As I write this article, WWE has yet to perform its annual spring cleaning ritual, and more and more people are talking about which wrestlers deserve to be issued their pink slips, and which ones should be given a chance to stick around. Last year's spring cleaning was especially brutal, as it saw the unceremonious releases of Wade Barrett and Damien Sandow, but it also saw WWE get rid of some individuals who had long overstayed their welcome.
Meanwhile over at Impact Wrestling, the former TNA is, to its credit, doing a bit better than it was under Dixie Carter, but that hasn't stopped many people from walking away the moment they have the chance. Chief among these people are The Hardy Boyz, and we're still waiting and hoping that Impact and WWE come to terms and let the brothers be as broken as they want to be. That, needless to say, would be DELIGHTFUL and EXQUISITE.
Earlier this year, we issued our own predictions on which wrestlers may be made redundant, to use a more formal term, by WWE before the year is over. But now, we'd like to look at 15 wrestlers released or fired by a major North American promotion in recent years, and see which 8 of them deserved to go, and which 7 of them should have been given more of a chance.
Note: In the interests of keeping this list as recent as possible, we shall only be sticking to WWE, NXT, and TNA/Impact Wrestling releases from 2015 onwards. In the case of Impact Wrestling talents, the requirement is that they remain free agents as of this writing.
15 Zahra Schreiber (Deserved)
Oh, Zahra, we hardly knew ya. Wait a minute, we actually did. Weren't you Seth Rollins' side piece-turned girlfriend, whose nude pics got shared on the Architect Kingslayer's Twitter feed back in early-2015? Weren't you the NXT talent who had a love for Nazi memorabilia and fan artwork, only to claim you were a history buff? Oh, yes. We do remember you. And how.
While Zahra Schreiber was lucky not to feel the wrath of WWE management in the former incident, the latter incident was more than enough for company officials to issue her a pink slip, releasing her from the company before she could even establish herself as Solomon Crowe's manager. As for her relationship with Rollins, it was apparently over as of February 2016. We've said it before, but good on you, Seth. And good on you too, WWE.
14 Jade (Had Potential)
When it comes to Impact Wrestling releases, we tend to be ambivalent. On one end, you've got to wonder what Impact is thinking by releasing, firing, or choosing not to re-sign quality wrestlers, but on the other side of things, you may be thinking that it's about time they left that sinking ship. We've got two Impact talents in this list, including former Knockouts champion Jade as a very recent release.
As one of the more talented women on Impact's Knockouts roster, Jade was, and could have still been an asset to the company. But now that she's a free agent and rumored to be part of WWE's women's tournament, we'd imagine she's got the WWE in her sights, and plans to be more than just the NXT enhancement talent she previously was for the company.
13 Simon Gotch (Deserved)
If you come to think of it, The Vaudevillains were earmarked for job duty from their first day on WWE's main roster. Sure, they were talented in the ring and had an interesting gimmick, but they were debuted in 2016 with little fanfare, and on the post-WrestleMania SmackDown, back when SmackDown was WWE's unquestioned B-show. And they didn't help their cause when Enzo Amore was accidentally concussed when he and Big Cass faced The Vaudevillains at last year's Payback.
While Aiden English appears to be quietly going through life on the bottom of SmackDown's totem pole, his teammate Simon Gotch was the opposite, making the news for backstage altercations and other reports of bad attitude away from the camera. The Vaudevillains have long been surplus to WWE's needs, but Gotch's attitude made him a liability, therefore making him very easy to part with when he asked for his release this April.
12 Solomon Crowe (Had Potential)
WWE has been doubling down on so-called "indie darlings" in recent years, and we've seen our fair share of success stories. Tyler Black, Jon Moxley, and Kevin Steen all made a splash as Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Kevin Owens respectively, and Claudio Castagnoli and El Generico are midcard mainstays as Cesaro and Sami Zayn respectively. (Who, of course, deserve better.) They've all made it in the big leagues despite their IWC feather-ruffling name changes. But what happened to Sami Callihan when he arrived in NXT under the name Solomon Crowe?
Unfortunately for Crowe, his NXT run was a sad story of injury woes and numerous delays to his debut, to say little of his polarizing computer hacker gimmick. And when he requested his release in November 2015, he became another example of what could have been had bad luck not stepped in the way. He's now back in the indies and fresh off a stint at Lucha Underground, but his WWE run could have been better had they been patient with him.
