Those are the two words no WWE superstar ever wants to hear Vince McMahon say to them, especially when it's not related to a TV storyline. Unfortunately, many talents are "future endeavored" by WWE each year. The 2016 calendar year saw many recognizable talents cut by WWE (Damien Sandow, King Barrett, Santino Marella) in order to create space on the main roster and cut costs where they are able to. This year was no different, as many WWE Superstars were released by the company.
If you ever read any of the WWE.com statements on talent releases, they almost always sound something like this: "WWE has come to terms on the release of *Insert talent name here*. WWE wishes him/her the best in all his/her future endeavors." Even Cody Rhodes got that official statement after he asked to be released from his contract.
But what happens in those "future endeavors"? WWE is the world's largest wrestling promotion, but they are hardly the only place where wrestlers can make good money. Ring of Honour, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and other indy promotions are gaining popularity and increasingly becoming a viable option. Wrestlers who possess the talent and determination to succeed elsewhere, but not every wrestler finds success outside of WWE. Some may choose another career path altogether post-WWE, some may flounder on the indie scene and fade into obscurity, while others may just retire.
Now that 2017 is coming to a close, we will explore 17 WWE superstars who were given their release by WWE in 2017. We will also check in and explore what these WWE alumni have been up to post-WWE.
17 James Ellsworth
James Ellsworth was the most recent release, so why not start with him? Ellsworth accomplished way more in WWE than anybody would have thought. After making his debut in mid 2016 as seemingly just another jobber for Braun Strowman, Ellsworth got his foot in the door and made it count, going on to take part in multiple storylines and even got some time in the main event scene. After moving to SmackDown, he managed to defeat AJ Styles multiple times, before finally turning heel after costing Ambrose the WWE Championship at TLC 2016.
He spent much of the last year as Carmella's sidekick before Miss Money In The Bank tossed him aside and the last we saw of Ellsworth in a WWE ring was him taking a beating from various female stars.
Ellsworth hasn't had much time to figure out his next move, but you can be sure his career has gained significant value, as being a former WWE Superstar, he'll now have a bigger name on the indie scene and it looks like he's enjoying more time at home with his family.
Emma was arguably one of the more shocking releases of 2017. It was a surprise since she had just entered a feud with the debuting Asuka, and you wouldn’t think they would put her in that match (which was actually very competitive) only to release over a week later. There are many theories going around about her release. Her refusal to do the Emmalina character, created by Vince McMahon, put a bad taste in Vince’s mouth. Others speculated Emma could be hard to get along with backstage and was not much of a team player.
Emma’s release is still pretty fresh, but she will almost certainly find work for herself on the indies. She is a talented female wrestler and will likely land on her feet wherever she ends up. Some reports have popped up that Emma is charging quite a bit for indie appearances. The Wrestling Observer noted that Emma priced herself out of negotiations with World Wonder Ring Stardom recently.
15 AUSTIN ARIES
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Austin Aries was a talented wrestler in WWE’s Cruiserweight division, who always seemed destined for greatness. The problem was that Aries felt that he was better than what WWE was allowing him to show. He wanted to wrestler outside of the Cruiserweight division to show he was capable of so much more. Refusing to be pigeonholed, Aries requested his release from WWE.
Following his July 7, 2017 release from WWE, Aries has not wrestled for another promotion. At 39 years of age, his opportunities are likely to be limited but he will probably get offers if he wants to continue. Aries is currently working on a book about veganism, which probably keeps him busy for the time being.
14 JIMMY JACOBS
Jimmy Jacobs was a former wrestler for WWE and other promotions, before joining WWE’s creative team as a writer in 2015. Despite only being a writer, Jacobs’ release was one of the most talked about WWE releases in 2017. He was released basically because he took a photo with members of the Bullet Club when they invaded Raw on October 11, 2017. Chris Jericho wasn’t surprised by Jacobs’ firing but admitted he was sad to see him go, since Jacobs was a co-writer for most of Jericho's segments during his recent run with WWE.
Mere days after being handed his release, Jacobs appeared at Ring of Honor and trolled WWE by taking another photo with the Bullet Club. On November 5th, Jacobs made his debut for Impact Wrestling at Bound for Glory. It has been reported he will be working as a producer for Impact Wrestling. Having someone like Jacobs aboard will hopefully help the struggling promotion!
13 SIMON GOTCH
Simon Gotch was a member of The Vaudevillains, alongside Aiden English. The tag team had a fairly strong run in NXT but failed to gain much momentum on the main roster. Gotch’s release was not that surprising as he had a lot of heat backstage because of various incidents, which ultimately led to his release from the company.
