There used to be a time when WWE was the only significant wrestling promotion in the world. Even though WWE is still considered the major leagues of the wrestling world, there are other promotions who have gained considerable success in recent years. Ring of Honour, Lucha Underground, New Japan Pro Wrestling are merely some of these promotions that have experienced increased popularity.
This is good news for those who get released by WWE. The bad news? There is still no guarantee that they will be able to have success elsewhere and on the indies. There is an even smaller chance that they will be able to earn a paycheck comparable to what they earned with WWE. Some wrestlers have been able to find a great deal of success outside WWE, whether that be wrestling somewhere else or pursuing other interests. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson perhaps has exemplified this better than any former wrestler, as he is now starring in several movies.
Despite all their differences and whether or not they have found success outside WWE, each of the twenty wrestlers all share one similarity - they were released by WWE. It seems that WWE does not let wrestlers quit or leave the company on their own terms - nobody gets to quit WWE. The WWE is the one who gets to fire - or release - the wrestler and publish it on their website.
On that note, let's take a look at ten former WWE wrestlers who have found success outside of WWE, and ten who probably miss being employed by WWE and earning that big paycheck.
20 SUCCEEDING - BOBBY LASHLEY
Lashley spent a few years with the WWE between 2004 and 2008. During his time in WWE, he was a 2-time ECW Champion and won the United States Championship once. Most of his tenure was spent fighting on the revived ECW brand, until he moved to RAW in 2007 towards the end of his tenure. Perhaps his most defining moment in WWE was at Wrestlemania 23 when he competed in the Hair vs. Hair match on behalf of Donald Trump, versus Umaga who wrestled on behalf of Mr. McMahon. Of course, Lashley defeated Umaga which resulted in Mr. McMahon being shaved bald. Lashley was released in February 2008.
Lashley has certainly kept himself busy following his departure from WWE. He competed on AAA and various other smaller promotions over the years. He has found sustained success with TNA, where he has had multiple reigns as the TNA World Heavyweight Champion. Outside of wrestling, he has also competed in MMA a few times with great success. Lashley's current Mixed Martial Arts record is 15-2. On top of all that, Lashley also opened a MMA management company "Lashley Management" in 2010 to represent current and future mixed martial artists.
19 MISSES - WADE BARRETT
Wade Barrett first emerged in WWE as the villainous leader of the Nexus. This stable got a good amount of TV time and gave Barrett an opportunity to show he can be a top heel for the WWE. That all ended when he was defeated multiple times by John Cena. Barrett then bounced around a bit between different feuds, before finally regaining success again in 2013 with his "Bad News Barrett" gimmick. The character became immensely popular with WWE fans, so much so that Barrett was told to stop telling bad news because fans were cheering and joining in. Barrett won the King of the Ring Tournament and began referring to himself as "King Barrett", before joining the ill-fated and poorly received "League of Nations" stable. Bennett was released in May 2016.
Following his release, Barrett has not really done anything really significant. He actually decided to take a break from wrestling altogether in order to focus on an acting career. He appeared in two WWE Studios films while a member of WWE, but it has been difficult to find much evidence of what Barrett has appeared in since his release. His IMDB page indicates that he appeared in the movie "Eliminators" in 2016 and "Fanged Up" in 2017. He is also credited with appearances in upcoming movies "Vengeance" and "Jacob the Awakening".
18 SUCCEEDING - EVE TORRES
Eve Torres entered WWE in 2007, where she won the 2007 Diva Search. She spent some time on Smackdown where she was embroiled in a few feuds. Torres was traded to Raw, and eventually defeated Maryse to win the Divas Championship in April 2010. Torres was later involved in a love-triangle storyline involving Zack Ryder and John Cena, which resulted in her becoming a heel for the first time. John Laurinaitis appointed Torres the Executive Administrator of Raw and Smackdown. Prior to the end of her WWE career, Torres won the Divas Championship a third time before dropping the title to Kaitlyn. It was following that loss that Torres storyline quit WWE.
Torres actually left WWE so that she could be able to focus on being an instructor for the Gracie Women Empowered program. Even though Torres is not involved in the wrestling world post-WWE, Torres has kept herself quite busy and appears very happy with what she has been doing. Torres has been active in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is constantly travelling and teaching women about female empowerment. She also teaches self-defense classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for women. She is heavily involved in the legendary Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, and also happens to be married to its' head instructor, Rener Gracie.
