The revolving doors in WWE lead to talent coming in and out of the company. Raw, Smackdown Live, NXT and the cruiserweight division all being unique brands has led one of the deepest rosters in quite some time. Each show requires talent depth and that has led to WWE aggressive going after the top free agents in the business. AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and Bill Goldberg were just three of the noteworthy signings to showcase how WWE was not playing around with acquiring top names. That will only continue in 2017 with contracts expiring and wrestlers from other promotions now being available.
Talent will not only come into WWE but we can expect many names to depart from the company as well. A lot of wrestlers are treading water or just no longer fit in the picture when it comes to the grand scheme of things in WWE. Some names just make sense to be removed from the WWE roster at some point next year. We’ll take a look at the various wrestlers that will be coming in and out of the company very soon. These are the top eight wrestlers that will be hired and the top eight that will be fired from WWE in 2017.
16 Hire: Jeff Hardy
The TNA contract of Jeff Hardy will expire in February and it will be interesting to see what he decides to do. TNA gives him creative freedom and pays him well, but they will not have much leverage with the company currently in shambles. Hardy still possesses huge name value as arguably the biggest name currently outside of the WWE. Fans treated Hardy as a legitimate main event face during the last few years in the company before he left for TNA.
Following the success of Goldberg, WWE has to look for past stars with name value that can still hang with the top stars of today. Hardy could become a fixture in the main event picture with potential great matches against new stars like Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Seth Rollins. WWE will have to approach Hardy with a worthwhile contract offer to shake up the roster at some point next year.
15 Fire: James Ellsworth
James Ellsworth has somehow found his way into a relevant spot in the main event feud on Smackdown Live. The presence of Ellsworth is valuable in the AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose feud. Ellsworth turning on Ambrose will likely unfortunately be the downfall of him. Fans got behind Ellsworth as the lovable loser and an underdog character to rally behind. The potential of his heel run is not something that could lead to results as such unless booked extremely well.
The magic of Ellsworth was probably never going to last very long regardless of his role. A lack of talent and presence has been part of the charm for his success, but that isn’t something that typically has longevity in wrestling. WWE signed him to a contract recently. However, they can fire just about any wrestler any time they want. The safe bet is on Ellsworth being kicked out of WWE when the momentum ends in 2017.
14 Hire: Kota Ibushi
WWE has found success with some of its recent signings of Japanese talents such as Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka. Hideo Itami also has a huge following despite the injury bug continuing to damper his career. One talented wrestler from Japan that has proven to be a great fit in WWE is Kota Ibushi. We watched him have outstanding matches against Cedric Alexander and TJ Perkins in the Cruiserweight Classic tournament.
Many believe Ibushi would have won it all if he agreed to a contract with WWE. They couldn’t agree on terms and he lost to Perkins in the semi-finals. Still, Ibushi was the standout star of the series and has made a few more appearances in NXT to huge ovations. WWE already has featured him on television. There’s obvious interest there and they’ll eventually reach terms on a contract soon. The cruiserweight division needing all the help it can get adds more purpose for WWE to sign Ibushi.
13 Fire: The Shining Stars
Primo and Epico have been given more than enough chances to succeed on the main roster with no success. We’ve seen them align with Rosa Mendes as their managers and receive no reaction from the crowd. WWE repackaged them to portray Los Matadors with El Torito by their side. El Torito had the only noteworthy performance of their time together in the WeeLC Match. The current stint as the Shining Stars looking to sell timeshare in Puerto Rico is also flopping horribly.
WWE spent a lot of time on vignettes for weeks before introducing them with the new gimmick. It was just a continuation of the same old story with fans just not caring about them. Primo and Epico do have talent, but they just don’t have the presence or charisma to stand out in the environment of WWE. The third strike of a new gimmick failing miserably should lead to their demise on the roster.
12 Hire: Veda Scott
The women’s division in WWE has become one of the most valuable things currently in the company. Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair have been arguably the top stars on Raw following the brand split. Becky Lynch and Nikki Bella are pivotal to the Smackdown Live roster. WWE just recently resigned Mickie James to a new contract to add depth to the women’s revolution currently going. NXT is trying to rebuild a strong women’s division after most of their best performers were called up to the main roster.
