For the duration of the twenty-first century, the status quo in professional wrestling has largely remained unchanged. Despite having cycled through several eras, WWE has dominated the mainstream picture with TNA pulling up a very distant second, while Ring of Honor has sort of been the king of the independent scene. Those facts have, by and large, not shifted to any major degree. That is unless you count TNA’s slow and painful descent from relevance to near obscurity.
But for the first time in recent memory, the landscape of the wrestling industry appears to be on the verge of its first major changes. In the past few years, WWE has shown a willingness, and perhaps even a commitment, to focus more on hiring new talents who have been practicing their craft for years on the independent circuit instead of growing their own stars at home from scratch. This new direction, while likely unnoticed by casual viewers, has had a remarkable impact on the business as a whole.
Suddenly it has become more lucrative to compete for popular indie companies than ever before. Not only that, but TNA talents have been poached left and right, with longtime mainstays AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Austin Aries and Eric Young all jumping over to Vince McMahon’s ship. The 2016 brand extension has seen a renewed need for deep rosters in WWE and the fat that has needed to be trimmed for a long time now has become more obvious. Here are eight wrestlers WWE should finally let go – and eight from TNA who should replace them.
16 FIRE: Titus O’Neil
Whether it has been as a part of the tag team known as The Prime Time Players with fellow WWE Superstar Darren Young, or one of his various failed solo runs, the huge Titus O’Neil has been floating around WWE for years now in an attempt to avoid drifting into completely forgotten territory. In the era of a vocal minority of wrestling fans demanding a change to focus on more independently trained wrestlers, a man like Titus O’Neil stands no chance of winning over the crowd. Titus is everything WWE pushed on viewers for years and everything that will always be rejected by the modern fan.
O’Neil is not completely without value, but his skills on the microphone, for example, stand out like a sore thumb. He’s rarely delivered a promo that he didn’t stumble over and despite commentary’s best efforts to paint him as a legit threat in the ring, he’s never shown a great deal of promise with his wrestling abilities.
15 HIRE: Kurt Angle
While Titus O’Neil has been utilized in a hundred different ways and has failed to get over with the crowd to any real degree, Kurt Angle is an instant win for everyone involved. Angle was one of the most memorable faces in the later years of the Attitude Era, dominating the business with a laundry list of Championship wins including the WWE World Championship on many occasions. His mat wrestling skills are unmatched and he’s responsible for a slew of classic matches and memories.
Angle left WWE eventually for TNA and, after a decade of contributions, was inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame. He’s recently moved on from that company (so, we know we're kind of cheating with this entry, but it's too exciting to ignore) and has expressed in interviews his willingness to return to WWE. He’s obviously close to hanging up his boots for good, but one more brief run for Vince McMahon would make plenty of cash, help teach younger talents, and send Kurt Angle out on the right note.
14 FIRE: Alicia Fox
Alicia Fox has been under contract with WWE for quite a while. She got her start for the company in 2008 as the wedding planner for Edge and Vickie Guerrero, ultimately being revealed as Edge’s mistress. She soon transitioned to an in-ring role, winning the Divas Championship at one time and has been wrestling ever since. Unfortunately for Foxy, she’s never reclaimed her former glory, rarely even competing for Championships at this point.
Alicia has mostly been used as an enhancement talent for many years now, often switching between playing a heel and a babyface based on whatever the women’s division needs at that moment. Her most notable storylines in recent years include a brief feud with Paige and playing the role of a punching bag when she hung around with The Bella Twins. Nothing short of a drastic character makeover could come close to revitalizing her stale WWE career and it’s time to let her go out with dignity.
13 HIRE: Gail Kim
Much like Kurt Angle, Gail Kim is closer to the end of her career than the beginning. But that’s perfectly okay, as there’s certainly more to gain from having the legendary Gail Kim come in for a rivalry with one of WWE’s up and coming stars. Gail has a lot of knowledge to pass on to the younger women on WWE’s roster and is one of the most naturally gifted female performers to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots.
Gail Kim has had a couple of bad runs with WWE. Her first stint ended when WWE decided to go in the direction of hiring women more for their looks than their talent and when she returned years later she was so turned off by the mistreatment of women in the company that she walked out in the middle of a match on live television. With WWE finally embracing the appeal of women’s wrestling, perhaps now is the time for the company to give Kim one more shot and to do it the right way. We don't see it happening, but we're definitely hoping it does!
