It's a common pastime among WWE fans to predict which wrestlers will be part of the company's annual spring cleaning, or mass release season. As I write this article, WWE has yet to let go of a whole slew of talents this year, instead dropping wrestlers one by one, and only as needed. Most recently, we saw Eva Marie leave the WWE after about a year of not showing up on our television screens, and the only surprise behind that was the fact she had lasted that long before WWE officially cut her loose.
This list of released wrestlers, however, will not include Eva Marie on it – per Road Dogg, she had left WWE on her own accord. Don't expect Ryback and Jack Swagger in here either, as in both cases, they asked to be released, and in Ryback's case, he simply sat out the rest of his contract.That's right, we're talking about wrestlers whom WWE themselves let go, meaning wrestlers who were, to be more accurate about it, fired by the company.
As we now look back on the many wrestlers WWE has decided to sack through the years, which firings did we not see coming, and which ones were pretty obvious? Keep reading, and we'll look at 10 unexpected WWE wrestler firings, and five where fans felt it was merely a matter of time.
15 Austin Aries (Unexpected)
To say that WWE missed the boat on former ROH and TNA standout Austin Aries should be one of the understatements of the year. Aries was already 37 when WWE signed him and put him in the NXT brand, which meant he already had a limited amount of time to make an impact. And for some time, the Greatest Man that Ever Lived was helping stoke interest in the floundering Cruiserweight Division, putting on a series of brilliant matches with Neville, including one where he lost at WrestleMania 33.
After the Cruiserweight Championship feud with Neville had ended, Aries got lost in the shuffle, and eventually announced that he'd be taking some time off. But it came as an absolute shock when A Double was released in July of this year. At first, it was thought that Aries, presumably upset at his lack of a push, asked to be let go, but reports soon emerged of him being unpopular backstage, and his release actually being a firing.
14 Damien Sandow (Unexpected)
In the spring of 2016, Damien Sandow was in jobber purgatory. With his career-killing impersonator gimmick gone, he was barely on television, and when you saw him on TV, he was either losing in singles with the classic "jobber entrance" (read: no ring music), teaming up randomly with guys such as Darren Young, or helping out in lumberjack matches. It had felt like eons since his ill-fated run as Mr. Money in the Bank, and even farther back since his "Intellectual Savior" gimmick got seriously over with the WWE Universe.
All that made Sandow a candidate for future endeavors at any moment, but many fans were shocked when he did become one of last year's spring cleaning casualties. Fans were hoping against hope that WWE Creative would one day have something for him – a good repackaging, a trip to NXT to revitalize his career a la Zack Ryder/Tyson Kidd, ANYTHING. Instead, WWE declared Sandow a lost cause, and as we've often mentioned, he didn't fare much better as Aron Rex in TNA.
13 JTG (Obvious)
As he had written in his two super-short, yet hilarious autobiographies, JTG was a master at getting backstage heat, as he had to learn a lot of backstage rules the hard way, may they have been written or unwritten, justified or ludicrous. And while he and teammate Shad Gaspard had a mildly successful (if arguably offensive) run as kayfabe street thugs Cryme Tyme, creative clearly had nothing for the smaller half of the tag team when Shad was wished the best in his future endeavors.
That kicked off all sorts of running jokes about JTG still having a job with WWE despite the fact he was barely on television, in fact not appearing for nearly a year before his 2014 release. Everyone was wondering what he did to avoid WWE's axe, perhaps even hiding in catering so that none of the McMahons would see him. (He actually did that, as it turns out! Just ask Curt Hawkins.) In the end, JTG was one of the last casualties of WWE's wave of mass releases in 2014, to the surprise of no one following the product.
12 Mr. Kennedy (Unexpected)
Had he been able to keep his head on straight, Ken Anderson could have been main event championship material in WWE. Instead, the man then called Mr. Kennedy was an insufferable mess backstage, incurring heat with co-workers, serving Wellness Policy suspensions, and underachieving for the most part of his run. As he returned to the ring in May 2009 following an injury, he was still barely salvageable, and he was part of that infamous 10-man tag team match where the babyface “Lakers” beat the Randy Orton-led heel “Nuggets” team at the Staples Center, as Vince McMahon delighted in his trolling of Denver Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke.
Four days later, Kennedy was unexpectedly fired, and it would be months later before he would reveal the reason why. Apparently, he had been unsafe when executing a backdrop on Orton, with the Viper landing on his head and neck, and not on his back. And not only did Orton allegedly ask Vince to fire Kennedy, he also had friend/longtime rival John Cena join him in persuading Mr. McMahon to let his could-have-been-kayfabe-son go.
