If it feels like I come here every four to six weeks or so to bemoan WWE’s latest release and wonder how they could waste such a talent so thoroughly that they’re simply discarded like the recycling, it’s kind of because I do. We could do this all day, and by now you probably already have your own list of wrestlers that just inspire disbelief at the thought of the missed opportunity. All these things we could have been, and they could have done, instead of just running the New Day and the Usos at each other for the 783rd time in the past five years. (And I love all of those guys, but could we get them new dance partners for their own sanity?)
Last week’s releases felt particularly harsh, given the simply horrific and heartless optics preceding them. Just mere hours before the wave of announcements, WWE had its earnings call for Q3 where they announced record revenues of $255 million. The stinger in it was Stephanie McMahon hopping on the call to announce “bad news,” which was The Miz getting booted off Dancing With the Stars. A couple of hours later, the company was costing more people their jobs and dreams. Even Scrooge would have tugged his collar at how that looked.
And it makes for simply stupefying reading when WWE announced that these releases were for “budget cuts.” What budget needs cutting? Every wallet and vault and account in Connecticut is bursting at the seams with cash. Did they really expect us to believe that belt-tightening was a viable excuse? Say, what does all that blood money from Saudi Arabia go to, anyway?
But this is the way, and not just in WWE, but really all of corporate America. Why stop at the insane profits you have that you couldn’t have possibly dreamed of even five years ago when there’s even more to be had? Who cares who gets in the way? It’s never enough.
Some of the names weren’t surprising, given that they hadn’t showed up on TV in months or at all. Some were, given what they had done in the company before or were currently doing. But really, the name that grabbed everyone’s attention immediately was that of Keith Lee.
To put a fine point on it, you have to go miles and miles out of your way to fuck up Keith Lee. Two years ago it wouldn’t have even seemed possible. That’s when Lee was given the prime spot at Survivor Series, and in the main event was the last man standing with Roman Reigns. They put him right next to the company’s biggest star, their most prized possession, and gave him that rub. Immediately, everyone was dreaming of a Reigns-Lee WrestleMania main event somewhere down the line. Just two months later, he was given a prime spot in the Royal Rumble, getting some one-on-one time with Brock Lesnar, Vince McMahon’s binky. It seemed like WWE got it with Lee, which was different from pretty much every other star who had come up from NXT to the main roster. Lee looked to have avoided that path. If only.
And that’s the thing with Lee. It’s incredibly easy to get. He’s this enormous teddy bear, both physically and personally, according to those who have interacted with him, except he can also do crazy moonsaults and flips and dives and whatever you need. He looks like a nose tackle who’s doing wide receiver shit. Maybe he isn’t the greatest on the mic (which has never stopped WWE before) but his personality simply bleeds through a screen and over a crowd from the ring.
He’s also responsible for maybe the best wrestling gif of the past ten years.
WWE has been screaming out for more straight faces in the company. Drew McIntyre carried it for a while, Big E has it now, but that’s about it. You can have more than two in all, and more than one on each show. There’s certainly a huge need for one to be over enough and credible enough to take on Reigns and give the fans the belief that he might actually win. They’ve had to repackage Lesnar to do it, for fuck’s sake. It was a role perfectly cut out for Lee. And they couldn’t even come close, nor did they even try. With just a scant amount of effort, they could have turned Lee-Reigns into something everyone would want to see. They couldn’t even be bothered to lift a finger. Here’s Baron Fucking Corbin again.
One only has to go back to Lee’s matches in NXT with Dominik Dijakovic or Cole to see what the man is capable of. It’s funny that Lee got on WWE’s radar by simply tearing everything down during WrestleMania week. Mania is a ton more than just the big show on the weekend — pretty much every company in the country sets up a show somewhere during the week, and especially on the weekend. You get multiple chances to see one performer if you want to work hard enough, and back in 2017 Lee was everywhere in Orlando. His combination of size, athleticism, and charisma basically had him as the biggest indie star in the world at that point. And now it feels like that cycle is disappointingly, dejectedly closed.
It is likely that AEW will be all over Lee once his non-compete is up in February. Because AEW knows when it sees something they don’t have to mess with. He’ll get a huge roar the minute he steps out from the curtain, he’ll proceed to have great match after great match — because that’s what he does — and that’s all it will take. They won’t care that he’s not a CM Punk or Eddie Kingston-level promo. They’ll just let him do incredible shit in the ring and let that be the story. By the time we circle back to this point on the calendar in 2022, Lee could very likely be one of AEW’s biggest stars.
And all they’ll do is let Lee be Lee and be seen. It’s all WWE had to do. And they couldn’t manage it before tossing him aside for another couple of coins in the couch cushions, as far as they’re concerned. It’ll be their loss that they won’t notice, but soon it’ll be our gain.