Two weeks after the release of B-Fab, the rest of the group Hit Row was released on November 18. Isaiah “Swerve Scott,” AJ “Top Dolla” Francis, and Ashante “Thee” Adonis were released from their contracts along with other superstars like John Morrison, Drake Maverick, Tegan Nox, and etc.
The group was nothing short of a hit in NXT. Swerve captured the North American Championship and held it for 105 days. The group was drafted to SmackDown during Night 1 of the 2021 WWE Draft. They were last seen starting a feud with Jinder Mahal and Shanky six days before their release.
Adonis and Top Dolla joined the November 20 edition of Busted Open to update everyone following their Thursday releases.
“I mean, to be honest, we know that we are talented and we know that us being released is just a child of circumstance. There’s not really much more we could have done to prove we belonged. When I get released and WWE Hall of Famers are the first people to reach out to me and say, ‘Man, I don’t know what they’re doing,’ then I know that I did something right,” Top Dolla said. (h/t to Gisberto Guzzo of Fightful.com)
Adonis added, “Yeah, I agree. I talked to a lot of people, WWE Hall of Famers as well reached out to me. A lot of people in WWE reached out to me. My mood, I mean, I’m doing good. Still shocked and stuff but I’m doing good. I feel like I have a really good mindset about everything and I’m just ready to start the next chapter.”
Both Hit Row members agreed that what happened leading up to their releases was unusual. They were booked and removed from multiple events, along with them visting WWE Headquarters and being told video game DLC and action figures were on the way.
“Thursday morning was a little weird because we were booked for SmackDown, Survivor Series and Raw and then we were unbooked. Then they booked us again, and then we were unbooked. So I’m like, ‘Okay, it’s what goes on in WWE. There’s a lot of things to figure out.’ So I was like, ‘Okay, maybe they’ll have something for us on Friday or Saturday.’ I remember I was watching Thursday Night Football, and I missed the call from John Laurinaitis. I called him back and he just told me, ‘Hey, budget cuts and stuff like that,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, thank you.’ It just is what it is,” Adonis reflected.
Top Dolla joined in, “We just went to HQ and met everybody and talked to everybody. Talked about how we were going to get action figures, and be DLC in the video game and all these different things. Everything just got pulled out underneath of us and to be honest, when we got taken off of this weekend, I knew then that we were about to get released even though I didn’t contact anybody or tell anybody because that’s the same thing that happened to Briana. When Briana got released, we were all booked to do a Black Friday commercial together, which we ended up shooting without her, which obviously they’re not going to be able to use this Friday anymore. We were all booked to do the commercial together and then she got unbooked and we didn’t understand why. Then found out that she was released, so once we were booked for Friday and weren’t booked for Survivor Series and Raw yet, so then they unbooked us Thursday morning for SmackDown but then said we’re still needed for Survivor Series and Raw. Then they were like, ‘Actually, we don’t need you for Survivor Series and Raw, either.’ As soon as I saw that I knew what was going to happen.”
Top Dolla said he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to showcase his in-ring ability like he was able to in his 20-30 minute independent matches.
Top Dolla said, “It’s sad, man, because I feel like we showed that we had a lot to offer and, not to mention, I never even got a chance to show what I can do in the ring. That was my biggest downfall from my time in WWE was I spent the first year and a half with people pretending like I didn’t know how to work because they didn’t give me a chance to. Once they finally started giving us chances in the ring, they would give us 2-minute squash matches. We had one match that went longer than 10 minutes and it was the main event with Legado Del Fantasma and it was an incredible match and I did the three-man move. I mean, I was working 20, 30-minute main event matches on the indies before I got to WWE and now it’s like, ‘Well, we need to see what you can do.’ I always just thought it was funny that they didn’t do that with other people. With other people they would just be like, ‘Ah, here’s 20-minutes, go have a match.’ They would tell us we need more work in the ring. ‘You guys need more seasoning in the ring,’ but then they wouldn’t give us matches.”
Adonis expanded on his character working saying he thinks about it 24/7, and that he has a whiteboard with ideas on it. He believes that WWE just didn’t understand what he was trying to do, or didn’t understand him in general.
“That’s so funny because I got signed to WWE in — My first day was August 14, 2019, and the second I came in I already knew who I was as a character and what I wanted to do. I feel like they just didn’t understand me and understand what I was doing. I’m just saying, I feel like I was really, really good at this stuff in all aspects of sports entertainment and a lot of true hard work, like not even at the PC, I’m thinking about my character 24/7. Literally to my left, I have a whiteboard [that says] Ashante “Thee” Adonis and ‘Character Development.’ I even have a Hit Row section. I’ve literally thought in detail about literally everything about this character since day one,” Ashante went on to say.
Top Dolla gave some insight into the creative process within the company, along with the story of how they were asked to write promos for other main roster teams.
