
Jay Lethal might be one of the most accomplished wrestlers on the independent circuit. He’s currently one of the biggest stars in Ring of Honor, which is where he made his initial impact early in his career. Lethal has won all championship belts in ROH, including a time when he held both the ROH World Championship and the ROH World Television Championship. Because of this, there’s nothing left for him to accomplish there.
Lethal has stated in an interview earlier this year that he would like to come to the WWE one day. Like many, he’s named Chris Jericho as his top dream opponent. Considering how often the WWE has brought in ROH champions in the past (i.e. Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens), there’s a good chance Lethal is already on the WWE’s radar.
13 Released – Sin Cara
Hunico is not the original wrestler to portray the Sin Cara character, but his in-ring performance has not made him any better than the Mexican lucha libre star, Mistico, who came before him. The Sin Cara character was a project of an international star coming to the WWE. Little time was spent in developmental and that might have hurt the original Sin Cara. At the same time, the current Sin Cara is becoming lost in the shuffle of new talent.
With the new Cruiserweight Division on RAW and the creation of 205 Live, there really isn’t a need for the Sin Cara character anymore. There are enough Latin American talents with Kalisto, Lince Dorado and Gran Metalik that makes someone like Sin Cara expendable. Don’t be surprised to see Sin Cara listed in a statement on a mass release in 2017.
12 Join – Mickie James
There is already news thanks to Ryan Satin of Pro Wrestling Sheet that Mickie James could be making a full-time return to the WWE. The former WWE Women’s Champion looks to have impressed the WWE officials after her match with Asuka at NXT Takeover: Toronto last month. The funny thing is that the Trish Stratus was the WWE’s original plan for Asuka, but her pregnancy forced going to Plan B.
It turns out that Plan B worked well for both parties. There’s no word on whether James is interested in returning to the WWE, but considering how she performed against Asuka, there’s a good chance she would be more than happy to return to the WWE. The hope would be that she could go to RAW and have matches with talented women like Sasha Banks and Charlotte.
11 Released – Titus O’Neil
Titus O’Neil might not be considered a great wrestler in the WWE, but there are two positive things that are true about this former college football star. First, he is a positive role model for the good deeds he performs and his role as an active father. Secondly, O’Neil is extremely charismatic and entertaining. The problem is that the WWE doesn’t seem to view him as highly as some fans do. His suspension in March for grabbing Vince McMahon didn’t help matters.
Since then, O’Neil has suffered a major losing streak and has been booked as more of a joke in the eyes of the WWE Universe. There’s a good chance that O’Neil could do better competing in Japan, Mexico or one of the top U.S. independent promotions. O’Neil will likely find work after his eventual WWE departure in 2017.
10 Join – Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega wasn’t happy when he left the WWE in 2006 due to a number of issues behind the scenes. Since then, he’s made himself one of the biggest names in New Japan Pro Wrestling with reigns as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. During an interview with Jim Ross earlier this year, Omega admitted that he was interested in having dream matches with the likes of Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn and even Vince McMahon.
It sounds like the WWE has taken notice as well. Triple H reportedly seems to be determined to bring Kenny Omega to the WWE. Considering the influx of diverse talent that the WWE has brought to the company in recent years, it’s not farfetched to think that Omega is going to soon follow fellow NJPW stars like AJ Styles and The Club.
9 Released – Apollo Crews
There is no denying how gifted Apollo Crews is within the squared circle. How many wrestlers have the physique of a bodybuilder mixed with the move set of a cruiserweight? It makes sense that the WWE decided to pursue Uhaa Nation as one of the independent circuit’s brightest stars just before New Year’s Day 2015. However, the WWE might have dropped the ball on Crews by quickly pushing him through NXT into the main roster.
While Crews is gifted in the ring, he should have been given more time to develop a better personality. In the WWE, a superstar needs to have a combination of both to truly succeed and be accepted by the WWE Universe. It would take a lot of work to save Crews, but the WWE might likely decide to cut their losses and let him return to the independent circuit.
8 Join – Ricochet
One of the biggest names in the independent wrestling scene is known by two names. In promotions around the world, Ricochet has amazed fans with his aerial abilities. For proof, look no further than his viral video with Will Ospreay earlier this year. But he’s also been one of the biggest names in Lucha Underground as Prince Puma. Reports have been flooding the internet that the WWE was aggressively pushing to sign Ricochet.
It look as if he might have finally signed with Ricochet opting out of his Lucha Underground contract in September. He also stopped accepting independent bookings for a period of time. Considering how the WWE has recruited a lot of cruiserweights for their new division, Ricochet is likely going to be a good fit in 2017.
