Shazza AEW, NXT
Shazza McKenzie told Fightful that she'd spoken with Brandi Rhodes back in November of 2018, and that Brandi would like to get her involved in AEW somehow. Unfortunately for Shazza, issues with visas complicated things and she wasn't able to make it as soon as she'd liked. She attended Double or Nothing in person, and was told by Brandi she wouldn't be able to work All Out because of the visa complications. However, a couple of weeks before All Out 2019, she was asked if she was available and made the trip in. She was put in touch with Christopher Daniels to work a November 2019 AEW Dark match when she was in the states for a SHIMMER taping. She clarified she hadn't been in touch with AEW much since the pandemic for obvious reasons.
Shazza also told us a story of her first NXT booking, which also involved her being in Florida for a SHIMMER taping. She was already planning on attending an NXT show to see Peyton Royce and Billie Kay perform, when she was told that NXT wanted her to work a match at the urging of Tenille Dashwood. Shazza had to rush to find gear that would work on television.
Fightful reported recently that WWE wanted Matt Riddle to sign his new contract before the calendar turned over to 2021, and were actually able to get him to do so. However, reports emerged recently claiming that Riddle had not yet signed that deal. Not only did Fightful confirm again that Riddle has signed and submitted his new contract, but that it actually replaces the one that he'd signed in the summer of 2018. Instead of that simply being an extension tacked on to his original expiration this summer, it's an entirely new contract that has him signed with WWE through the end of 2023. The deal was signed just before the last week of December.
We haven't seen Kip Sabian in the ring for quite some time, and All Elite Wrestling sources have indicated it's because he's been sidelined from active competition with an injury. Sabian hasn't wrestled since early December, but has been figured into the television program and storyline plans with the Best Friends feud. With his on-screen wedding, many didn't notice he'd been out of the ring as he's still prominently featured on television. We reached out to Sabian for confirmation but haven't heard back.
NXT Star Wasn't Originally Planned For Royal Rumble
The Women's Royal Rumble match had plenty of surprises, as they announced only 16 entrants ahead of time. WWE went beyond and had additional names on hand in the event that some of the entrants couldn't make it. One of those names that couldn't make it was Mia Yim, now known as Reckoning. Fightful learned that Toni Storm actually wasn't originally planned for the Rumble match, and ended up serving as an alternate when Yim couldn't make it. Kacy Catanzaro, who was also at the venue, was another alternate WWE had ready in case someone else went down.
Matt Cardona-IMPACT Update
Matt Cardona still doesn't have a contract with IMPACT Wrestling, and based on what he told us at Fightful, he likes the method in which he's working right now. Cardona said that he has committed to working the next set of tapings with IMPACT, and likes the freedom of being able to do what he wants. He actually got the call to do the IMPACT Hard to Kill show and set of tapings the Friday before the event, and had just started to get back in the ring to sharpen up. We'll have a full interview up with Matt Cardona in a week or two.
PWInsider revealed that Lars Sullivan had parted ways from WWE. Fightful has learned a lot more about his time there.
Sullivan was set for a major push, and programs pitched with both John Cena and Brock Lesnar -- one for WrestleMania in 2019 when he was first brought in. However, personal issues prevented Sullivan from appearing.
Around that time, abhorrent comments that Sullivan made on a forum years prior emerged, causing Sullivan to be fined. We heard from countless WWE wrestlers who said the normally reserved Sullivan approached them personally and apologized for the comments, chalking it up to ignorant trolling when he was younger.
Sullivan's knee injury was a major derailing of his career. Initially WWE always had a June 2020 internal listing for his return, but Sullivan had thought he'd be back much sooner as he'd dealt with knee issues in the past. As it turned out, at points it looked like his knee injury could be career threatening, and was much worse than he'd experienced.
When an adult video of Lars Sullivan made the rounds, we were constantly reiterated by WWE officials that it would have no bearing on his push, and there was no heat on him as a result. However, wrestlers told us that there was no way Vince McMahon would look at him the same again after the video released. Sullivan had been a favorite of McMahon's upon his call-up in 2019.
Many that we spoke to in November had no idea the creative direction or intention of Lars Sullivan's promos, particularly the shirtless one with Michael Cole. A high-level WWE source had sad that it "seemed like sabotage or a test" to put Sullivan in such a spot.
Fightful reached out to Lars Sullivan, and actually heard back from him when the news dropped on Tuesday. He confirmed the release happened, and was surprised WWE didn't announce it themselves. He chalked it up to them being nice about them, and was very complimentary of how they handled his departure, saying they did it with "compassion and honesty."
Sullivan informed us that he told WWE he was done with wrestling after battling crippling anxiety issues to the point of struggling to eat during days of TV filming, and was having trouble sleeping. He also lost his father last year, which compounded a rollercoaster year for him. Sullivan called himself his own worst enemy, and owned up to multiple issues that prevented him from gaining traction in what he called his dream job.
Sullivan told us that he's likely done with wrestling, and again took responsibility for the issues that led to that, calling some actions "idiocy" and "his own selfish behavior."
We spoke with him about his WWE run and he was grateful for the experience. One person in WWE told us that they saw his shirtless promo with Michael Cole as "sabotage, but if it was a test, he passed it." Sullivan himself said he liked doing the promo and saw it as them looking to add more depth to his character. He was given specific instruction to breath heavy through my nose and the verbiage.
A point that was hammered home was that he was treated well by both the WWE office and a locker room, and it wasn't a case of bullying.
Fightful has been able to confirm that Steve Cutler has a 90 non-compete clause following his WWE release. He'll be eligible to sign elsewhere in early May. We're working to find out if Lars Sullivan was given a no-compete clause as well. When those are applied, WWE pays the talent the sum of their downside for that period.
WWE released longtime performer Steve Cutler. Cutler had been a part of Knights of the Lone Wolf and the Forgotten Sons over the course of his seven-year run since being hired by WWE.
There was heat on Cutler specifically from Vince McMahon when Cutler was sidelined from WWE TV after contracting COVID-19 in early January. We're told both of the Knights of the Lone Wolf were active in trying to return to television, which never ended up happening after they disappeared from WWE TV. However, those we've heard from seem to believe this release stems from that situation where they couldn't make TV and Vince saw it as a risk.
We're told this move came on WWE's behalf, and that Cutler was actually in attendance at the WWE Performance Center as he offered to bump for the "big man" class that has been taking place there. One source we spoke to at the WWE PC said he was a welcome familiar face at the facility and well liked by those there.
When Fightful inquired with the roster about the Forgotten Sons after Chad Lail's controversial tweets, that sentiment was echoed by those we spoke to, saying that Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler were unfairly punished after working for the company for years.
WWE sources that we reached out to indicated the "door was open" on a return down the line.
Notes On Upcoming IMPACT Tapings
IMPACT Wrestling has a quicker turnaround this time, as we've been told they plan to film between February 9 and 11. We've already heard of at least one name not on the roster who will be at the tapings, but as Matt Cardona had pointed out to us, he didn't even know he was coming in to IMPACT until the Friday prior himself.
Vince McMahon's Smackdown Status
After several shows away, Fightful has learned that Vince McMahon is back in-person at Smackdown tonight. McMahon had missed several shows around the passing of his brother Rod, but had still been integral in running the shows. He was also not heavily involved in the Thursday investor call.