WWE’s latest batch of releases went down late on Thursday evening, with John Morrison, Tegan Nox, and the entirety of Hit Row among those let go. Presuming the eight names let go all have the main roster standard ninety-day non-compete clause, they’ll be free to wrestle following 16 February 2022. From then on, they’ll be the hot topic of professional wrestling discourse.
But, there are other clauses due to expire before then, too.
WWE has cut just over eighty wrestlers, referees, and Performance Center recruits throughout 2021. Some have since found a new home – The IInspiration, Chelsea Green, and Steve Maclin in IMPACT Wrestling, Ruby Soho, 2point0, and Bobby Fish in AEW, to name but a few – while others are yet to find a permanent home. Other, more unique cases have seen Samoa Joe almost instantaneously re-signed to NXT, whereas Bray Wyatt is taking a sabbatical from pro wrestling to work in Hollywood.
IMPACT Wrestling bound?
What, exactly, will happen to the remaining names remains to be seen, but IMPACT Wrestling has to be eyeing up these newly-released talent. The Anthem-helmed promotion has arguably benefitted the most from WWE’s mass releases, as, aside from the names mentioned previously, they’ve since brought in Eric Young, The Good Brothers, Mercedes Martinez, Deonna Purrazzo, and Mickie James, for example, teasing these names ahead of marquee pay-per-views.
Slammiversary 2020 and 2021 were both built on the potential of these names popping up. They’re going to do the same all throughout 2022 at this rate, beginning as early as Hard To Kill in early January. As of this writing, they’re almost certainly in discussions as to how they can build anticipation for 2022 and beyond based solely on these free agents.
So, who should head to IMPACT from WWE’s 2021 list of releases?
One year doesn’t seem like an appropriate prison sentence for attempted murder, but it’ll do if it means Taya Valkyrie makes a quick comeback to IMPACT Wrestling.
It’s weird, really, that it was only this year that Taya was departing IMPACT Wrestling for WWE. Her last match was at Hard To Kill, unsuccessfully challenging Deonna Purrazzo for the Knockouts Championship. She wound up being arrested on the following IMPACT episode, having shot John E. Bravo the previous October during his wedding to Rosemary.
In WWE, “La Wera Loca” was rechristened Franky Monet, flanked by her beloved Pomeranian dog, Prince Presley. She had a decent time, all things considered, challenging for Raquel Gonzalez’s NXT Women’s Championship in her penultimate contest in NXT, and joining The Robert Stone Brand. What turned out to be her final match saw her lose to Cora Jade on NXT 2.0’s 5 October broadcast, with Monet’s release coming on 4 November.
A return to IMPACT seems the best fit for her. There’s history for her to return there, particularly as IMPACT just confirmed its second ‘season’, for lack of a better term, of Wrestle House, their reality television-esque segment that, really, was the beginning of the entire ‘Who Shot Bravo?’ story arc. As the longest-reigning Knockouts Champion in company history, it only makes sense that she returns to her former place of glory.
There’s an abundance of new talent for Taya to tangle with, too. Outings with Mercedes Martinez, Rachael Ellering, and Masha Slamovich sound particularly intriguing for Valkyrie, while revisiting prior stories opposite Rosemary and Deonna Purrazzo would work just as well, if not better.
As an ex-NXT Superstar, Taya’s non-compete clause is expected to expire on 4 December, which means her next possible appearance for them would be the Throwback Throwdown II special on 18 December. With Hard To Kill 2022 going down just weeks later, it seems an apt place to air a return vignette.
Like Taya Valkyrie, it was only this year that Blake Christian was leaving the independent scene behind, having risen to become an indie megastar over the past year and a bit.
“The Gamechanger” looked set to become a regular fixture in the X Division earlier in 2020, having advanced to the finals of the Super X Cup at Genesis vs. Ace Austin, before returning the following month for the inaugural Triple Threat Revolver match at No Surrender. His standard of work was superlative, as was expected of him, but, ultimately, he opted to sign for WWE.
Known as Trey Baxter in NXT, he debuted via answering KUSHIDA’s NXT Cruiserweight Championship open challenge. It was a superb start for his WWE tenure, however, that was the height of his time there. After making it to the semifinals of the second Breakout Tournament, Baxter was effectively used solely as an enhancement talent. He put over Dante Chen, Ikemen Jiro, and, in his final televised match, Grayson Walker.
