Since April 2020, WWE has made a habit out of releasing large groups of wrestlers from their contracts (consistently stating for budgetary reasons) while simultaneously posting record profits during quarterly financial reports. 2021 alone saw more than 80 wrestlers get cut, ranging from Performance Center trainees to former world champions and main eventers. This year has already seen one wave of releases as a number of key roleplayers in WWE‘s developmental system were let go, most notably William Regal, Road Dogg and Samoa Joe.
John Cena was on Sirius XM’s The Rich Eisen Show this week to promote the premiere of Peacemaker on HBO MAX and wound up getting asked about the releases. Cena linked the business decisions back to his early days in the WWE.
“When I started at WWE, the WWE had just absorbed WCW and ECW and also had two developmental territories and the rosters were abundant, is probably a good word,” Cena said. “When I started in the WWE there were releases twice a year and it created stakes for developmental talent and it created stakes for talent to try to make a name for themselves. We just knew that on a calendar year shortly after WrestleMania and either before or after the holidays there would be cuts. That seemed to stop right around when we began to redefine ourselves [with] our Ruthless Aggression style of characters. Me, Brock (Lesnar), Randy (Orton), Dave (Batista). When those guys began to anchor in and develop a program going forward into the next decade and more and we started to expand our reach, we started to have more programming, the talent roster started to get big.
“I think a lot of it might have been a little slightly defensive hiring because there was and still is a giant boom right now in sports entertainment,” he continued. “People are absorbing this content, they are engaging. People are making a name for themselves outside of the WWE. It’s no longer a one-stop shop. I think with its flux of passionate people who love sports entertainment, people do get a name for themselves outside of WWE and if the WWE feels that maybe they can be a fit in that world, they’re gonna try to give that person a shot. They’re also really bullish on continuing to hire new talent. The WWE Performance Center… they’re at max capacity so you have all of these performers and a lot of them aren’t getting a chance to perform. I think that’s the real frustrating thing both to the WWE and the performer. Unfortunately at the end of the day, it is a business. I remember when I started in the WWE, I want to use the word fortunate. I was fortunate enough to be at the show at Atlanta where Stone Cold Steve Austin (walked out). That moment right there it shot through me like a cannon because I got the impression that if they could fire Stone Cold Steve Austin, unless your name was Vince McMahon, everyone was replaceable.
Cena concluded — “I think a lot of the frustration from the audience out there, they view sports entertainment like I do. I love watching matches, I love seeing potential in human beings. I love seeing potential in performers and I see potential in everybody especially when people begin to define what they would call a gimmick or a personality. I love to be able to try to run with them on conversations to see how far we can take it. But there is only so many spots, there is only so much programming. I understand from a business standpoint the amount of releases that have had to happen. If the company justifies that hey this is the move we’re making, we wanna carry less talent, it has very little to do with profit-loss margin. If the company strategy is to run on a lean roster, it doesn’t matter, you run on a lean roster. If the company strategy is to run on a fat roster, I remember when we had stacks of performers and the stock price was 7 bucks. It’s just the directive that the company was given to run on a talent-heavy roster or a talent lean roster.”