The Coronavirus Cull: Where Next?
Updated: Aug 5, 2022
Traditionally, World Wrestling Entertainment releases a block of superstars post Wrestlemania. Except this time it feels different. This time it feels depressing. A day that may likely go down in history, on April 15th 2020 WWE announced they had come to terms on the release of over 20 in-ring competitors, as well as a long-term official. Furthermore, many producers and trainers have been placed on furlough leave in a drastic attempt for the company to cut costs. It is feared that there may yet be more to come. In the midst of all this pessimism and dejection, we will try to find the proverbial silver lining. With the wrestling world flourishing with opportunity prior to the heel-run of Covid-19, let's take a look at the potential landing spots of each superstar (once the global pandemic is over).
As well as releasing many main reason stars, a handful of WWE's developmental prospects have departed the company as well. Ranging from NXT standouts to relatively unknown talents, superstars from the 'Black and Gold Brand', as well as its UK counterpart, will no doubt being having some sleepless nights. MJ Jenkins
Perhaps the most upsetting and poignant dismissal of the bunch, MJ Jenkins' life has been turned upside down by the global pandemic. Tweeting shortly after her release, Jenkins stated: "Covid-19 has been devastating for me & my family. My brother in law; who was my legal guardian passed away to Covid-19. Today, Covid-19 stripped me of my dream job. Feels like life is being sucked from me." A participant in the second Mae Young Classic, MJ Jenkins is a trainee of WWE veteran and Hall of Famer D-Von Dudley. After starting off in EVOLVE, Jenkins spent time on independent scene prior to her signing with WWE and participated in Impact Wresting's 'One Night Only: Knockouts Knockdown' in 2017. At only 28 years of age, the highly athletic Jenkins could still have a prosperous career ahead of her. Likely to return to the independent scene, Jenkins could find herself back in both EVOLVE and Impact Wrestling, as well as being a potential signing for Ring of Honor's 'Women of Honor' division. Furthermore, All Elite Wrestling have always stated that they wish to put emphasis on their women's division, and some standout performances throughout the indies could potentially allow for a chance with AEW in some stead. Regardless of where she ends up, MJ Jenkins is a performer that deserved more of a chance with WWE and NXT, and hopefully she will get the opportunity to her previous employer wrong.
One of the more unknown names on the list of releases, Alexsandar Jaksic joined WWE in the summer of 2019. Primarily trained by Santino Marella at his Battle Arts Academy in Canada, Jaksic has also received training from former WCW superstar Alex Wright. A well known name on the German independent scene, the 24-year old was a semi-professional basketball player at the time of his WWE tryout in November 2018. Despite looking that part at 6 foot 5 and over 230 pounds, Jaksic never really got an opportunity with the WWE and will likely return to the German indies in the near future. At a young age, and with WWE constantly monitoring German standouts, Jaksic could yet return to the WWE in the years to come.
A superstar that never seemed to get a fair shot during her time with the WWE, Purrazzo had successful runs with both Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling outside of NXT, and had a run to the quarter-finals of the 2018 Mae Young Classic tournament. Despite appearances on NXT, Smackdown and Raw during her career, WWE failed to ever fully get behind The Virtuoso and allow her to compete at the level she was capable of. Her previous record and history on the independent scene should open a few doors for her, and the returns to the likes of ROH and Impact are not out of the question. Purrazzo could also have interest from All Elite Wrestling given her history with The Elite, as well as the all-female SHIMMER and Stardom promotions. Only time will tell, but it would not be surprising to see Purrazzo make a name for herself outside of WWE.
Seemingly possessing everything Vince McMahon looks for in a superstar, the 6 foot 7, 300 pound Mak had been on WWE's books since 2015. Following an unsuccessful trial in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals, Mak turned to the WWE to make the most of his imposing frame and impressive physique. Despite being with the company for a 5-year period, Mak, or Dan Matha as he previously went by, failed to make a lasting impression or seize the proverbial 'brass ring'. Matha would wrestler many of NXT's finest superstars over the years, including the likes of Jonny Gargano, Samoa Joe, Velventeen Dream and Drew McIntyre. Matha would also be a participant in the 50 man rumble match at the Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia as well as teaming with Riddick Moss to form The Outliers. With experience in EVOLVE wresting due to WWE's partnership with the company, it would be no surprise to see Matha return for a run there. Additionally, Matha would likely receive a large number of bookings on the independent scene due to his size and NXT pedigree. Matha has the look for professional wrestling and will have likely learned a lot during his half-decade with the industry leader, as well as having time on his side at ony 31 years-old. However, what is next for Matha remains to be seen.