Also released during the 4 November cuts, Blake’s non-compete clause will expire on 4 December. An apt return to Game Changer Wrestling has since been confirmed, but IMPACT must consider putting in a serious offer for him, even if he’s only on a pay-per-appearance deal.
Despite wrestling in an empty Skyway Studios, Blake Christian was wrestling as if it was a sold-out stadium. His in-ring work ethic was exemplary of him as a consummate professional; that’ll go a long way in IMPACT Wrestling.
Against Crazzy Steve, KC Navarro, and the aforementioned Ace Austin, Blake’s run in the Super X Cup provided just a taste of what can be expected of him in IMPACT. There’s still so far he could go in the Anthem-helmed promotion, with potential matches vs. Trey Miguel, Laredo Kid, and Black Taurus being particularly enticing.
Whoever is next to sign Rockstar Spud will be on to a money-maker, given his post-WWE release vignette.
The now-former Drake Maverick read the room excellently. When he was first released on 15 April 2020, he posted an immensely heartfelt video to his Twitter page that eventually saw him re-signed to WWE following his effort in the NXT Cruiserweight Championship tournament. As divisive a segment as it was, it remained legitimately heartfelt.
This time around, though, things were different. He made a mockery of his own vignette, stating that he “couldn’t pull this one again”. It’s since drawn him some praise across social media, most notably from John Cena, who simply posted:
“This is worth a watch. Very well done and very powerful message by a gifted performer.”
The Drake Maverick persona was, overall, a success. He worked superbly in any role provided to him, whether it was as an in-ring talent, a manager to The AOP, or 205 Live’s General Manager. It’s easy to forget this, though, as he was such a big deal on the independent scene prior to signing with WWE. Because he didn’t reach the heights expected of him, it’s easier to brand his WWE career a failure.
This doesn’t apply to his IMPACT run, however. That was a success, too, and people knew it. Though the tail-end of his run is best left forgotten – the Swoggle feud isn’t fondly remembered, anyway – but nearly everything before was great. His Steel Cage, First Blood, and Hair vs. Hair matches vs. EC3, reigns as X Division Champion, and role alongside Dixie Carter exemplified how versatile a worker Spud is. This in itself is reason enough to justify his return to the IMPACT Zone.
You need only look at the current state of the X Division to want Buddy Matthews in IMPACT Wrestling.
There, the former “Best Kept Secret” would excel without limits, no doubt producing consistent bangers with Trey Miguel, Laredo Kid, El Phantasmo, and countless others. It’s the perfect division for a man of his talents to prove his worth.
You see, as WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Buddy made 205 Live worth watching on a near-weekly basis. His innovative no disqualifications match with Mustafa Ali in July 2018 was generation-defining, while further outings with Tony Nese, Cedric Alexander, and Akira Tozawa were entertaining flurries of near-perfect cruiserweight wrestling. He very much fit the mantra of the 205 Live brand, raising its stock level while representing as their champion.
On the main roster, however, the now-Buddy Matthews was a missed opportunity. Excellent contests with Roman Reigns and Aleister Black aside, he was most known for being a disciple of Seth Rollins, a role in which he became the Raw Tag Team Champions with “The Messiah”. Again, this was a missed chance for WWE to make a legitimate main eventer out of Matthews, with him ultimately being let go on 2 June.
His non-compete clause has already expired, with the Aussie standout recently debuting for New Japan Pro Wrestling at their Battle In The Valley event against Kazuchika Okada. With regards to an IMPACT debut, the company have previously been said to be making a huge play for him, though nothing has since come of this.
Westin Blake – formerly Wesley Blake of WWE – has wrestled just two outings since his WWE release on 15 April, losing to John Skyler as part of EC3’s second Free The Narrative event, before then falling to Homicide at an indie event, too.
His journey in WWE was a turbulent experience. He began as a jobber, became NXT Tag Team Champion with the aforementioned Buddy Matthews (then-Murphy), became a jobber again, formed The Forgotten Sons with Jaxson Ryker and Steve Cutler, achieved little, and was then let go after being off television for months, owing to Ryker’s distasteful Twitter comments.