11 Mickie James (Unexpected)
There was no reason to expect it to happen. Although she had ultimately lost the indescribably bad “Piggy James” feud against LayCool and gotten stuck in Divas tag team matches thereafter, Mickie James was still in her prime, and still a realistic contender for any given WWE women’s title when the company released her in April of 2010. She still had many years of quality wrestling to give, but WWE still saw it fit to fire her, citing a desire to “move in a new direction.” If that new direction was a focus on wrestling instead of physical attributes, that move made zero sense at all – WWE’s Divas/women’s revolution was still years away at that time.
Following her release, James returned to TNA and became a record-setting three-time Knockouts Champion for Dixie Carter and company. She's since returned to the WWE, although now that she's closing in on her 38th birthday, her role is strictly as a veteran jobber to the younger stars.
10 Carlito (Obvious)
Carly (yes, that IS his real nickname) Colon had it all upon his debut with WWE in 2004 as Carlito Caribbean Cool. He had skills, a second-generation pedigree (as the son of Carlos Colon Sr.), a good look, a great gimmick, and the United States Championship on his very first night on the main roster. Many expected future world championship reigns for the talented youngster going forward, but by 2010, he was all messed up on painkillers, and so far removed from his initial promise. It seemed like he was due to get a pink slip anytime soon, even as he was one of eight "Pros" selected for NXT Season 1.
That pink slip came in the middle of that maiden season of NXT the reality show, as WWE sacked him in May 2010 for a Wellness Policy strike...AND refusal to get into rehab for his painkiller problem. Rumors have floated around about Carlito possibly making nice with the WWE and returning to the company, but for now, we have to content ourselves with seeing him eat an apple as one of Carmen's older brothers (alongside Brodus Clay/Tyrus) on Netflix's GLOW series.
9 Billy Gunn (Unexpected)
Although Billy Gunn's wrestling career for WWE was essentially done by late-2015, he was nonetheless a key backstage worker for the company, having recently wrapped up a coaching stint on Tough Enough, while also working in the company's Performance Center. He and his New Age Outlaws buddy Road Dogg were back in WWE's good graces after briefly falling out with DX stablemate Triple H. Then in November of 2015, WWE made the announcement that they had just released him from his contract.
Apparently, the issue was that Gunn had previously failed a performance-enhancing drug test ahead of a powerlifting meet a few months prior, and if you think of all the wrestlers WWE's given second chances to with regards to PED use, it was truly a baffling move. That said, Mr. Ass wasn't an ass about his firing, as he took full ownership for his actions, feeling that he let Triple H's NXT kids down.
8 Daniel Bryan (Unexpected)
One of the key storylines in the first season of NXT's game show/reality show version is how WWE tried to portray Daniel Bryan as the ultimate underdog. They had him lose every one of his matches, had Michael Cole kick off his heel turn by making him bury D-Bry at every possible opportunity, and made him and Michael Tarver (who truly had the least upside among the eight Season 1 rookies) the first two eliminations. Then everyone from Season 1 made an unforgettable main roster debut as The Nexus, and all hell broke loose on the set of Monday Night RAW.
As it turned out, Bryan was playing his role too seriously for WWE's tastes, as they canned him right after that memorable debut angle, citing how he tried choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with his necktie as being potentially offensive to their sponsors. Bryan spent the next two months in the indies before WWE brought him back in time for SummerSlam 2010 by popular demand, re-debuting him as Team WWE's surprise seventh man as they prepared to (behind John Cena) send The Nexus into irrelevance.
7 Scott Steiner (Obvious)
If you were a fan of WWE in the early-'90s who had completely stopped following wrestling, you would have been shocked to see how Scott Steiner looked like upon his late-2002 WWE return. Now much bigger and much louder than he ever was before as one-half of The Steiner Brothers, Scott was now Big Poppa Pump, a loud, obnoxious, and arrogant muscle-head who, despite a decline in mobility caused by his size increase, still had some solid fundamentals in place as a former college wrestler. (From a highly-educated university, of course.)
Unfortunately, WWE fans didn't get Big Poppa Pump circa-WCW days, but rather a hulked-up underachiever who dogged it in his awful Royal Rumble 2003 match against Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship. That brought him down to the mid-card, and an especially misogynistic storyline with Test and Stacy Kiebler. After getting injured following a lackluster appearance in the 2004 Royal Rumble match, WWE cut ties with the Big Bad Booty Daddy, just as many were expecting.
6 Alberto Del Rio (Unexpected)
It was a completely different time for Jose Alberto Rodriguez in the summer of 2014. Alberto Del Rio, as he was called back then, was in a creative rut, and hadn't been in a hot feud since the previous year's rivalry with Dolph Ziggler over the World Heavyweight Championship. Ah, the days when Ziggler used to be a main event title contender. But we're digressing a bit, so let's focus on why WWE canned ADR back in 2014.