17 MISSES - ADAM ROSE
Adam Rose's debut in WWE was given a lot of promotional support and he got consistent TV time under The Exotic Express gimmick. He experienced a winning streak before losing to Kane several months later after his debut. Rose was then inserted into several dead-end feuds before being put into the Social Outcasts stable. Soon after, Rose was suspended for violating WWE's Wellness Policy and then suspended indefinitely after being arrested for domestic violence. Rose was inevitably released from WWE not too long afterwards.
Unfortunately, Rose's career hasn't really gone anywhere but downhill since his release from WWE. He has not been able to make an impact on any of the promotions he has appeared on. In addition to this, Rose announced on Twitter that 2017 would be final year in wrestling. If Rose really never does wrestle again after 2017, he will be going out on a low note since he never reached success and likely never earned a good paycheck following his WWE release.
16 SUCCEEDING - DAVID HART SMITH
David Hart Smith, who also is known as D.H. Smith in WWE, wrestled for the company for a few years and competed mostly in the tag-team division. He was never really involved in any significant feuds on his own. During his time with WWE, he was probably best known for his involvement in "The Hart Dynasty" stable between 2009 and 2011. Smith and his partner Tyson Kidd won the Unified Tag Team Championship, but he failed to gain any momentum when that partnership ended. He was released in August 2011.
Smith has landed on his feet in the aftermath of his WWE release, and has reached considerably higher levels of success than he did with WWE. Since 2011, Smith fought on various indy promotions, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling Noah. While on the indies, he defeated Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens in WWE) and The Almighty Sheik to be the first Heavyweight Champion of Resistance Pro Wrestling promotion. With New Japan, he competed in various tag team matches and ended up winning the IWGP Tag Team Championship. It is safe to say that Smith has experienced a great deal of success outside of WWE and is not missing the WWE paycheck right now.
15 MISSES - HORNSWOGGLE
Incredibly, Hornswoggle was a member of WWE for a decade (2006 - 2016) - longer than many wrestlers last. He started off as Finlay's leprechaun who helped him win matches, before fighting on his own and becoming the last Cruiserweight Champion (until its recent resurrection). Hornswoggle then became involved in a high-profile storyline where he was revealed as Mr. McMahon's illegitimate son. Hornswoggle's last high profile storyline was when Hornswoggle was eventually revealed to be the Anonymous Raw General Manager. He then was involved in various storylines but was seldom used, before was released from WWE in May 2016.
Hornswoggle competed in ACW, his hometown promotion, following his release. He is currently signed to Impact Wrestling and is in a feud with Rockstar Spud under the ring name "Swoggle". Despite all this, it does not seem as though he has been terribly successful in his post-WWE career. While it is good that Hornswoggle has maintained some degree of employment, it does seem as though his matches and storylines reach the level of those he had while with WWE. He is also likely not making anywhere close to the money he made with WWE.
14 SUCCEEDING - CARLITO
Carlito appeared on the WWE main roster between 2004 and 2010, where he was mostly involved in mid-card and tag team storylines. Carlito won the United States Championship and the Intercontinental Championship during his tenure with the WWE. However, Carlito was never really involved in any significant or memorable storylines or feuds. For the most part, he just bounced around between feuds that found him continually relegated to the bottom of the roster - especially towards the end of his tenure. Carlito did, however, form a tag team with his real-life brother Primo, and dubbed themselves "The Colons". They also are credited with unifying the WWE Tag Team Championships and World Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania 25, though. In May 2010, Carlito was released after he refused to enter rehab.
Carlito did not sit around following his WWE release as he promptly began accepting dates on the indies and international promotions. He has won several world championships on these promotions, most of which came under the World Wrestling Council (WWC) promotion. Carlito has participated in various high-profile matches and storylines that are far superior to what he was doing with WWE. Carlito seems to be enjoying the freedom and control he has over his schedule by appearing on different promotions - something else WWE would not have permitted.
13 MISSES - BRODUS CLAY
Brodus Clay had the appearance of a monster but experienced some head-scratching booking while with WWE. He was seldom used meaningfully on WWE TV, and was largely relegated to appearances on WWE Superstars. He started off as a babyface nicknamed "The Funkasaurus" whose gimmick largely revolved around funk dancing. He was accompanied by The Funkadactyls (Naomi and Cameron) and then began using gyrations and dance moves in his matches. He turned heel and fought Xavier Woods, R-Truth, and Tensai during this time. Clay found no success after this, went back to NXT, but was released a few months later anway.