The thing is, there was hope with just himself and Cutler – coincidentally, now Steve Maclin in IMPACT Wrestling – as a tandem. They were presented as thugs during their brief resurgence alongside King Corbin, though this didn’t get far before Maclin was let go in February. Prior to Bound For Glory, Steve Maclin addressed a potential reunion with Westin in IMPACT:
“When the time is right. He and I have both spoken about this when I got with IMPACT, we wanted to tag once he was let go as well from said other company. Down the road, it’s going to happen, we don’t know when the timing will be right. He’s doing his thing right now with Free The Narrative and I’m doing mine here in IMPACT Wrestling. I would love nothing more than for us to team and we have a lot of unfinished business together.”
What’s good about Blake as a performer is that he’s keeping his options open post-WWE. During a chat with Inside The Ropes’ Innes McVey, he detailed as such, stating he wanted nothing more than to be in front of different crowds:
“There is just a long list of people that I would love to work for all those places at any time because I believe their talent and their rosters are just filled to the brim with people that I would love to get in the ring with. I would just love to be in front of different crowds and different styles just to help myself elevate my game and hopefully, I can bring a certain worth and quality to the company that I go to.”
With the current standard of IMPACT’s doubles division – The Good Brothers, FinJuice, Bullet Club, et al – a Forgotten Sons reunion would certainly go down a treat.
In IMPACT Wrestling, Killer Kross was this close to becoming a legitimate main event talent, and, eventually, the IMPACT World Champion.
At the conclusion of the 2019 Homecoming pay-per-view, he ambushed both Johnny IMPACT and Taya Valkyrie, Powerbombing the latter off the stage in a genuine star-making moment. His moniker of Killer Kross had never been more apt in that very moment. From there, though, contract negotiations reportedly broke down between them, resulting in Kross being gone from IMPACT by year’s end.
Upon his original signing to WWE, the anticipation was immensely high. People were truly excited to see what he’d be capable of on such a grand platform, hence why he was pushed, stomped through a plethora of top-tier NXT talents that included Tommaso Ciampa and Damian Priest, and became a two-time NXT Champion.
Then came the infamous Raw debut vs. Jeff Hardy. His release was inevitable after that.
WWE had ruined him. WWE Hall Of Famers Mick Foley and Booker T were among those who had some choice words for WWE’s treatment of Kross, Foley going so far as to say they’d made a joke out of Karrion Kross.
When the 4 November releases were announced, Kross, along with Keith Lee, was the biggest surprise, but equally as big a letdown. He’ll thrive outside of Vince McMahon’s empire, particularly if he opts to return to the IMPACT Zone. Presumably flanked by Scarlett Bordeaux, the return of Killer Kross would add further depth to IMPACT’s already-flourished main event scene against Eddie Edwards, Sami Callihan, W. Morrissey, Josh Alexander, and current World Champion – and Kross’ old partner – Moose. He’s a natural fit, really.
Debuting in 2018, Zayda Ramier, who’s perhaps better known as AQA on the independent scene, has wrestled just thirty-seven matches on record, only five of which occurred in NXT.
A student of Booker T, Ramier had only debuted on what was the black-and-gold brand earlier this spring, and became a social media hit following NXT’s 27 April broadcast, where she executed a perfect Shooting Star Press on Toni Storm. The victory came as a legitimate shock, as did the manoeuvre. WWE rarely allows their female talents to perform such risky moves, but Zayda, a newcomer to the promotion, had done so with blissful perfection.
Before she made it to WWE, though, the former AQA had shared the ring with a seriously impressive stack of talent. Thunder Rosa, Kylie Rae, Indi Hartwell, and Shotzi Blackheart are all on Zayda’s in-ring CV. That’s impressive for a talent with only three years of exerience.
She was let go on 4 November also, meaning she’s free to wrestle from 4 December onwards. Having her head to IMPACT immediately would be ideal, given that the company is set to promote their first knockouts Ultimate X match at Hard To Kill on 8 January. Take into account Zayda’s aforementioned Shooting Star Press, and it makes her a perfect participant for the bout.
The knockouts division is currently missing that risk-taking aspect. Kimber Lee utilised a Swanton Bomb prior to becoming an undead bridesmaid, while Lady Frost – reported to have officially signed a contract – uses a Moonsault variant, but none are quite on the same level as Zayda Ramier. Signing her is a must-move for Scott D’Amore.
Following his WWE release on 25 June, Alex Zayne seemed destined for Ring Of Honor full-time prior to the company announcing their impending hiatus following December’s Final Battle. He’d entered the annual Honor Rumble as a surprise sixteenth entrant, earning an ROH World Championship match vs. Bandido which he recently lost.
