Zelina Vega was surprisingly released on Friday in a moment that can be the catalyst to kick off a fight for wrestler’s rights and change the entire industry.
When the news broke that WWE was forcing their roster of wrestlers to remove their presence on platforms like Twitch and Cameo, the response was anger and disappointment. Many wondered just how much of a fight this was going to become, and it did not seem like there would be much blowback. That was until Friday, November 13 when Zelina Vega was suddenly released from the promotion. This development opens a door that the WWE, and professional wrestling may have a hard time closing.
At 5:46pm Zelina Vega sent out a tweet with a simple statement, “I support unionization.” Ten minutes later the WWE tweeted out that she was released from the promotion, giving her the standard “future endeavors” send off.
Those who follow professional wrestling knew this was linked to the WWE’s hardline stance against external platforms. Even though these are platforms that the superstars began to leverage on their own, WWE wanted a cut – a cut that the company secured and didn’t provide as extra “icing on the cake” at a time when COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the business.
Vega was a growing star for the WWE brand. Since her introduction back in NXT, she has made an impact at every level. When COVID-19 first hit the WWE, she was pushed to the forefront as a mouthpiece for a stable involving Angel Garza, Andrade, and Austin Theory. WWE did not have full access to their roster because of the pandemic and often featured this group multiple times throughout the night. Many already knew it before hand, but Vega’s star shined bright when she was needed in this moment. Since then, she is remained a prominent figure on weekly shows.
That needed exposure helped Vega gain prominence on platforms like Twitch, Only Fans, and others. Her fans flocked to support her in those ways, and its understandable that she stood her ground when WWE leadership decided they wanted their cut. In doing so, they have created a conundrum that will not go away quietly.
In the house since Vega’s release her Twitter comments have garnered attention in important ways. SAG-AFTRA is the largest labor union that represents working performers. That organization and President of the group, Gabrielle Carteris, reached out to Vega – even requesting further correspondence. This is the type of group that would play a role in professional wrestlers finding a way to unionize or creating an association to protect the performers from practices that have become too common place across the industry.
The real question is what happens next. Former Presidential candidate, Andrew Yang has been open about wanting to tackle the independent contractor status that is used by organizations like the WWE and UFC to keep labor rights from performers and athletes. Even though the focus is on Vince McMahon and the WWE, this is about all professional wrestling because any major change would impact all the other promotions as well. This is a situation that has been seen across all professional sports, leading to the creation of unions and players associations that helped the athletes wrest power from the owners.
Curt Flood is recognized as the athlete that sacrificed his career for the establishment of unionization in North American sports. Zelina Vega may have positioned herself in a similar fashion when she stood firm against the WWE as they tried to infringe upon an opportunity she created. Even though she has a non-compete clause for 90-days, she will be able to bounce back from this both in wrestling and beyond it. The real question is how far and wide the ramifications of this moment will go as it is a fight the WWE did not need to pick but now may face major consequences.