The WWE has been around for many years. It has developed into a global empire with record breaking profits. However, over those years, there have been walk outs, many talents requesting releases, releases during a pandemic despite the same record profits, WWE talents sitting backstage doing nothing after being called up from developmental NXT and accusations stemming from domestic abuse and unprofessional behavior, a business deal with Saudi Arabia, the company ignoring what fans want, and most importantly the talents being independent contractors. The recent situation with talents Sasha Banks and Naomi is just yet one more example of how the company needs to address the systemic problem they have.
Two of the most known walk outs of all time in the company are Stone Cold Steve Austin and now AEW wrestler CM Punk both citing creative differences. In the year 2002, Stone Cold Steve Austin would no show a Monday Night Raw when asked to do the job to Brock Lesnar in an unadvertised match on Monday Night Raw. The following Raw, the WWE would advertise that “He” would be on Raw leading fans to believe that Austin would be on to tell his side of the story. Instead, The Rock showed up trying to humiliate Austin by telling him if you don’t like being here “get the F out”. On January 27, 2014, CM Punk would no show Monday Night Raw and according to Punk told Vince McMahon and Triple H that they have “stifled him and created a very toxic environment and he no longer wanted to be there” During the Summer of Punk in 2012, he was given a 434 day title reign working through many injuries but still WWE never really let Punk get to the absolute top with the likes of John Cena and others despite selling merchandise like them and audiences globally reacting as such as well. The following year despite Punk carrying the WWE on his shoulders he would be pushed aside for a John Cena vs The Rock WrestleMania 28 Main Event. After Punk walked out on WWE there was a Raw in Chicago Illinois his hometown. The company would blare his music over the speakers but out would walk Paul Heyman which was an attempt to humiliate Punk much like WWE tried to do with Stone Cold in 2002.
Here we are in 2022, in yet another situation with a walk out however with social media much more prevalent than during Austin and Punk this has actually received National news attention. In May of 2022, two African American women talents walked out before Monday Night Raw (though WWE is claiming they walked out during the show). However, unlike previous times, the WWE has purposely turned this into a public mess. They released a statement citing not only the walk out but that Sasha Banks and Naomi refused to work with two talents in a 6 woman match because they were “unsafe” despite facing those same talents many times before. In typical WWE fashion they went above and beyond to try to humiliate two women who have both taken time off to focus on mental health issues in their career. On live TV, the WWE would announce they are indefinitely suspended and they “let millions of people down”. The truth is this match was not even advertised so WWE didn’t even have to announce the match knowing both talents were leaving the building. These same talents were promised major matches at WrestleMania 38 which means a bigger payday and both matches were taken away from them when Ronda Rousey returned. Despite that fact, these two women came up with the idea to team up and got very over as a team and became merch pushers and in turn WWE treated them as second rate. The lack of disrespect was apparent with them getting 3-5 minutes of TV time most weeks, no stories and not letting them appear on Pay Per Views even being champions.
While actions have consequences please find me another sports or business that tries to publicly smear two talents over a labor dispute. The NFL just this year has faced many trade requests or release requests and did they handle it with a public smear campaign? No they did not. They handed it in a professional way. WWE wants to tout “unprofessional “ behavior but then want to publicly try to tear down and smear reputations of two women that in the last few years have dealt with mental health issues
The WWE in the last 5-10 years have tried to sign every free agent that became available from the Indies, Japan, and other wrestling companies in an effort to hoard talent and keep them away from the upcoming AEW that was coming in 2019. One of the same women who recently walked out Sasha Banks in 2019 actually requested her release from the company citing “burn out” and “this place has just become too big it’s swallowing me”. The company would decline the request and tell her to take 30 days to re evaluate. There have been numerous other talents to have request their release from the company only to be denied yet again. The most recent one was Mustafa Ali who publicly on Twitter announced that he had requested his release. Despite the WWE not even really using him at all they denied the request. They left him off TV for about 6 months before they brought him back due to the public support he had to get released with a #freeAli movement and still have really done nothing substantial with him.
During the global pandemic over the last few years, the company would release over 200 personnel from talents to producers. Why would they do this during a pandemic when they would always refuse to let them out of contracts beforehand? You choose the worst economic time in many years to grant those wrestlers who asked (and others) their release? Many of them luckily were able to catch on in AEW, Impact and other places however there are still quite a few that are not employed. Don’t get me wrong, a business has to be able to survive themselves but this was a business that despite the hundreds of releases would tout record breaking profits. How many NFL, MLB, NHL and other athletes were fired during the pandemic? What a terrible look.