The Main Roster The majority of the superstar that have suffered at the hands of 'The Coronavirus Cull' were main roster members in WWE. From relative newcomers to longstanding 'company men', the deluge of talent let go is a reminder of the troublesome times the world is currently in.
A professional wrestler for almost 20 years, Drake Maverick is one of the more heartbreaking releases of the bunch. Taking to Twitter to air his immediate thoughts following his WWE departure, the former Rockstar Spud struggled to hold back the tears. Saying "there's a lot of people I'm not gonna get the chance to say goodbye to that I really loved, that I really cared about, that make me a better person", Maverick also discussed his future by stating "I'm very fortunate that WWE is still allowing me to compete in the NXT Interim Cruiserweight Title Tournament, but it's very likely that those will be the last matches I ever have."
Arriving in WWE during October 2017, Rockstar Spud came with a loyal fandom following his time with TNA/Impact Wrestling. Diminutive in stature, Spud had an uncanny ability to entertain the audience and get the most out of himself. WWE proceeded to put him in an authority figure role as the General Manager of 205 Live, as well as a managerial role with The Authors of Pain. When the 24/7 title was created, Maverick saw it as an opportunity to become active as a wrestler again. Utilising social media and his ability to entertain, Maverick became a staple of the 24/7 title picture and the most memorable moments in the belt's short history. The tournament to crown an interim NXT Crusierweight Champion should have been a 'coming out party' for Maverick; Maverick should have been able to use the tournament to showcase how good he is. Sadly, we may not see much of Maverick moving forward. If he does decide to continue wrestling, Rockstar Spud could end up back in Impact Wrestling or add to the comedy wrestlers on AEW's roster.
Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins
Despite being Raw Tag Team Champions just over one year ago, Covid-19 saw Curt Hawkins released by WWE, except this time he was joined by his best-friend Zack Ryder. The latter having been with the WWE since February 2006.
Internet darlings for their Major Wrestling Figure Podcast, as well as Zack's 'Z! True Long Island Story' series, the duo have seemingly always been under-utilised under Vince McMahon's watch. Despite having runs with both the United States and Intercontinental title belts, Ryder has constantly been pushed back down the card by the WWE higher-ups. In fact, Ryder was sent back to NXT in 2015 whilst Hawkins was first released from the company following an NXT demotion in 2014. Hawkins returned to WWE in 2016 and would begin a 200+ match losing streak that culminated in Hawkins and Ryder's tag title victory at Wrestlemania 35. The future prospects for the underrated duo will likely be many, particularly given their long histories within the WWE. It is no secret in the wrestling world that Cody Rhodes is both a good friend and big fan of Zack Ryder, and there may well be a groundswell for AEW to sign the superstar. Furthermore, All Elite Wrestling places a huge focus on their tag-team division so if Ryder and Hawkins wish to stay together this may well be a good route. If the tandem decide to return to singles competition, Hawkins had a successful indies run between 2014 and 2016 and this would likely be a good place to return. Here's hoping the childhood friends stick together moving forward, whether in solo or tag competition, and maybe there will be spot for their fellow amigo, Heath Slater.
Another superstar to be released following a long WWE tenure - 16 years with the company - the cut of Heath Slater leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Notably beloved backstage by performers and employees alike, Slater has been a mainstay of WWE for as long as most can remember. Whether tasked with safely getting legends through matches leading up to Raw's 1000th episode, playing a pivotal role in the Nexus invasion, or fighting for his livelihood and "kids" to win the Smackdown Tag Team Championship titles alongside Rhyno, Slater has be an integral cog of the WWE machine. The devastation of Slater's release was aptly summed up through is Twitter response shortly after. Heartbreakingly, Slater wrote: "I know everyone is waiting to hear my response to my release from WWE but after 16 years I’m going to need a little more than a few hours to really digest all my thoughts and emotions." Though fellow superstar Natalya suggesting that the odds of the fired superstars being rehired in the future are "good", Slater has the appeal and potential to further make a name for himself outside of WWE. Whether accompanying the likes of Ryder and Hawkins to wherever they go, or attempting to go it alone, Slater would be a great addition for the likes of Impact, Ring of Honor and EVOLVE. Additionally, Slater could have a hugely successful independent run throughout the United States and Europe.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson
In the past the release of Gallows and Anderson may not have been surprising. Vocally unhappy with their place in the company, the talented tandem seemed destined to leave prior to 2020. However, after signing hefty contract extensions, the duo were place into a high-profile spot alongside AJ Styles and their WWE careers seemed destined for a positive turnaround. Having arrived to fanfare in 2016 following a hugely successful run in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Gallows and Anderson quickly became Raw Tag Team Champions. That said, it was not long before they became yet another forgotten piece of an exceptionally deep talent roster. Despite the aforementioned re-push alongside Styles as The OC, WWE never seemed to be willing to capitalise on the impressive tag-team they had on their hands. However, one company's loss is another company's gain, and Gallows and Anderson will likely have many suitors at their door. Decisions will need to be made as to whether the tag-team focused product of AEW is their preferred landing spot, or whether a return to NJPW is more suitable. Either way, this team have been ready to 'explode' for years now, and WWE will live to rue their decision.