11 Brad Maddox (Deserved)
Mediocre wrestler? Check. Terrible, henpecked (to Vickie Guerrero) authority figure? Check. Charisma vacuum? Check. One-hit wonder as the rogue ref at Hell in a Cell 2012, CM Punk vs. Ryback? You bet it's a check. Brad Maddox was a waste of space for most of his three years on the WWE main roster, and when he was fired in November 2015 for cussing at a house show audience, that was probably the first reminder in quite a while that he, at the time of his sacking, still had a WWE job.
Since leaving the WWE, Maddox has been working the indies, using the spoonerized name Mad Braddox, because anything, really, sounds more ring-friendly than his real name, Tyler Kluttz Warner. (Unless someone books him as Tyler Kluttz, Son of Shockmaster.) And a lot of us were again reminded of his existence for the first time in eons when he was revealed (with Xavier Woods) as one of Paige's partners in that unfortunate leaked sex video from earlier this year.
10 Justin Gabriel (Had Potential)
Justin Gabriel was, without a doubt, a promising young high-flyer who had reams of potential when he debuted on the first season of the NXT rookie search. But he had a couple things going against him from the get-go – a lack of promo skills and a thick South African accent. And you know how Vince McMahon and/or Kevin Dunn feel about wrestlers with thick accents, right?
In the last few months of his WWE career, Gabriel had gone from barely being on TV to playing a key role in the midcard, albeit while dressed in a bunny suit as part of fellow South African Adam Rose's Rosebuds. But just as it seemed as if Rose and The Bunny would go on to have a feud, Gabriel abruptly quit WWE in January 2015. He's now plying his trade as PJ Black in Lucha Underground, though it's a pity WWE never bothered to give him a chance after The Nexus splintered. (And no, we do not consider The Corre an example of WWE giving him a chance.)
9 Cameron (Deserved)
Come on. Is there any way a wrestler who screamed at a referee to "count it!" while pinning an opponent who was lying face down should not deserve to be wished the best in her future endeavors? Cameron was very clearly, from day one, the Marty Jannetty to Naomi's Shawn Michaels in The Funkadactyls, only much less talented than Jannetty at his most stoned. But should we expect anything more from a woman who, as Tough Enough hopeful Ariane Andrew (her real name), once said that her favorite WWE match of all time was Melina vs. Alicia Fox?
Recently, Cameron made wrestling headlines again for saying, in the least sensitive way possible, that as an African-American woman, she prefers dating white men. As we've seen in some of her previous social media posts, subtlety wasn't her strongest suit either.
8 Maria And Mike Bennett (Had Potential)
Maria Kanellis and husband Mike Bennett are the second Impact Wrestling entry in this list, and the first of two couples included in this list. And just like Jade, they didn't deserve to be allowed to walk away from Impact, but they also deserve better in their wrestling careers. Maria had improved by leaps and bounds since her days in WWE as a bumbling backstage interviewer, while Bennett was one of the newest, and brightest names in a company frequently in a state of flux.
Weeks after the Bennetts left Impact, rumors began swirling that they were close to signing a deal with the WWE, specifically to join the SmackDown Live brand. We haven't heard much on that front in the month since those rumors emerged, but if WWE decides to sign them, they could be an asset to the blue brand's midcard scene – arguably a poor man's Miz and Maryse, but they could do worse.
7 Jack Swagger (Deserved)
You probably were thinking to yourself, "Jack Swagger? I thought WWE already released him!" when news broke earlier this year that the All-American American and former Zeb Colter protege was working out the terms of his WWE release. The last time he was on TV, he was working a plain-vanilla gimmick as a new SmackDown Live acquisition, following his release from RAW in storyline. It wasn't an ill-fitting face "We, The People" gimmick – it was just Swagger telling his opponents, as lisp-y as ever, that they didn't know Jack.
Oh, but we know Jack – he was one of WWE's most underwhelming main event champions of all time, and just when we thought he was regaining his promise, he literally let it all go up in smoke. Last we heard of him, he was charging big money for indie appearances, though we're also guessing Impact may be right up his alley, what with Colter (a.k.a. Dutch Mantel) now a person of importance in the company.
6 Wade Barrett (Had Potential)
Wade Barrett first appeared in the WWE as the eventual winner of the first NXT rookie search, and with that in mind, he was the leader of The Nexus, with a rocket strapped to his back, a red-hot faction running roughshod over WWE, and all the tools needed to become WWE's first-ever British world champion. Then something called #CenaWinsLOL happened, and The Nexus, Barrett included, were turned into toast before 2010 was over.
Sure, Barrett won his share of Intercontinental Championships, but that was at a time when being IC champ was tantamount to jobbing to the stars. And by the time WWE was getting ready to release him in 2016, he was the weak link on a weak stable (League of Nations), a victim of bad luck (numerous injuries) and bad booking whose potential was simply wasted at the end of the day.
