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Rob: WWE Roster Turmoil? Not Really

This is fine. (It actually is fine!)

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Dean Ambrose WWE Roster

Is the WWE roster in a state of turmoil? Rob Bonnette doesn’t think so, and tells you why!

So the news that Luke Harper has requested his release, combined with the current Sasha Banks situation, the writer that quit, and Road Dogg resigning as head writer of Smackdown has led our good friend Ryan Satin (sarcasm) and others to speculate if there is some bad morale going on backstage in the good old WWE.  The take here is that because seemingly so many people have recently asked for or were rumored to be have asked for their release (Neville, Tye Dellinger, Hideo Itami, the Revival, Mike & Maria Kanellis), openly complained about their role or lack thereof (Sasha Banks, Rusev and Lana, Tyler Breeze), or have chosen to not re-sign (Dean Ambrose) that this is some harbinger of bad times.  With all this smoke there’s got to be some fire, right?

Well……..not really.  Yes that seems like a lot of people but twelve people (or eight when you take into account that the Revival and the Kanellises all denied having asked out) out of almost 150 main roster people is not a huge number.  And as a couple of people who used to work for WWE explained the sheer number of people there now means that there are always going to be people either feeling or actually being underutilized.

Now I am not a former writer with WWE nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night but I have been watching and following pro wrestling for almost 35 years so I can tell you that this is nothing new. Way back during the 80s it was pretty common for people to come to the WWF and not stay as long as you remember they did.  I’m talking name guys, some of whom main evented WrestleMania like:

  • Ricky Steamboat – 3 years (1985 to 1988)
  • Rick Rude – 3 years (1987 to 1990)
  • Barry Windham – 1 year (1984 or 1985), then a few months in 1989
  • King Kong Bundy – 3 years (1985 to 1988), then again from 1994 to 1995
  • Paul Orndorff – 4 years (1983 to January 1988)
  • Terry Taylor – 2 years (1988 to 1990)
  • Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard – 1 year (1988 to 1989)
  • Kerry Von Erich – 2 years (1990 to 1992)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  There were other name guys like Dick Slater who were there and gone in months.  Sid Vicious never made more than a year either time he came over. Even Ric Flair asked for his release a year and half after coming over in 1991 and got it.  All of those guys were considered serious acquisitions when they came in, and for various reasons left a lot sooner than expected.  And like today those reasons largely had to do with their place on the card at the time or where it looked like they’d be in the future.

A few did get fired (Blanchard got popped for drugs and the Freebirds famously got run before they even debuted), or left because of injury (Orndorff) but most of these guys just left.  Now fast forward to today.  Harper asked for his release after six years.  AJ Syles just re-signed and has already been there longer than Flair (the first time), Steamboat, and Rude were.  Hell, Finn Balor has already outlasted most of the guys on that list.  So has Baron Corbin (even though he sucks so bad that we got T-shirts saying so!)  We haven’t gotten to Kofi, Sheamus, Dolph, R-Truth, etc.

There has always been a revolving door of sorts, and it spins even faster when things are going well be it the Hulkamania era, the Monday Night Wars/Attitude Era, or now.  It’s never a sign of anything other than business being good and there being more than one place for people to work.  They can get an offer from WWE,  give it whirl, and if things don’t go to their liking they can move on.  It was true during the mid 80s before the territories started dying. It was true when WCW was riding high.

And it’s true now when you have ROH/Impact/MLW out there, AEW on the way, and an indie scene that offers a lot of opportunities.  When people don’t have to stay they’ll leave if they don’t like where they are and they can get on somewhere else.  It’s a good sign for the business and not a bad sign for any one company (let’s not act like the revolving door only is only in WWE now).  When business is good, WWE signs a ton of people and lots of them don’t stay long.

