Every sport has players moving between clubs every season. In the past, teams waited until the end of a player’s contract to lure them to their roster. In recent times, however, we see clubs shelling out big amounts of money on players who’re still contracted to other clubs, essentially buying out their contracts.
While wrestling picks up trends from mainstream media and sports, it’s a trend they’ve been unwilling to pick up and understandably so, given that promoters and bookers are usually stingy. The WWE has recently been criticized, as many feel they are trying to move in on the UK territory and put many UK based indie promotions out of business, much like they did in the U.S. when Vince was first spearheading his company's expansion.
That said, wrestlers jumping promotions at the end of their contracts is one of the most entertaining aspects of the art form. We see the internet wrestling fans losing their minds every time an indie darling debuts for WWE; one needs to look no further than AJ Styles’ debut at Royal Rumble 2016 to realize how big a deal wrestlers’ debuts are. The following article looks at seven WWE debuts the Chairman of the company, Vince McMahon probably wants to happen.
Equally entertaining are ex-WWE wrestlers’ returns. Depending on who you ask, it’s probably more interesting than seeing an indie darling’s debut. We’ll also be looking at seven returns he’ll want to pull off.
Despite being the global leaders in sports entertainment, WWE can’t afford to sign every wrestler on the planet simply to warm the bench. They’ll need to release a few to make room for new arrivals. So finally, we'll be looking at some possible releases Vince will be wanting to make in the coming year to make room for some new talent.
21 Debut: The Elite
Kenny Omega and co. leaving Bullet Club hasn’t been discussed as fervently as it deserved, with Roman Reigns announcing his battle with leukemia and WWE’s performing in Saudi Arabia amidst much flak around the same time. Tama Tonga and co. have since claimed, albeit in character, that The Elite, comprising the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Cody, The Young Bucks, Marty Scurll, Kota Ibushi, Adam Page and Yujiro Takahashi, would jump ship sooner than later.
Cody himself has stated on more than one occasion that The Elite would be working independent of any promotion. Vince McMahon must have been observing The Elite’s work, and would love to have them for a year or two.
20 Return: Batista
Batista hasn’t kept his desire to return to WWE secret, with the Guardians of the Galaxy star openly stating that he’d love to do a program with Triple H at WrestleMania or a similar stage. He even sowed the seeds for a rivalry with his former Evolution leader at SmackDown 1000. Vince McMahon must know he’s now the second biggest ex-WWE star in Hollywood, only behind The Rock, and perhaps, the only big return he can pull off at this point. It’s likely that he’s waiting for the Road to WrestleMania to begin to reintroduce The Animal to the WWE Universe, even if a match with Triple H can't happen this year.
19 Release: Sin Cara
Gone are the days when Rey Mysterio was the only luchador on the WWE roster. Indeed, there were The Hurricane, Kane and Ultimo Dragon, but none had his longevity and mystique. Today, WWE has Kalisto, Lince Dorado, Gran Metalik, Sin Cara, Ligero and The Ultimate Underdog himself. This situation must prompt Vince McMahon to release a luchador or two, and the likely casualty is Sin Cara, as Lucha House Party have only been promoted to the main roster. Additionally, with Hunico and Caristico taking turns to wear the mask, Sin Cara has had a confusing character arc, which Vince McMahon would be happy to see the WWE fans forget.
18 Debut: Jay Lethal
With Samoa Joe, Adam Cole, AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan and Eric Young all signing for WWE in recent times, Vince McMahon must be looking to sign the last of the big-name wrestler from Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling: Jay Lethal. The former Ric Flair and Randy Savage impersonator has been a solid promo and in-ring worker for many years now. Plus, he, who has won numerous major titles on the independent circuit, is also quite popular among the more casual fan base. Once EC3, Ricochet and DIY move to the main roster, he’ll want Triple H to work with the ROH World Champion.
17 Return: Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho has been having a mid-life crisis of sorts, with his stopping at nothing to prove that he doesn’t only still has it but can also put butts on seats. While Triple H, Kane and The Undertaker have been struggling to put together a basic wrestling match, Y2J has been wrestling grueling matches with Kenny Omega, Evil and Tetsuya Naito, with his IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom 12 even earning a five-star rating from Dave Meltzer. His Chris Jericho's Rock 'N' Wrestling Rager at Sea also proved his creative muscle is still at its peak. Vince must know he still has a proper run in him, and would try to lure him back to WWE in coming days.