Top Dolla shared, “The craziest part about the creative process with us, is when we first got called up to SmackDown, they were like, ‘Alright, we want you guys to do promos, write promos for The Usos, the New Day, the Viking Raiders, the Women’s Division for Briana and an introductory promo.’ The introductory promo that we did on SmackDown on our debut was the promo that we wrote that night when we wrote all five of those promos. I bring it up because it was 2 o’clock in the morning and we’re writing these promos and we record us saying the promos so we can send it to them so that they can see what we’re going to say, how we’re going to say it because sometimes you see something on paper and it doesn’t translate the same way. You know what I’m saying? Sometimes you can’t comprehend from the paper how it’s going to come off. So we sent them the videos of us doing the promos so that they could see it, and they were like, ‘Wow, we love the work ethic. Nobody does anything like this. Nobody dedicates themselves to do things like this.’ Then like, all for not, so it’s just wild to me.”
Top Dolla also explained some of the rumors about possible heat backstage. He noted that the only time the company was really upset was when he stood up for B-Fab. It appears that WWE tried to remix the ‘Hit Row’ theme without B-Fab’s vocals, instead the remaining group members decided to re-record the song.
Top Dolla said, “They got mad when Briana got released that I called up to the office and was like, ‘I don’t understand why you would release Briana.’ We were a foursome group. You take Briana out of the group and yeah, we’re still cool and yeah, we can still do all of the same things, but we’re just every three-man wrestling group. And, they were upset, because when they took Briana out of the group, they wanted to re-do the song. So they did a remix of the song but the song doesn’t sound the same without her part. So what we did is we went in the studio and made a new song. I guess they were upset that we made a new song, but we’re a rap group, so it’s like, ‘How are we a rap group if we can’t make a song?’ Then we’re just wrestlers.”
AJ Francis, now formerly known as Top Dolla, also commented on the infamous diss track on Jinder Mahal and Shanky. Francis even shared that they came up with the plan for the rap together.
“People want to bring up the fact of the song that I released for Jinder and Shanky on Twitter that people got mad about, but Jinder Mahal himself not only loved the song, but said, and I have the proof of it, ‘I said nothing wrong in the song.’ This is Jinder saying this. The whole point of it is that we were in a feud together and we were trying to get more juice in the feud. Me and Jinder are cool. That was the whole point of it. When people are like, ‘The beat he used was insensitive.’ The beat I used is called ‘Beware’ by Punjabi MC, the most famous sample in the history of Indian hip-hop. When I picked the beat, Jinder Mahal was sitting right next to me in the locker room when we formulated the plan to do this. So, for people to be upset with me and think that that’s the reason why we got fired is ridiculous because even Jinder himself went and talked to them and was like, ‘No, it’s not like that. We planned this out together,” Francis expanded.
Ashante joined in, “That’s just the people thinking they know everything and they really don’t. Me personally, and AJ can tell you this, I’m a very to myself person. I’m very quiet most of the time. Very opposite of what I present on TV. I was like that at work too, very to myself, so I don’t see how I would have heat with anything at all, so I don’t understand it.”
Francis opened up about feeling like he was being treated like a child by the company, along with remaining silent while he was being disrespected. He added that he would’ve been fired two years ago if he used his voice. He specifically shared about a situation which ended in producers apologizing to him for what was said over headsets.
Francis explained, “I said this yesterday on Twitter, there was so many times — Like, I’m a 31-year-old grown man. I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my life. People in this business like to treat you like you’re a little kid all the time. If I would have — And Mark knows this, as a black man in America, if I actually showed my frustration and anger with situations, I would have been fired two years ago. So, I made a point to never do that. Even when people would constantly disrespect me, and us, and sweep the little things that they say that they don’t understand what they’re saying, but we hear it and internalize it, it’s like, ‘What do you expect from us? You want us to just sit on our hands and let you say whatever you want to say to me about whatever you want to say because you can?’ Even if you go look, when we were on SmackDown, we did the segment with Sami. We were rehearsing this thing and the audio was really loud in the arena, so I politely asked, ‘Do you think that we could turn down the audio in the arena just a little bit?’ Because they were playing music and nobody in the arena can hear what we’re saying and we can’t get a reaction from them. I don’t know what was said, but something was said about me over the headset that was so disrespectful that three different producers who heard it on the headset came up and apologized to me afterwards even though I didn’t hear what was said. So clearly something was said very wild and disrespectfully because they felt the need to apologize to me for something I didn’t even know. If I would have heard it and said anything back, then I’m ‘disgruntled, and I’m ‘aggressive’ or ‘I’m the angry black man.'”
Below is the tweet that Francis is referring to. He posted it in response to rumors of there being heat with Hit Row backstage.
Top Dolla and Adonis will leave knowing they did the best they could with what they were given. The pair know they will make a splash wherever they land.
Top Dolla said, “It’s unfortunate the way things shape out but at the end of the day, I’m not telling anybody to never watch WWE again. I’m going to watch WWE. I’m not sitting here pretending that I’m not. I watch everything. But also, that’s not the end all be all. That’s not where we have to be to be successful. We are more than capable of going anywhere in this world and making the same impact. You got to really think about it, when we were on NXT, people loved us on NXT. Bro, we were getting 45 seconds.”
Ashante added, “We were doing the max with the minimum. That’s what it always felt like.”
“Imagine we go somewhere else and they give us three minutes a week. Imagine what we can do to your programming if we go somewhere else and get three minutes a week,” Top Dolla concluded.
You can follow Jaychele Nicole on Twitter @jaychelenicole
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