Now that brings the next the question: do they just have too many people?  Well yeah, they do.  But that’s how they operate during the good times.  They sign some people because they have plans for them but they also sign people to get them off the market or to provide roster depth or just because the wider net you cast the better chance you have of getting a breakout star.  The wide net got them the Shield, Daniel Bryan, Styles, Finn Balor, and several others.  In years past it got the Hart Foundation, Ultimate Warrior, Jake Roberts, and 1-2-3 Kid (X-Pac).  Wrestling is art not science, and finding success is often a matter of throwing as much stuff against the wall as possible and seeing what sticks.

So yeah if you have the capacity you sign as many people as you can.  WWE isn’t the only place that did that.  WCW did of course.  New Japan tried to keep all The Elite guys even though they have a pretty large deck of guys, some of whom aren’t getting much use right now there.  Do signings not field any tangible results?  Sure.  Do some departures hurt more than others?  Sure.  But it’s nothing new and nothing to get all bent out of shape over.

So let the dirtsheet guys do what they do, and don’t get too worked up. Nothing new under the sun here.


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Opinion

The New Labor Market

Rob goes over some points about the new labor landscape in wrestling. How things could change and where things could be headed!

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Waves of WWE releases, AEW contract expirations coming, ROH releasing everyone, three big developments that have shaken up the entire wrestling business in 2021 and 2022.  What’s going to be left is a brave new world where comings and goings in every corner of the world are going to have an entirely different structure.  Which has us asking a big question:

How’s it all gonna work?

THE MAJORS

With WWE, it looks like the strategy is:

  1. Keep the veterans they want
  2. Let go of the ones they don’t
  3. Sign cheap recruits/indie wrestlers

While there were some head scratchers (Braun Strowman, Aleister Black, Hit Row) for the most part the wrestlers that WWE released were people who had not been on TV in a while for various reasons and weren’t really needed much.  That sounds cold but remember that just two years ago they had 0ver 300 wrestlers under contract which was a number they never needed.  Meanwhile Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Sami Zayn have all re-signed recently and they continue to bring people in for NXT tryouts, most notably former ROH women’s champion Rok C.  There’s enough evidence and practice here to see what they’re doing here.  Things may change of course, but that’s how it looks right now.

AEW on the other hand is another story.  It’s been reported that over the next 30 to 60 days that a lot of the original signees are not going to be re-signed when their contracts expire, and more recent signee Lio Rush is also not coming back when his deal is up.  Tony Khan has mentioned a ‘dream signing to come’, and over the last year has brought in veterans like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, and Jay Lethal.  The big question is how are they going to handle the crop of WWE releases that are about to be available?  I’m talking about Keith Lee, Mia Yim, Tegan Nox, Ember Moon, Killer Kross, Scarlett Bordeaux, and in a few months Toni Storm.

All of those names would be good additions, and the ladies would do wonders for the much maligned women’s division, but is there enough space to fit them all in?  They still only have three hours of TV time, and are already deploying Cole, Lethal and most of the women’s division to work their YouTube shows and are having trouble finding consistent TV time for everyone on the roster as it is.  With virtually two women’s matches on TV per week and faced with the choice of signing and putting all those ladies on TV or sticking with the ones they’ve been using there’s a real question of quality vs loyalty, and the answer is going to leave somebody mad.

That is THE big question for AEW going forward.  Over the past year they’ve added several people who are flat out better than lots of their original roster members, and have bumped the latter down to the YouTube shows and their likely non renewals this year.  Bringing in more in 2022 is going to compound that situation and put a further squeeze on the limited time they have.  Which means that you should not be surprised if they don’t sign as many people as there are available.  The TV time is not there even with a purge of current roster members when their contracts expire.  In a nutshell roster management may be the number one issue of 2022 for AEW.

THE REST

Ring of Honor has announced Supercard of Honor for WrestleMania weekend as it’s official return date.  Now there’s the question of how the roster will be filled when that happens.  I imagine that everyone who was there for Final Battle will not be back; some will have moved on already and others are going to want better terms than the restarted ROH will be offering. Which begs the question of how to replace those people and what kind of contracts will be offered.  If they’re going to a more pay per performance structure as rumored then that will allow for more players but with less frequency.