Without a confirmed home, IMPACT Wrestling would certainly suit his talents.
“The Sauce” has appeared for IMPACT since his WWE release, too, entering the recent X Division Championship tournament vs. Trey Miguel and Laredo Kid. A further match vs. Miguel a few weeks later was equally as exemplary of Zayne’s in-ring work ethic, in which the former Ari Sterling displayed a deep understanding of what it takes to be a successful X Division star.
It’s strange, really, that he’s currently 35-years-old. Given what he’s capable of in-ring-wise, it’d be incredibly easy to assume he was on the lower end of his twenties. This is the guy who regularly performs inside-out Asia Moonsaults, standing Shooting Star Presses and 450 splashes, and top-rope Dragonranas; how is he in his mid-thirties?!
That’s presumably why WWE let him go, other than their inability to book these big indie names in prominent roles consistently. Their new mantra for NXT 2.0 focuses on younger, bigger, and beefier boys; Alex Zayne doesn’t quite cut it, sadly, but in a place like IMPACT Wrestling, Alex Zayne will fit in perfectly as he continues to transcend the art of cruiserweight wrestling.
The saga of Nixon Newell, now formerly known as Tegan Nox, will be an intriguing story to look back upon in a few years’ time.
Signed in April 2017, the Welshwoman would suffer a series of knee injuries that meant her time spent as an active in-ring talent was almost equalled by her time spent on the injured shelf. It’s a statistic that, of course, ruined her chances in WWE. There were rumblings of her being scheduled to win the second Mae Young Classic prior to her re-injuring her knee during a quarterfinals bout with Rhea Ripley.
The thing with Nixon is that, when she did get to wrestle in NXT, she was typically a great in-ring talent. Her Street Fight vs. Dakota Kai at NXT TakeOver: Portland was a perfect summary of their feud; they went wild on each other because the story had built to it wonderfully. Even in defeat, the match remains a crucial point in her NXT career.
On the main roster, her hopes were almost instantly squandered when she and Shotzi (sans Blackheart) defeated Natalya and Tamina – then the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions – three times, including two which effectively crowned them as the number one contender’s, but they’re still awaiting their title match. When the duo was split up during the 2021 Draft, Tegan was left hopeless.
It’s shocking that she lasted as long as she did, really, given her constant knee curse. WWE took a risk, and from a business standpoint, it didn’t work out. Owing to their booking, Tegan Nox didn’t quite work out, but on the indies, Nixon Newell could regain her high stature.
As has been mentioned throughout, the knockouts division right now is on another level. From Deonna Purrazzo and Jordynne Grace to Chelsea Green and Rosemary, there is an abundance of fresh matches awaiting Nixon. Following her previous run on the British independent circuit, where she was near enough a household name, maintaining a position in mainstream North American wrestling simply makes sense.
Adam Scherr, the former Braun Strowman, has been linked with a run in IMPACT Wrestling almost from the moment WWE released him on 2 June.
Arguably WWE’s wildest release of 2021 aside from former Wyatt Family brethren Bray Wyatt, Fightful Select reported on 3 October that IMPACT officials were making a huge play to bring Scherr into the promotion, while a follow-up report just after Bound For Glory a month thereafter stated that, while he was viewed internally by talent to definitely be coming in, a deal was yet to be reached.
He will be eventually, though.
Just look at some of his WWE accolades. He tipped over an ambulance while Roman Reigns was inside of it. He destroyed The Bar’s New Orleans parade float. He Chokeslammed Shane McMahon from the top turnbuckle, through the announce desk. In terms of championships, he held the Universal, Intercontinental, and Raw Tag Team Championships. Hell, he was even WWE’s Male Superstar Of The Year for 2018, back when WWE cynics weren’t so against him.
If WWE no longer requires his services, IMPACT is simply the right fit for the former “Monster Among Men”. They use big beefy boys to great avail usually, as evidenced in Moose, W. Morrissey, Joe Doering, Doc Gallows, and Jake Something; All Elite Wrestling meanwhile, favours smaller, faster-paced guys to use in their high-profile situations.
Now going by the moniker of “The Titan”, an eventual debut in IMPACT in 2022 seems appropriate. With IMPACT and AEW’s working relationship finishing up for the time being, the former is in need of a huge moment like this to keep the intrigue on them.