WWE is a unique company. As an entertainment promotion, there’s a simultaneous desire to maintain history and cultivate a brand around loyal performers the fans have gotten to know and appreciate. On the flip side, there’s a need to infuse new blood into the company every now and again or bring back old faces to freshen storylines and create new matchups.
For a time, WWE wanted to develop all of its own talents, getting wrestlers ready within its own system so they didn’t diverge too far from the WWE model when it came to how they worked or how they talked. Recently, the company has embraced a more traditional route of also welcoming talents who have established themselves on the independent circuit or abroad. There’s also a place for talents to come home, like Luke Gallows who had an up and down run with WWE, went to Japan and reinvented himself, and was brought back alongside tag team partner Karl Anderson. It’s often been said that Vince McMahon, as the head of WWE, will do what’s right for business, and that’s an example of him capitalizing on a talent who discovered a better version of himself working for another promotion.
WWE only has so many roster spots. While Raw, Smackdown, 205 Live, NXT, and the occasional Network special with visiting talent can justify WWE employing more wrestlers than ever, there do still need to be cuts here and there so that everyone signed gets used to some extent. This article looks at eight acts WWE should clear from its roster, and eight great talents who ought to take their spots.
16 Should Release: Titus O’Neil
Titus O’Neil has a great look and very good charisma. There’s a way in which he seems like a perfect storm for a WWE superstar for his size and physique and his talking game, and yet he’s also living proof that wrestling ability has to count for <i>something</i>.
O’Neil is not a good wrestler. He generally looks awkward in the ring. The Titus Brand gimmick, through which WWE seems to kind of sort of be transitioning him into a manager role does make some good sense, but the fact remains that there are better managers available in the wrestling world. Additionally, O’Neil’s stature becomes a detriment in a managerial role for towering over the men he’s standing in the corner of. Maybe the manager gig will work out, but for now O’Neil feels like dead weight on the main roster.
15 Should Sign: Kenny Omega
After a spell in the WWE developmental system in the mid 2000s, Kenny Omega has made a name for himself on the independent scene and all the more so over in Japan years.
While Omega has had some buzz around him for years, talk of him coming to WWE blossomed anew in the wake of Wrestle Kingdom 11, a New Japan super show where he worked an excellent match in a losing effort opposite Kazuchika Okada. In this outing, Omega shored up his spot as one of the truly elite workers in the world today, not to mention that the guy also has a charisma. Years back a smaller guy with indie sensibilities like Omega probably wouldn’t get much of a shot with WWE. Today however, with an NXT roster that prides itself as a collection of top indie talent and up and comers, and a main roster with guys like AJ Styles and Kevin Owens in prominent positions, Omega may well fit right in.
14 Should Release: Curt Hawkins
After debuting as half of the Major Brothers with Zack Ryder, and then becoming an Edgehead, Curt Hawknis moved on to—basically nothing. The guy has manged to hang around WWE for most of the last decade—excluding a couple years out on the indies and in TNA—but has failed to ever really make much headway for himself.
While Hawkins is a competent mechanic, and passable on the mic, he just doesn’t seem to have a place as anything but a jobber to the stars in WWE. Maybe that’s all WWE wants him for, which is ultimately fair enough. Just the same, it seems like someone else might make more out of this roster spot, besides which Hawkins might better himself with a longer tour of the indies or abroad to really find himself as a performer and as a character.
13 Should Sign: Son Of Havoc
Known by a variety of names, Matt Cross has worked a variety of independent promotions over the last fifteen years, and even got a shot with WWE via the Tough Enough reboot. He seemed like one of the best contestants on the show, only to suffer a surprisingly early elimination in just the second episode.
As the masked biker Son of Havoc, cross showed up in Lucha Underground. In the early going, he came across as a forgettable lower card heel. However, a mix of surprising athleticism and infectious charisma got him over with the crowd, making his on again off again kayfabe romance with Ivelisse and his partnership with her and Angelico some of the highlights of the show.
Son of Havoc has proven he can get himself over, even with middling material to start out with. He’s exactly the kind of talent WWE should sign to at least help out in NXT, if not to see what he might do for himself on the main roster if given an opportunity.
