Each year, usually in the spring, WWE takes a good look at its main and NXT rosters, looks at some names whom their creative team has nothing for, or whose injuries or attitude have made them liabilities, and wishes them the best in their future endeavors, typically identifying them by their real names and announcing that they are no longer with the company. That's WWE's version of spring cleaning, and it's often done to make way for younger or newer talents itching to get promoted to the main roster. And boy, are there a lot of NXT stars arguably due for a call-up in 2017 — Shinsuke Nakamura, The Revival, Tye Dillinger, Bobby Roode, Asuka, etc. And we're not even counting Samoa Joe's very recent arrival on the main roster.
This year, though, there also may be more wrestlers than usual who may be announcing their retirement. Last year's crop of 40- and 50-somethings on WWE's roster remain employed by the company, and talk is again brewing on whether these grizzled veterans will close the book on their long and fruitful careers. Then there are also some younger, 30-something talents who may be forced out of the ring due to recent injury woes.
We may have at least two months remaining before WWE's next spring clean, and some of these wrestlers may retire or get sacked sooner or later in the year. But let's take a look at how things stand while still early, and predict which eight WWE Superstars may get fired, and which seven may choose to retire in 2017.
15 EMMALINA (FIRED)
It's practically a running joke, and the WWE Universe has responded by eagerly down-voting her vignettes on WWE's YouTube channel. We keep waiting for the arrival of Emmalina on Monday Night RAW, but we've been promised this for four months. FOUR MONTHS. That's almost as long as the duration between her back injury and the time when she was cleared by WWE to compete.
At the moment, there are only four women playing significant roles on Monday Night RAW — Charlotte, Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax. You can also count Alicia FOOOHHHHHHXXX (dammit, Noam Dar), though she's mainly part of 205 Live storylines. The long wait for Emmalina suggests that Creative is hard-pressed to come up with something for her, and it's such a pity that has become the case — even during the time she had that bad dancing gimmick, the wrestler formerly known as Emma has been one of WWE's most talented women in the ring. Now she's looking like a prime candidate for WWE's Future Endeavors Class of 2017.
14 TYSON KIDD (RETIRED)
It's still one of the sadder stories in recent WWE history. Lower-card guy takes his underutilized talents to NXT, thrives in developmental, returns to the main roster, and finds his niche as a member of one of the top tag teams, only to fall victim to a career-threatening freak injury. That's what happened to Tyson Kidd in June 2015, as Samoa Joe's Muscle Buster finisher caused him to suffer a severe spinal injury that also proved to be life-threatening — according to Kidd, only 5 percent of people survive the kind of injury he suffered.
The last official graduate of the Hart Dungeon hasn't wrestled since, and just a few days ago, Dave Meltzer made it short, but not necessarily sweet, tweeting that Kidd will "never be cleared to wrestle again." At this point, there's nothing left but for Kidd to formally announce his retirement.
13 EVA MARIE (FIRED)
We get why WWE likes to keep Eva Marie around — she's a very, very attractive woman, and she's been a key member of the Total Divas cast. But at the risk of preaching to the choir, Eva Marie is All Botch Everything. Sure, she hasn't been wrestling in a while due to her Wellness Policy suspension, her SmackDown Live gimmick, her film debut, and other factors, but the last time she was wrestling, she was still as awful as ever, with a capital "A."
There have been some whispers that she may already have left the 'E, as her Twitter account no longer lists her as a WWE Superstar; she also appears to have unfollowed the WWE account, which is, to say the least, very, very interesting. This may or may not be a work, but assuming Marie didn't quietly leave WWE as has been speculated this month, we strongly doubt her chances of surviving the company's 2017 spring cleaning session.
12 MARK HENRY (RETIRED)
It may soon be time for Mark Henry to hang up his boots and exclaim "That's what I used to do!" We mostly remember how he had us all fooled in 2013, wearing that pink jacket and being moved to tears as he ostensibly announced his retirement. Then he turned around and gave John Cena a World's Strongest Slam, effectively challenging him for the WWE Championship. That was a brilliant promo, but the World's Strongest Man hasn't had it that good since then.
Like many of his 40-something contemporaries, Henry is now down to occasional appearances, and that's mostly so he could put over the younger guys. He's held a job in WWE for more than two decades now, but now that he's turning 46 in the summer and oftentimes showing his age, he might have inducted his last opponent into the Hall of Pain.
