On April 16, 2019, Brodie Lee (formerly Luke Harper) publicly requested his release from WWE. Lee was sidelined for the second half of 2018 after undergoing wrist surgery and though he was cleared in early February 2019, wasn't brought back for a match until March and was never used in a major program for the first quarter of the year.
Speaking on Talk is Jericho, Lee detailed the months leading up to him deciding he was ready to leave the company.
"One of my last, the one that was like 'fuck this place,' I sat outside Vince's office -- I had been off for so long [after the Bludgeon Brothers broke up] -- I sat outside his office for three hours. Everyone leaves and Michael Hayes walks out and is like, 'I'm the last one.' I knock on the door and he goes, 'I don't want to see anybody right now.' I'm like, 'mother....' [He didn't know I was out there]. I'm going to leave, I threw my pitches in the garbage. Shawn Spears goes, 'he's in his other office.' Before I left, I gave him one final pitch, he's eating salad, and he's like 'I'll look at these on the plane.' I knew that was it," he recalled.
Lee figured Vince would never look at his pitches as he said he was going to do, leading to Lee becoming more frustrated. Lee did finally get the eyes of McMahon via text and was used in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 35, thinking it was going to lead to something more, but it didn't work out that way.
"Then I remember, somebody gave me his number. What did I have to lose? I texted him, 'Hey man, just wondering what's going on with my career?' This was right before WrestleMania 35. He asked me, 'Why aren't you in the Andre battle royal?' I said, 'Sir, that's a question that you should probably be able to answer.' I have nothing to lose. He goes, 'Well you are now.' That week in the meetings, he had chastised some of the writers like, 'How do we leave this guy off and him not have anything? Let's come up with something for him.' Oh. It worked. We got a sheet and I was one of the last two or three. When we got there, they have kayfabed us on the end of the battle royal and there were like ten other people after me. Demoralized again, but no problem."
Following WrestleMania 35, there was an idea to use Lee alongside Sami Zayn, but Lee felt the role was similar to what he had always done in WWE, which further added to his irritation. And in the end, they never went with the idea, which led to Lee posting his public request online.
"Then, I was going to be Sami Zayn's heater," began Lee. "I go, 'Fuck, man. That's exactly what I don't want to do.' That's what I've done my entire career. I don't want to be behind anybody, I want to do my own thing. I said, 'I'm gonna make it work.' I was supposed to debut on SmackDown after Mania and it got canceled. I said, 'Okay, that's it.' I went home, talked to my wife and she goes, 'If you don't want to be there, don't be there. Ask them for your release.' I did and I remember Vince called me and we had two, 20-minute conversations and we just talked like humans. Vince is very almost robot-like, but when you talk to him, he's a good person. He's like, 'What do you want, do you want more money? Do you want a push?' I'm like, 'No, at this point, I don't want either of that.' I also didn't realize that other people had asked for their releases, but not publicly. Hunter had told me later, he goes, 'We can't release you, it's gonna make it look like people are jumping off the sinking ship.'
He continued, "I never said anything negative about them online. I wanted to do it publicly because I knew the court of public opinion was very important to the next move I was going to make. To have the support was important. I also didn't want them to be able to control my narrative. Now, if they sit me at home, people know that I wanted out and I wasn't just content. Spears had done the same thing a few months earlier and they granted his release. Honestly, I thought they were going to do it. After the second conversation with Vince, he called me and said, 'for business reasons, I can't let you go.' I said, 'That's fair. It's your decision. I signed the contract. Can I get out in November?' because they added six months because of a wrist injury. He said, 'That's a question for somebody else.' We left it at that."
Lee was released on December 8, 2019, three months before his contract officially expired on March 25, 2020. The release allowed Lee to sign with AEW a couple of weeks early as his non-compete clause following his release expired before his contract would have expired.
Lee debuted on AEW Dynamite on Mar. 18 when it was revealed that he was The Exalted One of the Dark Order.
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