Saturday 14 June 2014

The 2014 Future Endeavours Club

On Wednesday 11 June WWE hadn’t done a mass release of talent in around three years. That changed the following day when it was announced that Brodus Clay, Evan Bourne, Yoshi Tatsu, Camacho, Drew McIntyre, Jinder Mahal, Aksana, Curt Hawkins, and JTG, as well as referee Marc Harris and odd job man Theodore Long, had been released from their contracts. Until 2011 it had previously been a rather unpleasant annual tradition that came in the months following WrestleMania. It originally came about through a combination of cost-cutting and clearing the roster of wrestlers who had run their course with the company. It was, in a way, spring cleaning. It had presumably fallen off in recent years because WWE were going through a phase of altruism and-or a phase of feeling the need to get everybody under contract accepted as a star.

The lack of mass releases wasn’t going to last forever. WWE employs too many people at too many levels for that. There had been hints that something big was coming with the release of four NXT names (Shaul ‘Raquel Diaz’ Guerrero, beefy Welsh lovemuffin Mason Ryan, Danny Burch, and former tag champ Oliver Grey) at the end of April, but at the time it was taken more as the beginning of a new norm: WWE making multiple releases from NXT and leaving the main roster alone. Clearly that was wrong.

Below I’ll look at ten of the eleven releases (what is there to say about a nondescript referee?), discussing what they achieved in WWE, whether it was right to release them and what they could end up doing next.

Before I start that I’ll mention that I won’t be discussing Global Force Wrestling as a prospective employer. The promotion hasn’t promoted or even announced its first show yet. All it’s done is flog T-shirts and post pictures on its website and social media accounts, a disproportionate number of which have featured non-worker Karen Jarrett. It’s entirely possible some or all of the people WWE released will end up in GFW but it’s impossible to discuss it realistically bright now because we’ve no idea what their product will be like to hypothesise on where any wrestler could fit into things.

We’ll begin with one of the bigger names on the list: Drew McIntyre. The Scotsman was introduced in a significant fashion (for 2009) and was initially positioned as singles act destined for greatness. He was infamously singled out as Vince McMahon’s on-screen ‘Chosen One’ which, while clearly a storyline, was indicative of there being a lot of faith in him as a performer. The company boss isn’t going to endorse someone on-screen if they doesn’t feel they can amount to something. Especially when that company boss is Vince McMahon.

For a while it looked as though Drew was going to meet the hype. He was shuffled into a rivalry with an authority figure (specifically SmackDown GM Teddy Long), one of WWE’s favoured methods of getting someone over, and quickly had the Intercontinental title slung his way. True, the belt didn’t mean as much as it once had but it was still a vote of confidence from the writing crew.

It’s tricky to know where Drew went wrong. He was never a bad wrestler and he seemed decent enough on the microphone. I suspect those in charge may have cooled on him when he went through a period of visa issues which prohibited him from making regular appearances on TV. Denied weekly use of him I imagine the writing team, and the notoriously fickle-with-mid-carders Vinnie Mac, lost interest.

Maybe they could form a team called 2 Out of 3MB.
Y'know, like 2 Out of 3 Count?
In the last year Drew had been killing time as a member of 3MB, alongside Heath Slater and fellow firee Jinder Mahal. It says something about how far McIntyre had fallen that when he helped found the comedy jobber trio it was seen as a step up for him. Mahal too, for that matter. He’d never been seen in quite the same light as McIntyre but he had been given a prominently booked, if confusing and dull, introductory feud opposite The Great Khali and been presented as a man of significance for a while afterwards.

3MB were never going to amount to anything. Everything you need to know about the group’s standing can be gleaned from the fact that they’d been playing second fiddle to Hornswoggle in his feud with El Torito for a month and a half before the releases occurred. An on-screen split wouldn’t have done them any favours. It would have harmed them in fact. At least in 3MB they had an identity and a chance of getting on to shows to be used in tag matches. Both McIntyre and Mahal would have struggled as singles acts because they’d been presented as losers for so long (something Heath Slater’s about to find out).

