With new opportunities on the horizon, including All Elite Wrestling’s rumored TV announcement within the next few weeks, there’s the potential for a shift in the direction of the industry. After Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling was bought by Vince McMahon in early 2001, it altered the course of the business, giving the WWE empire much more leverage for talent negotiations. While many released WWE stars appeared for TNA in the mid-2000s, that was basically only considered a secondary choice if the biggest company wasn’t a option at the time. In fact, Abyss and Christian were among the very few names in that era that willingly chose to work for TNA instead of WWE.
Since the wild popularity of the trio of the Young Bucks and Cody, and the announcement of the AEW, there’s much speculation about what this does to the wrestling landscape. As the billionaire Khan family funds the project to make it possible for the organization to become a national promotion, for the first time since the previously mentioned shut down of WCW, there’s an opportunity for the talent to make comparative money to the WWE in the United States without the restrictions of the publicly-traded company. A lighter, more flexible schedule is only second to the legitimate money offered for a competitor under an All Elite contract. Those possibilities have fueled a narrative that most of WWE’s underutilized talent look to jump ship to AEW, which isn’t necessarily true, but there are undoubtedly situations where frustrated performers could seek an AEW deal when they get the chance.
The Revival made waves a few months ago when they requested their release from the company after nearly a year and a half of more or less being lost in the shuffle on the Raw brand. Granted, injuries affected some of that progress, but still, for a team that shined in NXT, the duo wasn’t presented as relevant on the main roster. Considering the ability of Dash and Dawson, management didn’t grant the release, but the pair were given a run with the tag titles and featured more regularly on television.
Sasha Banks, the former four-time Raw Women’s champion, appeared to be on hiatus from the company after she was discontent with the direction of her character. In truth, Banks might have a point because despite the previously mentioned four title runs, her time on the main roster did more to hinder than help her star power. After she had such a memorable feud with Bayley for the NXT Women’s title in 2015, it looked as though both athletes were set to be major stars upon their arrival to main stream television. Sasha Banks unquestionably has the charisma and the skills to be a major star. Unfortunately, the sum total of their respective runs on Raw leaves them with less momentum than they had prior to their TV debuts. Even as Raw Women’s champion, Sasha wasn’t ever given an extended run to further establish herself, but rather had short reigns that in retrospect were probably designed to boost the number of title runs for Charlotte flair, a stat that is often used to push her storylines today. The nonsensical feud with Bayley last year that had a series of heel turns while the two remained a tag team made them look silly and did nothing to make them bigger stars. After those shenanigans, they were finally an actual team and won the first women’s tag titles in February at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, but similar to Sasha’s previous run as champion, they dropped the belt to the Iconics just over a month later at Wrestlemania. So, the historic win at the Elimination Chamber wasn’t done with a plan to reemphasize the skills of Sasha and Bayley, but rather as just a pop that night.
There were rumors online that Banks has an attitude problem that could’ve contributed to her decision to temporarily step away from WWE, but to be fair, that is merely hearsay that nobody with direct knowledge has confirmed so that should be taken with a grain of salt. Signing a contract in 2012, the 27-year-old might not even be in the prime of her career yet, which is exactly why WWE brass probably won’t grant her a release. Reportedly, she signed a multi-year extension last year so while the situation appears unresolved for now, it’s doubtful that Sasha will surface at another promotion at least until her contract expires.
Luke Harper announced on Twitter that he requested a release from WWE and it looks as though he will depart from the company. After a successful run on the independent scene, Harper signed a developmental deal in 2012 and eventually found what looked to be the perfect role for him in a stable with Bray Wyatt in NXT. When the Wyatt faction debuted on WWE TV the following year, it was a group that had a dynamic presence on-screen. It was disappoint that Bray Wyatt’s ability to make his opponents look good in the ring often led to him being presented in a secondary role. Since Harper and Rowan were linked to Wyatt, they were often seen as merely background characters to a performer that was used to push others. After an anti-climatic conclusion to the stable in 2014, Harper had a short run with the IC title, but his persona lacked direction without any specific feuds on TV. An eventual Wyatt reunion provided some direction for a while, but an injury in 2016 put him on the shelf for several months.
— Luke Harper of WWE (@LukeHarperWWE) April 16, 2019
When he was reunited with Rowan for the Bludgeon Brothers gimmick last year, it gave him TV time, but the presentation with the giant hammers looked too comical for them to be perceived as a dangerous team. Another injury in late-2018 put him on the sidelines again until he returned to action just last month. Since that time, he worked a match at Axxess and the Andre The Giant Memorial battle royal at Wrestlemania. Despite a lack of mic skills, management didn’t really know how to use Harper properly during his WWE career. He deserved better and was rarely used to his full potential. At 39, Harper is at the latter stages of his career and if WWE brass doesn’t have any specific plans for him, there’s not really a reason to keep him on the roster. Assuming that he’s granted the release, Harper could theoretically be an asset for AEW, but he might have a bigger run in New Japan, especially considering his style and that the group could use more depth after a series of exits prior to the All Elite announcement earlier this year.
While only time will tell if certain competitors get a release from WWE and where they might sign after that, it speaks volumes about the status of the global promotion when it seems like there’s a trend of those under contract that request a release. Make no mistake, WWE will continue to be the biggest sports entertainment company in the world, but the scenario of underutilized talent under the WWE banner emphasized how the potential success of All Elite Wrestling could help the entire industry.
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