WWE Releasing a Former UFC Champ Is Huge – But Is It For Better Or Worse?

WWE quietly released former UFC champ Cain Velasquez from his contract recently following months of inactivity. While the move should have significant consequences for the future, it’s difficult — at least at the moment — to tell exactly what they might be.

Could WWE be looking to move away from big name, part-time performers? Perhaps this, coupled with the Ronda Rousey issues, could be a sign that WWE has grown more wary of employing former MMA fighters. Or, maybe WWE just wants to get back to its wrestling core and focus on its developmental stars. There’s a plethora of possibilities, but one thing is certain: Velasquez’s time in WWE has come to an end.

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The most obvious reason for letting Velasquez go is  to cut costs. WWE had to release numerous superstars in recent weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Velasquez may have had the most lucrative contract of the bunch. While the company announced the release of the other stars, it failed to mention Velasquez’s release. A report from Wrestling Observer Radio’s Dave Meltzer confirmed the news and cited a few reasons — unrelated to COVID-19 — why WWE was tempted to let Velasquez go.

According to Meltzer, Vince McMahon had become angry with the two-time UFC champ last month after he shared a photo on Twitter of himself and Rousey, who has stepped away from WWE, at the company’s headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. McMahon reportedly wanted to keep Rousey’s appearance at the HQ building a secret, unbeknownst to Velasquez. Both he and Rousey have been off television for months, with Rousey being absent since her loss at WrestleMania 35. McMahon was also said to have been upset that Velasquez publicly claimed that he’d be participating in this year’s Royal Rumble without clearing the announcement with WWE first. Velasquez ended up not being used in the event, with his last appearance for WWE coming at Crown Jewel in October 2019.

Velasquez first came across WWE’s radar in July 2018, when he trained briefly at the company’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. He decided to go back to MMA the following year and fought Francis Ngannou in a losing effort. Velasquez eventually made his professional wrestling debut in August 2019, performing for the Mexico-based promotion AAA. He appeared in six-man tag matches and quickly sparked the interest of both WWE and rival upstart AEW. Velasquez decided to sign with WWE and debuted during the company’s premiere episode of Smackdown on Fox last October.

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While in WWE, Velasquez was portrayed as a friend of Rey Mysterio who was watching his back during the “619” star’s feud with Brock Lesnar. He attacked “The Beast Incarnate” and quickly sent shockwaves throuh professional wrestling. But Velasquez only wrestled one more time in WWE after losing to Lesnar by submission, in a tag team match with Humberto Carrillo against The O.C. at a house show in Mexico City back in November.

With his release, could Velasquez’s wrestling career — at least on a mainstream level — be over? It looks like that may very well be the case. If Velasquez wants to return to MMA, he will be required to enter back into the UFC’s USADA drug testing program. The 37-year-old could also wind up signing with AEW, which has previously expressed interest in him.

WWE has been bringing in more and more big names over the years as part-time performers to help boost ratings and attract more eyes to the product. Velasquez was initially seen as a major asset for WWE, given his MMA accolades and background. But it appears that even that wasn’t enough to keep him afloat. Velasquez leaving makes him one of several part-time stars to be gone indefinitely. Edge, who recently returned on a part-time status, hasn’t been seen since WrestleMania 36 — nor has Lesnar. Goldberg’s time with WWE also appears to be over, at least for now. He confirmed after Mania that there were no more matches left on his contract and he was stepping away for a while. It appears that WWE is ready to focus more on its developmental stars and homegrown talent, rather than going into these uncertain times with part-timers — and that’s a good thing.

One of the biggest gripes that members of the WWE Universe have had is the belief that the company cares more about part-time wrestlers than it does its main roster. What better way to show this is untrue than by pushing new and current stars in different and creative ways. The upcoming Money in the Bank ladder match is a perfect example. Guys like Otis and Aleister Black will get the chance to shine alongside well-known and established talents like Rey Mysterio and Daniel Bryan in a new and creative take on the ladder match. Velasquez’s release could be a sign WWE is starting to pivot away from signing more high-priced part time performers.

At the end of the day, WWE may actually have just viewed Velasquez as a one-trick pony. Besides feuding with Brock Lesnar, whom he had history with in UFC, what else could the California native have done in WWE? There’s a few matchups that could have been interesting, such as a Velasquez vs. Bobby Lashley bout. But other than that, who else could have come across as a physical and believable threat? The Lesnar feud resulted in Velasquez getting beat in minutes, so there’s really nothing else to do there, either. Maybe at the end of the day, WWE is better off without the former UFC star.

Regardless of what happens with Velasquez’s wrestling career, the big man will always be known as one of the baddest and toughest dudes on the planet. He managed to knock off Lesnar during the height of his UFC title reign and defeated other legends like Junior Dos Santos. Velasquez had an extremely successful MMA run and will likely go into the company’s hall of fame. It’s just too bad that he wasn’t given more chances to shine in WWE.

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Former UFC star Cain Velasquez was released from WWE last week, and many feel the move may signify a shift in the company.

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