WWE has recently moved on from several top stars, including former world champions Daniel Bryan, Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, resulting in thin babyface rosters on Raw and SmackDown.
Bryan, “The Fiend” and “The Monster Among Men” stand out as three of the most prominent recent departures from WWE. Bryan left the company after his contract expired earlier this year and is reportedly the latest major name who will be headed to AEW. Mat Men podcast’s Andrew Zarian (h/t WrestlingNews.co) reports that “there are people in WWE management that are upset that they lost Bryan,” which comes as no surprise given that Bryan has a long history of being a top merchandise mover and a ticket-selling draw.
Likewise, Wyatt’s release was seen as a shocker in WWE due to his impressive merchandise sales and the fact that he has typically been pushed as one of the company’s top stars. Zarian (h/t Wrestling Inc) also reported that there was a “lot of frustration” among WWE’s TV partners at FOX and NBCU regarding Wyatt’s release, with one source saying: “Bray’s released is really disappointing and a little scary that top stars are being let go.”
Indeed, WWE cleaning house with a surprising slate of releases throughout 2021 has been a cause for concern as WWE fans have been wondering what the endgame is here.
Mere weeks after releasing Strowman in a cost-cutting move, WWE was reportedly interested in bringing him back at least in part to prevent him from going to AEW amidst reports that both Bryan and former WWE star CM Punk were heading to WWE’s biggest rival promotion. Strowman, Wyatt and Bryan had all been positioned as (borderline) main eventers throughout their careers in WWE, and their departures—combined with WWE’s release of dozens of other stars—has left Raw and SmackDown with a skeleton crew of a roster, particularly when it comes to top-level fan favorites.
What makes that series of moves so head-scratching is the timing of it all.
WWE recently returned to touring and has been relying heavily on John Cena to sell tickets for those live events. Cena’s undeniable and impressive effect on live event ticket sales is a testament to his drawing power and his growing fame as he becomes a household name in Hollywood. But it’s also a worrisome sign for a WWE that will be using three part-timers in Cena, Goldberg and Edge in arguably its three biggest matches at next week’s SummerSlam pay-per-view.
That is a result of WWE’s own doing, though. With WWE releasing the likes of Strowman and Wyatt, failing to re-sign Bryan, cleaning house in NXT and gutting the main roster of so many stars over the past year and a half, the company has struggled to craft compelling storylines on Raw and SmackDown, which have become infamous for running back the same matches seemingly on a weekly basis.
That’s what happens when the entire roster is gutted, however, and it’s no wonder why Raw ratings have recently dipped to all-time lows. The deep star power that was so evident 10 or 20 years ago simply isn’t there anymore, a clear result of WWE’s recent cost-cutting measures as well as its struggles to effectively book former NXT standouts once they get to the main roster.
Now, WWE finds itself with very few top-level stars, and though the company has done a great job of booking its two heel world champions in Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley, it’s beyond obvious that—with SummerSlam focusing so much on part-time attractions like Edge, Goldberg and Cena—WWE has a full-time babyface problem.