Jake Atlas made WWE history in 2019 when he signed a three-year contract with the organization and became its first openly LGBTQ wrestler. Last month, he was let go from his contract early. Now, in an interview with podcaster Denise Salcedo, the 26-year-old is speaking out about the experience, which ended up being more damaging than he ever could have anticipated.
Shortly after becoming the first out WWE wrestler, Atlas, whose real name is Kenny Marquez, saw his social media following grow and found himself being profiled by major outlets like People magazine. His star was on the rise.
But within six months of signing his contract, he says he was having mental breakdowns nearly every day and being ignored by his bosses.
“My mental health was probably the worst it’s ever been in the last two years that I was with WWE,” Atlas explains. “There are days when I would just cry.”
Atlas adds, “I just didn’t feel like I was breaking out or being myself or getting people to get behind me. I didn’t feel like I was offering anything authentic. I remember watching my matches back, and I would see this Jake Atlas on the screen and I remember just being so disconnected from what I was watching on TV.”
He also struggled with management. He didn’t feel supported and says he could never get execs to meet with him to discuss his contract or ideas he had as the only LGTBQ representation on the roster.
“There were a lot of things that I wanted to do and talk about and I was just given the runaround.”
Eventually, Atlas grew frustrated both with feeling ignored and with his mental health struggles and so he asked to be let go from his contract early.
“You have to understand that my mental health was really bad,” he says. “I am strong now, but the entire time it was not good. So, I felt like I needed to leave for myself, like I needed to put myself first.”
Last month, WWE agreed and released him. He was at a restaurant when he got a from call from WWE Talent Relations head John Laurinaitis, who he had never talked to before in his life.
“I was at dinner. It was that Friday night and I got a call from WWE incorporated,” he says. “I didn’t ask any questions. I was already expecting it and I kinda just numbed myself for the phone call.”
The call with Laurinaitis lasted less than 30 seconds. Atlas says he wasn’t upset because his “mental health comes first and I was suffering.”
Looking back, Atlas says he was afraid people might think he was “ungrateful” for no longer wanting to be involved with the organization, but he really couldn’t take it anymore.
“My entire run in WWE was the most, and I don’t know how to word this, it was probably the worst mentally I have ever been,” he says, adding, “It wasn’t a ‘I wanna leave,’ it was more so a conversation of ‘ I want to be here, and feel like I have so much value, and I feel like I am not being heard.’”
“I just want people to understand and not think that I was ungrateful for having a job because they’ve been releasing left and right. I take my mental health and my sanity and being alive before I take having a job.”
Graham Gremore is the Features Editor and a Staff Writer at Queerty. Follow him on Twitter @grahamgremore.