Gotch has not done much since being released from WWE earlier in 2017. He has wrestled for Chikara, an English wrestling promotion on the indies. He then made his debut for Ring of Honor in mid November in Florida. We'll see if he's able to stick around there, or if his character issues in WWE will surface.
12 EVA MARIE
Eva Marie was not liked by a large part of the WWE universe. Yes, she was very attractive and that’s why she was hired in the first place. The reality was that she was not at all a talented wrestler and the odds were stacked against her succeeding based on the talent level of the other female wrestlers on the roster. She seldom appeared in the last year of her contract, mostly because of a Wellness Policy violation.
Eva Marie seems focused on her aspiring modelling and acting career. She appeared in Inconceivable, a movie starring Nicolas Cage, which came out in June. Eva Marie has signed on with The Rock’s production company, so hopefully that bodes well for her acting career. Hopefully she is a better actor than she was a wrestler!
11 MAURO RANALLO
Mauro Ranallo had a somewhat tumultuous 2017. He entered 2017 as “The Voice of SmackDown” after a successful 2016 in which he became one of the more popular commentators. In March, Ranallo was mysteriously absent from WWE programming. It was rumoured his mental wellness was the reason behind his absence, but allegations later came to light that his broadcast partner JBL was bullying and harassing him.
Ranallo was released by WWE after they came to terms on his early departure from the company. He has found employment as a play-by-play announcer for Bellator, but surprisingly returned to WWE in late June. He had agreed to a new multi-year contract with WWE where he would only be working the NXT tapings and the TakeOver specials, rather than on the main roster.
10 JACK SWAGGER
Jack Swagger quickly rose to the top of the WWE food chain when he won several World Championships in the first few years on the WWE roster. His career has gone downhill since then, involved in meaningless low card feuds. More often than not, however, Swagger was rarely even on TV. Needless to say, Swagger probably felt great relief when he was notified of his release from WWE.
Swagger has been keeping busy post-WWE. He has found consistent work on smaller indie promotions and has toured around the world. He wrestled in Australia in June, in Mexico in May, and back in his home of Oklahoma in August. Though it is good to see him keeping busy, his success seems to be quite limited as he hasn’t yet been picked up some of the bigger wrestling promotions. Perhaps that's why he recently signed with Bellator and is expected to debut in 2018. With his amateur wrestling background, Swagger has a legitimate chance to make some waves in MMA.
9 SUMMER RAE
Summer Rae was another WWE star who was released in early November. Summer Rae had some talent, although not as good as some of the others, and had the right ‘look’ WWE typically looks for in their female talent. Summer Rae was an underrated talent who had a good personality, as seen on Total Divas. Dave Meltzer reported that WWE wanted her to take on a non-wrestler attraction role, but they didn’t see her as a good fit anymore. Apparently, it would have been similar to the roles Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson played during the early-mid 2000s.
The release may have been in Summer Rae’s best interests, if what Meltzer is saying is true. She had the ability to be more than just a manager, unlike the also released Eva Marie, and WWE apparently had no plans for her. Instead, Summer Rae can head to the indies and hopefully become successful with another promotion. She recently teased she'd love to be affiliated with the Bullet Club, with the Young Bucks replying in approval.
— The Young Bucks (@MattJackson13) November 19, 2017
8 ROSA MENDES
Can you imagine Rosa Mendes was one of the most tenured female wrestlers at the start of 2017!? She was with WWE for 11 years despite never really being much of a wrestler. That never stopped WWE from using her, as she was usually seen on TV as a manager – and on the Total Divas show.
In early-2017, Rosa Mendes and WWE mutually decided to part ways. WWE released Mendes who announced her retirement from wrestling so that she could focus on being a mother for the first time. Nowadays, Mendes is spending as much time as possible with her first-born child, Jordan Elizabeth. Mendes also recently revealed she is following in the footsteps of Nikki Bella, and is getting into the real estate business.
7 ANDREA D'MARCO
Incredibly grateful to my team that has helped me get this far. There's no way I would of been able to accomplish so much in such a short time frame. Buttoning up last minute details before the new year is upon us. Can't wait to finally share it with you all! #Grateful . . . . . . . . . #Motivation #Media #entrepreneurlifestyle #GirlBoss #womenempowerment #PublicSpeaker #Blogger #Style #WomenSupportingwomenfl #Entertainment #girlswhoupliftgirls
Andrea D’Marco was a ring announcer who was most frequently used on NXT. The attractive brunette is probably not a household name for many WWE fans, so news of her release probably didn’t attract much attention. For her part, D’Marco was grateful for the opportunities afforded to her in WWE. She said that she will take the experience and use it in her future career paths.
