Early Friday evening, WWE announced the release of Zelina Vega.
As recently as last month, Vega was considered one of WWE’s rising stars. She wrestled Asuka for the Raw women’s championship at Clash of Champions in late September, losing the match but attacking the champ in the aftermath, finally receiving an opportunity to show her worth in-ring as a wrestler after working primarily as a manager.
Vega (29-year-old Thea Trinidad) has prove herself as one of WWE’s most talented and versatile performers since the summer of 2017, especially so in the months following WrestleMania 36. But her value to the company did not exempt her from a controversial new company-wide edict handed down by CEO Vince McMahon earlier this fall banning performers from using platforms like Twitch and Cameo to supplement their income. McMahon threatened that those who were noncompliant with the new restrictions would be subject to a fine, suspension or outright dismissal, and the Trinidad was the first casualty.
So how did we arrive at the point when Trinidad, who was considered a valuable piece in both WWE’s present and future, is no longer a part of the company?
More than just noncompliant with the new company policy, Trinidad directly challenged WWE earlier this month by opening an account on OnlyFans, a site that allows talent to directly interact with their fans. Trinidad’s account features exclusive videos and photos of “cosplays, lingerie, swimsuits and more,” for a monthly subscription fee of $30.
WWE, specifically McMahon, considered this a breach of contract and responded by terminating Trinidad’s contract. Sources close to WWE informed Sports Illustrated that, following discussions regarding Twitch, upper management felt Trinidad boxed them into a difficult situation by opening the OnlyFans account. As unpopular as this new policy is among talent, Trinidad’s dismissal serves as a sobering reminder that the new policy is going to be strictly enforced.
Trinidad is also an active streamer on Twitch, another site included on WWE’s list of banned third-party platforms. Multiple active WWE stars had a presence on Twitch, including AJ Styles and Cesaro. One option for talent to remain on sites like Twitch was to share their account with WWE and make only a fraction of the profit, with receiving a significant portion. Unsurprisingly, this has not been a well-received option.
For WWE, this is a chance to better monetize the streaming world, as well as profit off stars created within WWE. But for Trinidad, as well as WWE personality Paige (Saraya-Jade Bevis), who has also been extremely vocal about independently maintaining her Twitch account, it is infringing upon their ability to make money on a platform built outside of WWE.
WWE confirmed to Sports Illustrated that Trinidad was terminated for breaching her contract. Following her termination, Trinidad made headlines on Friday with a tweet that read, “I support unionization,” joining Bevis in floating the possibility of labor organization. WWE performers are independent contractors, though that classification has been the subject of significant criticism, and are not protected by a union.
The new restrictions on supplemental income streams have irked several members of the roster. Last month, a group of wrestlers, not including Trinidad, reportedly met with McMahon at WWE’s Connecticut headquarters to express displeasure with the company’s Twitch ban, to no avail.
Trinidad’s firing also raises questions about her husband’s future with WWE. She is married to Aleister Black (35-year-old Tom Budgen), and both have built a following on Twitch. Black is also an enormously talented wrestler yet he has not been a weekly presence on WWE programming since the Oct. 9 edition of Raw, where he lost in a competitive match to Kevin Owens and it was announced he was moving to SmackDown as part of the WWE draft. Sources within WWE have confirmed to Sports Illustrated that Black remains under contract and he remains a part of the SmackDown brand.
WWE has the deepest talent pool in all of wrestling, and the company will continue to thrive even without the Zelina Vega character. That, however, does not change the fact that Trinidad is an exceptionally talented manager and wrestler. Had she remained with the company, Trinidad had unlimited potential, especially at a time when WWE is missing major stars like Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. Trinidad will continue to succeed in wrestling, but no longer will it take place on the wide-reaching stage of WWE.