WWE releases 2020: full list of NXT and main roster superstars cut by Vince McMahon amid coronavirus pandemic - including Rusev and Mike Chioda
It's a strange time for most sectors, with coronavirus wreaking havoc on the intricacies of every day life
But consider the already strange world of professional wrestling, where men and women in trunks simulate hard-hitting, physical combat for the enjoyment and entertainment of others.
The biggest, and most famous, wrestling promotion out there is WWE, but it seems not even a multi-million dollar entertainment company is immune to the effects of the novel virus.
Yesterday (15 April), following a company wide conference call to employees that was reported to have lasted only five minutes, WWE released an unprecedented number of its staff, spurred on by Covid uncertainty that many of us are feeling.
These kinds of talent releases are not uncommon, and the company often makes cuts to shore up its budgets and get rid of any underutilised wrestlers.
But the sheer number of this week's releases has sent shockwaves throughout the wrestling world, an industry that is infamously non-unionised, particularly in its upper "leagues".
Who has been released?
At the time of writing WWE has released over 30 employees, a list of names that includes not just wrestlers, but backstage producers, commentators and trainers.
The 20+ wrestlers who have been released by the company include British grappler Drake Maverick, who posted an emotional video to Twitter shortly after the news broke.
The list of names also includes married couple Mike and Maria Kanellis, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (who technically appeared as part of a Wrestlemania 'main event' match in early April) and Hall of Famer Kurt Angle, who was working in a backstage role at the time.
Some of the names - including Heath Slater and Zack Ryder - had been with the company for around 15 years.
The full list of released wrestlers is as follows (real names in brackets):
- Drake Maverick (James Curtin)
- Curt Hawkins (Brian Myers)
- Karl Anderson (Chad Allegra)
- Luke Gallows (Drew Hankinson)
- Heath Slater (Heath Miller)
- Aiden English (Matthew Rehwoldt)
- Eric Young (Jeremy Fritz)
- EC3 (Michael Hutter)
- Lio Rush (Lionel Green)
- Kurt Angle
- Sarah Logan (Sarah Rowe)
- Mike Chioda
- Primo (Edwin Colon)
- Epico (Orlando Colon Nieves)
- Rowan (Joseph Ruud)
- Mike Kanellis (Mike Bennett)
- Maria Kanellis
- Zack Ryder (Matthew Cardona)
- No Way Jose (Levis Valenzuela)
- Rusev (Miroslav Barnyashev)
- Deonna Purrazzo
- Aleksandar Jaksic
It's also been reported that talent working for the company's 'developmental' NXT brand - where wrestlers hone their craft before they are 'called up' to WWE's bigger shows - have been given 30 days pay, after which they have been told they are "free to do whatever they want."
How is WWE handling coronavirus?
It's been a bit of a weird time for the company.
Earlier this month they hosted Wrestlemania - normally an annual Superbowl-style showcase of wrestling talent held in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans - at the company's Performance Centre in Orlando, Florida.
Essentially a glorified gym used to train up the newest recruits, the Performance Centre shows were empty of fans, filmed with a limited crew and entirely devoid of atmosphere.
Many fans had called for the complete postponement of the event ahead of its pre-recorded broadcast, but strangely, Wrestlemania 36 didn't turn out as bad as many had predicted.
There were a number of matches that were genuinely worth watching, and WWE even got round Covid-imposed restrictions by filming certain high-profile bouts in a 'cinematic' style.
A 'match' between wrestler turned Hollywood actor John Cena and his rival Bray "The Fiend" Wyatt more resembled an extended scene from Being John Malkovich, for instance.
A deep dive into Cena's psyche that referenced everything from his WWE debut to fans' continued calls for him to "turn heel" (bad guy), it was divisive sure.
But for a twisted take on the usual pro-wrestling format, it has to be seen to be believed.
How can WWE continue at this time?
The company have been broadcasting their weekly 'live' shows from their Performance Centre for a number of weeks now, albeit in a pre-taped form. But this week, they switched back to live broadcasting.
That was initially in direct conflict with state-wide orders issued by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, but DeSantis later clarified the lockdown measures, and deemed WWE an "essential" business, delivering entertainment to a nation suffering under the crisis.
WWE have been quick to point out they're taking the "current circumstances" (they noticeable refuse to mention coronavirus by name on-air) seriously, screening talent before they're allowed on the premises of any filming.
But with many of the more established members of the roster not living in the Orlando area, that means they're having to fly in to each show.
That includes older members of the cast, including commentator Jerry "The King" Lawler, who's 70 years old and suffered a legitimate, on-air heart attack during a show in 2012.
Oh, and since this week's Monday Night RAW, he's been under fire for referring to the move of Japanese wrestler Akira Tozawa as the "Ramen Noodle Moonsault."
What are other wrestling companies doing?
Wrestling is in a weird place right now (this article only scratches the surface). Companies smaller than WWE have ceased all events indefinitely.
New Japan Pro Wrestling (arguably the world's second biggest wrestling company) this week banded together with other promotions from Japan to argue that professional-wrestling should be the last 'sport' to be revived post-Covid; the health of talent and fans is far more important.
A difference in culture which is to be applauded.
WWE ploughs on regardless, spearheaded by its 74-year old CEO Vince McMahon, a personal friend of Donald Trump, and the man behind a product that has been waning in quality (and the number of fans tuning in) dramatically for years.