Arguably the biggest name to be released, it had been public knowledge that Rusev was unhappy with his place in the WWE. With all the tools to be a bona-fide main eventer, the company never seemed to get behind the Bulgarian Brute. Even when Rusev made "Rusev Day" so popular that WWE couldn't possibly get it wrong, the company refused to accept the megastar they had on their books. With limitless potential in the wrestling industry, Rusev has been crying out for an opportunity since his WWE debut. Despite being a 3-time United States Champion, as well as fighting for the WWE Championship on occasions, Rusev seemed destined to be a case of 'what if?'. Though untimely, Rusev's WWE release may well prove to be the saving grace needed for his career, and it is guaranteed that the best promotions in the world will be vying for his signature. All Elite Wrestling has long been regarded as a suitable spot for Rusev, though a NJPW run as a top gaijin. The thought of Rusev versus Okada, Ospreay or Naito should leave any wrestling fan salivating.
No Way Jose
To many, the release of No Way Jose will seem irrelevant and relatively unremarkable. After all, the 31 year-old superstar has been a jobber and enhancement talent since his call-up to the main roster. That said, Jose turned up to the Raw taping this Monday, put his health and family's health at risk, only to be released a few days later. Let that sink in. Joining WWE in 2015 as part of the NXT brand, the main roster WWE audience have never gotten the opportunity to see how good an in-ring worker Jose is. In fact, Pro Wrestling Ilustrated had him in their top 200 wrestlers in the world in 2018. Packaged as a dancing, conga-line leading joke, Jose leaves WWE on a sour note. But the performer remains grateful for the opportunity. No Way Jose released a video message where he thanked everyone whether they booed, cheered, danced with him, or thought he looked silly. He is appreciative of his time with the company, and he will have a strong presence on the United States independent scene moving forward. In fact, if taken seriously, Jose could play a large role in the ever-improving Impact Wrestling.
Another superstar to perform on this week's Raw and be released shortly after, Sarah Logan leaves behind a lot of untapped potential, as well as her real-life husband. Though it has been clear that WWE were unsure of how to use Logan over the past few months, a place in the Women's Elimination Chamber match prior to Wrestlemania 36 at least suggested she had a future with the company. Making a name for herself on the independent scene as Crazy Mary Dobson, Logan wrestled for the likes of Insane Championship Wrestling, Ring of Honor and SHIMMER before joining WWE in 2016. Defeated in the first-round of the 2017 Mae Young Classic, Logan jumped up to the main roster as part of the Riott Squad alongside Live Morgan and Ruby Riott. Often showcasing her impressive in-ring ability on the main roster, Logan was rarely moved outside of her role as part of the supporting cast. With her WWE release, Logan has the potential to make a major impact on the wrestling industry outside of Vince McMahon's empire. Whether returning to SHIMMER or ROH, or venturing to the Women's divisions of AEW and Impact, Logan has the ability and potential to reign on top of a company's women's division.
