WWE’s Recently Released: Where Will They End Up

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For many years, it was not at all uncommon for WWE to release multiple talents after WrestleMania. In fact, it was largely expected.

Given the current issues the world is dealing with given the global pandemic, many promotions have either suspended operations or taped months worth of content. In a few months, though, hopefully all of these talents can find a new and suitable home.

Each year, numerous superstars (and, on occasion, backstage agents and even on-air personalities) would be let go. During the early 2000s, with nowhere of real significance for these talents to go, this was often a somber and frustrating period.

Now, with the meteoric rise of rival promotion AEW, combined with a steady second-tier of promotions like Ring of Honor, NWA, MLW, and Impact all looking to bring on some quality talents, there are legitimate stomping grounds for these released talents.

We also should acknowledge the fact that New Japan Pro Wrestling regularly fields ex-communicated WWE stars and offers them a career resurgence. Combine this with a burgeoning independent scene, and they will most definitely be a home for every talent on this list.

For some, it may be a matter of returning to a former home. For others, it may be the start of a venture into new, uncharted territory.

WWE’s Recently Released: Where Will They End Up

Kurt Angle

An Olympic gold-medalist and multi-time pro wrestling world champion across his stints with WWE, Impact, and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Kurt’s departure is a bit trickier than others.

After retiring against Baron Corbin at Wrestlemania 35, many felt Angle deserved a better sendoff against a better opponent. Angle, at least on the surface, seems to be at peace with the decision and had a nice run up to the retirement match, taking on a mixture of past rivals and up-and-comers.

At 51, however, and with a history of injuries stemming back to his amateur days, Kurt’s in-ring days are numbered if not completely over.

If Kurt was willing to assume an on-air on backstage role with a smaller promotion like NWA or ROH, he would always have a home. Given his pedigree, though, it is unlikely that the Hall of Famer will wind up anywhere else in the immediate future.

Rusev

Perhaps the most valuable free agent on this list, Rusev is the type of name a promotion could send to the top with the right mixture of booking and hype. The fact that he never achieved consistent main event status in WWE is, to many, utterly perplexing.

The presumably now-former Rusev (real name Miroslav Barnyashev) still has a considerable upside in the wrestling world. With the popularity of his “Rusev Day” catch phrase, criminally underrated facials and delivery, and solid in-ring work, there are really three destinations for the former United States champion that make the most sense:

AEW: With a roster that is growing considerably larger — in both number of talent and size of said talents — the “Bulgarian Brute” would fit right it. At nearly 300 lbs, he would join other massive additions like Brodie Lee (the former Luke Harper) and longtime NJPW fixture Lance Archer in adding some much-desired size to the roster. With other big boys like Wardlow and Jake Hager running around, Rusev could provide some more beef in the upper midcard.

NJPW: While this may not seem like the most likely choice to some, consider the sheer size and power of Rusev. When he wants to portray an ultra-intense, loose-canon type, he’s very convincing. Mixing it up with top talents like Tomohiro Ishii, Minoru Sazuki, and even Kazuchika Okada, Rusev would make for an excellent foreign foil. His matches with current IWGP World Champion Tetsuya Naito could also be a lot of fun.

NWA: This one might feel like a considerable step down, but I would pay good money to watch an extended Rusev vs. Nick Aldis feud. In fact, Rusev could be the perfect talent to end the lengthy second reign of “The National Treasure.” At only 35 years old, Rusev could firmly establish himself as one of the top draws from the resurgent NWA.

Drake Maverick

Many readers might be surprised to find that Drave Maverick is actually 37 years old. The former Rockstar Spud is a solid in-ring talent but has carved his niche as a cheeky, witty mouthpiece. As the figurehead of 205 Live for a while, Maverick established himself as one of the more enjoyable fixtures on a show that lacked overt character depth.

Maverick rose to prominence as part of the Impact roster, but the company has lost a bit of luster since his last stint there. Looking at his future, Maverick really wouldn’t have much to prove going back to the former-TNA.

His best bets:

NWA: With the smaller, intimate, studio setup, Maverick’s talents can really shine here. As a mouthpiece to younger talents, or even on commentary, he could really shine as an on-air performer.

MLW: Having featured microphone prodigies like MJF and Salina de la Renta, Maverick could be a perfect mix for one of the most exciting “next tier” promotions in the world. The Court Bauer-run might be an excellent stomping ground for the new free agent.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

Man, what a turn of events. After the much-heralded “Boneyard Match” at Wrestlemania 36 between The Undertaker and AJ Styles — a match in which the “Good Brothers” played significant supporting roles — it took less than two weeks for the WWE to part ways with the duo.

One of the biggest tag team acts in Japan during the 2010s, Gallows and Anderson joined former Bullet Club stablemate Styles in WWE back in 2016. Their impact in the U.S. was a mere fraction of their Japanese run. With that said, right now, only two destinations really make sense.

