During his first quarter earnings report conference call back in May, Vince McMahon declared that the WWE roster would be bigger than it’s ever been by the summer of 2016. He knew that the brand extension, and the WWE Draft that sparked it, would require a bolstered talent pool, especially if RAW and SmackDown were to actually have two distinct rosters as has been pushed.
The WWE did add seven new superstars to the main roster Tuesday during the draft who were straight from their NXT developmental brand. Finn Balor, American Alpha, Carmella, Alexa Bliss, and Nia Jax were all promoted to their respective brands, and it’s only a matter of time before Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, and Bayley join them. But that still won’t be quite enough to fill out both shows, as it’s a bit of a surprise that other non-WWE talent weren’t included in the drafting process this week.
It’s still interesting to think that, despite WWE being in clear need of an influx of wrestlers, they had one of their biggest purges in recent memory right after WrestleMania. While it’s not uncommon for the WWE to trim down after their biggest event of the year, there are job openings that need to be filled in order for the brand extension to be considered a success. At the same time, King Barrett, Adam Rose, Ryback, and Cody Rhodes all determined their own fates.
At one point, WWE considered calling up a dozen NXT superstars, eventually settling on seven for the draft and hopefully positioning others for prominent debuts. There were also rumors of big-name stars like Goldberg, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, and Rey Mysterio making triumphant returns, but those were all shot down soon thereafter. That left the independent scene and lesser-named former WWE superstars as the remaining potential candidates to fill holes on RAW and SmackDown.
That leads us to Thursday’s news in which PWInsider reports that the first two former WWE superstars confirmed for returns to the company are Curt Hawkins and Rhyno. In addition to re-signing with WWE, both superstars will be assigned to the SmackDown brand. This confirms an earlier report from the Inquisitr, at least in Hawkins’ case, that the WWE was recruiting former talent to re-join the fold, with him and Jimmy Wang Yang as the most familiar names from the most recent crop.
Rhyno had barely been mentioned in previous reports, but it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Man Beast returned to the NXT brand in surprise fashion in February of last year. He was largely used as a past star helping younger guys get over, specifically in a feud with Baron Corbin. Rhyno then got the call to WWE’s main roster last December for an angle that reunited some ECW originals against the Wyatt Family. After roughly six months out of the spotlight, Rhyno again returned to NXT earlier this month, but his status with the company is now official.
Hawkins, meanwhile, fit the criteria for former WWE superstars who were young enough and could still go. He was only 22 when he made his original WWE debut, and at 31 now, there’s plenty of tread left on his tires. His most memorable runs during his first go-around were spent in tag teams with Tyler Reks and Zack Ryder.
According to Cageside Seats, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer pointed out that even though we didn’t see any former WWE superstars make their returns at the draft, it is expected that that will come soon. Hawkins and Ryder may be the first to lead the way. Tajiri and Brian Kendrick won’t be far behind after the CWC is over, while John Morrison, Carlito, and MVP continue to remain the hottest free agents (aside from the Heath Slater storyline) who could certainly be making a return this year.
[Image via WWE]