11 SIN CARA (FIRED)
There's a solid chance that Sin Cara may, at some point in 2017, have to change his name to Sin Trabajo. That's because the Faceless One may become the Jobless One as he continues to flounder on Monday Night RAW, only making rare appearances to do the job to someone more established.
While the former Hunico has been less botch-prone than the original Sin Cara, a.k.a. Mistico as he's known in Mexico, he hasn't been a saint in the locker room by any stretch of the imagination. Late last year, he got into a trivial, ultimately physical scuffle with Chris Jericho that got him major backstage heat, and there's also the fact that he turns 40 in September. There's no upside in keeping Sin Cara around, and we just might see his name included when WWE does its usual spring cleaning later this year.
10 KANE (RETIRED)
Compared to fellow oldsters Big Show and Mark Henry, Kane was quite prominently featured after last year's brand split, but it's been quite some time since we last saw the Devil's Favorite Demon in the ring. And now we know why, as it was recently reported that Kane took some time off to deal with injuries.
It's been quite a while since Kane was any sort of a threat in the WWE, and like most guys with his age and experience, he's mainly a jobber to the younger stars. And as one of WWE's more intelligent and well-spoken wrestlers outside the ring, he's got some plans of his own away from the squared circle, as he hopes to run for mayor of Knoxville in 2018. This may require the 49-year-old to step away from the ring, though we're imagining WWE keeps him around in a prominent non-wrestling capacity if and when he retires.
9 SUMMER RAE (FIRED)
Summer Rae hasn't wrestled or even appeared onscreen since the brand split, and this was recently confirmed as the result of a knee injury she's still recovering from. In the interim, she's been busy making press appearances and doing some modeling; it seems very likely that the former valet to Fandango, Damien Mizdow, and Rusev will have somewhere to go and something to do if and when she gets cut by WWE.
There are several things working against Rae at this point in her career — her age for a women's wrestler (33), her lack of in-ring skill, and her average-at-best promo work. As TheSportster wrote in December, Summer barely escaped WWE's 2016 spring cleaning due to Cameron's shoot comments against the company. We don't expect her to be as lucky this year.
8 NIKKI BELLA (RETIRED)
The rumors have been swirling as of late, and the time may soon come for Nikki Bella to join her twin sister Brie in retirement. There's been lots of talk that WrestleMania 33 may serve as Nikki's WWE swan song, as she and John Cena are expected to face The Miz and Maryse in a mixed tag team match. We're not sure if Big Match John is going to propose to his longtime girlfriend at 'Mania as some reports have suggested, but what seems to be likelier is Nikki retiring from wrestling due to her recent injury history.
The signs are all there — instead of rapidly turning from heel to face and back like a female Big Show, Nikki has enjoyed a sustained, and clear push as a babyface since she returned from injury. And she also hasn't been a SmackDown Women's Championship contender as her extensive, decorated WWE resume would suggest. Nikki Bella has achieved a lot in almost a decade with WWE, and as we're seeing, her involvement in Total Divas and Total Bellas ensures a similarly productive career for her outside the ring.
7 CURTIS AXEL (FIRED)
The Genesis of McGillicutty may all come down to this — one decade in WWE's system, five years on-and-off on the main roster, and a career that pales greatly in comparison to that of his late father Mr. Perfect. Curtis Axel did have some moments during his time as a main roster talent, briefly holding the Intercontinental Championship in 2013 soon after his repackaging, but if Paul Heyman can't get you over as an IC title holder, your upside in WWE probably isn't that high to begin with.
More recent years have seen Axel show some hidden depths as the man behind "AxelMania," and as someone who'd ham it up with gusto as part of The Social Outcasts. It's not A-list stuff, but at least it's way, way better than that god-awful NXT promo he cut as Michael McGillicutty. But given the fact he turns 38 this year and is just as average overall as his real nickname suggests, WWE might want to cut its losses and admit Joe Hennig's run with the company was less than perfect.
6 BIG SHOW (RETIRED)
The fans have clamored for it during his recent runs as a heel, and the man himself has hinted at it, saying in the summer of 2016 that he plans to retire after WrestleMania 33. Big Show has had a long, successful career in the world of pro wrestling, and while he may never have become as iconic as his kayfabe father Andre the Giant, he deserves a place in WWE's Hall of Fame a few years down the line. And we may have to face the reality of his last-ever pay-per-view match being against a non-wrestler, albeit someone with similar height and (much more accomplished) basketball background — NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal.
The man who made turning from face to heel or vice versa into an art form arguably deserves to go out on a more wrestling-oriented note, but if you consider that he did fight Floyd Mayweather at WrestleMania XXIV, it's probably just right that he gets serenaded with cheers of "Thank you Big Show!" (and not "Please retire!") after his match with Shaq.