Impact doesn’t look to be changing anything.  They sign a few castoffs, some for longer deals than others, and keep it moving.  Not a whole lot to speculate there.

Then there’s the indies.  The WWE releases from 2021 already flooded the market.  Now there’s another wave coming from the people ROH released and whoever will not be re-signed from AEW.  Unlike the companies they don’t have to worry about doling out TV time so having a bigger talent pool to work with is actually a good thing. The bad thing is that for the wrestlers there will be a lot more competition to get booked everywhere.

There is one conclusion to reach from all of this pending activity, and it is a major bummer.

This new situation is going to be decidedly pro management and anti-labor.  The WWE veterans who stay on for the duration of their careers will be fine, as will the AEW veterans who are signed full time.  But new WWE signees will mostly be of the young and cheap variety.  Meanwhile it’s hard to imagine AEW spending on all those released WWE wrestlers like they did last year, especially with some ROH castoffs on the market for less.  And the indie market is going to be even more saturated than it is now.  This all eventually adds up to lower pay for anyone who can’t land or keep a good deal from WWE or AEW.  And some people are going to be shut out of the business entirely from the domino effect.

WWE, by going on a multiyear signing binge from 2014 through 2019 and not releasing many people from 2016 until 2020, created a labor friendly environment, a demand bubble of sorts by taking so many high level talents off the board, throughout the business but that’s over now.   For the foreseeable future that ship has sailed and their new stance is going to fundamentally alter the way the rest of the industry works now.  Don’t be the least bit surprised AEW and ROH started planning whatever their new roster management strategy is going to be once those releases started coming last year, and if they both don’t sign everyone we think they will.  The game has changed now.


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News From Cook’s Corner 1.24.22: Gunther Changer Wrestling

A few renames, faces moving to new places and a GCW event in New York! Cook brings the News!

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Hi, hello & welcome to News From Cook’s Corner! I’m Steve Cook, and somehow this Cincinnati Bengals season is still ongoing. You’ll have to bear with me, as I’m not used to needing to care about who wins these football games this late in the season. Makes paying attention to the pro wrestling a little more difficult than usual, know what I mean?

Fortunately, there are a couple of intriguing stories for me to dive into this week. We’re not going to be like certain NFL quarterbacks and completely ignore the business at hand so we can shoot off at the mouth about whatever dumb thought enters our head. Nope, we can multi-task here at the Corner. All the rasslin news you need to read about right now.

A wrestler changes their name in WWE? Stop the presses!

We all knew it was coming eventually. I admit that I’m not as attached to the wrestler previously known as Big Van Walter, then Big Daddy Walter, then WALTER as many of you are. I wasn’t the most regular viewer of wXw or PROGRESS or even NXT UK. Saw the guy here and there, thought he was good. Not surprised WWE signed him up.

Also not surprised that WWE would eventually change his name. Honestly, he was lucky to keep his old indy name as long as he did. I guess as long as WALTER was in the UK, with an occasional appearance stateside, it didn’t particularly matter what his name was. Once he moved over here, things had to change. Nothing personal, it’s just the way WWE operates. They like owning the names of their talent, just makes things more convenient. It also works out fine for wrestlers like WALTER that established something of a name prior to signing.

In and of itself, WALTER undergoing a name change doesn’t mean much to me.

What bugs me about the whole thing? The ham-fisted way WWE went about it. Warning: I’m a longtime wrestling fan that’s been accused of being stuck in the past on certain aspects of the genre. Many of the things that bug me about the way WWE presents things don’t matter to their target audience, or the people online that tell me everything WWE does is awesome because they make tons of money. And maybe they’re right and this won’t matter in the long run.

No, I’m not even talking about the part where they tried to give him the same name as a Nazi U-boat commander. Yes, it’s dumb that they either didn’t use Google or didn’t think that other people would use Google. Yes, there’s a good chance that the wrestler in question came up with the name himself, and he certainly approved it, and we’ll probably see an interview soon where he says that WWE is awesome and he came up with everything himself. Because that’s the way things go there.

