By Mike Mooneyham

April 17, 2005

While there’s no official “season” for pro wrestling, Wrestlemania traditionally marks the end of a long cycle for World Wrestling Entertainment. Feuds come to a climax, long-standing programs are showcased and new champions are crowned.

The new year for WWE begins immediately following its biggest extravaganza. A lottery draft is held, brand rosters are tweaked and fresh rivalries take shape.

This year’s new cycle, however, has been marked by a number of talent cuts. Several performers under WWE contract have been released over the two-week period since Wrestlemania. And the company has indicated there’s more to come.

Among the releases last week were two of the most well-liked names on the Raw roster.

The departures of Matt Hardy and Molly Holly (Nora Greenwald) have shocked many inside and outside the company. Holly has long been regarded as the most talented worker in the women’s division – now made up mostly of surgically enhanced divas with limited ring skills – and one of the company’s most respected employees. It was Holly, though, who asked for her release prior to working Raw on Monday night.

Molly Holly

Molly Holly

According to a post on the WWE Web site, “Molly Holly and World Wrestling Entertainment have mutually agreed on her release. WWE wishes her the best in her future endeavors.”

Holly, 27, reportedly was unhappy with the direction her character was headed in. She also had become increasingly frustrated over the push of the ring-challenged divas, most notably Playboy cover girl Christy Hemme, to whom she had been asked to job in recent matches, including Monday night in a tag-team bout on Raw.

Despite being placed in the role of a heel, the former Charleston resident and native Minnesotan was known for her wholesome image as well as her ability inside the ring. Holly, however, wasn’t the typical WWE diva. She rejected the obligatory “ticket to stardom” breast augmentation for incoming divas, and consistently refrained from storylines that might have been perceived as demeaning.

It’s apparent that the athletic Holly, a devout Christian who was involved in a number of charitable activities, ultimately tired of playing the “bad girl” inside the ring while helping train newcomers whose main goal was to parlay their wrestling exposure into gigs with Playboy.

The former WWE women’s champ debuted with the company five years ago as the storyline cousin of Hardcore (Robert Howard) and the late Crash (Mike Lockwood) Holly. She agreed to having her head shaved bald in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd at last year’s Wrestlemania as a stipulation of losing a match to Victoria.

The loss of Holly leaves only three legitimate workers left in the company’s female division – Trish Stratus (Patricia Stratigius), Victoria (Lisa Marie Varon) and the injury-prone Lita (Amy Dumas). WWE released several female performers last year, including Gail Kim, Jacqueline (Jackie Moore), Jazz (Carlene Begnaud) and Nidia (Nidia Guenard), further damaging a division that had grown in popularity and gained respect under the tutelage of Dave “Fit” Finlay.

Holly’s release coincided with news that WWE is bringing back its silicone-pumped, $250,000 Diva Search later this year. Although Hardy’s release took many by surprise, he apparently was the odd man out in a love triangle that had included longtime ex-girlfriend Lita and former good buddy Edge (Adam Copeland), with whom Lita has been romantically linked.

Like Holly, Hardy was known for his work ethic, and had once formed one of the most exciting teams in the business with brother Jeff. Coming off a six-month layoff following knee surgery, Hardy was poised to be sent from Raw to Smackdown following Wrestlemania in order to avoid possible conflict in the locker room.

Talent chief Johnny Ace (John Laurinaitis) notified Hardy last weekend that the company was exercising its option on his contract. The WWE hatchet man did not indicate that Hardy’s release was connected to his current domestic situation, although sources say management was upset that Hardy went online with his side of the story.

Ace told Hardy that the company was going in a different direction with new people, and that his contract simply wasn’t being renewed. Hardy has been outspoken against a number of former WCW crossovers, including Ace, who has created a growing sense of unrest and frustration inside the WWE locker room since relieving Jim Ross of the job.

Despite his upside, Hardy never got a major push and was not viewed by those in charge as a performer with big-money potential.

“Everyone is just wondering who’s next,” said one insider. “Johnny Ace is trying to get rid of everybody who’s not a (butt)-kisser. He’s trying to eliminate all of his enemies, and he perceived Matt to be one of the biggest.”

The relationship between Lita and Edge also has taken a hit. “She’s devastated by the entire thing,” said a source who noted that the sympathy card naturally will go to Hardy, who has lost his dream girl and dream job within a matter of weeks.