After his release, Clay signed with Impact Wrestling under the ring name "Tyrus". He has mostly been a heel during this time, and challenged for a couple of championships but was never successful. Clay also never was engaged in any meaningful storylines. Impact Wrestling released Clay in August 2017. Outside of his time with Impact Wrestling, he has not really done much else and it remains to be seen what his next career move will be.
12 SUCCEEDING - JOHN MORRISON
John Morrison started off in WWE as Johnny Nitro, where was parterned with Joey Mercury and managed by Melina. He then went on to win the ECW Championship which prompted his name change to John Morrison, where he also became more self-aggrandizing. In 2007, Morrison formed a tag-team with The Miz that ultimately became very successful. During this time, they created a segment called "The Dirt Sheet" that aired on WWE.com, and held the tag team championships. In 2009, they were split up during the brand draft. Morrison won the Intercontinental Championship, challenged for the WWE Championship, and engaged in various feuds and storylines. In 2011, Morrison's contract ended. In 2015, Morrison told Stone Cold Steve Austin that WWE wanted to re-sign Morrison, but he opted not to so he could focus on his health and because he wanted greater control over his time than WWE could allow.
After leaving WWE, Morrison went to Dragon Gate USA and AAA. It took him some time, but he eventually experienced a great deal success with Lucha Underground under the name "Johnny Mundo". Throughout his time in these promotions, Morrison has re-established himself in the wrestling world and has seen just as much - if not more - title success outside of the WWE. Morrison has seemingly developed a reputation for being a consistent worker in the ring and gained increased fame for this.
11 MISSES - JACK SWAGGER
Jack Swagger shot right to the top of the WWE from the start, winning the ECW Championship mere months after debuting. Swagger lost the championship but won the Money in the Bank match. He cashed in successfully on Chris Jericho later on that same year (2009), thus winning the World Heavyweight Championship. After engaging in several storylines, Swagger won the United States Championship in 2012. Following this, he was partnered with Zeb Colter under "The Real Americans" gimmick. This never really resulted in any momentum for Swagger and was mostly engaged in lower-card feuds during his last few years in WWE. Swagger was released from WWE in March 2016.
Swagger went onto the indies looking to forge his own path in the wrestling world, outside of the WWE. He was only released from WWE last year, but Swagger has not really done much since then. He competed in an Australian tour and, from what can be found online, he has only competed in a handful of matches in different promotions. Based on his lack of activity, it could be presumed that Swagger has not had much luck finding employment in wrestling since his release.
10 SUCCEEDING - EVAN BOURNE
Evan Bourne made his debut with WWE on the ECW brand in 2008, where he was placed at the top of the card and in contention for the ECW Championship. An injury stalled that momentum and he was traded to RAW. On RAW, he participated in mostly tag-team matches but most of them resulted in Bourne not gaining any significant momentum within the company. However, in 2011 Bourne and Kofi Kingston - "Air Boom" - won the WWE Tag Team Championships. In late 2011 and again in early 2012, Bourne was suspended for failing a WWE Wellness test. He was then involved in a car accident, appeared in a single match where he lost, and the in 2013, and then released the following year.
Injuries and suspensions may have plagued most of Bourne's WWE career, but he has certainly thrived outside of WWE. Since his release, Bourne returned to the indies and has appeared on EVOLVE, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Dragon Gate, Ring of Honor, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. He has repeatedly challenged for singles championships and has a greater sense of direction on the indies. Bourne has also had the opportunity to compete in high profile matches, an opportunity that was seldom afforded to him in WWE. He is currently signed to Global Force Wrestling.
9 MISSES - JUSTIN GABRIEL
Justin Gabriel made an impact very early on in his WWE career, when he was a member of the Nexus stable. The stable quickly became one of the best heel stables in WWE at the time and their segments became must watch TV. All momentum Gabriel, and the other Nexus members, had came to a crashing halt when the Nexus were essentially buried by John Cena at SummerSlam 2010. Gabriel struggled to regain standing within the company in the years after that, and was eventually released in 2015.
Following that, Gabriel went to the indies under the name "The Darewolf PJ Black". To his credit, he has managed to find some employment outside of the WWE. He had some brief runs with EVOLVE, Global Force Wrestling, TNA, and Lucha Underground. However, none of these runs have been very successful for Gabriel. He has seemingly bounced around between different companies over the past few years and has never really had much sustained success in any of them.
