On the ropes: Wrestling fans express fury as WWE brutally AXES stars including Kurt Angle – despite having '$500m cash reserves'
Wrestlers have spoken of their despair and fans have turned on WWE chairman Vince McMahon after a spate of wide-ranging cuts were announced across one of the only sports still taking place during the global pandemic.
Kurt Angle, who had been with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) since its former incarnation as the World Wrestling Federation in 1998, was the highest-profile victim of a long list of fighters, staff and figures from the sport to be dropped or furloughed in a sweeping round of releases announced by the organization.
Heath Slater, a 16-year veteran and the first SmackDown tag champion, and Lio Rush, the cruiserweight champion until last December, were also dumped as part of cuts that has enraged audiences at a time when wrestlers have continued their bouts following a controversial decision by officials in Florida to deem them "essential workers."
McMahon and WWE have received fierce criticism for the cull. The longtime wrestling promoter and businessman is thought to be worth almost $2 billion and has been appointed as an advisor by Donald Trump while the US President desperately looks to reopen the country’s economy. But many of McMahon's former employees are now joining the estimated total of more than 20 million people out of work in the States.
Last week, McMahon’s XFL enterprise – a spring American football league – folded five months into its relaunch as a result of the pandemic, filing for bankruptcy and laying off almost all of its employees.
Despite remaining unable to allow crowds to the shows it continues to hold, WWE is in a much healthier financial position, recently announcing that it has “substantial financial resources” of more than half a billion dollars.
Dave Meltzer, of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, insisted that WWE “didn’t have to” reduce its wage bill. “They have $500 million cash reserves and giant TV deals,” he pointed out.
To all of my fellow co workers, whatever happens today or the remainder of this week....just know, we’re all going to be good. 🙏🏽 Once a family, forever a family. #Wrestling— Lio (@itsLioRush) April 15, 2020
“They chose to. If they were losing money, it would be very different. This is not a restaurant with no cash reserves not being able to keep its waiters, chefs or waitresses.”
Trevor Dame, of the Pro Wrestling Only podcast, said: “I'm sorry, but ‘Vince McMahon can't afford to make a sacrifice for his workforce during a pandemic’ is the wrong hill to die on. He's the guy who was prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three years on the XFL.”
Trump’s increasingly irate press conferences have included numerous mentions of sport as a catalyst for economic recovery, arguing that “we have to get our sports back” and voicing his frustration at being forced to watch archive baseball games while COVID-19 continues to cause thousands of deaths across the country.Also on rt.com 'There's a way of doing that': Infectious disease expert outlines how US sports can resume this summer (VIDEO)
The President fought with McMahon and shaved the WWE CEO’s head during a "Battle of the Billionaires" at Wrestlemania in 2011, and has now appointed him as one of 16 powerful sports executives tasked with investigating ways to resume action.
When crowds are allowed back to arenas, WWE fans will be without several of their favorite fighters.
“This is incredibly sad for the talents,” wrote one.
“I hope they’ll be to make some living in a way during this pandemic.”
Another pithily offered: “Well, f*ck coronavirus.”
The released wrestlers have been more considered in their responses so far, although Slater joked: “I’ve got to go and figure out how the hell I’m going to feed all these damn kids.”
Last time I got fired I had a really funny tweet in response to it. Doesn’t really feel appropriate today. I will say this, a lot of very talented ppl lost their jobs today and out of this disaster the PRO WRESTLING community will rise stronger than ever! 🤘🏻— Brian Myers (@TheCurtHawkins) April 15, 2020
In a tearful address to fans, six-time WWE 24/7 Champion Drake Maverick said he felt “very, very fortunate” to be able to compete in the forthcoming NXT cruiserweight contests, conceding that they are likely to be his final WWE fights.
“There are a lot of people I’m not going to get a chance to say goodbye to who I really loved and cared about. I’m like everybody else...I probably didn’t take this as seriously as it is,” admitted the Englishman.
“It’s affecting people’s lives, people’s jobs, making a living. It’s about feeding my family, my bills.”
Before the news of his release broke, former Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle told his Twitter following of more than 1.1 million that he was "struggling" and had joined the public in being "unsure of our future."
"This is the calm before the storm," he wrote. "We will bounce back and end up in a better place than we were before."
The hall of famer thanked "the best fans in the world" after the announcement and paid tribute to Howard Finkel, the ring announcer who joined McMahon's company in 1975 and was the longest tenured employee at WWE before his death earlier this week.Also on rt.com 'The greatest ring announcer of all time': WWE Hall of Fame legend Howard Finkel dies age 69