7 Released – Tyson Kidd
Tyson Kidd suffered a serious neck and spinal injury after taking the Muscle Buster from Samoa Joe during a dark match in June 2015. Reports are that only five percent of people who suffer Kidd’s type of injury are able to walk again. With the recovery expected to last about a year, there are concerns that Kidd might not be recovering the way WWE officials were hoping he would.
Kidd was reportedly removed from the recent season of Total Divas because of the WWE fearing he would comment on his neck injury. It is said he wants to speak out about what has happened since then, but is limited in what he can talk about. Regardless, it is a sad situation that doesn’t look to have a happy ending for Kidd.
6 Join – Kurt Angle
During an interview on Ric Flair’s podcast a few months ago, Kurt Angle commented that he’s had positive talks with Triple H about making a WWE return very soon. It would certainly be quite a big move for the WWE. While he’s likely nearing the end of his professional wrestling career, it’s not hard to imagine the WWE would like to have the Olympic gold medalist for a few more matches.
The WWE has recently brought back the likes of Sting and Goldberg to have marquee matches. Dave Meltzer seemed to believe that the WWE might soon be offering Angle a contract offer similar to Goldberg’s appearance on the cover of the WWE 2K video game. Angle would be a good choice as a surprise entrant in the 2017 Royal Rumble match.
5 Released – Natalya
In June 2015, there were several reports that Natalya was considering leaving the WWE after her current contract would expire. It would be completely understandable with her husband, Tyson Kidd, suffering from his neck and spinal injury. She’s still active as a full-time member of the women’s division on SmackDown. However, those rumors were shot down by Natalya later that same day. That doesn’t mean she won’t request her release in 2017.
Women’s wrestling in the WWE has certainly evolved in a positive way in recent years. The emergence of Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Becky Lynch have led the way to a WWE Women's Revolution. Up-and-comers like Carmella, Alexa Bliss and Liv Morgan are looking to provide more depth to the division. That leaves a veteran like Natalya as someone who could be a victim of the WWE trimming excess talent.
4 Join – Matt Hardy
It is safe to say that TNA's Broken Matt Hardy and Brother Nero might be the best thing goings for the struggling promotion. There shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone that the WWE is keeping an eye on both men. “Broken” Matt Hardy has continued to amaze fans with such a unique character. Even if the premise was silly at first, Hardy has found a way to completely reinvent himself and it has worked perfectly.
In a recent interview with Jim Ross’ “Ross Report,” the man of “broken brilliance” teased that there might be talks with the WWE. He’s even gone as far to say that Vince McMahon wants to have him return. Maybe this is a premonition, but there’s a good chance that “Broken” Matt Hardy will be in WWE soon.
3 Released – Cesaro
The Swiss Superman is arguably one of the worst utilized superstars on the WWE roster. The fans have said it for a few years now and it’s looking like Cesaro is starting to become more vocal in his displeasure. In late November, Cesaro posted a picture of a WWE Live event in his native country of Switzerland. It’s easy to understand why Cesaro might not want to stay in the WWE for much longer.
Similar to the recent departure of Cody Rhodes, Cesaro has proven to be one of the best-rounded WWE Superstars. Unfortunately, poor creative direction and booking have limited what Cesaro can do. The most likely end is that Cesaro will request his release from the WWE and likely flourish in an eventual return to Ring of Honor and competing internationally.
2 Join – Jeff Hardy
While there’s certainly a lot of attention surrounding “Broken” Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy is also deserving of the same attention. Brother Nero has won a number of tag team championships with his brother for every promotion for which they’ve worked. This includes not only their current reign with the TNA World Tag Team Championship, but several titles in WWE. Hardy did say he and his brother are enjoying TNA, but WWE shouldn’t be ruled out.
Jeff Hardy has admitted that he has a dream match to face The Undertaker at Hell in a Cell. The odds are certainly low, but it might increase the odds of Brother Nero wanting to make a return to the WWE. Either way, the WWE is likely going to sign both brothers that would help their tag team division. But both men would flourish as singles competitors.
1 Released – James Ellsworth
The Internet Wrestling Community can be a powerful force. That’s really the only explanation for why someone like James Ellsworth can go from being a jobber squashed by Braun Strowman to challenging AJ Styles for the WWE World Championship in less than six months. The storyline was cute and it served a purpose for fans to connect with someone similar to them. While “any man with two hands has a fighting chance,” this is the WWE.
Ellsworth was signed to a full-time contract last month, but it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to be able to thrive for a long-term future in the WWE. His feud with Styles and Ambrose will eventually come to an end, which will leave limited options for what Ellsworth can do in the WWE. Midnight will strike on this Cinderella story likely around the summer of 2017.