The part that bothers me is the sloppiness. The laziness of the process of giving this guy a new name. See, if I was entrusted with re-branding a wrestler, I’d try to do it before debuting them as a regular character on worldwide television. Regardless of how many people are watching NXT 2.0 these days, it’s nice to keep things coherent. They had plenty of time to do this. After WALTER lost the NXT UK Championship to Ilya Dragunov, he was off of television for over four months. It would have made perfect sense for WALTER to eventually come back with a new outlook, a new attitude, even a new name for a new setting. Why not shake things up a little bit?

It would have been fine…except they brought him over for the big New Years’ Evil show and had him work as WALTER. No changes, just the WALTER we’d seen here & there before. Then a promo video, which had some irony to it since it was making fun of sloppy male physiques when that was one of the knocks on WALTER for much of his career. Amazing how the second a former fatty gets fit, they turn their backs on the tribe. Just shameful.

Anywho, the most recent edition of NXT 2.0 built up this main event between WALTER & Roderick Strong. WALTER came down, announced as WALTER, had his match and won. Then, after the match, WALTER decides to take the mike and cut off the ring announcer and tell us that his name was Gunther. Then the rest of Imperium ran down, and then the rest of Diamond Mine ran down, and before we could really think anything about anything the show was over.

I can’t help but think the whole thing could have been more effective if ol’ Gunther made his big re-debut to NXT 2.0 as Gunther in the first place. I suppose that would have involved having somebody decide Gunther needed a name change sometime during the four months he wasn’t on WWE programming, which is apparently too much to ask these days. And hey, maybe if more time had been taken to develop this, they could have found a name not easily associated with Nazis via Google? Just a thought.

See, we can get wrapped up in the optics of Nazi names, or we can just point out how poorly executed the whole thing was. Or we can stick our heads in the sand and praise Vince & Bruce to the high heavens. I’m a pro-choice kind of guy.

WWE Non-Release News

I told you guys there were going to be a lot of WWE releases this year. There’s one thing that slipped my mind at that point in time…there will be people wanting their release that won’t get it. It’s tough to keep track of who wants a job & who doesn’t, so it’s tough to blame WWE for getting confused on these matters.

In fairness, it would be somewhat surprising to some that Mustafa Ali no longer wants a job. It was around this time last year that Ali’s contract was reportedly set to expire according to the rasslin websites. Now that his contract is reportedly good for several more years according to reports coming out these days, I can only assume that he signed something after February 2021.

People have accused me of being skeptical towards WWE, especially when it comes to the likelihood of WWE pushing certain people after a certain period of time. Sometimes they prove me wrong, like when they pushed Jinder Mahal to the WWE Championship years after I dismissed him as just a job guy for them. I gave up on Mustafa Ali having any role of great significance with WWE not long after Ali & the Retribution guys were cast off into obscurity. Ali obviously felt differently, and to WWE’s credit, they do a great job during these contract negotiations of convincing their Superstars that things will be better for them in the future.

Apparently Ali wants out now, largely due to creative differences. We know that Ali has been outspoken about being a positive role model for people like him. This doesn’t rule out the idea of being a heel, just the idea of being the typical terrorist foreigner heel that wrestling likes to have people that look like Ali portray. Ali came up with an idea for himself, with some similarity to the Muhammad Hassan character/storyline from the mid-2000s.

Ali is a well-spoken man, and I have no doubt he would have done well with this character. I also have no doubt that WWE would have bungled the thing the first chance they got. Muhammad Hassan was an interesting, complicated character for a minute, then WWE had him and a bunch of goons act like they were assassinating the Undertaker like one of those videos you’d see from Al Qaeda. UPN rightly said that was over the top and the gimmick was dead. This would have gone the same way. Ali would have been compelling for a few weeks, then WWE would have done something silly and/or controversial and killed the thing off.

