WWE and AEW Stars Trending Toward Leaving the Companies in 2022 – Bleacher Report

February 9, 2022

For the past two years, WWE has parted ways with dozens of superstars. In 2021 alone, more than 80 pink slips were handed out because of what WWE called budget cuts. More can come at any moment in this environment, whether those wrestlers actively quit or are forced out of their jobs.
This week we saw Shane McMahon out the door. Mustafa Ali, meanwhile, awaits his requested exit. 
Lately, some of the original AEW talent's contracts have been expiring, with CEO Tony Khan exercising his right not to renew them. Wrestlers like Marko Stunt have started taking bookings elsewhere, signaling more than a few stars are not full-time members of the roster anymore.
Sometimes, the writing is on the wall about a wrestler's future. Because of bad booking, a lack of screen time or little projected value, fans can often guess who may be on the outs soon enough.
By no means does this mean wishing for their release, but let's keep all this in mind and look at some of the stars from WWE and AEW who are trending toward possibly leaving this year.

In April 2016, WWE signed the 6'9" Babatunde Aiyegbusi to the Performance Center. For two years, he only wrestled on NXT house shows before making his televised debut at the Greatest Royal Rumble.
Unfortunately, it was back to the house show circuit for another two years, outside of some time on Raw Underground, where he was repackaged as Dabba-Kato.
In June 2021, he was given another character shift to Commander Azeez and paired up with Apollo Crews.
Since then, he's wrestled a grand total of 12 times, which includes non-televised house shows and Main Event—the two shows, along with 205 Live, which WWE treats as non-canon.
Normally, when WWE sees someone of his stature, the stars are given a massive push right out of the gate. Even when they can't wrestle well, they still have matches and beat the tar out of the rest of the roster. Just see The Great Khali and his run, which included a world title reign.
With Azeez, he's just the backup for Crews and seemingly nothing more. WWE has treated the 7'3" Omos entirely different, giving him the Raw Tag Team Championship, a Battle Royal win at Survivor Series and a prominent spot in the Royal Rumble—a match Azeez didn't even compete in.
Since WWE has such little affinity for tag teams and managers, Azeez has a limited life span as a bodyguard. Because WWE hasn't done anything with him to separate him from Crews, it's not going to happen, and he will be affected by a round of budget cuts soon enough.

When a faction loses its anchor, that's a bad sign. Pretty Peter Avalon recently had to explain that he is indeed still being on the active roster, but at least he was a true member of the roster. 
Cezar Bononi, JD Drake and Ryan Nemeth have been largely used as an even lower level of enhancement talent, and they are almost exclusively wrestling on AEW Dark and AEW Dark: Elevation. Often, those wrestlers are signed to the bare minimum contracts of just agreeing to appear with some exclusive dates, if anything at all. Essentially, they are on retainer, but not officially on the roster.
Since Bononi, Drake and Nemeth haven't reached a level where they are used on Dynamite or Rampage in any meaningful way, it's safe to assume they are viewed as supplemental guys. If AEW needs to call on any of them, it has their numbers, but with this faction no longer having a leader, there's less of a reason to call on them instead of any of the multitude of wrestlers out there who could do the same job.

At this point last year, Cesaro had signed a new contract and was getting a push to face Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 37 in arguably the biggest match of his career. He even fought Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship.
Since then, he's fallen down the pecking order considerably. Why was he not even in the men's Royal Rumble match? He's important enough to keep this feud with Sheamus and Ridge Holland going, but seemingly he and Ricochet are just there to be opponents rather than to be featured.
CEO Vince McMahon made it clear in the past that he doesn't think Cesaro has what it takes to be a main event talent, and his booking over his entire WWE career has shown that mindset will not change. Cesaro knows this. He even liked a tweet expressing frustration at it.
AEW would almost certainly welcome him with open arms, so it's amazing he hasn't requested his release to leave him free to jump ship to a company that would appreciate his in-ring skills and possibly give him a chance at something more than being stuck in the midcard before his prime years are up.

TH2 has been entirely lost in the shuffle. Despite being part of AEW's foundation and in a faction, Angelico and Jack Evans had an awful 2021.
The last time they won a match was August, which was not only on Dark but also came against Jay Freddie and Marcus Kross. If you look for the last time either man beat someone who was on the proper roster, you have to go back to Top Flight from November 2020.
Since The Hardy Family Office is a mess and transitioning into more of an Andrade faction than anything else—wherein there's even less of a reason for TH2 to be around—things aren't looking so good for them. If you're not even used as the losers anymore, what are you bringing to the table?

