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A Look At WWE’s Most Recent Releases

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Last week, the WWE conducted their almost annual spring cleaning when they released several performers during the course of just a few hours. Some of the roster cuts were expected while others were surprising, and prompted some outrage on social media.

Wade Barrett, the original leader of the Nexus, was planning to leave the company when his contract expired in a few months, but was able to get an early release from his deal. As mentioned, Barrett wasn’t planning to renew his deal, but this one is still puzzling, considering when he debuted on WWE TV in 2010, he was thought to have an extremely bright future. Originally signed to a developmental deal in 2007, he spent the past nine years there, six of those on the main roster, and had evolved himself to become a well rounded performer during his tenure. To say that the WWE missed the boat with Barrett would be an understatement and I wrote at the time that when he was initially booked in the WWE title picture during the Nexus angle, it would’ve been a wise move to give him a short title run because it would validate the push the stable received. Instead, the Nexus was essentially used to create opponents for John Cena and there was wasted potential for the angle. As time went on, Barrett suffered a few injuries that sidetracked his progress, but always returned in top form and specifically, his “Bad News” gimmick was over with the audience. He was solid in the ring and the brash British accent added to his heel persona on the mic. In my ways, it seems like the WWE never fully got behind a push for him and his career became stagnant at times. Most recently, the League Of Nations almost seemed like a stable booked together because the writing team didn’t have any other plans for the four individuals and its relatively short run seems to prove it. It could be as simple as Wade Barrett taking time off to recharge his batteries and then eventually return with a fresh start, but considering he was floundering, you can’t blame him for opting to leave, at least for the foreseeable future.

Another star that seemed like he would be a major star for the WWE was Damien Sandow, who had a minor run in a tag team on Smackdown several years ago before he was released, and this was the roster cut that garnered the most criticism on social media. After he was released in 2007, he worked in Puerto Rico and took his game to another level, earning him a second WWE contract in 2010. Damien Sandow debuted the intellectual character that received rave reviews and a major crowd reaction in 2012. As time went on, the polished performer continued his solid run and won the money in the bank in 2013, prompting many to speculate that he would be future champion. Sandow presented himself as a star and there’s no doubt he could’ve been a main event level heel had the WWE ran with it when the chance was there. After losing his attempt at cashing in the MITB contract, Sandow’s career just never recovered, despite continuing to entertain with anything he was booked to do. Sandow rarely made TV and was used as a jobber when he did. There was also the impersonation gimmick and Miz’s stunt double, which proved that Sandow was a versatile performer. You have to wonder how he went from a potential main event talent to a comedy act, but the point being it’s disappointing that he didn’t get the run he deserved. At 33, Sandow was released twice and with the lack of any other major options, it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. It can’t be said enough, Damien Sandow deserved a better opportunity in the WWE.

Zeb Colter, known for decades as Dutch Mantell, had another run as a radical type character and provided some of the best promos on WWE TV during the Real Americans team. Last year, Zeb resurfaced after legitimate surgery, although it wasn’t reported exactly what the medical problem was at the time, but his character eventually faded from WWE programming. Dutch is one of the best minds and best talkers in the history of the business, and I find this release surprising because he could undoubtedly be used as an exceptional asset on the booking team or working with younger talent. Keep in mind, Dutch was the booker for WWC when Puerto Rico was drawing its biggest crowds and since he left the island over a decade ago, business still hasn’t recovered. Also a major star in the Memphis territory in its heyday, Mantell has basically worked in every role possible in the industry, and with dozens of writers on the creative team, why isn’t there a spot for Dutch? At nearly 67, maybe he didn’t want a full-time gig as an agent or producer, but otherwise, the WWE missed the chance to use one of the brightest minds in the business. Since he worked different places during his time in the territories and then did his notable booking work in Puerto Rico, it seems as though most fans don’t realized how accomplished Dutch Mantell was during his extensive career.

Hornswoggle, the little person that was waiting under the ring to attack Fit Finlay’s opponents, wasn’t used on TV much in recent years so there’s no surprise for this one. However, you have to give Hornswoggle credit, he took a stereotypical gimmick that usually runs its course relatively quickly, and made decade run from it. He worked with whatever he was booked for and did it well. As mentioned, ten years under contract is something very few stars can put on their resume and he had a better run than most would’ve guessed when he debuted. El Torito, another little person on the roster, was also released, but it was more of a matter of circumstances than anything. He was originally bought in as the sidekick for Los Matadores, which was a one dimensional gimmick with a limited time frame anyway, and with Epico and Primo being repackaged as a much more useful tag team, there wasn’t necessarily a spot for El Torito on the roster. That being said, despite his smaller statue, he’s a tremendous aerial competitor and hopefully, the WWE TV exposure can generate a major run for him in Mexico.

Santino Marella was officially released, but considering he was semi-retired already and works at his own Battle Arts training school in Canada, it was just a technicality. That said, Santino is an extremely entertaining performer and he will probably make a cameo appearance in the future. Cameron was another roster cut and despite her complaining about criticism online, she’s replaceable on the roster. She was essentially the less talented member of the Funkadactyls and wasn’t as capable in the ring as Naomi. The dancing gimmick was only going to go so far, proof being that Brodus was released a few years ago, and Cameron didn’t bring anything to the table that others on the roster couldn’t do better.

Alex Riley made his TV debut six years ago and was thought to have a very bright future, as he had all the tools needed to be a credible star. He could present himself as an arrogant heel or a fiery baby face so he was certainly a versatile performer. After a year or so as The Miz’s sidekick, Riley turned baby face and his attack on Miz in one of the more memorable moments on WWE TV in the past five years. Riley was over as a baby face and it looked as though he could reach his potential as a star. Depending on what you read, there were rumors that Riley had some type of dispute with John Cena and subsequently, his push was halted. While it’s odd that the WWE put the brakes on Riley’s push, it’s tough to believe that Cena would actually sabotage his career because there’s nothing to gain for Cena. Either way, Alex Riley was booked as a jobber and then eventually made a transition to a color commentator, a role he did well. In 2015, Riley began wrestling again in NXT, which could’ve provided a clean slate for him, but an injury sidelined him and occasional bizarre rants on Twitter probably didn’t help either. When he began wrestling again earlier this year, he wasn’t used for anything major and his release isn’t too surprising, but you still have to wonder, what exactly derailed his career a few years ago? Who knows what Alex Riley will do next, but with the lack of options in the United States, he might decide to retire from the business.

-Jim LaMotta

@jimlamotta

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