WWE is the largest wrestling promotion in the world, and they usually try to shore up as many stars as possible in their company. However, due to lack of opportunities, WWE releases superstars from time-to-time – 2020 was no different, and so is 2021.
With the added factor of cost-cutting involved due to COVID-19, WWE terminated the contract of several stars in this calendar, including high-profile names and former main-eventers.
Most of these wrestlers were not in a top role in the company at the time of their release and were usually used as filler talent. Their talents were not being used to the fullest in the company, which made it a good deal for both parties. However, losing their jobs amidst a global pandemic wasn’t the most ideal situation for plenty of stars, but they ended up finding new homes a few months later.
We look at all the WWE releases in the dreaded 2020, continuing into 2021, either due to the contract running out, voluntarily asking for the release, or the company terminating the contracts.
Steve Cutler (Released in February 2021)
The first WWE wrestler to be reportedly fired after contracting COVID, Steve Cutler didn’t have any memorable run in either NXT or the main roster. He competed in singles action in NXT for a while before joining forces with Jaxon Ryker and Wesley Blake to form the Forgotten Sons.
The stable didn’t do anything of note, and he was last seen on the main roster in a short-lived alliance with King Corbin. Cutler reportedly attended a New Year’s Party which led to him contracting COVID-19, which made Vince McMahon upset leading to firing him.
Lars Sullivan (Released in January 2021)
The Freak had a strong run in NXT for a while, competing in high profile matchups, before he was moved up to the main roster. His scheduled debut never went through as he suffered an anxiety attack, but joined the main roster a few months later, attacking Kurt Angle.
He was projected for big things, but a string of long-term injuries, his anxiety issues, and his past racial comments made his career a hell, and he was quietly released by the company in January 2021.
Zelina Vega (Released in November 2020)
The latest and one of the most shocking among the WWE releases is Zelina Vega as the company announced her release on November 13 before the SmackDown episode. Vega has been raising her voice against WWE’s action to shutdown superstars’ social media accounts and has been supporting unionization, and the experts are speculating this could be the primary reason for her release.
Vega, apart from effectively managing Andrade in both NXT and the main roster, was also an active in-ring performer and currently married to WWE Superstar Aleister Black.
AOP (Released in September 2020)
Authors of Pain were lined for great things, with two young talents in the form of Akam and Rezar looking to shake things up on the main roster, following a stellar run in NXT. However, injuries plagued their main-roster run, and the duo was let go of the company in September. Their final few months saw them align with Seth Rollins and his new messiah gimmick, but injuries forced WWE to drop that storyline.
Mauro Ranallo (Released in August 2020)
Mauro Ranallo is widely regarded as one of the most skillful commentators in combat sports and had a great run with NXT after his release from the main-roster a few years ago. Ranallo’s calls for several NXT matches have become memorable. He continues doing his other broadcasting gigs after his departure from NXT.
Renee Young (Released in August 2020)
Renee Young became one of the most memorable backstage personalities in WWE over the years, with her delightful persona becoming a hit with the audiences. She found herself doing every role possible in the broadcasting team and becoming the first full-time female commentator on RAW. She also hosted several shows like Talking Smack and WWE Backstage. Young felt that she achieved everything she could in WWE, and hence left the promotion in August 2020 after SummerSlam.
Kairi Sane (Released in July 2020)
Kairi Sane joined WWE in 2017 as part of the Mae Young Classic tournament, won the whole thing, and later on went on to become the top star of the NXT Women’s Division. She had a stellar run with Asuka on the main roster as the Kabuki Warriors, but she left the company in order to move back to Japan and be closer with her family. Sane left on good terms and is currently working for WWE Japan.
Travis Banks (Released in June 2020)
Travis Banks joined WWE back in 2017 and was also a part of the UK Championship tournament, where he defeated Ligero in the first round. Banks was a regular part of the NXT UK setup and was booked in the upper-card a few times before he was named in the #SpeakingOut movement. Banks himself accepted the allegations and was quietly let go by the company in June.
Gentleman Jack Gallagher (Released in June 2020)
Jack Gallagher caught the eye of the fans with his impressive performances during the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016 and received ample screen time on RAW following the introduction of the Cruiserweight division. However, Gallagher could never become the top guy in the division, and following a brief stint with NXT UK, he was let go in June during the #SpeakingOut movement.
Ligero (Released in June 2020)
Ligero joined WWE back in 2018, during the United Kingdom Championship tournament, and performed on NXT UK and 205 Live for a few years before the #SpeakingOut movement revealed his past actions, leading WWE to release the masked superstar.
