Believe it or not, WWE has as many as 200 people signed to ‘talent’ contracts spread between RAW, SmackDown, NXT, the Performance Center, and various other affiliations. They have so many wrestlers, yet many of them aren’t even used properly when they do appear on a regular basis. Because of this, there is the potential that some people might leave WWE by the end of this calendar year.
Every year, WWE goes through a period during which wrestlers are either ‘future-endeavored’, i.e. released at the company’s request, or leave themselves after requesting to depart. 2016 had its fair share of high-profile departures from WWE for several reasons.
Damien Sandow was a wildly popular mid-carder whose organic popularity was completely disregarded by WWE’s top brass, which led to him being released in May of that year.
Wade Barrett, once one of the most promising wrestlers on the roster, was not used well by WWE for years and went on a considerable losing streak until he was released on the same day as Sandow.
Ryback made controversial comments towards his payment in 2016 and had several disagreements with Vince McMahon, which led to him being sent home and ultimately released by the company.
Finally, the highest-profile departure from WWE last year was Cody Rhodes. Rhodes was horribly miscast by being perpetually shoehorned into the Stardust character, which was something he didn’t want to do. This led to Rhodes requesting his release on May 21 of last year, about two weeks after Sandow and Barrett left the company as well.
2017 hasn’t witnessed any major departures as of yet, but there are still give full months left in this calendar year. In that period, there’s still the chance that one or more WWE superstars could leave the company for one reason or another.
Here, we’ll look at the ten that are most likely to leave WWE.
#10 Apollo Crews
Apollo Crews has been lost in the shuffle since he debuted on the main roster. He was brought up from NXT far too early, as he hadn’t had the chance to develop a personality or improve upon his promo skills. He looked great, but his lack of a character and time devoted to actually speaking have prevented him from establishing a lasting connection with the audience.
Crews has been drafted back-and-forth between RAW and SmackDown Live, and both have been relatively fruitless. He hasn’t been given any time to show any fire or personality, and his only facial expression appears to be ‘smiling’. His current storyline with Titus O’Neil has little chance of having a major payoff, which makes one wonder what the point was for that pairing.
Since it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll go back to NXT (as it is, after all, still perceived internally as a developmental brand), he’s dangerously close to being completely forgotten by the fans. If that happens, Crews should go back to Dragon Gate, where his athleticism and style were appreciated to a greater degree.
#9 Darren Young
Darren Young’s wrestling career can be described as ‘start/stop’. Every time he achieved any momentum whatsoever, it lasted only a few months before the plug was pulled and he disappeared off television. This happened several times since 2013.
He was given something of a sustained push when he came out, he had some popularity when he was teaming with Titus O’Neil, and he returned under the ‘Make Darren Young Great Again’ gimmick.
After a decent initial push in all circumstances, the backstage office gave up or lost interest in him, and he kept disappearing. By this point, it’s likely that WWE considers his regular pushes to have been failures, hence, his lack of regular appearances.
Young is currently sidelined with an injury, but given how little faith there appears to be in him at this point, he should try following in Cody Rhodes’ footsteps and try his hand on the independent scene.
Rhyno made a surprise return to WWE in 2015 and became something of a fixture on that brand for a time. Then, he made a surprise appearance as Heath Slater’s partner in the latter’s desire to win the new SmackDown Tag Team titles.
Rhyno wasn’t given much time to speak in their segments, and was clearly meant to play second fiddle to Slater due to Slater’s unexpected surge in popularity. But ever since they lost those titles, Slater and Rhyno haven’t been doing much of note.
Moreover, Rhyno has started to transition into a career in politics, and even though he lost in his recent election, there’s an obvious indication that wrestling isn’t his priority anymore.
With there being a regular habit in WWE of bringing up new talent throughout the year, there’s a chance Rhyno and WWE could part ways sometime soon since he has done everything he needed to.
#7 The Brian Kendrick
Kendrick’s entire return was centred on one story: becoming the WWE Cruiserweight Champion and redeeming himself following his departure several years ago. He accomplished this feat when he defeated TJ Perkins in October 20016.
Since then, Kendrick has – along with the rest of the cruiserweight division – floundered without much of a storyline direction. His last feud of note was a brief one with Akira Tozawa, which led to Tozawa winning. At 37 years of age, Kendrick is one of the oldest wrestlers in the cruiserweight division.
With that division having its style toned down from what was seen during the Cruiserweight Classic, Kendrick’s matches are nowhere near as exciting as what was witnessed during that tournament. As a result, fans have lost considerable interest in Kendrick, which has led to him having very little air-time on RAW.
