Andrade Granted WWE Release; Did Charlotte Flair Make It Happen?
It looks like WWE had a change of heart during last night's WWE Fastlane PPV. After the generally well-received show went off the air, WWE announced that it had come to terms on Andrade's release, putting out the following statement: "WWE has come to terms on the release of Andrade. We wish him all the best in all of his future endeavors." So why did they change their minds? It's possible that WWE always intended to grant the release and simply didn't want it to overshadow the promotion of Fastlane. But all of the dirt sheets in the week since Andrade requested his release have agreed that WWE had no plans of granting it, plus carefully timing such an announcement shows a greater amount of foresight and planning than WWE is normally known for.
So if not the plan all along, then what? The most obvious answer is to assume it has something to do with whatever is going on with Andrade's girlfriend, Charlotte Flair. Flair is one of WWE's top stars, and a favorite of Vince McMahon in a way mirrored by few others, such as Roman Reigns. And Flair has apparently been on the outs with the company all week, resulting in WWE removing her image from WrestleMania advertising and, from what it looks like, bringing Rhea Ripley to Raw to replace Flair in an expected WrestleMania feud with WWE Raw Women's Champion Asuka.
Flair reportedly pitched ideas to get Andrade involved with her on television in an attempt to break him out of catering hell, and those ideas were apparently rejected. And Flair's removal from WrestleMania posters occurred immediately after Andrade asked for, and was reportedly denied, his release. This is in the realm of pure speculation, but perhaps Charlotte, given her star power, simply wasn't afraid to point out how incredibly stupid it is to keep someone like Andrade locked down in a contract when you have no intentions of using them for anything.
Flair originally seemed headed toward a WrestleMania feud with Lacey Evans after Evans started dating Flair's father, Ric. But fate threw a monkey wrench in those plans when Evans announced her real-life pregnancy on the February 15th edition on WWE Raw, a week before her then-planned match against Asuka at Elimination Chamber. The next week on Raw, Flair and Asuka lost a rematch for the Women's Tag Team Championships against Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax, setting up what most believed would be a Flair vs. Asuka program for WrestleMania when Flair accidentally kicked Asuka during the match, causing friction between the friends. On the March 1st Raw, Charlotte announced her plans to challenge Asuka for the Raw Women's Championship and defeated Shayna Baszler in a match that same night.
Things got weird the next week. On March 8th, Charlotte was not on Raw despite WWE promoting her pre-taped appearance on Stone Cold Steve Austin's podcast. Charlotte was also absent from the March 15th Raw, three days after Andrade requested his release, even though WWE announced plans for Flair to star in the Walking Tall remake that day. Flair did not have a match at WWE Fastlane, and Rhea Ripley's debut on Raw has been promoted for the March 22nd edition tonight. So where is Charlotte? Why isn't she on Raw?
Dave Meltzer commented on the situation on Wrestling Observer Radio, noting that he has been unable to get information out of his sources about Charlotte, indicating there is fire behind the smoke, though Meltzer had no concrete information on what was going on. Meltzer did note that whatever is happening with Charlotte is more than just plans for her to film a remake of Walking Tall for USA Network, because if that were the reason behind her sudden disappearance, they would just say that when he asked. Sound logic, though obviously nothing definitive. Meltzer noted, and common sense dictates, that if Ripley shows up on Raw tonight and jumps right into a feud with Asuka, it will indicate something more serious is going on between WWE and Charlotte Flair, as that will leave Flair, arguably WWE's biggest female star, with nothing to do for the biggest show of the year, a show set to span two night this year.
Or maybe Andrade's release is the concession Flair needed and she'll be back on Raw tonight. As usual, the backstage drama is a bigger draw to watch the show than anything happening on Raw itself. As for Andrade, with the standard 90-day WWE no-compete contract clause, that means Andrade should be available to appear for another promotion in the United States around June 20th. That's too late to appear at AEW Double or Nothing, though it would have been even if WWE granted his release immediately upon asking.