Over the last week WWE have cut an astonishing number of on-air talent, sending shockwaves throughout the wrestling world, with some of the releases coming as more of a surprise than others.
There is no official word on whether the released talent will be offered their jobs back at the end of the COVID19 pandemic, but If the former WWE Superstars remain released they will be free to go wherever they wish after 90 days. It is worth noting that during those 90 days, the talent will be paid.
The company's cost-cutting measures have obviously led to many fans speculating where these names pop up next. The go to answer? AEW of course. But it's important to remember that it may be a while before anyone is able to sign anywhere due to the current climate.
In time, though, wrestling's free agency will be booming again with all of the existing promotions having a ton of talent to choose from. Between All Elite Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Impact, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Major League Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance, there are a tonne of options for the released wrestlers to choose from.
Not everyone who was cut will be an obvious pickup. Lots of backstage staff were released and may well head down routes that have nothing to do with wrestling. In terms of superstars, Erick Rowan, Sarah Logan, Eric Young and No Way Jose are all skilled in their own ways, but there isn't one obvious landing spot for any of them. The more notable releases, on the other hand, are bound to flourish outside of WWE and will be valuable assets to any company fortunate to have them. Let's take a look...
Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows: NJPW
Sadly, The O.C. is no more, but that doesn't mean The Good Brothers can't make an impact elsewhere without "Uncle Alan" AJ Styles by their side. However, the wheels may already be in motion regarding their next move...
As long time members of Bullet Club, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows earned a reputation for being one of the best tag teams in the world during their hugely successful stint in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. While there, they racked up three reigns as IWGP Tag Team Champions and later made the move to WWE with Styles. Unfortunately, WWE never quite figured how to book Anderson and Gallows for the four years they were under contract to the company. They held the RAW Tag Team Championships twice and shined whenever they were associated with Styles, but the duo didn't feel special beyond the first few months of their main roster run when they ran roughshot over the competition.
It may be a small consolation but at least they went out on top following their part in the Boneyard match between Styles and The Undertaker on night 1 of WrestleMania 36. However, they wasted no time in hinting at their next move on Thursday when Anderson tweeted a video indicating that his "Machine Gun" persona is back. Japan was where he made a name for himself, so if he and Gallows are willing to put up with the travel, they'd surely be welcomed back with open arms.
Although they have a history with The Young Bucks and it would be logical for them to join AEW, there's a good chance they'll get lost in the shuffle there. The promotion already has a ton of teams, and with The Revival already strongly linked with a move, Anderson and Gallows should wait a while and return to NJPW in the meantime.
Lio Rush: AEW
It was only a matter of time before WWE scooped up Lio Rush following the electric start to his pro wrestling career at the age of 20. The MOTH had worked with The Velveteen Dream when he was simply known by his real name Patrick Clark Jr, so it was inevitable that the super talented Rush was picked up by WWE.
Sure enough, he was signed to a developmental deal in August 2017 after a short stint in Ring of Honor. Between having a run on RAW as Bobby Lashley's manager and winning the NXT Cruiserweight Championship late last year, his WWE tenure was fairly successful. He has a lot left to offer, and at only 25, he still has his whole career ahead of him.
Rush's departure will be a blow to the cruiserweight division, which was starting to pick up speed on NXT, but he could bounce back quickly if he decides to take his talents to AEW. The fledgling company has competitors with a wide variety of styles on its roster and The Man of the Hour would have no issue fitting in.
His exceptional abilities between the ropes speak for themselves, and he has developed some strong mic skills to boot. There isn't much he can't do, and with a new midcard title emerging in AEW, that would be a prime position for him to be in. The matches he could have with Sammy Guevara, Darby Allin, Lance Archer and others could be something special.
Mike and Maria Kanellis: ROH
Mike and Maria Kanellis are the among the few people released this week who had worked for almost every major wrestling promotion prior to signing with WWE in 2017.
Maria previously competed for WWE in the mid-to-late 2000s, but upon returning alongside her husband, she had grown as a performer. As for Mike, he had an excellent run in Impact as "The Miracle" and appeared to be primed for similar success in WWE after bypassing NXT entirely.
Unfortunately, their love-themed gimmick was dead on arrival and caused him to be written off by fans almost immediately. To their credit, the couple made the most of everything they were a part of in WWE, including their strange storyline during their RAW run last summer. Mike and Maria would go on to take turns as 24/7 Champion... but that was about all. Mike said in a statement on Twitter in October, when he publicly requested his release, that he just wanted to wrestle and one day per week wasn't enough for him.
At this point, returning to Ring of Honor might be his best bet. He and Matt Taven were superb as The Kingdom before Mike and Maria left ROH in 2015. Considering Taven has also reinvented himself in recent years, it would be fun for them to either reunite or feud over how Mike ditched him all those years ago.