I’ll be surprised if McIntyre doesn’t hit up some British indies in the next few months, specifically Insane Championship Wrestling. It’s based in his home country of Scotland and by all accounts does very well for itself. I can’t imagine them passing up the chance to bring in a Scottish guy who has WWE priors. If they start to expand into new areas, and there are rumblings that they might, it’s possible Drew will work there frequently and take other bookings around Blighty. A move to TNA isn’t out of the question, but his ex-wife working there may make that… tricky.

Mahal’s future is a tougher call. There’s no obvious call for a man of average look and ability on the indies. He doesn’t strike me as a man who’d fit in anywhere really, so my best guess would be TNA. Because he’s a former WWE talent. Maybe he’ll surprise us and make it big in the ailing NOAH. Or All Japan. Stranger things have happened.

The release of Camacho isn’t really surprising. He had a brief run as an enforcer on the main roster but that came to an end when Hunico, the man for whom he was enforcing, got permanently morphed into Sin Cara. The most noteworthy thing that happened to him during his subsequent run on NXT was a weird rivalry with Adam Rose.

There was no obvious role for him to fill on the main roster and being a permanent fixture in NXT wasn’t an option, so his release was inevitable. He seemed like a nice enough guy but I don’t think he’s a loss. I think he’d be a good addition to EVOLVE but I that seems unlikely. I suspect the best he can hope for is a string of bookings with nondescript leagues.

Similar sentiments can be expressed for Yoshi Tatsu. If anything it’s arguable that his release seemed more likely. He first signed a WWE contract in 2007. Seven years later he was still stationed in the developmental system. He’d been promoted to the main roster during that time but he’d never progressed beyond an enhancement position. If WWE has no faith in someone who’s been in their system for that long a cut can’t be considered a shock.

Being Japanese Tatsu’s future could very well lie there. As much as I think he’d fit in in Ring of Honor I can’t imagine there’s much call for him there. They’ve got a partnership with New Japan anyway, making a guy like Tatsu less interesting than he would have been to them a year or two ago. For that matter both EVOLVE and TNA have Japanese partner promotions they can call on for foreign talent.

Aksana comes from a bodybuilding background, which makes her release a little surprising. Because Triple H is a big fan of bodybuilders. But then he’s also a fan of wrestling and Aksana was not a good wrestler. She looked good in slinky outfits. That’s about all that can be said for her as far as working in wrestling goes. And even in WWE that will only get you so far.

If TNA aren’t interested in her I think she’ll probably be leaving the wrestling world. So really the question is “Will TNA have an interest in her?” In her favour she has the already mentioned ability to look good in slinky outfits and a history with WWE. That’s probably enough to net her work there. Considering how much TNA enjoy replicating WWE storylines and characters it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that Aksana will be hired to work as their version of Lana, a sexy foreign heel who manages an unstoppable monster.

Speaking of Aksana, her on-screen-ex-boyfriend Teddy Long has gone too. More than any other person who was released I can imagine that there was a degree of amicability to this release. At sixty-six Long probably fancied retiring and putting his feet up. He’d done everything he was ever going to in WWE and was only going to continue to be the butt of jokes if he stuck around. That’s not something WWE is going to pay someone to do indefinitely.

The worst thing about Long’s departure is that it means there’ll probably never be a payoff to his strike storyline on The JBL and Cole Show.

Back to Ring of Honor? Probs.
Back on more surprising ground we have Evan Bourne. He’s been recovering from an ankle injury (suffered in a motorbike accident as opposed to the wrestling ring) since the spring of 2012. He had one match last year and realised that he needed to continue rehabbing. That match aside he’d been injured for twenty-seven months. Only the very top guys can take that sort of time off without fear of release, and Evan Bourne was not close to being a very top guy.