12 FIRE: R-Truth
If there is one guy who epitomizes the idea of a Superstar being around so long that there’s no reason to expect anything entertaining to come from his usage ever again, it is R-Truth. Here’s a guy who has been coasting on an initial surge in popularity for years. He’s been thrown into countless comic relief tag teams and his cheese factor is so off the charts, it’s impossible for the adult audience to truly get behind him. Sure, WWE’s family friendly product means lots of children are watching, but the grown up audience are the vocal ones who often make or break a star.
R-Truth hasn’t served well in any useful role for a very long time and will most likely never be seen as a legitimate threat to any Championship ever again. His most appealing feature is the rap he performs during his entrance, which has been done so many times that no one cares anymore.
11 HIRE: Eli Drake
While the act of R-Truth has gone as stale as the oldest bread, Eli Drake is one of the fastest rising stars on Impact Wrestling. Drake is a natural heel with verbal skills which can be likened to the popular Ken Anderson (or Mr. Kennedy) and he’s talented in the ring to boot. With fifteen years of experience including an extensive time on the independent circuit, he’s developed an organic following. Drake is one of the more entertaining aspects of any TNA television program and one of the wrestlers WWE fans are clamoring to be signed to NXT.
In fact, he has actually worked for WWE before, having worked several dark matches for the company over the years. The WWE Universe has watched as a rush of former TNA regulars, including Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode, have come into WWE’s main roster and especially NXT, opening the door for plenty of dream matches. Here’s to hoping Eli Drake will soon join that list.
10 FIRE: Curtis Axel
Starting off a WWE career under the name Michael McGillicutty could arguably set just about anyone up for failure. Unfortunately for the son of WWE Hall of Famer Mr. Perfect, that’s exactly what happened to him. That cruel joke would haunt him for years until he became known as Curtis Axel and defeated Triple H in his first match under that name, setting the tone for what would surely be a career renaissance.
That renaissance was not to be, however. Curtis Axel started off strong but quickly faded into the background, being thrown into a doomed tag team with the ill-fated Ryback character and then getting stuck with a group of misfits like The Social Outcasts. These half hearted attempts at character makeovers have done absolutely nothing for his stale wrestling career and at this point he’d be better off hitting TNA or the indies, sort of like Cody Rhodes.
9 HIRE: EC3
Few rising stars have left an impact on TNA Wrestling like Ethan Carter III. Initially rising to fame as the most entertaining heel the company had seen in years, Carter, known as EC3, played the role of the nephew of TNA President Dixie Carter, who was also playing a heel around that time. Wrestling fans took so well to EC3, who played his role to perfection, that his eventual transition into the role of a protagonist was an organic one. He has remained at the top of the card on Impact Wrestling for a long time and is one of the more influential World Heavyweight Champions in the company’s recent history.
With TNA’s future looking bleaker by the week, it may be time for WWE to look into acquiring Ethan Carter III for its own roster. He’s got a marketable look and exceptional wrestling talent, which would make sure he’d fit right in among the NXT roster.
8 FIRE: Summer Rae
When Summer Rae first made her main roster debut for WWE as the dance partner for Fandango, her future looked bright. She wasn’t shy in front of a wrestling crowd, she was sassy as she managed Fandango and she looked good doing it. Sadly, WWE decided all too early to break up the duo, which had incredible chemistry, and both of them instantly floundered. Over the years Summer has managed countless Superstars and has been involved in some of the weakest love storylines ever produced, including the infamously horrendous one between her, Dolph Ziggler, Lana and Rusev, which plagued the Summer of 2015.
Summer has performed sporadically as a competitor in the ring, but has never managed to impress anyone with her wrestling prowess. She’s got no value in a women’s division full of exceptional workers like Charlotte, Bayley and Sasha Banks, and it would seem her managerial skills are the kiss of death.
7 HIRE: Jade
Jade is one of the best female wrestlers in the world and WWE would be wise to snatch her up if TNA were to go under in the near future. However, WWE should've actually got on her background far earlier, as she worked a match against Charlotte in NXT before signing with TNA. Before that match, Mia Yim (her old ring name) made a name for herself all around the United States, wrestling for companies like Ring of Honor, Shine and Combat Zone Wrestling. After her one match in WWE, she moved to TNA, becoming a big star there and one-time Knockouts Champion.
If TNA goes under, WWE would be wise to pick Jade up, as she could add terrific depth to Raw, SmackDown or NXT.