12 Should Release: Rhyno
Rhyno was a great talent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He came of age in ECW, and by the time he reached WWE, had his blend of raw power and explosive offense down to be a truly electrifying performer.
Fifteen to twenty years have passed since Rhyno’s prime. It was fun to see him come back to the WWE scene via NXT as a veteran to help put over younger talents, and most fans even enjoyed his return to the main roster as the straight man and more credible tag team partner alongside Heath Slater in his free agent gimmick. The trouble is that Rhyno’s age is showing in his look and in the way he moves. All of the elements that once made him such a success have faded, and there’s a fair argument he’s actively tarnishing his legacy the longer he stays in WWE now. There are a lot of guys who could tag up with Heath Slater; Rhyno just doesn’t really have a fitting place in WWE today.
11 Should Sign: Kazuchika Okada
There was a time when WWE shied away from bringing in international stars, wary of their different working style and if they could cross over to American fans if they weren’t entirely comfortable with their English. Talents like Shinsuke Nakamura and Hideo Itami have paved a way forward, showing that Japanese talent can succeed in WWE, and don’t have to be cast as stereotypical heel foreigners in the process, but rather can be their own men.
Kazuchika Okada has become one of the best workers in the world working in New Japan. While New Japan has made more of an effort to lock down talent after WWE ostensibly raided them in 2016, Okada is nonetheless the kind of special talent who may well be able to cross over when to the U.S. audience, when he’s contractually able to do so.
10 Should Release: Noam Dar
After taking some time to find its footing, WWE’s cruiserweight division has largely settled in. Neville has proven a fine anchor, and his heel persona has largely redeemed what was looking like a lackluster main roster run. Austin Aries and Akira Tozawa have made fine challengers, and stars like Jack Gallagher, The Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, and Rich Swann have largely settled into supporting roles.
And then there’s Noam Dar.
Despite getting plenty of screen time and a kayfabe relationship with Alicia Fox, the guy remains mostly devoid of charisma and uninteresting to watch relative to his more creative peers. Dar is a competent worker, but there are plenty of lightweight talents from the indies who could easily fill his spot.
9 Should Sign: Mike Quackenbush
Mike Quackenbush is the owner of Chikara Pro Wrestling, a Pennsylvania based indie that markets itself on being family friendly. The promotion features a lot of silliness and over the top characters, but largely in ways that are entertaining and creative rather than pandering in the way WWE tends to be when it does comedy.
It’s first and foremost as a creative mind that Quackenbush could be valuable to WWE, given their family friendly styles align nicely, Quackenbush has proven himself capable of thinking outside the box. On top of that, Quackenbush is first rate mechanic who could fit in nicely as a veteran hand for 205 Live, as an NXT talent who helps prepare younger stars for the next level en route to the WWE main roster.
8 Should Release: The Ascension
The Ascension went on a tear during their tenure with NXT as a dominant tag team reminiscent of the style of The Road Warriors. On the main roster, Konnor and Viktor were exposed as green and nowhere near the league of teams like The LOD or Demolition that they immediately drew comparisons to. They’re now withering in the lower card, mostly jobbing to Fandango and Tyler Breeze.
While it’s conceivable WWE could turn things around for The Ascension, and face turn might open some different possibilities, things don’t look good for them in the long run. In particular, with The Authors of Pain working a similar gimmick and pulling off much better in ring performances at the NXT level, there’s a real questions as to what value The Ascension could possibly have to the WWE main roster in a year’s time.
7 Should Sign: Jay Lethal
Jay Lethal grabbed national attention as part of TNA, first for emerging as an accomplished wrestler at a startlingly young age, then for his Black Machismo Randy Savage knock off gimmick. Since that time he settled in ROH and more recently Japan as a tip top star who puts on great matches with a variety of opponents. In particular, he had an excellent run as the Ring of Honor Champion in which he proved he could be the face of a company.
While Lethal may never be the top guy in WWE, he’d fit right in in NXT, or moving up to the main roster to work barnburners with guys like AJ Styles and Sami Zayn. Best of all, the guy is a proven commodity as both a face and heel, and should still have a number of years left in his tank.