But even with that said Bourne’s release comes as a surprise. He was never going to be a big singles star but he could have been a nice addition to the mid-card or the tag ranks. In fact he’d already had a taste of both thanks to a brief but fun programme with Chris Jericho in 2010 and a tag team championship reign alongside Kofi Kingston as Air Boom. Perhaps there are medical reports that indicated WWE were going to have to wait months before he was ready to step back into the ring and they weren’t prepared to do so. I can understand that but it doesn’t change my belief that Bourne had something to offer.

Bourne is the only man released who has a history with Ring of Honor, as Matt Sydal. When he’s recovered he could head back there and get a spot just below the main event. He could form a tag team with his brother, who works there under the ring name Mike Sydal. A series with Bad Influence would be a natural fit considering Bourne held the ROH tag straps with Chris Daniels. He could even join forces with the Daniels and Kazarian to form a faction.

Beyond ROH I could see Bourne getting work in any other US-based wrestling promotion. New Japan may want him too, although his style is hardly unique and it’s not like they don’t have any guys that can fly. A return to Dragon Gate, and the work in DG USA that would bring, is possible too. Basically if Matthew ‘Evan Bourne’ Korklan can work his ankle issues out he’ll find work.

I’d like to say the same for Brodus Clay but I don’t think I can as he’s not held in as high regard. I thought he had the size, the look, and the verbal ability to be a somebody in WWE. Clearly someone in Stamford disagrees with me. Considering the size of the average modern wrestler he’s clearly cut out for a heel role but he’s a very likeable babyface too. His ‘Funkasaurus’ act could be cringe-worthy at points but people reacted to it, and he showed a lot of personality during his time on NXT season two. There was something likeable about the guy.

In hindsight Brodus's demotion to NXT earlier this year was probably a sign.
Brodus seems like a natural guy for TNA to make a play for. I suspect they’d do so based solely on his status as a former WWE guy but they should be doing it because he’s got the qualities to become an immediate headliner for them and make their product feel fresh. Ultimately the reason they go for him doesn’t matter. I just hope that they do. He never felt fully utilised in WWE.

Brodus working anywhere other than TNA doesn’t seem likely. His style wouldn’t fit in EVOLVE or ROH and I can’t imagine him wrestling a great match with anyone of those rosters. Japan seems unlikely too: he’s big, which they like, but he seems concerned about hurting his foes, which they don’t. The sports entertainment-lite and WWE rerun approach offered by TNA is what’s best for ‘Monstrous’ BC.

Curt Hawkins never really recovered from having his on-screen association with Edge ended in 2008. That was the high point of his WWE tenure. After that he got split from tag partner Zack Ryder, returned to developmental, and then made it back to TV in an enhancement role. He eventually wound up on NXT Redemption and formed a team with Tyler Reks. More could have been done with that pairing but they were victims of poor timing: they got together before WWE began even half-heartedly trying to get its tag team division back on track.

It’s hard to argue against the Hawkins release. He’d shown no signs of improving since his first televised appearance in 2007, had a generic look, and possessed the aura of a jobber (partly WWE’s own fault but it’s true nonetheless). He wasn’t going to become a major star. It would be hard to imagine him even being taken seriously as a contender to the mid-card titles. If he was kept around he’d only have been a jobber. And the reason WWE likes to freshen up its job squad every so often is that keeping guys around who lose all the time makes the company look bad. They can’t present themselves as the elite wrestling promotion if guys who never win are deemed worthy of continued employment.

A move to EVOLVE wouldn’t be the stupidest thing in the world for Hawkins. He started his wrestling career in the north-eastern US working alongside Trent Baretta and Anthony Nese, making storylines with them a natural fit. He could immediately join forces with them or he could show up and tell them he’s disappointed in what they’ve become, prompting a series of singles and tag matches before a swerve turn.

Finally there was JTG. He won’t be missed.

Of course, it should be pointed out that any of these people could find their way back to WWE at some point. If they show they’re still passionate about wrestling by taking more bookings and continue to improve WWE may decide to hire them back. That’s happened before, very occasionally resulting in a more prosperous run for the performer involved. Even Teddy may get rehired at some point. A talent like that won’t go overlooked for long.

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