With there being so many younger wrestlers that WWE would want to showcase on 205 Live, it’s possible Kendrick could either transition back to a non-wrestling role in WWE or leave the company altogether by year’s end.
#6 Tamina Snuka
Tamina has been in WWE since 2009 and hasn’t accomplished much of anything during that period. More often than not, she has been the Diesel to another woman’s Shawn Michaels, acting as a bodyguard for a smaller woman simply because she’s somewhat larger than most of her fellow women.
The problem with Tamina is that her appeal as a bigger woman is completely gone. Since 2009, WWE have introduced Kharma (whose own career in WWE was a flop), and Nia Jax (who does a much better job as the monster of the women’s division).
Tamina is also very old by women’s standards (she’s 39 years old), and unlike fellow veteran, Natalya, lacks the scientific grappling skill needed to mask the toll that times has taken on her abilities.
Then, of course, there’s the Mae Young Classic, which could lead to several new women being signed to either NXT or the main roster, which would only expose Tamina’s flaws even more. Because of this, there’s a chance that Tamina could be gone from WWE by the end of the year.
#5 The Colons
There have already been reports that The Colons have wanted to leave WWE this year. Epico’s merchandise has appeared on ProWrestlingTees, which is by all accounts an indication that someone isn’t planning on staying in WWE for much longer.
After all, if he was supposed to be staying in WWE, the company would produce merchandise for him and forbid him from making money from selling his merchandise anywhere else.
That aside, the creative direction that the Colons have been put in might be a catalyst for them wanting to leave. They have both been part of two of the worst gimmicks in recent memory (Los Matadores and the Shining Stars), and have had very little TV time since they returned to SmackDown under their own names.
These reasons could cause them to leave WWE by the end of the year to go wrestle elsewhere.
#4 Zack Ryder
Ryder hasn’t done much of anything since his controversial 24 hours at WrestleMania 32. He won the Intercontinental Championship in a match at WrestleMania, then lost it in front of his father 24 hours later. From there, Ryder has fallen back to the same level of relative obscurity from whence he had come.
He has also been injured, which has only further hampered his chances of maintaining any relevance on SmackDown. It’s clear that there aren’t any major plans for Ryder in the foreseeable future, especially since he has already reached the top on his own (i.e. without the WWE machine’s stamp of approval).
Given that, Ryder might leave the company at some point before the year ends, especially since there appears to be more emphasis being given to his partner Mojo Rawley than him.
#3 Summer Rae
The last time anyone in WWE mentioned Summer Rae was almost one full year ago when she was drafted to RAW as part of the 2016 draft. Yet despite being drafted, Summer has not appeared on WWE television since then. It’s alleged that she has since been recovering from several injuries.
Even if she were to return, Summer Rae would flounder in the lower end of either show’s women’s division very quickly. RAW’s women’s division tends to focus on only four to six women exclusively, leaving other women like Emma and Mickie James unused on a regular basis.
SmackDown isn’t very different, with the general focus being on Naomi, Lana, Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Tamina, Natalya and Carmella.
There doesn’t appear to be any regular focus on any other woman on either major brand, and there appears to be a growing emphasis on women’s grapplers in NXT and with the Mae Young Classic. As a result, there might not be a spot anywhere on WWE television if Summer Raw to return.
#2 Hideo Itami
The possibility of leaving WWE is constantly looming around Hideo Itami. The former KENTA has suffered from multiple setbacks since arriving in WWE: devastating injuries, language barrier, a lack of charisma (which makes people compare him negatively to his fellow countryman Shinsuke Nakamura), and a lukewarm to anything he does that doesn’t involve the Go 2 Sleep.
Itami is also very small by WWE standards and doesn’t necessarily have the same wrestling style used in the cruiserweight division. Because of this, Itami risks being stuck ‘on a treadmill’ in NXT: he thinks he’s moving forward but he doesn’t actually change his position.
Unless he gets a critical push within the next few months, he could leave the promotion and return to Japan.
#1 Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan retired in February 2016 at the request of several medical experts and his family. However, he has since felt a strong pull to return to wrestling, despite the damage that has been done to his body. He hasn’t really kept this secret, with several websites reporting on the matter for the past several months.
But WWE isn’t likely to ever clear Bryan to wrestle again, especially following revelations that he suffered from regular seizures and would want to wrestle in his most intense style, just like he did prior to his surgeries.
Since WWE isn’t likely to clear Bryan, there’s a chance he could leave to go wrestle elsewhere. NJPW and ROH are likely destinations if he is released, especially since he has revealed recently that he wants to wrestle Cody Rhodes, now that Rhodes is ROH World Champion.
If this happens, WWE would lose a major star, one who still elicits an enormous reaction, despite not actually wrestling in almost two years.
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