8 SUCCEEDING - REY MYSTERIO
Rey Mysterio spent over a decade with WWE and fought in the Cruiserweight division, the tag-team division, but also has won World Heavyweight Championships. All told, Mysterio is a 12-time champion in WWE. Amongst his championships, he won the WWE Tag-Team Championship 4 times, the WWE Cruiserweight Championship 3 times, and the World Heavyweight Championship twice. Mysterio has, unfortunately, been suspended by WWE twice for failing their Wellness tests. His last few years with WWE were not the greatest since he was injured quite a bit and was mostly used in lower-card tag team feuds as a means to get other wrestlers over. Mysterio wanted to leave WWE, and the company eventually granted his release in February 2015.
Post-WWE, Mysterio almost immediately returned to AAA under his previous name, Rey Mysterio Jr. He competed in what were dubbed 'dream matches' against opponents like Kurt Angle, Matt Hardy, and Mr. Kennedy while in AAA and on the indies. Mysterio is presently signed to Lucha Underground, and it seems as though Mysterio is very happy where he is. In a 2016 interview with Sports Illustrated, Mysterio played down the possibility of him returning to WWE when he stated that he is satisfied with where he is at with Lucha Underground. From all of this, it seems as thouh Mysterio does not need WWE and he is quite happy doing what he is doing with Lucha Underground.
7 MISSES - AKSANA
Aksana made her WWE debut in 2011 as a face, but never really did much on the main roster. She teamed up with Eve Torres for a bit and was also engaged in a feud with Kaitlyn, but her alliance with Torres ended when she retired. Aksana then formed an alliance with Alicia Fox, dubbed "Foxsana", but that team never really did anything to benefit either wrestler. Aksana was released by WWE in 2014. She never really got a chance to do anything significant in her four years with the company. Aksana pretty much just bounced around between feuds, directionless.
There is not any real sense of what Aksana has done since her release from WWE a few years ago. There is nothing substantive to suggest that she is wrestling on the indies or elsewhere, nor anything that suggests she has had some measure of success outside of the wrestling world. It would then stand to reason that Aksana probably misses that WWE paycheck.
6 SUCCEEDING - BATISTA
Batista pretty much did it all during his time with WWE. He entered WWE with Evolution where he first made a name for himself. He then won the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 21 against former-mentor Triple H, in what was lauded as a great storyline. That set him up for WWE stardom, as he was a top star on the Smackdown brand for most of the late-2000s. During this time, Batista main evented Wrestlemania 23 against The Undertaker. Batista is also a 3-time World Tag Team Champion (twice with Ric Flair, once with John Cena) and won the WWE Tag Team Championship with Rey Mysterio. All told, Batista is a 10-time Champion with the WWE. Batista left the company in 2010 since he was dissatisfied with the direction of the company, returned in 2014 for a few months, and then left again to fulfill his movie committments.
Despite his considerable success with WWE, Batista does not need WWE anymore. He has been quite successful in his acting career thus far, in a manner similar to The Rock. He has had roles in several movies, but perhaps his best known role is as "Drax The Destroyer" in the Guardians of the Galaxy series. He is set to reprise this role yet again in 2018 in the "Avengers: Infinity War" film, and in the heavily speculated third Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Batista has certainly kept himself very busy since leaving WWE and has increasingly made a name for himself in the acting world.
5 MISSES - DAMIEN SANDOW
Damien Sandow entered the main roster in 2012 as a sort of condescending heel who considered himself the "Intellectual Saviour of the Masses". He embarked on a couple of feuds before forming an alliance with Cody Rhodes as Team Rhodes Scholars. Sandow never really experienced much success and his status on the main roster began to decline and the losses started to pile up. Sandow's luck changed when he started doing impersonations of celebrities and other wrestlers, before impersonating The Miz as Damien Mizdow for several months. This gimmick endeared Sandow to WWE fans and greatly increased his popularity. Following the end of this gimmick, Sandow was used only sparingly. He was released in May 2016.
Sandow's release stunned the WWE Universe and his seemingly limitless potential to be star for WWE. Even though there was much hope that Sandow would prove successful elsewhere and make WWE regret releasing him, that has not been the case so far. He did his "Thank You" tour for the fans and did appear on a few indie promotions. Sandow also spent a few months with Impact Wrestling, but never really gained any momentum. In April 2017, Sandow announced he plans on turning to acting instead. It remains to be seen how well Sandow's acting career will turn out.