NJPW: Karl Anderson wasted little time tweeting a little teaser about a potential return to his former home across the ocean. The duo would likely been welcomed back with open arms as many of the tenured veterans have worked closely with the former Bullet Club members. They could also inject a little life back into their former stable as well.

AEW: A significant chunk of the Bullet Club parted ways with NJPW in early 2019, including standouts like Cody, Kenny Omega, Hangman Page, and the Young Bucks. Four of those five currently hold Executive Vice-Presidencies with All Elite Wrestling — a promotion that heralds its tag team division. This could be a perfect pairing for two performers who may have something to prove after a lackluster WWE run.

Zack Ryder

Once considered one of the most popular acts in WWE, Ryder seemed to smack his head off the glass ceiling for several years. Despite overdue runs with both the United States and Intercontinental titles, and a feel-good tag team championship reign with longtime friend and partner Curt Hawkins, Ryder never seemed to get the extended run that his character and talent warranted.

Shortly after his release, longtime friend and AEW standout Cody Rhodes sent out a tweet reminding the world of Ryder’s triumphant Intercontinental championship win at Wrestlemania.

Many assumed this was an indication that Ryder (real name Matt Cardona) would be AEW-bound. He’s got the size, look, charisma, and athleticism to be a valuable member of the roster and a potential main event level star. At only 34, Ryder also has quite a few years left in his in-ring prime.

That said, there may be a better option for the former Long Island Iced-Z:

NWA: As part of the AEW roster, Ryder would be competing with numerous former WWE colleagues like Jake Hager, Chris Jericho, Brodie Lee, Matt Hardy and Cody Rhodes, as well as talents like Kenny Omega, Hangman Page, and even Darby Allen, at the top of the card. Throw in rising talents like Wardlow, MJF, and Lance Archer, and anyone could find themselves lost in the shuffle.

In the NWA, however, Ryder could immediately find himself launched toward the top of the card. As a charismatic babyface (or heel), he could bring in some viewers to the product while finding himself steadily holding a spot on the card that has evaded him for the past decade-and-a-half.

Rowan

So, this is an interesting one. Prior to Rowan’s main roster debut with the Wyatt Family in the early 2010s, the 38-year-old Rowan (real name Joseph Ruud) was not only the radar of most fans. Despite being a massive, fairly athletic monster with a unique and marketable look, Rowan has been treated as a silent sidekick for most of his WWE run.

He shared a brief run with Luke Harper (AEW’s Brodie Lee) as the Bludgeon Brothers where the duo dominated the tag team scene, but no other run has brought much success to the mountainous Rowan.

Unfortunately, AEW is has brought in a share of “big men” recently, so any chances Rowan would have of reuniting with his former Wyatt Family stablemate seem unlikely.

He could possibly achieve huge success in Japan, but Rowan’s calling may actually find him headed in an unlikely direction:

Impact: Rowan has never been presented as a consistent star in WWE, and despite some visual recognition, he is unlikely to draw many viewers away from the WWE product without a significant makeover. In Impact, Rowan could immediately be presented as a top-tier talent who could reasonably content for the world championship. His decade of experience working for WWE would also make him a valuable locker room asset for some of the younger talents on the roster.

Lio Rush

At only 25, Lio Rush is a bit of a prodigy. Issues with WWE management have hampered the young talent’s rise, but he has consistently performed on a high level on both NXT and 205 Live. As the mouthpiece for Bobby Lashley on Raw, Rush also showed a versatility that is on par with almost anyone in the industry.

Depending on if companies would be willing to take a gamble on the outspoken Rush, he could arguably be a top-flight talent. Size may be a hindrance in ever securing a main event spot for a major promotion, but Rush’s in-ring and microphone skills could arguably carry him for years.

So, where could Lio Rush end up?

NJPW: Mixing it up with Sho, Yoh, Hiromu Takahashi, or Taiji Ishimori in the light heavyweight division could create some mouthwatering contests. Throw in a potential dream match will arguable best-in-the-world Will Ospreay and there are no shortage of options for Lio Rush in New Japan. He could also be a major boon for the Bullet Club.

Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis

It’s likely these two will forever be a package deal, and for good reason. The proud parents of two, both Mike and Maria have established themselves as legitimate veterans in the business. Bennett has proven to be a solid in-ring talent who, at 34, still has plenty of time to continue moving forward in the business. Likewise, Maria has shined whenever she has been given screen time and that is unlikely to change no matter where the pair ends up.

Since they have spent time in ROH, New Japan, and Impact, however, one destination makes sense above the rest:

NWA: Much like some of the other entries on the list, Bennett has the look, size, talent, and charisma to be a star for the resurgent NWA. Paired with his wife, Bennett could arguably find himself fast-tracked into the NWA World Title scene — a division that seems right on pace for the talented grappler.

Where do you want to see some of these talents end up? Let us know in the comments below.

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