Mike and Maria Kanellis
A classic case of 'will they or won't they', the Kanellis duo have long been touted for a WWE departure. And this one, we understand. Despite arriving to pomp and pageantry in 2017, the duo have rarely been used as anything other than filler and enhancement talent during their WWE tenure. Perhaps not aided by Maria's pregnancies, Mike's singles runs have been lacklustre and unfruitful. Having had a decent run on the independent scene and as part of TNA under the moniker 'The Miracle' Mike Bennett, Mike deserved more of a prominent role with WWE. Having said that, his WWE tenure allowed the former 'Miracle' to defeat his prescription drug addiction. Maria's return to WWE was suitably uneventful, and a short-lived reign as the 'first pregnant 24/7 champion' had potential but ended abruptly. With a highly fruitful 7 year stint in Ring of Honor from 2008 to 2015 in his past, Mike would likely benefit from a return to the product. Similarly, when not looking after there family, Maria would be a valuable valet asset for her husband in ROH as well.
Eliminating the human sympathy element from these WWE releases, it is easy to feel positive about the company's release of Aiden English. For a 31 year-old performer who is yet to achieve his potential, WWE's desire to re-cast English as a commentator served as a misguided and ill-informed move. Having burst on to the WWE scene as part of the Vaudevillains alongside Simon Gotch in NXT, English had previously sung prior to and after his matches. When Gotch was released from the company, Aiden returned to his 'Drama King' gimmick and enthralled audiences with his vocal chops. Eventually, this singing gimmick earned English a role as Rusev's mic-man and led to the creation of a song to commemorate 'Rusev Day'. Getting over huge with the WWE audience, English and Rusev's 'Rusev Day' shtick became a top merchandise seller for the company - including an annual calendar in which every day was Rusev Day - and the duo seemed destined for big things. However, due to the gimmick getting over with fans despite WWE's desire to present the duo as heels, English ultimately turned on Rusev in a low-key and uninspiring feud.
In terms of English's future, an optimist would hope that a reunion with Rusev - done the right way this time - would launch both performers' careers into the stratosphere. If, in reality, English choosing to go it alone he would likely have a strong career on the independent scene and be able to take bookings all over the world.
Perhaps the only situation in which the performed seemed happy about his release, EC3 was criminally misused by the WWE. Fitting the mould of a modern arrogant heel, EC3 has the physique, promo skills and potential to be a main-event player in any promotion in the world. Having been released following a lacklustre NXT run as Derrick Bateman, EC3 shone in TNA as the snarky, spoilt nephew of Dixie Carter. A long run as the company's 'top guy' saw the WWE come calling, and EC3 returned to right the wrongs of his previous stint. Debuting in 2018 in NXT under his 'Top One Percent' gimmick, EC3 managed to shine on a show that traditionally prefers in-ring work over microphone skills. Debuting in the North American Championship ladder match - awarded 5 stars by The Wrestling Observer - it wasn't long before the main roster came calling. However, EC3's WWE run quickly turned sour as he was given a 'mute' character and relegated to the bottom of the undercard. Seemingly unable with his position for a while, EC3 responded to his WWE release with a promo: "ec3 character synopsis
Created by a perfect storm of frustration, angst, restraint, solitude and the sense of losing everything, the character of ec3 forced himself to consider the inconceivable.
That he was defeated." Ready to re-explode on the independent scene, EC3 could easily make his return to Impact Wrestling, or choose to pursue alternative options. Though eerily similar to the MJF character in AEW, EC3 would likely add another asset to the main event scene in the company. Perhaps adding another option for AEW to build their future around, at 37 years-old EC3 still has a lot to give to professional wrestling.
Though not without controversy, Lio Rush's WWE tenure promised to deliver far more than it did. Arriving to fanfare following an independent career that saw him win the ROH Top Prospect Tournament and be a 2-time CZW Heavyweight Champion, Rush seemed destined to be a WWE star for decades to come. But now, at only 25 years-old, Rush is back where it began. Having managed Bobby Lashley on Raw before winning the NXT Cruiserweight Title, Rush had seemingly left his controversy in the past and reignited his WWE career. Thus this release was relatively unexpected - especially given NXT's focus on their Cruiserweight division - but Rush will not be without suitors. Likely to return to the likes of CZW and ROH, the high-flyer could also shine in AEW if given the right role. A young man who could return to WWE in the long-run, Rush is still a top prospect in the wrestling industry.