Independent women’s wrestlers will have a great opportunity to get signed in 2017. There are already rumors of a big tournament for the best female free agents to compete in at Full Sail. Veda Scott is one of the most talented women on the independent wrestling scene and just requested her release from her ROH contract. The charisma and promo skills of Scott are among the best of all female wrestlers today. Expect her to appear in the tournament and get a WWE contract.
11 Fire: Erick Rowan
The Wyatt Family currently consists of Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton and Luke Harper on Smackdown Live, and they are the most relevant the group has been in years. No one misses Erick Rowan and many forget he’s on the shelf with an injury right now. Rowan was clearly dead last in the pecking order of the Wyatt Family members every time he was in the group. The purpose of him when returning will be hard to find a slot.
WWE tried pushing Rowan as a singles star at one point back in 2014 when splitting the Wyatt Family up. Rowan flopped badly and lacked the talent needed to thrive on his own. Even if the current version of the Wyatt Family sees Orton turn against Bray, it will ultimately be better for all to go their separate ways. Harper has singles star potential and Wyatt could be a future world champion. That leads Rowan on the chopping block to get released eventually.
10 Hire: Zack Sabre Jr.
One of the most talented wrestlers to participate in the Cruiserweight Classic and not get signed was Zack Sabre Jr. Many wrestling pundits view Sabre as the best technical wrestler in the world today. Sabre had a great showing in the CWC but didn’t agree to a deal with WWE. The belief is Sabre was in the process moving out of England to the United States and needed time to get it done before committing to a contract.
Sabre is currently the PWG Champion and one of the standout performers in Evolve Wrestling. The reputation has made him a hot commodity in the free agent market. WWE having him make the semi-finals of the CWC showed a lot of faith in his skills. When Sabre makes the move to the United States, expect him to sign the deal with WWE to become a full-time member of the cruiserweight division and NXT.
9 Fire: David Otunga
The experiment of David Otunga being a color commentator for the Smackdown Live broadcasting team has been a colossal failure. Otunga is well spoken and you can understand why WWE wants to spotlight the Harvard graduate in a role like this. Sadly, he just lacks the talent for the role and is negatively impacting the presentation of Smackdown Live as they try to create interest following the brand split.
Otunga often sounds lost at commentary and can’t keep up with play-by-play man Mauro Ranallo. The lack of passion or conviction in his voice makes you think he’s reciting lines off a piece of paper rather than calling the WWE product. WWE has already allowed him a few months to show improvement and it has yet to come. They can’t go much longer with someone that ineffective as the commentary table. Otunga doesn’t do the job well and WWE will have to cut bait with him soon.
8 Hire: Candice LeRae
We have already discussed how important female talent will be to WWE and Candice LeRae is arguably the best name available. The classic matches in PWG against Adam Cole and the Young Bucks have made her a top name on the independent wrestling scene, but she can also work well against fellow female wrestlers. LeRae is the wife of NXT star Johnny Gargano and lives in Orlando with him and Tommaso Ciampa.
The convenience and her name value both make it a no-brainer to bring her in for the rumored women’s wrestling tournament coming to Full Sail in 2017. Candice will absolutely be a fan favorite and the breakout star of this event. NXT desperately needs another highly respected female wrestler to add depth to the division. There’s no one better than LeRae and next year will be huge for her career. It will be surprising if he doesn’t join her husband on the NXT roster.
7 Fire: Paige
One woman that doesn’t seem to have a place in the women’s revolution currently going down in WWE is Paige. The controversial talent is on the injury list following neck surgery. WWE didn’t believe she needed it and were reportedly unhappy about having to pay for the procedure. Paige has found herself in hot water with WWE over other issues as well recently.
The company doesn’t approve of her romantic relationship with Alberto Del Rio and tried to split them up by having them on different shows. Paige and Del Rio were both suspended for violating the wellness policy. Del Rio was granted his release from WWE, but Paige remains under contract. She has spoken out against WWE believing her suspensions were unjust. The unhappiness on both sides is likely coming to ahead in 2017. WWE rarely releases injured wrestlers so Paige could see her termination when she is healthy next year.
6 Hire: Kurt Angle
Longtime wrestling fans are heavily anticipating Kurt Angle’s eventual return to WWE. The wrestling legend left TNA earlier in the year and has been working a light schedule on select independent wrestling shows. Angle has been rumored to desperately want one more match in WWE before officially retiring from the sport. WWE fears he’s a health risk given the multitude of severe injuries he has suffered in his career.