The Revival (Released in April 2020)
The first of the many WWE releases in April, The Revival were let go shortly after WrestleMania. The duo had begged for their releases for several years, before finally receiving it in April. Despite their tremendous success (the only team to hold RAW, SmackDown, and NXT titles), the duo could never reach their full potential on the main roster, and their displeasure contributed to their release. Now known as FTR, they are the reigning Tag Team Champions in All Elite Wrestling as of November 2020
Curt Hawkins (Released in April 2020)
Curt Hawkins returned to WWE during the draft in 2016 and came back with a new gimmick. However, it never took off and Hawkins ended up becoming a jobber in the company, going on a losing streak for several years. He reunited with his former Edgehead Zack Ryder and had a brief stint with him in the tag-division, even winning the tag-titles.
Hawkins was part of the WWE releases in April as the company made several cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic. He joined Impact Wrestling a few months later.
EC3 (Released in April 2020)
One of the biggest failures in modern WWE booking, EC3’s career is a mystery. There must have been something wrong backstage with EC3, as a person of his build and mic-skills was somehow relegated to a lower-card role.
EC3 came into WWE as a former Impact World Heavyweight Champion and had a decent run in NXT. But his main roster career was a total failure and he was part of the WWE releases in April. He is back with Impact Wrestling now.
Lio Rush (Released in April 2020)
Lio Rush was one of the biggest surprises during the April WWE releases, as he was in a good position in NXT. He won the NXT Cruiserweight Title in 2019 and was always positioned for big things in WWE. However, attitude problems most likely led to his release from the company. Rush teased retirement from wrestling, but he recently sent out a tweet, asking fans to guess his next destination.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (Released in April 2020)
The absolute biggest shocker from the long list of releases, Gallows and Anderson literally featured in the main event of WrestleMania 36. The duo had quite recently signed long-term deals with the company, after declining moves to AEW in 2019.
Both the stars expressed their displeasure after their release, and even their leader, AJ Styles, seemed extremely frustrated after his buddies left the company. The duo won the Tag Team Championships on several occasions but were often put into subpar storylines.
Gallows and Anderson joined Impact Wrestling, and have also signed deals with their former employers, NJPW.
Eric Young (Released in April 2020)
Eric Young, similar to EC3, came into WWE as a TNA veteran. Young was positioned as the leader of the extremely successful Sanity, but the group was dead on arrival on the main roster. Young was put into the singles division soon after Sanity failed, and he wandered around the 24/7 title before being released. He is having a successful second stint with Impact, where he won the World Title.
Heath Slater (Released in April 2020)
The longest-tenured star on the list of WWE releases, Heath Slater was a true company man through and through. Slater worked several gimmicks in WWE, with his highest point being the Free Agent gimmick in 2016. After his release, Slater brought back the gimmick in Impact Wrestling, where he reunited with his former friend from WWE, Rhyno.
Aiden English (Released in April 2020)
Aiden English’s tag-team run with Vaudevillains came to a screeching halt on the main roster, and later, his golden partnership with Rusev Day was prematurely cut off from programming. He eventually did some commentary for 205 Live, before he was released as part of the budget cuts.
Kurt Angle (Released in April 2020)
Kurt Angle retired from in-ring action in 2019, after his loss to Baron Corin at WrestleMania. Angle transitioned into a producer, but his backstage role was cut short when he was released as part of the budget cuts. Angle is still in a working relationship with WWE and has made a few appearances for the company after his termination.
“You understand what he did? He brought me back and had me settled in without doing anything physical,” Angle said about Vince McMahon. “He continued to drug test me to make sure I was staying clean. Eventually, he had me wrestle, but by then my body was arthritic.”
Erick Rowan (Released in April 2020)
Erick Rowan never really found his calling in WWE. He was the least interesting part of the Wyatt Family and had a less than stellar singles run after Luke Harper, his Bludgeon Brothers partner, was released in 2019. His biggest achievement in WWE is losing to The Rock at WrestleMania in a few seconds.
The Colons (Released in April 2020)
It’s tough to imagine how Colons were a part of WWE for so many years before they were finally released in April. The Colons didn’t make much impact in WWE after their return in 2016, didn’t win any titles, and were mostly used as fodder for other teams.
Sarah Logan (Released in April 2020)
Sarah Logan was young and full of potential, but WWE didn’t quite see her in a similar fashion. A not-so-great run in NXT, followed by a premature call-up to the main roster as part of the Riott Squad, didn’t bode well for the star. She was let go in April and is currently pregnant with her and Erik’s (Viking Raiders) child.
Maria and Mike Kanellis (Released in April 2020)
Maria, along with her husband, Mike Bennett, were among the lengthy list of WWE releases in April of 2020 due to COVID-19 budget restrictions. The husband-wife duo joined WWE in 2017, and there was much hype surrounding them, as they were given a straight promotion to the main roster without going through the hurdles of NXT. However, nothing ever really worked for them, and apart from a few moments with the 24/7 title, the duo didn’t set the world on fire.
Zack Ryder (Released in April 2020)
The man who is often credited for making WWE popular on social media, and often referred to as the Internet Champion. Zack Ryder won several titles during his long tenure with WWE and was a good hand for the company in the mid-card and the lower-card. He joined his good friend Cody’s AEW for a short stint, but his future remains unclear.