Another case of WWE hoovering up talent to showcase them on NXT before ruining them on the main roster, Eric Young's WWE tenure was both exciting and frustrating. Debuting prematurely to face Samoa Joe, Young's official WWE debut came in 2016 as the leader of a dark, crazed faction named SAnitY. Flourishing on the NXT brand, SAnitY were participants in WWE's first-ever War Games match. Seemingly destined for big things when called up to Raw or Smackdown, the call up came and the big things did not. After failing as a main roster stable, Young was separated from his partners with a draft move to Raw and quickly became a forgotten part of the WWE roster. Despite being 40 years-old, Young has a great wrestling mind and is physically still able to compete within the business. Likely to return to his former Impact Wrestling stomping ground, Young could be reuinted with Mad Man Fulton as part of oVe, or to form a separate stable. Young has a credibility as a group leader and would likely help bring future stars into and through the company.
Primo and Epico
Often the butt of a joke for still being employed by WWE, Primo and Epico Colon had been contracted to the company as a team since 2011, despite rarely being used in recent times. Part of the famed Colon wresting family, the tandem are former WWE Tag Team Champions and have wrestled under numerous gimmicks during their WWE tenure. Runs as Los Matadores, The Shining Stars and The Colons were all short-lived, but the duo remained contracted to the company due to their wrestling ability and reputation as 'safe workers'. However, Covid-19 spares very few and the real-life cousins have been released amongst a sea of other superstars. Likely to return full-time to their homeland of Puerto Rico - in fact the duo have been wrestling there whilst contracted to WWE - the Colon owned World Wrestling Council will house these superstars for the long-term future. In fact, Epico is the current WCW Universal Heavyweight Champion which further cements the fact that WWC is where the duo will continue wrestling.
Arguably the most surprising cut of the cohort, Erick Rowan's departure is a shock. Having constantly been utilised as a tag-team performer since his main roster debut in 2013, WWE repackaged Rowan during early 2019 in an alliance with Daniel Bryan. Both time and effort were put in to make Rowan a believable and credible main-event singles star, adding to the surprise at his release. An ill-advised switch to Raw saw Rowan debut a gimmick which saw him carrying a cage to the ring, speaking to whatever was inside. Ultimately, this gimmick went nowhere and was written off of TV shortly after the 'reveal'. That said, WWE still seemed to have plans for the 6 foot 8 behemoth. The silver lining is that Rowan still has a lot to offer in the industry and should have a variety of potential suitors. Having trained and debuted with Pro Wrestling Noah, Rowan could return to Japan via that route. However, following the loss of Lance Archer to AEW, New Japan Pro Wrestling could hugely benefit from a new gaijin heel. Rowan not only possesses the physical attributes to succeed, but has shown a very capable wrestling ability that would only improve on the independent scene given the freedom performers have.
Our final superstar release perhaps epitomises the cynicism of Vince McMahon and WWE. Kurt Angle, the biggest name on this list, had only been brought back to the company in 2017. Since returning, Angle had a less than impressive run as Raw General Manager and was booked to lose in the majority of his matches. Finally, Angle was beaten in his retirement match by Baron Corbin and quickly removed from WWE television. It is important to note that when Angle re-signed with WWE in 2017 he was maintaining an in-ring career on the independent scene, and given his age, injuries and the the global pandemic he is now likely finished with his in-ring career. From an honest standpoint, it can be argued that McMahon brought Angle back for cynical reasons. Angle returned, finished his in-ring career and then became the first legend to be released when cuts occurred. To view this situation without cynicism would be naive, and despite Angle's words of thank you on Twitter, it is tough to accept the final years of his career.
To say that these cuts and releases were heart-breaking is an understatement. On a genuine human level, many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods at a time where they are needed most. On top of that, many of these performers were hoarded by WWE in months and years gone by so that they were unable to join fellow promotions. And now, at a time that it is genuinely impossible to join other promotions and extend their careers, performers have been let go. Throw in the fact that regardless of what happens in the coming months it has been objectively proven that WWE will be both financially stable and lucrative over 2020, and these releases seem malicious and heartless. For a traditionally cynical man, Vince McMahon has outdone himself. Whilst the highly optimistic way of looking at these releases is to brainstorm where they might end up, it is important to note that this current global situation means these superstars will be without work for a long period of time. The traditional approach of 'hitting the indies' following your WWE release is not possible in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and these superstars are likely to be unemployed for a sustained period of time. As we begin to come to terms with the 'Coronavirus Cull', insider reports suggest that hundreds of WWE employees could be let go before this is finally over. Yes, some superstars have reportedly received large pay-offs with their releases, but that only serves to soften a very heavy blow. Nonetheless at a time of global uncertainty, WWE have ensured that their employees feel as uneasy and anxious as possible. Shame on you Vince McMahon, shame.