6 Should Release: Erick Rowan
Erick Rowan had the perfect look for his part with The Wyatt Family, as a big bruiser who could very easily pass for frightening and mentally disturbed. As time has gone on, however, Rowan has shown little development and been confirmed as the weak link of the Wyatts, relative to Bray Wyatt who was destined to be a star, Braun Strowman whose power and charisma have made him a main eventer, and Luke Harper who can’t get a push but is nonetheless a very talented hand.
Fans get the impression WWE keeps Rowan around just in case they decide Wyatt needs a sidekick again. On his own, though, Rowan just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to cut it as anything but a lower card warm body in WWE.
5 Should Sign: Bobby Lashley
From 2005 to 2008, Bobby Lashley had all the makings of a top star for WWE. He had an awesome physique, great athleticism and power, and an amateur pedigree to provide the foundation for his in ring game. WWE pushed him a good bit, aligning him with Donald Trump for WrestleMania 23, booking him in a feud with Vince McMahon, giving him the ECW Championship, and even pitting him against John Cena for a stand alone PPV main event. A combination of injury and rumored creative differences led Lashley to depart WWE before he realized his presumptive destiny as a world champion.
Since leaving WWE, Lashley has thrived in TNA, in particular as dominant heel world champion—a role he never broached with WWE. Lashley is now 40 and it's questionable how many more good years he’ll have as an in ring performer. He’s enough of a physical spectacle that WWE shouldn’t sleep on an opportunity to work with him now, and particularly on an opportunity to book him against Brock Lesnar.
4 Should Release: The Colons
While so many wrestlers dream of the opportunity to work with WWE, The Colon family—or at least the current generation of it--including former WWE star Carlito, and current tag team partners Primo and Epico, just don’t seem like a fit for the company. Maybe it’s the promise of going back to Puerto Rico to work under their father’s promotion. Maybe it’s WWE’s disinterest in pushing any of them past the mid card. Whatever the case may be, rumors abound that the Colons want out of their WWE contract. Given how little WWE has done with the brothers, relegating them to lower card tag status, it’s hard to understand why WWE wouldn’t let them go.
The Colons are talented and well-known enough that they could probably still make a go of it in a variety of promotions, even if they didn’t head back to Puerto Rico. Maybe it’s a matter of spite, then, that keeps WWE from liberating them.
3 Should Sign: Zack Sabre Jr.
Every now and again, a wrestler gets some real buzz around him. In recent years, Zack Sabre Jr. has been one of those guys. The British star is a technical wizard who has wowed audiences in Japan and across a spectrum of smaller US companies, including Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Evolve,
Sabre did appear with WWE, working the Cruiserweight Classic for the Network. He was widely considered a favorite to win the whole thing, and purportedly was booked to lose in the semifinals out of a refusal to commit to a contract with the company. While this seems to be more case of Sabre not wanting to sign than WWE not wanting him, he’s a special enough talent that WWE really ought to do everything it can to bring him into the fold on a more permanent basis.
2 Should Release: Lana
Make no mistake about it, Lana is a beautiful woman. Moreover, she played an effective manager for Rusev early in his WWE tenure, helping to sell him as an evil heel foreigner. The trouble is, Lana is working in an era when WWE is profoundly rich with female talent who can go in the ring and are at least as good as Lana in the ring. The talent surrounding her underscores just how limited Lana is.
In all likelihood, Lana’s sex appeal and real life marriage with Rusev will help her retain her spot with WWE for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean she deserves it, though, and as the Mae Young Classic is sure to underscore, there are much better all around female talents out there.
1 Should Sign: Ricochet
After wowing audiences across U.S. independents and turning in exceptional work for New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ricochet took on the unique project of becoming the face of Lucha Underground. The off beat lucha libre based program saw Richochet put on a mask and be rebranded as Prince Puma, an identity under which he thrived putting on great matches with the likes of Johnny Mundo, Rey Mysterio, Pentagon Dark, and Mil Muertes.
Ricochet is rumored to be done now with Lucha Underground, but the fact remains that he has now proven himself across different cultures and styles of work as a top player. The man isn’t yet thirty and could be a prime acquisition to help shore up NXT for the next year or so, and then be a guiding force the next generation of WWE stars.