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WWE’s Latest Round of Cuts Signals a Disconnect With Its Fan Base

The surprising releases of more than a dozen wrestlers marked the latest blow to what Paul “Triple H” Levesque has built at NXT.

Another collection of talent is about to hit wrestling’s free-agent market.

WWE released more than a dozen performers on Thursday, ranging from those who consistently appeared on television to a handful of talents recently signed to relatively new deals. An especially high number of the women and men released had been signed under the direction of Paul “Triple H” Levesque. A WWE executive and former leader of NXT, Levesque is currently away from his post while he recovers from a September surgery that followed what WWE described as a “cardiac event” stemming from a genetic heart issue. In his absence, the NXT roster has been gutted with an overhaul that is yet to be completed.

In addition to last week’s news that Ring of Honor is releasing all of its contracted talent, this is an extraordinarily difficult time for pro wrestlers to be hitting an overcrowded free-agent market.

Those released on Thursday include Keith Lee, Franky Monet (better known in wrestling as Taya Valkyrie), Ember Moon, Karrion Kross and Scarlett Bordeaux, Gran Metalik, Nia Jax, Harry Smith, Mia Yim, Eva Marie, Hit Row’s B-Fab, Oney Lorcan and Lince Dorado. While the company line is that budget cuts were the culprit, do not weep for a company that is turning record profits and announced quarterly revenues of $256 million on an earnings call earlier Thursday.

The cuts are also a clear message that Levesque is no longer in charge of NXT. Once a major influence of the company’s direction, Levesque has lost considerable power since the return of Bruce Prichard. The trio of Vince McMahon, Kevin Dunn and Prichard are the key voices leading the direction of NXT, which has an entirely different—if not altogether unfamiliar—feel in its reenvisioned “2.0” setting. The setup and structure of NXT 2.0 looks and feels like WWE syndicated television from a bygone era, reminiscent of the same formula as Superstars from 1988, which differs enormously from the cutting-edge NXT product Levesque built over the past seven years.

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A lack of long-term vision—which includes cutting a collection of talented individuals—is among WWE’s core issues. Far too often, WWE does not play to the market’s needs, wants, desires or interests. If the company did that, then Keith Lee would still be presented as a major star instead of someone who was constantly devalued. Lee repeatedly had his momentum destroyed, whether it was with a new nickname or inconsistent ring gear. He was sidelined for five months due to COVID-19 and resulting heart inflammation, then returned in July, at which point he was almost immediately harshly pushed aside. This was particularly mind boggling considering he demonstrated he could get himself over in NXT. Yet he was never consistently afforded that opportunity on WWE’s main roster. Another former NXT champion, Karrion Kross, was presented as insignificant right from the start on Raw, losing a quick match to Jeff Hardy in July while he was still the undefeated, supposedly unstoppable NXT champion. Both Lee and Kross were performers whom Levesque helped shape in NXT.

Hit Row’s B-Fab was also released. How is that even possible? The group is starting to gain significant interest on SmackDown, and this shows a lack of awareness of what the audience wants. The company’s inability to make new stars is also on clear display in these releases. McMahon & Co. do not listen; they dictate. Rather than understanding what a modern-day audience wants, they tell people what to like. But based on diminishing television ratings, that is clearly not working.

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Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.