2021 was the biggest year in terms of WWE Releases with as many as 81 wrestlers getting released from their contracts due to budget cuts. Several wrestlers were deemed expensive, surplus to requirement, or not useful anymore. But, some stars also chose not to renew their deals with WWE. And then, there were those who specifically asked for their release from the company.
For all these fighters, AEW seemed an attractive destination. However, AEW was not ready to sign just anyone who left WWE. By the end of this year, only ten wrestlers switched from being part of WWE Roster to AEW Roster. Let’s see who they are.
Big Show/Paul Wight
Big Show appeared on the RAW Reunion episode on January 4, 2021. But that turned out to be his last appearance. Big Show did not like how he was treated on-screen by Randy Orton and decided not to renew his contract when it got over at the end of January.
All this was under wraps until Big Show, now going by his real name Paul Wight, was announced as a new signing by AEW. Wight joined AEW as a commentator for AEW Dark Elevation and a part-time in-ring performer. He has competed in just three matches for AEW in 2021.
Andrade El Idolo
After getting frustrated by WWE’s lack of direction, Andrade asked for his contract to be terminated. After initial resistance, WWE agreed to let him leave in March. Upon the end of his non-compete, Andrade appeared on AEW on June 4 episode of Dynamite.
Aleister Black/Malakai Black
Aleister Black spent most of his time in WWE in 2021 in pre-recorded promos for his renewed character. He made his return at an episode of SmackDown in May where he attacked Big E. However, his storyline was suddenly dropped and he was released from WWE on June 2.
Among all this, WWE made a big blunder with his contract which only had 30 days of non-compete as opposed to 90 days non-compete clause mandated for main roster stars. Therefore, it was a surprise when Black appeared on July 7, 2021 episode of Dynamite as Malakai Black.
Ruby Riott/Ruby Soho
Ruby Riott’s release on June 2 was a bit of a shocker for many WWE fans. However, the writing was on the wall with indifferent direction and poor booking. She later made her AEW debut at AEW All Out PPV as the joker in the Casino Battle Royal and went on to win the match. She has been an important part of AEW’s Women Roster ever since.
Adam Cole’s contract with WWE was until July 2021. But, he extended his stay in WWE Roster for one month with a contract extension and completed his trilogy with Kyle O’Reilly. WWE tried to persuade him to stay with some main roster plans. However, Cole’s heart was set to rejoin his Elite buddies at AEW. Cole made his debut at AEW All Out 2021 PPV to join The Elite. He has been undefeated in singles matches ever in AEW so far.
Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson
Daniel Bryan stayed at WWE for 12 years and was part of big feuds in 2021 against Roman Reigns and Edge. However, he decided not to renew his WWE contract when it expired in April.
Bryan was the third person to debut for AEW at All Out PPV. He started a feud with The Elites and quickly established himself as a big part of the AEW men’s division. He fought to memorable draws against Kenny Omega and Adam Page.
Bobby Fish was released from NXT on August 6 as part of NXT revamp. He jumped to AEW in just two months and his first match turned out to be TNT title match against Sammy Guevara. Since then, he has joined Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly in ReDragon stable.
Kyle O’Reilly’s WWE contract ended on December 7. He was written off by getting beaten up by Von Wagner. With no non-compete clause stopping him, KOR signed to be part of AEW Roster right away. He is currently part of ReDragon with Adam Cole and Bobby Fish.
Jake Atlas got released from NXT and later announced his retirement from pro-wrestling. However, he returned to the ring just a couple of months later. He returned at AEW Dark episode and shortly after that he was announced as the new member of AEW Roster.
Martinez was released from NXT on August 6. Unlike many other wrestlers on this list, Martinez did not land a job in AEW directly. She got to work with IMPACT Wrestling and many other independent wrestling promotions before finally making AEW debut on December 29, 2021.