By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive”.
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The WWE staff and talent culls in recent weeks resulted in almost unprecedented bad press for the company. Those two short bursts, where fan favourites with varying levels of tenure, loyalty, and success were shown the door, were just as shocking as the circumstances from which they derived.
Were they necessary? From a business standpoint, if WWE wants to be as financially undamaged as possible, obviously. Ethically and morally, though? I think we all know the near unanimous answer to that one. These releases hurt. While some hadn’t been featured as prominently as in previous years, especially those in backstage or refereeing roles, many still regularly appeared on television.
As the news broke in piecemeal fashion over the course of a few days, the emotions felt were akin to that of a mass incident. Denial. Anger. Depression. While it shared some of grief’s five stages, acceptance became warped from what it usually represents. Rather than coming to terms with the loss in a reasonable manner, it became the latest in a long line of evils WWE has perpetrated over the years, and was deemed “typical of Vince”. The timing and optics of that first week did read like a wrestling conspiracy theorist’s Holy Grail, I have to admit. Political maneuverings, both country and state wide. WWE being permitted to run live Raws, NXTs and Smackdowns. All of this in quick succession directly before WWE fired dozens of staff? It’s no wonder the tinfoil hat community were out in force on social media.
With that said, I won’t sit here and pretend to impart knowledge as to whether this all could have been avoided from a business standpoint. Or whether the timing of Linda McMahon’s money games is just a little too convenient. I’ll leave that to the economic and political experts who apparently account for the majority of the internet’s wrestling community. And whatever makes its way down the echo chamber, I’ll take with a pinch of salt. Because, truth be told, the IWC has something of a track record when it comes to cataloguing WWE’s dastardly deeds inaccurately. I’m sure Roman Reigns’ leukemia veracity arguments and the Saudi hostage situation will ring some bells for you.
What I do know is that the next few months will reinforce the well known expression that cream always rises to the top. We’ve seen that manifest in many AEW fans’ eyes as Cody, Jon Moxley, and others are vying for the title of said company’s most sought after act. It could prove true in months to come for The Revival. Their selfless dedication to tag team wrestling as a whole, rather than just themselves, sees these free agents as absolute musts for any promotion. The same could eventually be said for the recently released. Questionable booking aside, Rusev’s starpower alone is enough to see him become the main event act many had demanded for him throughout his whole WWE career. We may even see a repeat of Zack Ryder dominating the wrestling zeitgeist with his, at the time, revolutionary use of social media.
This won’t just benefit the wrestlers themselves. If Coronovirus is eventually curbed, those second and third tier promotions may have people clamouring for tickets to attend their first batch of live shows. Can you imagine the demand for tickets if they manage to acquire a Drake Maverick, or an EC3 for their card? Household names like these could result in a mini boom for companies looking to stave off their financial damage from the past few months. Furthermore, they could even steady some’s ships as a whole. The producers and referees should be included in the conversation, also. Their collective wealth of knowledge could come in very handy, even if it comes in a temporary mentor role.
This admittedly long and drawn out silver lining can also apply to wrestlers still with WWE. For there is talent lucky enough to have capitalised on being an available member of the currently skeleton staff. A happenstance shaped rocket has even been strapped to the backs of those previously deemed underutilised by fans. Austin Theory has all but bypassed the unofficial NXT proving ground, finding himself in a stable alongside notable names and fan favourites. Before being derailed by injury, Apollo Crews was making confident strides in establishing himself as a good hand. That may be a backhanded compliment for a wrestler. Let’s be honest, though. It is a lot better position for Crews to be in than where he was for a long four years. Even Brendan Vink is standing out from the crowd, someone whom I had never heard of until recently.
Those mentioned may not yet be the finished article. Of late, however, for those slightly more polished, there is definitely an air of the stabilisers having been ripped off. Outright creative control is still as attainable as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. But you wouldn’t think that, based on the pure, unadulterated fun the performers seem to be having on screen just now. Asuka. Nikki Cross. Sasha Banks and Bayley. The Street Profits. Otis. Los Ignorables de Zelina. Drew Gulak, Daniel Bryan, and The Artist Collective. On and on the list goes, of wrestlers whose own individuality has been cranked up to eleven. It has allowed for a thoroughly diverse variety show in an otherwise templated, cut and paste environment. Rumours of unrest are bound to escape from Stamford and Tampa. Yet, this Cuckoo’s Nest of characters appears to be having the time of its life when the cameras are rolling. This past Sunday’s conjoined Money In The Bank ladder matches are testament to that.
There are surely, too, those among the released who are in just as healthy a state of mind. Heath Slater himself has gone on record to say it was the kick up the backside that he needed, after spending several unfulfilled years making up the numbers. The internet is rife with rumours detailing wrestler A being unhappy with their spot. Or wrestler B’s cryptic tweet hinting at their desire to be free from WWE’s shackles. Is there a chance that there is some talent, like Slater, who see this as a blessing in disguise? Considering the apparently bad morale that follows WWE from state to state, the chances are that there will at least be a small, relieved, and maybe even happy handful.
The discussion regarding these people’s well-being has, in some part, been linked to concern over money. Obviously, the merchandise, royalties, and match and appearance fees offer quite the bonus. One that has allowed for talent to share pictures of lavish holiday posts, cars, record breaking wrestling figure collections, and so on. On top of that, they have been in receipt of downside guarantees that put most Regular Joes’ annual incomes to shame. Take into account, too, that several can walk straight into another wrestling company with inflated interest if and when normality resumes. Additionally, many will have accumulated enough skills outside of the squared circle to see them land a job in other media and entertainment facets.
This is why my concern for their financial hardship is low. I’m sorry if I struggle to feel sympathy for them in that regard. Even in these…(altogether now)… uncertain times.
Financially, friends, family, and services more necessary for the general public are hurting. Far more than the well-off. Some of whom have hijacked the revenue streams that were, till now, bonus incomes for independent wrestlers or companies. Or the content creators who have dedicated countless time and resources into waxing lyrical about the very Twitch and Patreon flavours of the month in question. What about career satisfaction? These individuals’ abrupt insertion into popular consciousness was brought about by the very fact that WWE threw them overboard. You would imagine that the desire to see those hard done by is strong enough for them to succeed in rejuvenating their name value. In spite of their firings, no less. Such is the nature of wrestling fandom’s Us Vs Them beast.
Were the mass firings a dark day for wrestling? Of course. A bad day to be a WWE fan? Without a doubt. I hated how thoughtless it all seemed. I dreaded refreshing my Twitter feed, wondering if any of my favourites were next for the chop. Just like many decisions WWE are criticised for, however, whether it be booking or business, things tend to play out over time. Some time has passed since the firings, and many are making positive moves to further their careers and themselves. Considering where some were in the WWE pecking order, it might even be a vast improvement for them from a personal standpoint. It’s a scary time for them, but that is the case for us all.
Before crying from the rooftops about the callous injustice carried out by WWE, which it is, remember to think of those whose lives have changed irreparably, not just temporarily.
Let me know your thoughts on the above column in the comments below, or @RickyandClive on Twitter.
Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.
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