World Wrestling Entertainment reportedly released several wrestlers shortly after its announced $1.4 billion new television deal with NBCUniversal on Thursday (September 21).
TKO Group Holdings, the media conglomerate launched as part of WWE's merger with Zuffa, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship upon being purchased by Endeavor Group Holdings earlier this year, reportedly agreed to a five-year domestic media rights partnership with NBCUniversal, with its television program, SmackDown, set to return to USA Network in October 2024, NBC Sports reported. The deal, which does not include WWE's RAW or NXT programs that currently air on USA Network, is reported to pay an average of $287 million per year, an estimated 40% increase from the five-year, $205 million deal with FOX for SmackDown in 2018.
Shortly after the reported deal, Fightful's Sean Ross Sapp announced the releases of several notable in-ring competitors following an initial post shared by wrestler Mustafa Ali, who announced he was "no longer working with WWE."
Sapp later confirmed that former world champion Dolph Ziggler and former Intercontinental champion Shelton Benjamin were among several releases made on Friday (September 21) along with Emma, Rick Boogs, Aliyah, Elias, Riddick Moss and Top Dolla of the group 'Hit Row,' as of Thursday afternoon.
Emma, who had previously wrestled for other promotions under her real name, Tenille Dashwood, and Top Dolla, a former NFL nose tackle whose real name is A.J. Francis, were both previously released by WWE as part of budget cuts before being re-signed by the company in 2022.