WWE, one of the few sports organizations still operating during the coronavirus pandemic, announced Wednesday that it is furloughing a portion of its workforce and releasing on-screen talent.
Among the more high-profile names let go were former world champion Kurt Angle, former tag team champions Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, former cruiserweight champion Lio Rush, former 24/7 champion Drake Maverick, former Intercontinental champion Zack Ryder and former U.S. champion Rusev. Referee Mike Chioda, who was the longest-tenured referee in WWE history, having been with the company for more than 20 years, also was let go.
WWE announced the cuts via a release on its website.
Rush, who was the cruiserweight champion as recently as December, acknowledged his release in a tweet, writing: "To all of my fellow co workers, whatever happens today or the remainder of this week....just know, we're all going to be good."
To all of my fellow co workers, whatever happens today or the remainder of this week....just know, we're all going to be good. 🙏🏽 Once a family, forever a family. #Wrestling— Lio (@itsLioRush) April 15, 2020
Veterans Heath Slater, Curt Hawkins, Eric Young, EC3 and Aiden English were also released. Slater is a four-time tag team champion, Hawkins is a two-time tag champion, and EC3 was signed as a high-profile free agent in 2018 after two runs as the TNA heavyweight champion.
The furloughs are part of a financial restructuring that also includes reducing executives' salaries and pausing construction of a new headquarters, the company said in a release. WWE said it expects the furloughs to be temporary.
Angle, the legendary former WWE heavyweight champion and a WWE Hall of Famer, had been working backstage as a producer since his retirement match at WrestleMania 35 in April 2019. Angle, 51, won an Olympic wrestling gold medal in 1996. He was one of WWE's top stars from 1998 to 2006 and won the WWE heavyweight title four times.
Anderson and Gallows were featured leading into WrestleMania earlier this month and were part of the main event of the first night in a Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles. Anderson and Gallows are longtime storyline teammates of Styles.
In an emotional video posted to Twitter, Maverick, who won the 24/7 title five times and had been a heavily featured act on television, said he will still be seen in WWE's cruiserweight tournament this month. But after that, his wrestling career is likely over.
"It's affecting people's lives. It's affecting people's jobs. It's affecting the way people make a living," said Maverick, 37. "I'm very fortunate that WWE is still allowing me to compete in the NXT cruiserweight title tournament, but it's very likely that those will be the last matches that I ever have. There's a lot of people I'm not gonna get a chance to say goodbye to that I really love and I really care about. ... It's not about a title anymore. It's about my life. It's about the fate of my family, paying my bills."
Rusev, whose real name is Miroslav Barnyashev, is a three-time WWE U.S. champion and is popular among fans. Rusev, a 37-year-old Bulgaria native, had several memorable storylines over 10 years with WWE, including ones with John Cena, Roman Reigns and Rusev's real-life wife, Lana (CJ Perry), a wrestler and star on TV's "Total Divas."
Chioda, 53, made his first WWE appearance in 1989. He was the longest-tenured referee in WWE history and regularly was the official in high-profile matches, including The Rock vs. Cena, which headlined WrestleMania XXVIII in 2012.
On Monday, WWE was deemed an essential business in Florida, allowing the company to resume live television shows from its Orlando training facility and Full Sail University in Winter Park.
Essential businesses that are supposed to remain open during Florida's stay-at-home order include those in the health care, financial, energy, food, communications and transportation sectors. A spokesperson from Gov. Ron DeSantis' office told ESPN on Monday that such services were characterized as essential "because they are critical to Florida's economy."
WWE will run live shows without fans after several weeks of taped programming, a spokesperson confirmed to ESPN.
"We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times," WWE said in a statement Monday. "We are producing content on a closed set with only essential personnel in attendance following appropriate guidelines while taking additional precautions to ensure the health and wellness of our performers and staff. As a brand that has been woven into the fabric of society, WWE and its Superstars bring families together and deliver a sense of hope, determination and perseverance."
WWE has three TV shows per week: "Raw" (USA Network) on Monday, "NXT" (USA) on Wednesday and "SmackDown" (Fox) on Friday.