16 Release: No Way Jose
It’s truly unfortunate that No Way Jose finds himself where he’s right now. After a few promising matches toward the end of his NXT stint, many penciled him in to follow in the footsteps of Elias. However, Vince McMahon has seen nothing special in him, as he’s been demoted to Main Event after two forgettable feuds with Mojo Rawley and Baron Corbin. Despite his size, talent and looks, Vince likely won’t offer him a chance to bounce back, as he already has much more popular wrestlers at his disposal, in Tye Dillinger and R-Truth, who can do the job much better than he can do.
15 Debut: Eli Drake
WWE have only recently signed EC3 and Bobby Lashley, after signing Bobby Roode, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Eric Young in recent times. It seems WWE’s raid of Impact Wrestling talents won’t ever stop given WWE’s constant demand for new talents. The next in line is likely going to be Eli Drake. The former Impact World Champion has done it all at Impact Wrestling, main-eventing major PPVs and wrestling big-name performers like Abyss, Alberto El Patron and Austin Aries. He didn’t last long during his last WWE stint thanks to his problems with then-head trainer Bill DeMott, but Vince is certain to give him another shot at WWE fame in the near future.
14 Return: Shawn Michaels
After staying retired for eight years, Shawn Michaels returned to the ring at Crown Jewel to be the best wrestler in a ring that also had three semi-active wrestlers in The Undertaker, Kane and Triple H. Now that his perfect retirement has been spoiled, he can return to the ring again despite his claiming “he’s too old for this.” Vince McMahon must know a match between HBK and Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles or Seth Rollins could be just as huge as any return match in history, so he must have already opened talks with the Hall of Fame wrestler.
13 Release: The Colons
Vince McMahon has probably given Primo and Epico more chances than he’s given any tag team. The Colons have been repackaged numerous times, with their failing every single time. Their only chance at redemption is having them headed or led by Carlito Colon and, if they fail to pick up steam even then, The Chairman will be left without a choice but to release them. Unlike most other wrestlers on the roster, they probably won’t get decent employment in the United States as the American indie fans don’t seem to take to them. They’ll only have to go back to Puerto Rico.
12 Debut: Pentagon Jr.
Pentagon Jr. is quietly building a decorated resume and momentum on the American independent scene. Impact Wrestling made him the Impact World Champion when the promotion was on an upswing, while he’s also won the Lucha Underground Championship and Gift of the Gods Championship in recent times. Plus, he’s also won titles with PWG and MLW.
With Lucha House Party and Sin Cara failing to be Rey Mysterio's heir apparent, Vince will look to bring down the Mexico-born luchador in the coming months and will hope he doesn’t prove as difficult to work with as fellow countryman Caristico.
11 Return: John Morrison
WWE have exhausted most of their big mid-card returns, with Drew McIntyre, The Hardy Boyz and Shelton Benjamin all returning in recent times. The only big-name mid-carder they can still bring down for a big Royal Rumble pop, perhaps with the exception of Ryback, is John Morrison. He, a former Intercontinental Champion, boasts everything Vince McMahon is said to look for in his wrestlers: charisma, style, looks and marketability. It’s only a matter of time before the Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide, Impact Wrestling and Lucha Underground star receives a call from WWE, especially given his recent rise in popularity among the U.S. wrestling audience.
10 Release: Dana Brooke
When Asuka is demoted to a battle royal match at the first-ever WWE women’s PPV, Evolution, you know the roster is stacked. With Four Horsewomen, Bella Twins, Ronda Rousey, Alexa Bliss, and Mickie James all wrestling for the two major titles on the main roster, we now see wrestlers talented wrestlers like Ember Moon and Ruby Riott struggling to earn screen time. Dana Brooke is clearly the outlier today, as she boasts nothing that can get the audience behind her. With the NXT girls and Mae Young Classic contestants fighting for main-roster places, McMahon will probably future-endeavor her in the next release spree.
9 Debut: Scarlett Bordeaux
Scarlett Bordeaux is everything WWE wanted Eva Marie and Emmalina to be. She’s already performed as an extra and enhancement talent for WWE, and hasn’t taken major bumps in an Impact Wrestling ring, but has become a major reason why people watch Impact Wrestling these days. She's in an era when women wrestlers are expected to downplay their attractiveness, but has embraced the fact that she looks amazing and owns it. McMahon, who is known to be a big fan of performers who can get the audience invested in their character, must be eager to lure her to his promotion.
