The latest batch of releases from WWE on Friday brought about a lot of the same reactions we've seen throughout the years at these announcements. Sympathy for shown for the ladies and gentleman who've found themselves out of work, anger at their former employer, and in some cases, fantasy booking a landing spot for some of the cut roster at AEW.
Last year saw 86 wrestlers depart WWE. Twenty two of these found a new home for themselves with All Elite Wrestling. As with any sporting fanbase, new signings are usually greeting with plenty of hype and fanfare. The term 'gamechanger' has been used freely with a lot of WWE defectors, but how many of the wrestlers who've arrived in Jacksonville have met or exceeded expectations. Over the next two columns, I'll run down the Hits and Misses of the 2021 releases from WWE who've arrived in AEW.
22. The Big Show/Paul Wight - The Giant walked made the jump to AEW last February, the seven footer was extremely vocal about his frustrations with his last run in the WWE. Wight felt underutilized in his role as a legend, and felt he had more to offer in the ring. With that in mind, his in-ring career at the upstart Florida promotion must be viewed as a bust. His feud with QT Marshall, which led to his only main show appearance at September's All Out, hardly enhanced his legendary career. At 50, Wight will be more effective to AEW on Dark Elevation, and as a mentor to young talent.
21. Jake Atlas - Atlas' one appearance on AEW TV ended in unfortunate circumstances, when he tore his ACL in a loss against Adam Cole. Hopefully he'll make a full recovery, and be given a chance to show off his talents.
20. Zayda Ramier/AQA. Booker T protégé AQA holds a TV victory over Toni Storm from her NXT days, and possesses a picture perfect shooting star press. Unfortunately she hasn't had too many opportunities to show what more she can do in either company. Her TBS title loss to Jade Cargill was solid enough, and she picked up a victory on the Ring of Honor Supercard, which suggest her future lies on that brand should Tony Khan be able to find a TV deal for it.
19. Marina Shafir - Shafir struggled to make any impact in WWE, despite being part of Ronda Rousey's MMA four horsewomen. It seems crazy to thing that some parts of the IWC thought a match between Rousey's posse and the WWE's horsewomen was a legitimate prospect a few years ago. The Moldovan had impressed with her rugged style on Dark, but her debut victory on Dynamite was met with stony silence from a crowd who had little knowledge of her work. She became Cargill's 30th victim in a hard hitting battle on Rampage, but needs some more in-ring polish, as well as some creative love to shine in the underserved women's division.
18. Jeff Hardy. Hardy the younger reunited with his older brother in February to much fanfare, but despite picking up some good wins on Dynamite questions have been asked about the quality of his work. The controversial manner of his departure from WWE has increased scrutiny of his behaviour. The AEW tag team division is a highlight for the brand, and the Hardys' work doesn't compare to the likes of FTR, Jurassic Express etc. Their bizarre tables match win over Butcher and Blade shows they are miles behind the elite teams in the division. Once the nostalgia rub wears off, will they be able to get to the top of the division?
17. Buddy Murphy/Buddy Matthews - The Australian has had little chance to show off his in-ring ability since joining the House of Black stable. Whilst Matthews holds a 3-0 record in trios matches, he has yet to wrestle a singles match. His role as stablemate isn't a great deal different from being Seth Rollins' disciple. Matthews set the Wrestling world abuzz with outstanding performances against Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns on SmackDown in 2019, but the fear is he won't get the opportunity to stand out as a singles act in AEW.
16. Tony Nese - Like Matthews, Nese hasn't shown any character development since leaving WWE. He has shown that he can go in the ring, with two solid TV showings against Sammy Guevara and Swerve Strickland. A potential partnership with Smart Mark Sterling will help hide his promo/charisma weaknesses, and possibly give him an edge to stand out.
15. Toni Storm. There's far more to come from Storm, as she's only given AEW fans a brief glimpse of her talents on her Dynamite debut, when she beat The Bunny to qualify for the Owen Hart tournament. She's been given plenty of promo time with Jamie Hayter and Dr Britt Baker DMD, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's good news as it indicates she'll probably face off against the Dr in the final, but it does expose her promo weakness, which she never improved upon during her time in WWE.
14. Mercedes Martinez - Martinez's second run in AEW was initially marred by bad creative, as she was used as a prop device which eventually led to Thunder Rosa becoming AEW women's world champion. Unfortunately the plot had plenty of holes in it, but it did allow Martinez to go toe to toe against Rosa and Jamie Hayter, before becoming the Interim ROH Women's world champion. This Wednesday clash with the outstanding Deonna Purrazzo is a perfect opportunity for the veteran to showcase her abilities.
13. Keith Lee - Three years ago, Keith Lee was thought of by many observers as a future world champion in WWE. He gained huge reactions when battling for Team NXT against SmackDown and Raw at Survivor Series 2019, pinning Rollins before being the last man eliminated by Reigns. His star his dimmed since then, with a mixture of inconsistent booking on the main roster, and a long recovery following a serious bout of COVID. So far he doesn't look like being a main event player in AEW. He has been an entertaining matches but isn't currently part of the singles division. A tag team feud against Team Taz's Powerhouse Hobbs and Ricky Starks alongside fellow NXT alumni Swerve Scott isn't the worse place for Lee. All four men are top workers, and working alongside them will allow Lee to get his sea legs beneath him following being out of regular action for so long.
12. Isaiah Swerve Scott/ Swerve Strickland - Swerve was one of the biggest surprise releases from WWE last year. Hit Row showed plenty of potential as being a money spinning stable. Alas the higher ups didn't see it this way. Since moving to AEW, Strickland has been involved in entertaining losses against Starks and Darby Allin. Whilst he and Lee have also been on the wrong end of a decision against Team Taz, the fact both men are consistently featured on TV is a good sign for them.