6 FIRE: Sin Cara
The masked grappler known as Sin Cara has never managed to captivate a WWE crowd. Strangely enough, WWE saw enough potential in the character to recast it after the wrestler who originally played the part was released a few years ago. Here were are in 2016 and Sin Cara is still sitting around the undercard as filler material. The only real momentum Sin Cara has ever achieved was as a member of The Lucha Dragons with Kalisto, but once Kalisto’s star took off a little, the company split them up in the brand extension and now both Superstars have suffered.
While there may be something to be done for the man behind the mask, the Sin Cara character ran its course a long, long time ago. Sin Cara will always be a jobber to the Superstars who actually have a shot at connecting with a wrestling crowd and it’s time to stop wasting resources on this failed experiment and use them for someone who has a chance.
5 HIRE: The Hardy Boyz
We just discussed a failed tag team in The Lucha Dragons, so let's look at the hottest act in wrestling at the moment, The Hardy Boyz. When Matt re-emerged as "Broken" earlier this year, he absolutely set the world on fire and has been one of the only reasons that people tune into TNA. Meanwhile, his brother Jeff, or Brother Nero, is still the biggest star in TNA and his storyline with Matt led to one of the most watched TNA segments of all-time in The Final Deletion.
If these two came back to the WWE, whether as a tag team or as singles acts, they'll instantly be over with the crowd and could add plenty to either Raw or SmackDown. The only thing that they need to maintain is Matt's "Broken" character, as it's the best thing going in TNA as we speak.
4 FIRE: Rosa Mendes
Rosa Mendes has been signed on with WWE longer than just about any woman has ever been under contract with the company. Unfortunately for Mendes, she has absolutely nothing to show for it. She started her career in one of the first Diva Search competitions and eventually signed on to perform on a full time basis. She managed the tag team of Primo & Epico early on in her career, a pairing which practically no one remembers and she’s got perhaps the worst ratio of wins to losses of any competitor in history.
Rosa has undergone a plethora of attempts at revitalizing her character, all of which have failed on a monumental level. Despite a decade of experience, her in-ring skills have never improved and she remains one of the least talented female wrestlers to ever step between the ropes. She’s been off television for a long time since becoming pregnant and giving birth, but perhaps it’s time WWE makes the decision to not bother bringing her back.
3 HIRE: Maria Kanellis
While Rosa Mendes has spent a decade failing miserably at being a manager and part time in ring competitor, Maria Kanellis has spent just as long excelling at the role after leaving WWE. Along with her husband Mike Bennett, she ruled Ring of Honor as one of the company’s most entertaining acts as a part of the stable known as the Kingdom. Maria’s skills may not translate as well to wrestling, but when she does compete between the ropes, she knows how to make it count.
More recently, Maria and Mike Bennett have been breathing new life into TNA Wrestling’s television product, slowly building up steam and becoming one of the best things going for that company. However, fate seems to have it out for Impact Wrestling and when that ship sinks, WWE would be wise to snatch up the talents of Maria, who originally got her start in the business with that company.
2 FIRE: Bo Dallas
In a sad waste of talent, the Bo Dallas project has failed so miserably that no one wants to even talk about it anymore. Bo was one of the most entertaining and longest reigning NXT Champions in the history of WWE’s developmental program, but it was clear to any educated wrestling fan that his goofy inspirational shtick would stink up the place when he was eventually called up to WWE’s main roster. That’s exactly what happened, as Vince McMahon apparently has no idea how to embrace any character with the slightest bit of humor.
Since joining Raw and SmackDown, Bo Dallas has been pushed with absolutely no enthusiasm and, no matter how many matches he wins, the WWE Universe sees right through it. The crowd is never going to buy into this otherwise talented wrestler and it’s time for WWE to let him go so both parties can cut their losses.
1 Mike Bennett
If WWE is going to sign on Maria Kanellis, there’s no way they can do without her ultra talented husband, Mike Bennett. Bennett’s character in TNA is ironically quite similar to that of Bo Dallas in WWE, as he’s billed as The Miracle, somewhat reminiscent of Bo Dallas’ “inspirational” gimmick, except that it’s done the right way. Say what you will about Impact Wrestling, but that company has done creative and interesting things in recent years and the tandem of Mike Bennett and his wife Maria are one of the biggest wins they’ve scored.
Mike and Maria both have an extremely marketable look and both are great on the microphone. Their charisma and chemistry is absolutely undeniable and Bennett’s in-ring capabilities can be put up against anyone’s in WWE. With TNA apparently on its last legs, it’s time for WWE to snatch up Mike Bennett while he’s at the apex of his pro wrestling career.