The fact that old is new with many former stars still providing excitement again in WWE will make it more plausible for Angle to have another appearance in WWE. Whether it is one more match or a short run of matches, the potential of Angle coming back to WWE is very likely. Angle is a legend in the WWE Universe and the company owes it to the fans to play his music at least one more time to lovingly chant “You Suck” at the Olympic hero.
5 Fire: Sin Cara
The antics of Sin Cara are going to lead to his demise very soon. WWE hoped to make him a fixture in the cruiserweight division this year but he let them down due to backstage incidents. The first issue featured Sin Cara having a fight in the locker room with newcomer Simon Gotch of the Vaudevillains tag team. Considering Gotch was the new guy on the main roster, he received more heat than Sin Cara for the fight.
A second incident involving Sin Cara featured him being the one in trouble with management. During a recent trip in the United Kingdom on a tour bus, Sin Cara was being loud and obnoxious to infuriate the other wrestlers traveling. Veteran Chris Jericho spoke up and Sin Cara responded in a manner that led to a scuffle breaking out. Sin Cara was apparently snubbed from the locker room for a few weeks. The time is ticking with the irrelevant wrestler having controversial incidents that will lose his job within a few months from now.
4 Hire: Adam Cole
Ring of Honor has built the product around Adam Cole in recent years as the face of the franchise. Cole has carried the brand to the best of his abilities as a great all-around performer. The charisma, presence and potential of Cole at his young age of 27 makes him a top prospect WWE will desperately want to add to the roster. Cole’s ROH contract is expected to expire in April and WWE is rumored to have strong interest in him.
The brand split has left NXT in need of new stars. Cole is the obvious next big star to join the company. The past history with guys like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and AJ Styles makes it clear he would fit in perfectly. His potential to get even better in the following years could see ceiling surpass those guys. Cole will have the choice of signing a fat contract with ROH or leaving to sign with WWE. The latter is his dream and 2017 will be the time to make it a reality.
3 Fire: Cesaro
Cesaro is someone Ring of Honor may be able to sign to make up for upcoming roster losses. The in-ring talent of Cesaro is second to none in the wrestling world when he is allowed to perform at his best. Cesaro unfortunately has not been able to move up the card due to WWE viewing him as a midcarder at best. That doesn’t appear likely to change anytime soon and his frustration continues to grow.
Cesaro has been vocal about his unhappiness in WWE and his desire to have a new chance on the Smackdown Live roster rather than Raw. The wrestling market allowing top names to make great money outside of WWE these days will make it more appealing for Cesaro to request a release. It is unlikely we will go another year of seeing Cesaro unhappy in WWE without the two parties making a drastic change.
2 Hire: Matt Hardy
No one has done a better job reinventing their character in recent memory than Matt Hardy has in 2016. The “Broken Matt” character is the hottest thing outside of WWE. Hell, even WWE tried to copy it with their own version of the Final Deletion segment with The Wyatt Family and New Day trying to replicate Matt’s genius. Fans chant “Delete” at WWE shows and that is the biggest testament to the value of Hardy today.
Triple H is rumored to have strong interest in bringing the hot commodity back into the company after a long time away from the big stage. Hardy has gone on the record that he wants a big contract and creative control to remain in TNA. They may not be in a position to shell out the money given their financial struggles. WWE’s biggest possible signing in 2017 will be Matt and there’s no way they can let him sign elsewhere when he becomes a free agent in February.
1 Fire: Mick Foley
The brand split has led to many great things for WWE. One of the rare disappointments from the big change has been Mick Foley serving as the General Manager of Raw. Foley is still an endearing legend due to his legacy in the business, but he has struggled to be a compelling authority figure. Most of Foley’s promos are forced and come off cheesy instead of adding intensity or intrigue into a storyline.
Foley is a bit older and has struggled to fit in the way opposing Smackdown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan has for the blue brand. Vince McMahon has a history of ups and downs with Foley. The hardcore legend has been fired numerous times when WWE grows tired of him. There’s no shot Foley will be able to keep this going for another full year. Foley is absolutely going to get written off of Raw and released from his role as on-air talent in 2017.
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