A sense of excitement washed over me on Friday (Sep. 22) as the list of names that WWE released emerged. While it’s unfortunate that these performers lost their jobs, and as I wish them a speedy rebound, as a fan, I’m eager to see what these stars do next.
For as long as I’ve been watching wrestling, I’ve always been curious to see what a wrestler does after they part ways with a company, regardless of the reason for the separation. Will they develop a new gimmick? Will a new location put a fresh coat of paint on their existing persona? What will they do with more creative freedom?
And as cold as it sounds, moments like this are necessary because it separates the wheat from the chaff. Whenever someone gets released by WWE, there is online chatter from some accusing WWE of whiffing on a star. They accuse Vince McMahon and his creative team of fumbling on what was a sure gem and game changer.
To which I always reply, “We’ll see.”
When WWE released Damien Sandow in 2016, members of the internet wrestling community went into shock. After an amusing run as The Miz’s understudy, many thought Sandow was a surefire superstar that WWE ruined because their creative for him sucked. Shortly after his release, he went to Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and did what most former WWE superstars do after getting their pink slip. Sandow cut a variation of the promo that blamed his previous employer for holding him back. But now that he was free, he would show the world who he really is.
Seven years later, we’re still waiting.
And then there’s Drew McIntyre.
In 2009, Vince McMahon went on television and gave McIntyre his stamp of approval, calling him The Chosen One and declaring that McIntyre would be a future world champion.
Over the next few years, McIntyre would win his share of titles, everything but the world crown. He ultimately moved down the card, where he found himself stuck in a comedy act with Jinder Mahal and Heath Slater, and by 2014, he was gone.
As soon as he got his walking papers, McIntyre began his comeback. He bounced around the independent scene, where it became clear to those watching that McIntyre wasn’t sitting on his butt, eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and lamenting his dismissal from the wrestling company in Connecticut.
Instead, Drew got Jack-Intyred, adding size and definition that took him from playing a wannabe rock star to looking like a legitimate entertainment superstar. He also went to TNA, winning their world title and becoming a star for that promotion.
Three years later, McIntyre was back in WWE, and in 2020, he finally won the big one, defeating Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 36 to become the WWE Champion, fulfilling McMahon’s prophecy.
Of course, a general discussion about wrestlers going on to great things after being released wouldn’t be complete without discussing World Championship Wrestling’s firing of Steve Austin.
In the early to mid-’90s, Steve Austin was a promising young star whose prospects began to dim. In 1995, he was unceremoniously fired by then Senior Vice President Eric Bischoff, who thought Austin was difficult to work with and who had no marketability. Angry, Austin made a series of appearances in Extreme Championship Wrestling where he let his frustrations loose on WCW, giving the world a preview of what was to come.
Austin signed with WWE in late 1995, and after a few months under a lousy gimmick, he requested a name and character change. Now, he was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, but his persona had yet to resonate with fans. That changed after he won the 1996 King of the Ring tournament, where Austin cut a promo for the ages that left spectators saying, “Whoa, look at this guy.”
Though the title indicates he preached the gospel of Austin 3:16, his tale more closely resembled Psalm 118:22-23, as the stone that WCW rejected had become the cornerstone of WWE. Fueled by aggression and a six-pack of beer, Stone Cold reached a level of popularity not seen since the heyday of Hulk Hogan in the 1980s, with many declaring that he had surpassed Hogan as the industry’s biggest star.
And so it’s pivotal moments like these that make me curious to see what’s next for Elias, Mustafa Ali, and Rick Boogs. What might longtime veterans Shelton Benjamin and Dolph Ziggler cook up? Is Riddick Moss, who has a great look, going to find that next gear that will make him a WWE megastar in the future?
We’ll know in due time if there are any Stone Colds or Drew McIntyres in the bunch. We’ll also learn who’s the next Damien Sandow. We may even see some names return simply because WWE needs warm bodies to fill a role.
Whatever you think about this latest group being gone, it will be interesting to see if they decide to stay gone or to put in the work necessary to reach the next level.