Apparently, WWE took the zero-tolerance route when the company fired Del Rio for punching social media manager Cody Barbierri, over the latter's incessant racially-charged needling of the former. It was a surprise firing, and Barbierri was clearly in the wrong, and that's probably why Del Rio was back in WWE just 14 months later. Of course, that's where his descent to basket case status arguably began, and Del Rio/El Patron's backstage and off-screen shenanigans are now just as expected as someone getting killed in an episode of Game of Thrones.
5 Umaga (Unexpected)
A former Intercontinental Champion who had infamously represented Vince McMahon in his "Battle of the Billionaires" with Donald Trump at WrestleMania XXIV, Umaga seemed to have a nice role in the mid-card in the spring of 2009. Sure, the gimmick was still a dated stereotype, and he wasn't as prominent as he was in the past, but there were hints of some character development, including speaking English for the first time (and quite fluently, of course) as he challenged CM Punk to a Samoan Strap Match at Extreme Rules.
Umaga would lose that match, and consequently his feud with Punk, but there was nary an inkling of what was to come next – just like the aforementioned Carlito, WWE fired the Samoan Bulldozer for failing the Wellness Policy and refusing rehab. Unfortunately, that wasn't a good enough wake-up call for the real-life Edward Fatu, who died from a drug-related heart attack later that year, aged only 36.
4 Sin Cara (Obvious)
No, not the former Hunico, who was traded to SmackDown Live in the Superstar Shakeup, only for him to appear a grand total of two times on TV since the move. Somehow, he's still employed by the WWE. This entry talks about the original Sin Cara, aka Mistico, aka Luis Urive in real life. He was brought in from Mexico in 2011 with tremendous hype, but what WWE fans got instead were tremendous botches – it wasn't long before Sin Cara botch memes spread across the internet and became a staple of the Botchamania series.
Sin Cara's tendency to mess up in the ring wasn't due to a lack of talent – he had tons of it. Rather, it was an unwillingness to learn the WWE style of working, and in relation to this, an apparent unwillingness to learn how to speak English. This made him a difficult person to work with backstage, and after months of release rumors, and Sin Cara's own admission in January 2014 that he was essentially a free agent, WWE released him in March of that year. Can't say we didn't see that coming.
3 The Ultimate Warrior (Unexpected)
We're not referring to the first time The Ultimate Warrior left WWE in 1992 – though he skipped dates as he rebelled against WWE's new drug testing policy, he left on his own volition. Despite the acrimony, WWE brought him back in 1996 for WrestleMania XII, and it felt like disaster from the get-go, as he had infamously no-sold the finishing move of a young up-and-comer named Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Even that had to look off to fans who hadn't quite been smartened up yet.
But WWE fans weren't quite prepared for what they saw four months later, when figurehead WWE President Gorilla Monsoon announced that Warrior was suspended due to a series of no-shows, and that he would have to post an "appearance bond" in order to compete at the In Your House 9 pay-per-view. That was essentially WWE's way of saying goodbye to Warrior, as the company had fired him for real for that very reason, and for the flimsy excuse that he had to mourn the death of his father...whom he'd actually been estranged with for years.
2 Hulk Hogan (Unexpected)
Now the reason for Hulk Hogan getting fired from WWE and getting most references to him (including his Hall of Fame) scrubbed from the company's website is very obvious; it's just right that WWE has zero tolerance for its talents making any sort of racist comments. But one can say that nobody could have predicted that his racist rants against Brooke Hogan's African-American boyfriend at the time (and black people in general) would get leaked out into the public – most everyone knew at the time that the Hulkster used to get side action from Heather Clem, but him dropping the "n-word" repeatedly to her in casual conversation caught so many people unaware.
At the moment, there's a lot of talk suggesting WWE may be close to forgiving Hogan for what he said in the aforementioned Gawker leak. But it's going to take a while for fans to ever forget those remarks, even if many have attested that Hulk isn't really racist by nature, and was just particularly salty with his daughter's dating choices at the time.
1 CM Punk (Obvious)
The fact that WWE eventually fired CM Punk shouldn't be seen as something that came out of the blue. After all, he walked out of the company following the 2014 Royal Rumble, seemingly with no intention to ever return. As such, his firing would have essentially been a formality. What's shocking is WWE's timing when they let go of CM Punk – as he claims, he was sacked on the very day he and AJ Lee tied the knot, an obvious act of trolling on WWE's part against one of the company's bigger headaches.
Now that he's fully committed to an MMA career, even at the wrong side of 30, Punk remains just as committed to burning all his bridges with WWE. That's not to say they won't ever bring him back, as he simply achieved too much for the company to ignore his contributions. But for the meantime, "WWE" are three letters that are sure to get the Straight-Edge Savior testy if you bring them up to him during an interview.