WWE: The Rock and John Cena respond as WWE lets 20 stars go

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The Rock and John Cena have reacted to the WWE reportedly releasing at least 20 wrestlers from their contracts.

Dolph Ziggler and Shelton Benjamin were among those let go by the company, which recently merged with UFC.

The Rock, real name Dwayne Johnson, and Cena both paid tribute to Ziggler – who has reportedly performed in 1,554 matches for WWE over two decades.

“Respect”, said Cena, while The Rock added: “Can’t wait to see what he (and everyone) does next.”

Current WWE superstar Big E described Ziggler as “one of the smoothest workers I’ve ever been in the ring with”.

Ziggler, a two-time WWE World Champion, hasn’t issued a public statement on his release.

But Shelton Benjamin, a former intercontinental champion, thanked fans, fellow wrestlers and WWE staff in a statement.

“Something ends, something new begins,” he wrote. “Looking forward to my next chapter.”

Other wrestlers who’ve confirmed their departures include Mustafa Ali, Elias, and Aliyah.

Another wrestler who’s been released is Emma, who calls herself the “first female Aussie WWE superstar”.

She posted on socials to say how excited she was about a WWE event in Australia next year – only to post again an hour later saying: “Oops nevermind. I just got released.”

John Cena in the wrestling ring at the O2 in London. He is wearing a black t-shirt and a light blue cap and has red, white and blue sweat bands on both wrists. He's also wearing denim shorts and has black knee pads on. He has both arms raised to the sky and the crowd behind him all have their hands in the air and are cheering.

WWE and UFC recently announced that they’d merged to form a single company – TKO – in a deal worth $21.4bn (£17.3bn).

Since then, the company reportedly made more than 100 staff working in office and behind-the-scenes roles redundant.

The new company recently signed a deal with US TV company NBC to secure the rights to its Smackdown show.

But despite that, fans had been expecting talent to be released from the company’s roster.

One fan online described it as “a mix of fresh up-and-comers, notable performers and decorated veterans” leaving the company.

Another posted it “hurts seeing such great talent” being released.

WWE has had a history of letting go of its superstars, often citing financial pressures such as during the Covid pandemic.

But wrestling fan Sabrina Nicole says some of the names announced have surprised her.

“There were quite a few releases that shocked a lot of fans around the world and especially me,” she tells BBC Newsbeat.

“A lot of people have been commenting about Dolph Ziggler, [it’s] just a shock and we’re all excited to see what he will do next.

“Almost 20 years in WWE is such a huge accomplishment and he won so many different titles as well, [and] had a lot of fan support.”

Going forward, Sabrina hopes WWE’s merger with UFC will see a bit more of a crossover between the two.

“There’s not been a great deal that we’ve heard about what may happen,” she says.

“Hopefully as time goes on we’ll start to see more exciting things happen.”

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