On Friday, July 7th, Austin Aries was released by WWE. After the news came out, social media was abuzz about his departure, primarily because those posting didn’t want to see him go. People shared their thoughts about his departure, and it was a general disappointment like I felt myself because he has so much talent and so much skill that seeing him leave the promotion is disappointing. He immediately tweeted out that ‘It’s a beautiful day’ and followed that up with a second tweet that consisted of a banana, thumbs up and happy face emoji to show fans that everything was fine. Soon after some sources reported that he had asked for his release, rather than being released without any rhyme or reason. Soon after, though, other sources said it was WWE’s decision, and that is consistent with the known fact that he has only a 90-day non-compete rather than the longer one that wrestlers who request their release have to deal with. With his release, speculation ran rampant as to why. Well, we can be safe to assume that he wasn’t happy.

While in Ring of Honor and TNA, Austin Aries wasn’t just a competitive talent, he was a clear-cut and unmistakable star that didn’t just hold any old titles with the promotion but held both promotions’ World Championships. The prestige that comes with being chosen to be world champion is something everyone aspires to, and Aries couldn’t have been any different. A belief among many has that Aries wasn’t happy with being booked as part of the Cruiserweight division, and expected to be used in a greater capacity. Maybe the cruiserweight booking was something he initially agreed to, but that doesn’t mean he had to sit and be content with his state. As it stands, Aries departure from the promotion doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as rumor has it he was not afraid to hide his dissatisfaction with his current booking.

 

It should be noted that Aries will be just fine, as he knows he’s worth more and deserving of more. If all accounts are true, then Aries feeling he was being pigeonholed as a Cruiserweight when he is clearly capable of more is understandable. In an interesting coincidence, the release occurred five years less a day from when Austin Aries captured the TNA championship, defeating current NXT champion Bobby Roode. If the company lacked the faith that he could do for them what Samoa Joe or AJ Styles has done, they need to look no farther than the comments of current Raw General Manager Kurt Angle regarding Aries. During an interview I conducted with Angle, I asked him who he’d like to face again, and he responded with the following:

“Austin Aries. Wow, that kid is so good. I would put him up there with an AJ Styles or Samoa Joe as far as his ability to work. He is a little smaller, but he makes up for it. He reminds me of a young Chris Benoit with what he is able to do. Austin is really intense, he has a lot of skill. Not just that, but he really has a good gift of gab. He is very intelligent. He is very precise in what he says. I would have loved to go an hour with him, I think we would have lit it up. That’s the guy that, if you are asking me, (a guy) that I formerly wrestled that I would have liked to work with more, it would have been Austin.

He’s got it all. The only thing, in a wrestling world where everything is perfect, it would be great if he was six foot and 220 lbs, but he’s not. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t great. It just means that a lot of promoters like the big guy, but although he is not, he makes up for it in other ways.”

He has it all, and even the best in the company like Angle can attest to it. Aries’ departure is one of many releases of men that continue to work hard to create a niche for themselves on their own terms.

Over this past year, WWE has granted releases to a number of stars that were unhappy with their status. Afterward, we couldn’t help, but wonder what exactly they wanted that would have kept them happy. For the likes of Ryback, Jack Swagger, Alberto El Patron (Del Rio) and Cody (Rhodes), their departures were all fairly similar. In each of their cases, they weren’t happy with how they were being used. We saw a steady decline in their pushes. However, with a roster as rich and deep as WWE has, they are faced with difficult decisions. They either book those with years of service in an elevated position with prominent feuds or risk losing them. While it would be nice if everyone was used effectively and consistently, the logistics for that happening aren’t possible. The depth is needed, though, as it ensures that the company has enough talent to present multiple house shows, and can perform all over the world.

The challenge is to create fresh bookings and feuds that will interest fans and keep them excited. And some characters just haven’t been developed, and unless they are fully fleshed out and improved upon then fans won’t be drawn to them either. For instance, Jack Swagger’s ‘We the People’ catchphrase and All-American gimmick had a following, and to some extent was still effective as it drew a reaction from a live audience. However, regardless that reaction, Swagger wasn’t used on screen or in prominent feuds for some time. The All-American American was a former World champion that had not been a part of anything of significance since a feud with Albert Del Rio and Zeb Colter. It was only a matter of time before one of two things happened: Swagger was going to be released/not have his contract renewed, or he would ask for his release. A great deal should be said for someone that doesn’t just want to sit idly and take the money and without wanting to achieve more. The reason they get into the industry is that they want to perform in a prominent role.

Another member of the roster who left because he wasn’t happy with his status was Alberto Del Rio. Del Rio, who is now the unified GFW/Impact Wrestling champion, hasn’t hidden the fact that he wasn’t happy with WWE when he left. Now known as Alberto El Patron, he is quite pleased with where he is, away from his former employer. However, unlike others that have moved on and continued to aspire for greater success, El Patron continues to make comments about his former employer. Fans can understand that the booking that he received towards the end of his run certainly left a lot to be desired, but he asked for his release and it was granted. Whether or not we agree with his statements recently, he clearly holds a great deal of animosity towards the company and he is entitled to those sentiments. We didn’t experience what he did, only he can comment based on those events.

Current Ring of Honor World Champion Cody also left WWE because he wasn’t happy towards the end of his time with the promotion. It appears that was because he wasn’t pleased with having to remain as Stardust, as the gimmick had a certain shelf life, and he would have rather returned to being known as Cody once again. Unfortunately for fans of WWE, that didn’t materialize and Cody was granted his release. Since his departure from WWE, Cody has emerged as more than just a wrestler and character; he essentially has become a brand. With his involvement in Bullet Club, his matches in New Japan Pro Wrestling, his appearances with TNA and his freedom to appear at a number of independent wrestling shows all over the world, Cody is achieving exactly what he knew he was capable of doing.

It was always easy to presume that he would be successful, and his natural charisma, incredible athleticism and ability to tell a story in the ring has made his departure a positive. While his brother Dustin is still employed with WWE, serving in a role lower down the card, Cody knew he deserved more. His departure didn’t just reflect his aspirations to achieve more, but also his aspirations to make his father proud by never settling. As the American Nightmare, Cody has embraced his lineage in wrestling and ushered in a new, edgier persona that has made him even more loved and admired by wrestling fans outside the WWE. Those that attend Ring of Honor shows can see how Cody has much more creative freedom to take risks with his character that wouldn’t have been granted in WWE. It is that creativity that fans continue to embrace about Cody, especially as the face of Ring of Honor, a promotion with a much more organic feel that puts on shows in front of countless rabid fans all over North America. In seeing what Cody has achieved over the past year in TNA, NJPW, and ROH, we can’t really blame him for wanting to leave and create new career possibilities for himself.

Wrestlers will continue to need change, and whether that is forced upon them or granted to them upon their own request, it doesn’t need to be seen as a bad thing. In some cases, they may monetarily benefit from remaining with WWE, but if they can work a less demanding schedule while choosing their own direction, it should be embraced by fans. For those mentioned above, their departures happened because, if the company has had something that of interest to them, they would have been content to remain there. Their professional happiness is ultimately what takes precedence.

To read my past interview with Kurt Angle in its entirety where he discusses Austin Aries click here.

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