No Way Jose (Released in April 2020)
No Way Jose’s gimmick was that he danced with several guys. It was never going to be anything more than comedic relief, and for several years, that’s exactly how WWE used him. Apart from featuring in 24/7 title chases and squash matches, Jose didn’t do anything noteworthy in his WWE career before being released as part of budget cuts.
Rusev (Released in April 2020)
The biggest singles star in all these WWE releases, Rusev at one point was the most dominant star in the company. He went over a year undefeated, received a special tank-entrance at WrestleMania, and is regarded as one of the finest US champions in recent times. His Rusev Day gimmick is one of the most successful babyface gimmicks in recent memory, but it’s a shame that WWE couldn’t capitalize on it. He is currently working with AEW as Miro.
“It doesn’t matter about storylines or things like that,” Rusev said. “One day you ride a tank but the next day, you do nothing but main event dark matches so it’s a big wave, you just gotta ride the wave and do the best with anything that is given to you. You gotta enjoy everything you do, and you gotta control what you can control because some things you can’t, and there’s no point being mad so whatever I can control, I do, and if not, I’m just having a blast with it.”
Deonna Purrazzo (Released in April 2020)
The talent was there, the personality was on-point, but WWE couldn’t see it for some reason. Purrazzo made several appearances for the company between 2014-2020 in different roles, but never got a chance in relevant feuds. Purrazzo was part of the 2018 Mae Young Classic, and challenged for the title a few times, but could never become a major star. She rejoined Impact and immediately won the title in the Women’s Division.
Serena Deeb (Released in April 2020)
Serena Deeb worked with WWE a decade ago, as part of CM Punk’s stable. She famously shaved her head to be a part of the cult. Deeb returned to WWE in the Mae Young Classic in 2017, before joining the Performance Center as a coach. After her release in April, she joined AEW quite recently and won the NWA Women’s Championship.
Taynara Conti (Released in April 2020)
The first Brazilian female star in WWE, Conti had a lot of promise and seemed exciting, but the company decided to include her as part of the WWE releases, after several years in the developmental brand. Conti found a new home in AEW, where she is supposedly going to join the Dark Order soon.
Kassius Ohno (Released in April 2020)
One of the biggest names from the independent scene, Kassius Ohno rejoined WWE a few years ago but was relegated to the role of putting over younger stars in NXT and NXT UK. Ohno is set to return as Chris Hero on the independent scene pretty soon.
Cain Velasquez (Released in April 2020)
Velasquez’s debut during the premiere episode of SmackDown on FOX sent shockwaves in the wrestling industry, but what followed was a lacklustre matchup with Brock Lesnar. Lesnar took down Velasquez in quick fashion at Crown Jewel 2019, which proved to be the last appearance for the former UFC Champion in WWE.
Curtis Axel (Released in April 2020)
The son of late Mr.Perfect, Curtis Axel started out in NXT a decade ago, and showed signs of being a solid upper-card player, quite like his father. However, Axel could never reach his full potential in the company and ended up saddled with jobber gimmicks for the majority of his career.
Matt Hardy (Released in March 2020)
The multi-time champion and legendary tag-team star Matt Hardy was let go by WWE in March after his contract expired. Hardy’s latest run in WWE started in 2017 when he returned at WrestleMania 33 along with his brother Jeff. Jeff chose to stay with WWE and signed a new contract, while Hardy joined All Elite Wrestling, where he is currently in a prominent role.
Cathy Kelley (Released in February 2020)
One of the most engaging personalities in WWE, Cathy Kelley was a major part of WWE’s digital platforms during her four-year stay with the company. She also worked as a backstage correspondent for NXT shows and hosted the WWE Now program on Youtube. She announced that NXT Portland in February was her last event with the company.
Killer Kelly (Released in January 2020)
WWE signed Killer Kelly in 2018, and she took part in the second edition of the Mae Young Classic. She initially debuted during the 2018 United Kingdom Championship tournament, participating in a No.1 contender’s match for the Women’s Championship.
Kelly didn’t do much during her time on the NXT UK brand before leaving the company in January. Kelly returned to the independent scene after her exit.
Jazzy Gabert (Released in January 2020)
The powerhouse and veteran of the independent scene joined WWE in 2017, taking part in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. She lost in the first round but was signed to a WWE contract. An injury forced WWE to rescind the deal, but later they brought her in for the NXT UK brand. Gabert performed on the brand for a year, before leaving the company in January 2020.
Gabert revealed that the creative had nothing for her, which led to her departure, and she started her own promotion after that.
Other NXT and Backstage Personnel Released/Furloughed
|Billy Kidman||Producer (Returned to work in September 2020)|
|Brian Nurse||Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary|
|Chris Guy (Ace Steel)||Coach|
|John Brody||Executive Vice President, Global Head of Sale and Partnership|
|Jon Quasto||On-Air Talent|
|Josiah Williams||On-Air Talent|
|Mark Kowal||Controller and Principal Accounting Officer|