Another major problem with the WWE system is they have no plans in place whatsoever. They can’t even give their main talents ample notice for what they will be doing on TV that week. This is even worse for talents who were thriving in NXT only to be called up to Raw or Smackdown with no plans in place for a lot of them. There were actually some called up during the global pandemic with no creative plans in place who ended up released in the many mass releases the company had. For those who weren’t released what are they doing? Let’s take women like Shotzi Blackheart and Xia Li two prominent talents in NXT; Shotzi barely gets on television and when is the last time Xia Li made an appearance? Is it possible they are going to be released in the near future despite getting no real chance to prove themselves?
There have been numerous accusations against WWE men stars such as Matt Riddle who is currently in one of the top main event programs with Randy Orton and the Bloodline. They have been tag champions and featured prominently on TV despite the allegations. There has been pictures providing physical proof. The company did nothing but reward the talent. One other talent being prominently featured is Jimmy Uso (husband of Naomi) who has had many DUI arrests and even got into altercations with police from them. He received no punishment and him and his brother Jey are part of the biggest story in the company and now are undisputed tag team champions. For a company that touted “unprofessional” recently to two black women walking out before a show, it sure seems like they have turned a blind eye to other unprofessional behavior from the men recently.
Then of course there is the billions of dollar deal with Saudi Arabia that actually started the year a United States reporter was murdered in Saudi Arabia. For years a company that preaches “equality” and a “womens revolution” could not even have women perform on those shows due to situations in Saudi Arabia. The men therefore were the only ones getting premiere paydays. Thankfully that has changed and women are now allowed to perform there tho they have to cover up every part of their body to do so. This business deal doesn’t look to professional for “equal opportunity” does it?
Another issue facing the WWE is booking of talents and ignoring what fans want in order for the WWE to push their own agenda. The company has seemed to forget just why they became a global empire in the first place and it’s because the fans have stuck with them. However, today the ratings are record low, tv events attendance is the lowest it’s ever been as are live events this despite the WWE still making record profits. The WWE recently is going as far as to piping in crowd noises to trick fans into thinking the ones they want are “over” (popular) and that it’s because of them that WWE is the juggernaut it is. However, there is data out there that proves this to be a fallacy. In fact, one of the women Sasha Banks who recently walked out, has been proven to do more for the company than others who have been pushed over her. In 2020, she would actually appear in season 2 of the Mandalorian and WWE not once would mention it on Raw or Smackdown despite being the Smackdown Women’s champion no less. However for talents like Roman Reigns (Hobbs and Shaw), Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss (punky Brewster reboot appearance) they went out of their way to mention it on TV.. As the Wrestletalk podcast stated about Sasha Banks “they want you to be a crossover star as long as it’s not Sasha Banks”. They also said “they want you to be a crossover star as long as they want you to be one”. Funny enough, the WWE also never really promoted Dave Bautista years ago when he first appeared as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. Furthermore, unless you are a champion in WWE women have very little chance of getting on a Pay Per View unlike the men who have multiple non title matches despite clearly doing less business for the company which further denies women a payday.
Finally, we come to “independent contractors”. The talents are responsible for everything. They are responsible for their own insurance, lodging, travel cars, scripted to say what they can and can not say, what to wear. The company treats them as if they are an employee but with no perks or responsibility to the talents to go with it. The WWE can release a talent and break the contract but a disgruntled talent isn’t allowed to do so themselves. How can a company who is making billions tout unprofessional behavior then turn around and pretty much ignore talent’s concerns over their careers that it gets to the point they want to be released or just walk out?
Sasha Banks and Naomi walking out recently of Monday Night Raw is just yet another example of the systemic problem in WWE. They are making record breaking profits and because of it think there’s nothing wrong going on in the company. If that were true, why are many talents asking for a release, why are talents still walking out, and why are tv viewership numbers record lows? It seems that with WWE becoming a global empire they have forgotten what made that possible. The talents that give their all for them and the fans that gave them their hard earned money. For a company that wants to tout some talents are unprofessional due to creative differences they might want to look in a mirror.