WWE, I'm afraid I've got some bad news – you blew it with Wade Barrett.
5 Adam Rose (Deserved)
When WWE suspended Adam Rose on a Wellness Policy violation, he could have narrowly gone on the "Didn't Deserve" list – instead of having him refine and tweak his Leo Kruger gimmick, WWE had Ray Leppan transform into their own version of Russell Brand's character from Get Him to the Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And that wasn't going to get over on the main roster, catchy as his theme song was.
What puts Rose on the "Deserve" list is the fact that shortly after his suspension, he was arrested on domestic violence charges. Not only did he get caught doing something no sane man should condone, but he did it at a time when he was walking on thin ice with the WWE. To nobody's shock, Rose was released from WWE in May of 2016, and may never be back in the company, as he plans to make 2017 his final year as an active wrestler.
4 Cody And Brandi Rhodes (Had Potential)
And now, we have the polar opposite of Mike and Maria Bennett – a couple that almost simultaneously left WWE to head to Impact...as well as Ring of Honor and New Japan, among others. Cody Rhodes felt stifled by the Stardust gimmick, and he was tired of jobbing to the stars while his push crumbled to dust. (Yes, that actually works.) Meanwhile, his wife Brandi (a.k.a. Eden Stiles in WWE) wanted to actually make use of her wrestling training and not just interview people or announce her colleagues' entrances, and she was more than happy to follow Cody out of WWE a day after his release.
If WWE gave him a chance, Cody Rhodes could have been more than just a multiple-time midcard champion with a variety of quirky gimmicks. And I'll have to admit – much as I'm a fan of the Stardust gimmick (which he hated, and I respect that), his Tony Stark-inspired "Rhodes Industries" gimmick idea had a ton of potential, which WWE didn't want to tap into.
3 Alberto Del Rio (Deserved)
When WWE fired Alberto Del Rio in 2014 for reacting to a backstage worker's racially-insensitive taunt, he didn't deserve to be fired. But when his WWE return lasted less than a year and saw him get released late in the summer of 2016, it couldn't have happened to anyone more deserving. See, Alberto had transformed into a locker room cancer, and it didn't help matters that he had allegedly become a toxic influence to his girlfriend Paige, with the two racking up Wellness Policy violations that summer.
Meanwhile, Alberto has reverted to his El Patron ring name, and since leaving WWE, he's missed Mexican dates due to injuries sustained in real-life fights, brawled with a Ninja Turtle (fine, a wrestler wearing a Raphael costume), gone on epic drunken rants at WWE and the "guy with the big nose" Triple H, and had a public shouting match with Paige at an Impact Wrestling taping. He may be a talented worker even as he pushes 40, but WWE is definitely better off for firing Del Rio/El Patron.
2 Damien Sandow (Had Potential)
WWE dropped the ball big-time with Damien Sandow. With Sandow having turned on erstwhile tag teammate Cody Rhodes to become Mr. Money in the Bank in 2013, his star appeared to be on the rise. Then, in quick order, he lost his feud with Rhodes, saw his brilliant "Intellectual Savior" gimmick subtly switching to "generic arrogant heel," and fell victim to that aforementioned phenomena called #CenaWinsLOL when he couldn't successfully cash in his Money in the Bank contract for the World Heavyweight Championship against John Cena.
After being given an impersonator gimmick that is usually the kiss of death for any wrestler's push, Sandow got over organically when he became Damien Mizdow, and was red-hot again in the spring of 2015, as he turned on The Miz and prepared for a babyface run...which was, of course, as a Randy Savage impersonator. By 2016, he was a generic jobber with no gimmick, no entrance music, and no heat, and while you can't say it was a total shock WWE released him in the spring of that year, it still boggles the mind as to why WWE would give up on such a promising talent. No, WWE, you are NOT welcome.
1 Ryback (Deserved)
Wake up, it's whining time! Yes, I will admit to being a fan of Ryback's podcast, Conversations with the Big Guy, and it's mainly because he trashes the WWE with so much gusto, and in practically every episode. Not that WWE always deserves to be subject to Ryback's diatribes, but it is perversely entertaining to listen to a man dish out the dirt like the Big Guy does, even if he often repeats the same anti-WWE stories from episode to episode.
While we can feel sorry for how Ryback is another example on this list of someone never being the same push-wise after losing to John Cena, we can only chuckle at the logic of a man who believes jobbers should get paid as much as main eventers because they're the ones who put the big names over. Ryback appears happy to burn his bridges with WWE, and for that, his unprofessionalism, and his allegedly stiff work, we don't think WWE will ever want him to return in the future.