Former 16-time champion of the world John Cena has weighed in with his thoughts on the spate of WWE releases that blighted the company throughout 2021.
In April 2021, WWE began releasing talent in batches throughout the year as the company sought to make “budget cuts.” Stars as different as Mickie James, Braun Strowman, John Morrison, and Ruby Soho were among over eighty names released by the company during the year.
WWE icon and star of DC’s Peacemaker series John Cena was asked about the releases during an interview on the Rich Eisen Show. Cena was typically thoughtful in response and harkened back to his own early days in the company when it was again awash with talent:
“There’s a lot to unpack there, I will say this. When I started in the WWE, the WWE had just absorbed WCW and ECW, and also had two developmental territories. The rosters were…abundant is probably a good word. When I started in WWE, there were releases twice a year.”
“It created stakes for developmental talent and it created stakes for talent to try and make a name for themselves. Because we just knew. We knew in a calendar year, shortly after WrestleMania and either before or after the holidays, there would be cuts. There always were. And that seemed to stop right around when we really began to redefine ourselves with our new school, Ruthless Aggression era style of characters of me, Brock [Lesnar], Randy [Orton], Dave [Bautista].”
“When those guys began to anchor in and develop programs going into the next decade or more, and we started to expand our reach, we started to have more programming. The talent rosters started to get big.
John Cena then went on to admit that WWE’s hiring policy in the years before the cuts was defensive as the company sought to make the most of the new wrestling boom:
“I think a lot of it, WWE’s hiring strategy, I think a lot of it might’ve, and once again I’m not thinking for the WWE. This is just me posing a different perspective. 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. People are absorbing this content, they’re engaging. People are making a name for themselves outside of the WWE, it’s no longer a one stop shop.”
“So I think with this flux of passionate people who love sports entertainment, people do get a name for themselves outside of WWE. If the WWE feels that maybe they can be a fit in that world, they’re going to try to give that person a shot. They’re also really bullish on continuing to hire new talent.”
Cena went on to say that he believes the WWE Performance Center is at maximum capacity and business is business at the end of the day. He also reflected on being at a show in 2002 when the biggest star of all time met his end in the company and says if WWE can get rid of Stone Cold Steve Austin then only one man is truly safe:
“The NXT Performance Center is, I don’t want to say overwhelmed, but they’re at max capacity. So you have all of these performers, and a lot of them aren’t getting a chance to perform. And I think that’s the real frustrating thing, both to the WWE and the stance of the performers. And unfortunately at the end of the day, it is a business.”
“I remember when I started in WWE, I want to use the word fortunate. I was fortunate enough to be at the show in Atlanta where Stone Cold Steve Austin was fired. And that moment right there, it shot through me like a cannon. Because I got the impression ‘if they can fire Stone Cold Steve Austin, unless your name is Vince McMahon, everyone is replaceable.”
John Cena then touched on those released and says it’s a sad thing when people have a talent and they aren’t able to use it:
“I know obviously this a touchy subject and it’s going to elicit perspective from everyone, and everyone is entitled to their perspective. I think the sad thing here is people who have this gift aren’t being allowed to use it and people are out of a job. And that is the absolute saddest thing, that people no longer can work for a company they called home for a period of time.”
“I feel for everybody who’s had to go in that direction. But all of us, myself included, our journey will eventually have an end. And when you’re in it sometimes, you don’t always have that perspective.”
“I personally, from my early days in the WWE, always had the perspective that it could be over tomorrow for any or all of us. Because if they can fire Steve Austin, there’s no way I’m even close to his ability. And that means they can fire me. But that’s just the culture I was brought up in. I was brought up in biannual cuts and it happened all the time.”
“I think that WWE went through such a long period of not releasing anybody, and now they’re kind of getting back into that rhythm again. And it’s a really abrupt shift to someone who’s not familiar with that. And my heart goes out to everybody who has to get that sad news because that’s a tough conversation to have.”