On the My Love Letter to Wrestling podcast, Finn Balor told NXT UK Superstar Mark Andrews that his most recent stint in NXT came about because he was stale on the main roster (h/t to Wrestling Inc's Cedric Welton)
Using words like "exhausted" and that he had been "worn out of dealing with the politics in the office and the writers and everything that goes with it" speaks to Balor not being happy on Raw or SmackDown for quite some time.
Yet here he is, back on the red brand, doing not much of anything at all. Since being sent over there in the draft, he's yet to have a solid feud and often just pops up here and there before taking several weeks off.
That includes missing out on the Royal Rumble. Then again, all he was doing before that was acting as a stepping stone for Austin Theory, so he didn't exactly have momentum on his side. But as a former world champion, he would have at least been another fan favorite and a relatively big name involved.
Balor's never been one of the golden children on the main roster. In NXT under Triple H's guidance, he was a big deal, but he's always in the B+ territory on Raw or SmackDown.
For someone who appreciates creative freedom and knows what it's like to wrestle outside the WWE system, the appeal of AEW, New Japan Pro-Wrestling or elsewhere has to be strong, especially with WWE not doing much to show he's valued.

When Ali is eventually granted his release, that will mean only Mace and T-Bar are left from Retribution after the departures of Mia Yim (aka Reckoning), Shane Thorne (aka Slapjack) and Mercedes Martinez (aka Retaliation).
Unfortunately, things aren't looking quite so hot for those two, either.
Mace hasn't been seen since being drafted to SmackDown outside of appearing in the crowd to cheer Cleopatra's egg at Survivor Series. That's hardly a good sign.
T-Bar's in a much better position, but that's not saying much. He's wrestling nearly every week on Main Event but only winning about half the time.
Credit to him, he always tweets about it and tries to offset how meaningless Main Event is. But no matter how talented he is, WWE isn't giving him a chance to succeed. In NXT, Dominik Dijakovic was one of the standout talents and always putting on great matches, but it feels like he's just some extra on Raw.
The future could be bright for both of them, but not when WWE wants to turn off the lights.

Joey Janela's contract is up in May. Most of his attention for the past year has been on other companies, namely GCW, where he wrestles much more frequently.
In fact, the last time Janela wrestled on Dynamite was in May—one of only two matches he had in AEW last year that wasn't on Dark or Dark: Elevation.
His win-loss record indicates that if he's against enhancement talent, he'll win, but anyone on the proper roster will beat him, save for the even more hapless Sonny Kiss.
When he first came into AEW, he was treated like one of the big stars. He was quickly eclipsed by many others, though, and doesn't appear to be a priority.
In all likelihood, he would love to stay contracted with AEW in a deal that allows him to keep working elsewhere, but AEW would probably rather keep people in house. In a choice between staying in one spot or having more freedom, Janela is likely going to choose not to sign everything over to AEW. His contract will expire, and he'll be brought in for guest spots and random matches here and there but not something that puts him on par with the core roster.

Who would have thought a few months back that the more recent signing of Shanky and the former WWE champion Jinder Mahal would have less going on right now than Veer Mahaan, who isn't even appearing on Raw?
Those "Veer is coming to Raw" vignettes are worthless and still more valuable than what Mahal and Shanky have been doing on SmackDown since the draft. If they appear at all, they are tossed out to lose.
Considering how WWE was quick to release a much more prominent talent like Bray Wyatt, being a former world champion isn't going to save The Modern Day Maharaja or his sidekick, who has shown little to no improvement.
Shanky also suffers from the Azeez problem of being a tall guy who hasn't been prioritized while Omos is there taking up all the real estate.
If WWE is indeed looking to cut costs and not just using that as a catch-all excuse to fire people on a regular basis, Mahal's $900,000-per-year deal is a rather big one. If Dave Meltzer's numbers from Wrestling Observer Newsletter are correct, Mahal earns more than Alexa Bliss and Asuka combined and more than Sasha Banks, Drew McIntyre and even Charlotte Flair (h/t ITN WWE's Mohit Raghuwanshi).
How that's justifiable, considering the way he's used compared to the others, is mind-boggling. Sooner or later, WWE will look at those numbers and likely decide it's time for him to go yet again.

There are a few other names who should be brought up but don't give as much of a call for concern.
Brian Cage hasn't had a great few months in AEW. All the chatter revolving around him is about how poorly he's been booked and how he could be leaving when his contract is up, so it wouldn't be shocking to see him depart. Still, he's one of the company's bigger names, so it would be interesting if AEW didn't just try to give him a better spot instead.
To a certain limit, Michael Nakazawa has reached his peak. Brandon Cutler is a better fall guy and used more often. Depending on the deal Nakazawa has, he could be on the outs or given a lesser contract.
Chaos Project is in danger, but Luther could find himself transitioning to just a coaching position while Serpentico remains a regular jobber, as he's one of the most frequently utilized enhancement talents.
Drew Gulak's chances to survive 2022 in WWE aren't good, either. He's rarely seen anymore and has only had a few short on-screen stints when he wasn't a comedic character. WWE would at least be wise to keep him on as a trainer, but it would be great to see him get a push higher up on the ladder rather than a push out the door.
Of course, any number of NXT stars are on the chopping block too, as NXT 2.0 hasn't exactly been successful and NXT UK has never been a huge draw. Superstars on the losing and/or stagnant end such as Ru Feng, Guru Raaj, Levi Muir and Dani Luna may not have much time left if things don't pick up.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.
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