5 BRONSON MATTHEWS (FIRED)
Ah, the curse that often befalls Tough Enough winners. Jackie Gayda wrestled in "that Jackie Gayda match." Daniel Puder got his ass legitimately kicked at the 2005 Royal Rumble as payback for the Kurt Angle incident, and was never seen on WWE TV again. Andy Leavine never made it to the main roster after failing to develop as expected. And Josh Bredl, a.k.a. Bronson Matthews, may likely follow in Leavine's footsteps as our token NXT representative in this list.
It's been mostly downhill for this young man almost since the time he won 2015's Tough Enough revival, and if you recall, he got nuclear heat early last year for calling The Social Outcasts "social jobbers" on Twitter. (It's true, Josh, but you just don't do that if you're signed to WWE!) He's lost all his five matches on NXT, and hasn't competed since July of last year. You do the math on that one.
4 GOLDBERG (RETIRED)
This one's a bit of a gimme, as the deal was only supposed to be for one match against Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series 2016. As it turned out, fan reception to Bill Goldberg's unlikely WWE comeback late last year was largely positive, and his match against Lesnar at WrestleMania 33 just might be one with the WWE Universal Championship on the line. It may also be a quick and (relatively) painless squash match, if recent rumors are spot-on. Yeah, just like the one at Survivor Series, but only with the results reversed.
Goldberg defied the odds and Father Time by getting himself booked in three more matches (including this year's Royal Rumble match and a Universal Championship match against Kevin Owens at Fastlane) after that supposed one-off comeback. But he's 50 years old and it's clear that he's still got some ring rust, to say little of how he's lost a lot of mobility in those years away from the ring. Expect Goldberg to call it a career after he (presumably) loses to Lesnar at 'Mania, with or without any title on the line.
3 JACK SWAGGER (FIRED)
You know your WWE days are numbered when you seemingly spend more time playing video games on Xavier Woods' YouTube channel Up Up Down Down than wrestling on WWE television. The last time we saw Jack Swagger on TV, it was early-November 2016, when he beat Simon Gotch of The Vaudevillains, and nothing says "creative has nothing for you" better than a B-show win over a tag team specialist from a jobber team.
Swagger is clearly an afterthought at this day and age, and is now four years removed from the time he lost his potential World Heavyweight Championship because he got high, because he got high, because he got high. As he turns 35 in March, he's no longer a young kid, and people would still rather watch grass grow than listen to Swagger promos. Not even a move to the so-called "land of opportunity" known as SmackDown Live could save Swagger's career. That all said, it might be high time (seriously, pun unintended) for the All-American American to consider his post-WWE options as early as now.
2 THE UNDERTAKER (RETIRED)
If there's one thing good that will come out of The Undertaker's retirement, should it take place after his rumored match against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33, it's the expectation that his universal popularity will leave WWE no choice but to turn Reigns heel and accept that they made a mistake pushing the Big Dog as a top babyface despite fan backlash. And we actually shudder to think of how much Reigns will be hated if he does go over 'Taker at 'Mania.
In recent years, it has become painfully obvious that The Undertaker is well past his prime, and we were reminded of this when it was reported he was "hurting" after his brief Royal Rumble appearance this year. The Deadman is also in need of more extensive hip surgery, and at 51 years old, he is the oldest active wrestler currently on a WWE contract. It's been a legendary run, especially at WrestleMania, but it may be time for The Undertaker to take that proverbial "last ride" into the sunset after this year's 'Mania appearance.
1 JAMES ELLSWORTH (FIRED)
Anybody else sick of seeing James Ellsworth on television? I know I am, after several weeks of "CarmEllsworth" segments. Even Ray Charles can see what's coming next — it will turn out that Carmella is merely using the Chinless One for her nefarious means. Ellsworth will then turn face, and will most likely be doing jobs to Curt Hawkins, Jack Swagger, or even Viktor of The Ascension on house shows.
At first, Ellsworth had a nice catchphrase, and the idea of a way-undersized, overly naive and simple-minded jobber racking up fluke wins en route to a WWE contract wasn't a bad one in the short-term. But such ideas often end up in the jobber returning to his old status (see: Barry Horowitz except the "undersized" and "simple-minded" bit), and that's where Ellsworth may be once the angle with Carmella comes to a merciful end. Not to mention, surplus to WWE's needs once he's through counting lights in the house show circuit.