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WWF Veteran Opens Up About Why He Got Fired From AEW

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Kevin Kelly, a prominent figure in the wrestling world known for his work with WWF/E, Ring of Honor, and New Japan Pro-Wrestling, has opened up about the circumstances surrounding his departure from AEW. Kelly’s exit from AEW earlier this year stirred considerable controversy and speculation. During a recent virtual signing for K & S WrestleFest, he provided a detailed account of the events that led to his release.

Kelly’s departure from AEW was marked by tension with fellow commentator Ian Riccaboni. He revealed that his issues with Riccaboni began when Riccaboni allegedly spoke negatively about him in a New Japan Pro-Wrestling Discord chat while Kelly was away working on commentary for the G1 Climax tournament. Kelly expressed a desire to address these issues directly with Riccaboni but claimed they never had the chance for a thorough conversation.

“Sure felt like it (Ian Riccaboni was plotting against me) … Yeah (Riccaboni took over from me in ROH), because I got him a job. We were friends,” Kelly recounted. He explained how he had recommended Riccaboni for opportunities in Ring of Honor, but later found out that Riccaboni was speaking against him within the company.

Kelly detailed how he first met Riccaboni at the Monster Factory, where he was impressed by Riccaboni’s talent and decided to bring him into Ring of Honor. However, Kelly discovered that after he left for New Japan, Riccaboni started undermining him. “When Joey Mercury left, I found out that Ian was kind of, as Dennis Coralluzzo used to say, ‘Putting the mouth on me,’ Ian was, in the office. Yeah, after I was gone. Because I went to New Japan.”

The conflict escalated when Riccaboni accused Kelly of being a QAnon conspiracy theorist due to Kelly’s support of a movie against child trafficking. Kelly found out about these accusations through friends in the New Japan Discord. “I was like, ‘Oh, let’s see what they’re saying about us. Hey, wait a minute. What the hell?’ And people that I’m friendly with in there were like, ‘What is Ian doing? Why is he doing this?’”

Kelly attempted to address the issue directly with Riccaboni, but Riccaboni was reluctant to have a conversation without guarantees that it would not be recorded. “I message him and it’s like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ ‘Well, you said and did a bunch of different things to me over the years and I’m pissed off about it.’ ‘Okay, but, well let’s talk about it.’ ‘Well, I’ll only talk to you if you guarantee that you’re not gonna record the call.’ I’m like, ‘I wouldn’t know how to record a call off a cellphone. What are you? Crazy?”

Kelly also mentioned an incident where Riccaboni wore a cowboy hat on Collision, which he felt was inappropriate given Jim Ross’s association with the hat. “Guess what? You’re gonna get heat with J.R. if you’re wearing a cowboy hat sitting next to him at the announce desk. Whether he says it’s okay or not, that doesn’t matter… And it was born in Calgary, it was born at the Stampede and he’s the one who wears the f*cking cowboy hat.”

Kelly felt increasingly out of place at AEW, questioning the similarities between the shows Collision and Dynamite. His frustration with the company’s structure and creative direction, combined with the ongoing conflict with Riccaboni, led to his eventual release. “Why do we have to do things the same way Dynamite is?’ Is what I said. ‘Why do we have to be the same show? Don’t we want Collision to be different? Isn’t this a different thing?’”

Kelly’s mental health suffered during this period, which he communicated to AEW management. “My mental health was not good, from when this began and it was taking a toll on my marriage, on my family, on me personally, physically, mentally,” Kelly said. He criticized AEW for their lack of support, particularly after he had scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist, only to be fired before the appointment could take place.

“Mike Mansury (told me I was being let go). The Executive Producer, and the new Vice President of Human Resources who I’d never met and spoke to ever before. I knocked the company on Twitter and vented on a voicemail to the H.R. lady that I had been working with. Problem was I never knew where — I brought up this whole thing with Ian (Riccaboni) and they said, ‘Yes, good. Thank you for bringing it up.’ ‘What’s going to happen?’ I said, ‘What’s the process?’ ‘Well, we’ll discuss it, we’ll let you know’ and apparently, the disciplinary got together — committee got together and made a decision. ‘Okay, what was the decision?’ ‘Well, we can’t tell you because it’s private.’ ‘Wait a minute, I was the one who was the victim here. I need to know what happened so I could put this to bed in my mind.’ ‘Well, we just can’t tell you.’ ‘Okay, this is very upsetting for me. You have to understand this?’ ‘Nah, we really don’t understand and we don’t care.’ So, whatever. They’ll get theirs.”

Despite the conflicts, Kelly expressed a desire to reconcile with Riccaboni and move past the issues. He reflected on their initial positive relationship and lamented how it deteriorated due to misunderstandings and lack of communication. Kelly concluded by emphasizing that he was ultimately happier and more at ease in his role with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, despite the challenges of frequent travel.

“But, for a company that cares so much about their athletes… I booked an appointment with the psychiatrist and I got all the text messages of me just ranting and raving with the poor guy, David Weinstein. I set up an appointment with him on Thursday because we were taping TV that next day and then they fired me on Wednesday. So, you guys really care about the people that you employ.”

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