8 Return: Wade Barrett
WWE’s poaching instincts have become far too evident in recent times, with the company signing stars left, right and center in the United Kingdom. While they have signed mid-level names like Ligero and Zack Gibson, they haven’t been able to sign Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll or Zack Sabre Jr. While these names, indeed, are too big to be on NXT UK, they know one wrestler would be delighted to be an authority figure on NXT UK before joining Raw or SmackDown again: Wade Barrett. His managing NXT UK won’t just legitimize the brand but also put eyes on the product, and Vince McMahon, a genius, must know that.
7 Release: Rowan
The Wyatt Family has been widely regarded as a failed stable by the wrestling fans, but Bray Wyatt has been a WWE Champion, while Braun Strowman has turned into one of the top three babyfaces on the main roster. Harper has held the Intercontinental Championship. Rowan, on the other hand, has had little success, with his leeching off the more talented teammates of his. The Bludgeon Brothers was supposed to be his last shot at proving his naysayers wrong, but a torn bicep has meant WWE had to stall their push. It’s unknown if Rowan will be treated as a big deal when he eventually returns, with the SmackDown tag-team division moving on without him.
6 Debut: Will Ospreay
As discussed above, WWE haven’t been able to sign the top-tier British talents for NXT UK. While Triple H is probably bummed to missed out on Zack Sabre Jr., Vince McMahon probably still harbors hopes of signing Will Ospreay, the flashier but equally talented Englishman. The NJPW wrestler has been receiving huge pushes from every indie promotion he’s been performing for, so it’s going to need more than just an NXT UK contract for The Genetic Jackhammer to have his hands on him. Ted DiBiase, his beloved creation, often says: “Everybody’s got a price.” He’ll be hoping his line still holds true.
5 Return: Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio is, despite what the internet fans think, easily one of the best wrestling talents on the planet today. The former WWE World Champion looks the part, can put on a 3.5-star match on any odd day and draw reactions most heels only dream about. His personality has been holding him back, but McMahon’s experience must have taught him how to handle tough characters having dealt with Shawn Michaels and Hulk Hogan. The Chairman, by all accounts, a big fan of the former WWE Champion, likely still hopes he can iron him out and help him reach the heights he actually can.
4 Release: Mike Kanellis
WWE looked to create a unique character in Mike Kanellis, with his character essentially playing second fiddle to his more popular wife Maria Kanellis. His personal battles proved a hindrance to whatever push WWE was readying for him, however. He returned quietly a few months ago, wrestling predominantly on Main Event. It seems that creative has given up on the wrestler in spite of his talent and resolute. Even moving to 205 Live hasn't helped him undergo huge career renaissance, either. One expects The Chairman to release him in the coming months in what has been a wasted opportunity for the company.
3 Debut: Kazuchika Okada
Topping the list of the wrestlers Vince McMahon wants to debut in WWE in the coming months is Kazuchika Okada. Recent reports have suggested WWE have been in touch with Tetsuya Naito. While the former Los Ingobernables de Japon wrestler is exceptional in his own right, he’s no Kazuchika Okada. The ex-IWGP Heavyweight Champion is easily one of the top three wrestlers on the planet today, and unlike former greats CM Punk and Steve Austin, is said to be easy to work with. Vince McMahon is possibly hoping the Japanese star doesn’t renew his current contract with NJPW, with a view to lure him to WWE.
2 Return: AJ Lee
We know this is a return Vince wants to happen because by all accounts, he tried to make it happen just a couple of months ago. Going into WWE's first ever all-women's event, Evolution, Vince wanted as many former female stars as possible on the show and reached out to AJ Lee, who turned down the offer. Obviously given the tense situation between CM Punk and the company may have played a part, but with things now set to simmer down, there's no reason AJ couldn't make short-term return to the company at some point this year.
1 Release: Paige
Paige has used her second chance perfectly to prove wrestlers who fall of the rails deserve at least once chance to turn their lives around. She didn’t just overcome psychological problems, for she also overcame a neck injury to become one of the best authority figures today. However, she must know most authority figures don’t last very long, unless their name is Teddy Long. Her current contract runs out in 2019 and, in the event that The Rock-produced Fighting with My Family tanks, McMahon will not renew it even though she has been playing a key role on Total Divas.