D’Marco has been fairly quiet since her release earlier in 2017. According to her Instagram bio, she is a reporter for TLC’s Young Americans and is also a host for The Insider. She also intends to use her platform to empower women. To do this, she is in the process of creating “With Guts & Grace”, which also just so happened to the words used when D’Marco was asked about her WWE release: “With guts and grace anything is possible!”
6 THE SPIRIT SQUAD: KENNY & MIKEY
— Angel Novella (@SandsShifter) April 8, 2017
The Spirit Squad’s remaining members, Kenny (Kenny Dykstra) and Mikey (Mike Mondo), surprisingly returned to WWE in 2016. They apparently returned only to attack and humiliate Dolph Ziggler in his feud against The Miz. Once that storyline ended, The Spirit Squad floundered in the tag team scene but rarely won a match. Just like they were for most of their initial WWE run, they were treated as an afterthought. The two members of The Spirit Squad were released in early 2017, mere months after returning.
Kenny and Mikey continue to wrestle as a tag team on the indie circuit. They found employment at Ring of Honour pretty quickly following their release from WWE. On April 8 2017, Kenny and Mikey answered The Young Bucks’ open challenge. They faced them for the ROH World Tag Team Championships, but were unsuccessful.
5 HO HO LUN
Ho Ho Lun is probably not a name most wrestling fans would be familiar with. He was signed following the 2016 Cruiserweight Classic, and became the first ever WWE wrestler who was born in Hong Kong. WWE obviously felt they had a hidden talent on their hands, as they picked up and sent him to the Performance Center to start training. He was seen as a “project” and someone who could bring in international viewers.
Lun requested his release from WWE on August 3 2017, so that he could take care of his ill mother. WWE gave him his release to allow Lun to travel back to Hong Kong to be with his family. This just shows that Lun really values his family and shows just how good a person he is.
4 BRONSON MATTHEWS
Bronson Matthews, or Josh Bredl, was the male winner of the sixth season of Tough Enough. This earned him a one-year contract with WWE, and ultimately spent two years with the company before his November 5 2017 release. His release was hardly a surprise. He was rarely used despite winning the Tough Enough competition, and it became crystal clear WWE did not have any plans to use him meaningfully.
As one of the wrestlers released in WWE’s autumn talent purge, it remains to be seen where Matthews goes from here. He has never wrestled anywhere else, and had a failed football career before trying out for WWE. Perhaps he may stay at home and find a regular job so he can be with his wife and two young children, Nayeli and Mateo.
3 SAWYER FULTON
Sawyer Fulton was the latest talent to be released by WWE, as of writing. Fulton is another talent who was seldom used on TV in 2017. He made his debut on NXT in 2016 during the Dusty Rhodes Classic and was a part of Sanity. He suffered an arm injury that cost him several months, and he was replaced in Sanity by Killain Dain. There did not seem to be anywhere for him to go from there even when he returned, so WWE felt it was best to cut ties with him.
Sawyer Fulton is off to his future endeavours, but at least he is in good spirits about release. He still references his time on NXT in his Twitter bio. As a larger wrestler, he will probably get some bookings on the indie scene. As long as Fulton proves he can hold his own in the ring, other promotions will likely give him a look. It wouldn’t be the first time a big man released by WWE went on to do well elsewhere.
2 LEO GAO
Leo Gao never even made it to TV on NXT yet he was handed his release from WWE. He was a favourite amongst his peers at the WWE Performance Center, and was hired following a tryout in China. It was clear that WWE had plans to use Gao in a meaningful storyline at some point, since they had even posted an article online about the 5 reasons why Gao should be everyone’s favourite new recruit.
An injury he suffered was likely one of the biggest reasons that contributed to his eventual release. Even though his future in wrestling now looks pretty bleak, at least Gao was optimistic and in good spirits. Following the news of his release, he tweeted, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you know [sic] what you’re going to get. So should be keep smile!”
1 DARREN YOUNG
Darren Young’s release was not a surprise to most people. Though he had been with the company for a few years, he never really gained much momentum on the main roster. His most high-profile run came in 2010 when he was involved in The Nexus. Since then he has been mostly relegated to tag-team matches as The Prime Time Players with Titus O’Neil, or low card matches (if at all). Young has been injured through most of 2017 and was given his release in early November.
As with some of the other more recently released stars, there is not yet much indication on what Young’s future plans are. He has done some work on the indies and it is possible he will return there or work for another pro
motion. He does have a degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, so perhaps a future career outside of wrestling may in the cards for the 34-year-old.
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