Another run in Impact is an option as well, seeing as how that was where he came closest to becoming a world champion in 2016.
Deonna Purrazzo: Impact
The majority of WWE fans likely aren't aware of just how skilled Deonna Purrazzo is, as she was only ever utilized in an enhancement role during her year-and-a-half stint with NXT.
After ripping it up in Ring of Honor and on the independent scene, she signed a developmental deal with WWE in the spring of 2018. She took part in the second Mae Young Classic soon after and had a chance to prove herself as one of the best women's wrestlers around. Despite getting off to a hot start in NXT that summer, she fell by the wayside and was rarely used in a meaningful manner. She has made a handful of appearances in recent months on WWE programming but always in a losing effort.
The black-and-gold brand could have done more with Purrazzo, but their loss should be Impact's gain. She's competed for the company on four different occasions since 2014 and would be a fantastic fit for their stacked Knockouts division.
Impact has a wealth of women's talent between Tessa Blanchard, Tenille Dashwood, Taya Valkyrie, Madison Rayne, Kiera Hogan and others. There, Purrazzo could be given the spotlight she never got in WWE and show the world what it missed out on.
Zack Ryder: AEW
Zack Ryder did everything imaginable to get over and stay over with the audience throughout his lengthy WWE tenure, and to his credit, he had his fair share of memorable moments on the main roster. His Z! True Long Island Story show caught fire on YouTube in 2011 and earned him a brief run with the United States Championship soon after, in addition to an Intercontinental Championship victory at WrestleMania five years later.
His latest accomplishment came at WrestleMania 35 when he and Curt Hawkins won the Raw Tag Team Championship. Once their reign was over, the writing seemed to be on the wall for both men, and they haven't been regulars on RAW in almost a year.
Cody Rhodes' heartfelt Instagram post about Ryder on Thursday sparked speculation that the Long Island native could soon be bound for AEW. After all, Rhodes raved about Shawn Spears following his WWE release last year and he wound up in the promotion within months.
If Ryder does soon sign with AEW, it would be best for him to fly solo and not continue teaming with Hawkins. They're a terrific tandem, but the only way Ryder is going to be taken seriously again is if he goes it alone.
While maybe not world champion material, there's no reason why he can't at least be positioned at the midcard level and be given a chance to let loose without being intentionally held back. It's worth a shot to see if WWE has been missing the boat on him this whole time.
It had long been rumored Rusev was eyeing an exit from WWE after not coming to terms on a new deal earlier this year, so while the timing wasn't ideal, his departure won't be much of a surprise to fans. However, that doesn't excuse the company for constantly halting his momentum over the years and preventing him from reaching that next level.
Rusev suffered his first defeat on the main roster at WrestleMania 31 against John Cena after going unbeaten for a full year. He could have faded into obscurity after that, but he instead found ways to reinvent himself.
Despite his "Rusev Day" shtick getting over to a great degree, WWE refused to use him in anything other than a midcard role. He had multiple reigns as United States champion, but the company never saw him for the star he was.
As a five-tool player, he can go anywhere in wrestling and likely be successful. Seeing him mix it up with the heavyweights in New Japan Pro-Wrestling would be a blast and he'd be beloved by the audience in AEW, but the best possible place for him just might be the NWA. The promotion isn't running any shows due to the pandemic, but it should be Rusev's first stop when it's up and running once more. Wrestling has never quite been his strong suit as much as his character work has, so he'd thrive in that environment and stand out in the same way Aron Stevens (Damien Sandow) has.
He could also bring Aiden English with him and reform their Rusev Day tag team.
EC3 and Drake Maverick: AEW
Perhaps the biggest disappointment among this round of WWE releases is EC3, who was never given time to show what he was capable of on the main roster. He came into NXT at the onset of 2018 and was called up to the main roster out of nowhere less than a year later. It was clear WWE Creative had no plans for him, though, which left him floundering for his entire run on Raw.
He was reportedly on the sidelines with a concussion before being released from his contract on Wednesday. EC3 was let go by WWE once before in 2013, and it was then that he went on to do the best work of his career in Impact. That was also where Drake Maverick cut his teeth before joining WWE two years ago. Drake was only ever featured as a wrestler once on WWE TV, but was fantastic in both of his managerial roles, presiding over both 205 Live as General Manager and eventually the Authors Of Pain on RAW.
The two of them were criminally underutilized under the WWE banner and should have had the chance to work alongside each other at least for a little while. Wherever they decide to go next, it should be as a unit. As cool as it would be to see the duo return to their roots, AEW would be a better landing spot given their potential. EC3 accomplished all he could in Impact, and if he and Maverick were to sign with AEW, they could make major waves and be showcased for the stars they are.