4 SUCCEEDING - MR. KENNEDY
Mr. Kennedy had a good run with WWE in the mid-late 2000's, but his career was plagued by frequent injuries and an ill-timed suspension. Despite this, WWE initially gave Kennedy every chance for success. He defeated Lashley and and Finlay to win the United States Championship in 2005 and, after dropping the title, formed a tag team with MVP to face Kane and The Undertaker. Mr. Kennedy won the Money in the Bank match, but had to drop the briefcase to Edge due to what turned out to be an inaccurately diagnosed injury. Kennedy then engaged in feuds with stars such as Shawn Michaels and William Regal, but was released by WWE in May 2009. In a 2010 interview with Brian Fritz of AOL Fan House (transcribed by WrestleZone), Kennedy stated that Randy Orton and John Cena convinced Mr. McMahon to release Kennedy.
Regardless of the rationale for Kennedy's release, he landed on his feet post-WWE. He signed with TNA where he was immediately placed in important storylines, under the ring name "Mr. Anderson". He competed against stars like Kurt Angle, Sting, and Jeff Hardy - and was also in a tag team with Hardy at one point. He was also a member of the heel "Aces & Eights" stable. He failed a drug test with TNA in March 2016 but, undeterred, he competed on the indies once again. He has also appeared in Ring of Honour recently. Outside of the ring, Kennedy runs a podcast with David Vox Mullen entitled "Push The Button" and has opened up a wrestling school called "The Academy" in Minnesota.
3 MISSES - ALBERTO DEL RIO
Alberto Del Rio was another one of those wrestlers, during both times with WWE, who was afforded multiple opportunities at the top of the card. However, he never really demonstrated an ability to connect with the audience and elicit a strong reaction. The audiences generally seemed bored and disinterested in his segments. That being said, he is a 6-time Champion in WWE. He even defeated John Cena in his surprise return to WWE in 2015, winning the United States Championship in the process. This return was met with the same general disinterest and being placed in the "League of Nations" stable did absolutely nothing to help Del Rio. Del Rio was released by WWE in September 2016.
Del Rio did quite well for himself when he was first released by WWE in 2014. He wrestled in various promotions and proved himself as a good wrestler during his time with AAA, Ring of Honour, and Lucha Underground. This time around has been a different story for Del Rio. His reputation is seemingly irreparably damaged at this juncture, and has failed to really latch on with any promotion. He appeared with Impact Wrestling but was suspended and stripped of his title following the heavily publicized domestic incident involving his girlfriend, Paige.
2 SUCCEEDING - CODY RHODES
During his time with the WWE, Cody Rhodes always seemed destined for greater things but was held back. Many believe he should have won multiple singles championships and was more than capable of headlining pay-per-views and being a top heel or babyface. The powers that be at WWE thought otherwise, apparently. For the past severeal years that he was with WWE, he was in a tag team with his brother, Goldust. This led to Rhodes adopting the "Stardust" gimmick that involved full face paint, a bodysuit, and mannerisms resembling Goldust. He was floundering in the lower card and became very unhappy with his character, and so Rhodes requested his release from WWE.
Cody Rhodes has certainly not floundered in his post-WWE career, despite WWE refusing to let him use his last name. Under the name "Cody", he has been having the time of his life wrestling all over the world. He has wrestled for pretty much any significant wrestling promotion including Impact Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Since December 2016, Cody has been a member of the acclaimed "Bullet Club" stable. Given his status and the gimmick he was stuck with in WWE, it is safe to say that he does not miss WWE because of his success and fame achieved elsewhere.
1 MISSES - RYBACK
Unlike Cody Rhodes, Ryback was continually involved in top storylines within WWE and was given multiple chances to prove himself. He was heavily involved as a member of The Nexus as "Ryan Reeves", before returning as Ryback and repeatedly challenging for the WWE Championship. It was during this time that Ryback feuded with CM Punk and was managed by Paul Heyman for a few months, and tag-teamed with Curtis Axel. Ryback also won the Intercontinental Championship. In May 2016, WWE sent Ryback home due to contract disputes. Ryback complained of a lack of equal pay and being frustrated by WWE Creative, and was subsequently released in August 2016.
Ryback has not really done anything significant since being released from WWE. He has done a few indie matches, but nothing in any top promotions or against top wrestlers. It might be possible that his reputation was tarnished by being labelled an unsafe wrestler by some critics, and seemingly verified by CM Punk. Beyond the ring, Ryback has started a podcast. He also has frequently criticized WWE since his release from the company. It is not likely that Ryback will be welcomed back to WWE anytime soon.