What we don’t know here: Did WWE have an idea for Ali afterward? Is Ali wanting a release because of an idea WWE had for him that he didn’t like, or because WWE ghosted him? I’d like to have more information before deciding whether to jump on the #FreeAli bandwagon or not.

AEW Leaving News

Ali might be stuck in WWE, but Lio Rush won’t be stuck in AEW. Rush announced on social media that his AEW contract would expire on February 14 and he’ll become a free agent.

Lio had quite the up & down stint with AEW. He debuted back at the Double or Nothing event, suffered an injury soon afterward and retired from wrestling for a few months. He came back as some crypto money guy, did a storyline with Dante Martin & Team Taz that was an odd piece of business, then got mad on New Year’s Eve when Tony Khan went in on Big Swole’s wrestling ability on Twitter. Shortly afterward Lio posted a statement where he’d talked to Tony & company about it and was looking forward to effecting positive change and then we never saw him again on AEW television.

Regardless of where you came down on that whole situation, you can’t be too surprised that AEW didn’t exactly fall over themselves to keep Lio Rush around afterwards. Even without the drama, there’s way too many other people ahead of Rush on the list of people that can’t get on AEW television regularly and should. They seem to be trying to decide whether they want Jay Lethal or Lee Moriarty in the slot Lio left open in the previously mentioned angle, and either would seem like a good choice. If they were to choose one.

Apparently Lio still has a deal with New Japan and wants to float around different promotions anyway, so he’ll still be plenty busy. In fact, he was on a show this weekend that we’re about to talk about…right now!

The Cook on GCW

I decided to take the plunge this weekend. My bosses at the number website have given me permission to review pretty much anything I want, a privilege which I plan on utilizing when events warrant. This weekend’s GCW event at Hammerstein Ballroom seemed like the perfect time for me to find out what the buzz surrounding that promotion is all about. The card was full of names I recognized, the build seemed interesting, and it was a notable building with a big crowd. A big chance for GCW to step up to the next level and draw in new fans looking for something a little bit different from everything else. GCW has had shows in the past where they did just that. Unfortunately for the larger audience this show got, I can’t say they did.

A lot of people have a lot of negative things to say about GCW. Some call it Garbage Championship Wrestling. It’s the type of fed people equate with outlaw mud shows. They do some stuff that you won’t see anywhere else. On Sunday night, the only thing they did that you won’t see anywhere else was have their wrestlers & announcers use the word “fuck” more than once or twice.

I don’t know if it was something to do with where the show was presented, a nod to being on traditional PPV or a concerted effort on the promotion’s part to present something a little more “normal” than they’re known for. But my main criticism of their event on Sunday night was that it wasn’t enough like the GCW that I’d heard about. For a show that had the opportunity to present something different from the norm, it featured a lot of stuff that wouldn’t have been out of place on your regularly televised wrestling events.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Perhaps moving closer to the norm is the way for GCW to get more fans than just their base of fans that love the blood & guts. I just think a fed needs to be unique in order to get attention and stand out from the pack. GCW had a chance to turn things on their head Sunday night in front of a larger audience than usual, and from where I sit, they didn’t get it done.

Not saying it was a terrible show or anything like that. It just wasn’t the show they needed to step up to the next level and really establish themselves as the #3 promotion in the United States. The good news is that there’s still plenty of wrestling fans that GCW hasn’t made a first impression on, and they can easily go back to the drawing board and come up with another mode of attack.

Hey, I’m rooting for them. I root for anybody trying to make a go of it in this crazy business. As I’ve said before, the whole wrestling business is an outlaw mud show. The wider variety of combatants we have in the mud, the blood & the beer, the better. Here’s hoping GCW hits me a little better next time.

Thanks for reading! Join me later in the week when we break down the NFL conference championship games, featuring the CINCINNATI BENGALS and three other teams. Until then, keep your stick on the ice.


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