“First and foremost, I want to thank everyone for the incredible support that you have shown me in this very hard and difficult time,” Hardy posted last week on his Web site. “I have been kicked down before (although probably not this much, in such a short amount of time), but I always find a way to rebound and make my life a better place. Thanks for the outpouring of emotion and letting me know how much you care. I need that now.”

Hardy, who is close friends with Jeff Jarrett, is expected to join TNA once his 90-day no-compete clause expires. With a sizable legion of fans, Hardy would be a top babyface in TNA where he could join brother Jeff and reprise The Hardy Boyz. Some even put him in a short line to become a booker if the plug is pulled on Dusty Rhodes.

Rhyno (Terry Gerin) also was released by WWE as a result of a domestic squabble following the Wrestlemania pay-per-view. The former ECW champion got into an argument with his estranged wife at the Universal Sheraton, the site of an after-show party, and smashed a large ceramic planter in the hotel lobby. Police and hotel security were called in to handle the disturbance.

WWE management was said to be infuriated because the incident occurred in front of a large group of fans, and the hotel had hosted the party.

Rhyno reportedly was upset over news that his wife planned to move back to her native Germany with their daughter in tow.

A curiously timed release was given to William Jones. Better known in ECW during the late ’90s as the mid-level character Chilly Willy, the 6-2, 250-pound Jones was working as a developmental talent in Ohio Valley Wrestling. The Goldsboro, N.C., native also happens to be a bona fide American military hero who was a regular infantryman assigned to a Special Forces unit inside Iraq, and was wounded by mortar fire while on a mission. Jones, who enlisted after the 9/11 attacks, earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

His release ironically coincides with a high-profile angle in which Shawn Michaels trumpeted the virtues of the war on terrorism last week on Raw to set up a tag-team match with fictional red, white and blue hero Hulk Hogan, along with an emotional speech by Jimmy Hart the weekend before at the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Hart’s son, Jimmy Hart Jr., spent two years in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Army Infantry out of Fort Campbell, Ky. No less than Triple H led a round of applause for young Hart’s sacrifices for his country.

Jones, who signed a developmental contract last September, was said to be progressing well in OVW, but reportedly was less than enthusiastic about touting his military exploits to further his gimmick, a marketing ploy the company would have insisted on.

Also a victim of the company housecleaning, although not an unexpected one, was William “Paul Bearer” Moody. With his contract up for renewal, Moody was told that WWE had nothing for him at the present time. To the company’s credit, however, it paid for a pair of surgeries that allowed the once-gargantuan Moody to shed at least 200 pounds from his considerable girth and thus possibly saved his life. Without WWE’s financial support, says Moody, he wouldn’t have been able to afford the surgeries himself.

“The last two years have indeed been a blessing, as the company made a major lifesaving surgery possible for me,” Moody posted on his Web site. “I will always treasure the many friendships and memories of my almost 14-year association with the McMahon family. I will never shut the door on a future relationship with WWE; as you well know anything can happen.”

Moody’s Paul Bearer character was literally killed off following last year’s Wrestlemania.

Aaron “Jesus” Aguilera, whose brief stint on the Smackdown roster as Carlito Colon’s bodyguard was sidetracked by neck surgery in January, also was let go last week.

Tom Chehak, managing editor of the WWE creative team, also has left the company. Chehak worked very closely with Stephanie McMahon, but was said to be “ill-suited” and lacked the right vision for the wrestling business. His hiring was done, in large part, due to the findings of the Hollywood consultants that WWE hired last year to evaluate their creative process.

– Triple H suffered what was thought to be a stinger last week on Raw when Rosey dropped a leg across his neck and head. He re-aggravated his neck later in the show when he took a backdrop from new WWE champ Batista. He is expected to work on Monday night’s Raw at Madison Square Garden.

His wife, Stephanie McMahon, didn’t stay for the Smackdown show Tuesday night in Chicago and canceled a talent-evaluation visit to Ohio Valley Wrestling.

– Wrestling for Jesus will hold a show at 7 p.m. April 30 at Sea Harvest Outreach Center on St. Andrews Boulevard as part of the promotion’s Get Real Tour. For more information, call Bryan Atkinson at 763-5446.