Whenever a wrestler leaves the confines of WWE, it's inevitably going to be a different experience from what they've been used to. The indie scene in the United States is varied and pronounced in some regions, but in others it's undoubtedly the minor leagues of professional wrestling, and appears that way as well. Given this disparity, it's no surprise that the wrestlers breaking off from WWE see varying degrees of success in their career going forward. That is going on today as well, with plenty of former WWE stars putting their presence on the indie scene.
Truthfully, there's probably more bad than good on this subject, as it's difficult to maintain the heights a wrestler's career reaches with WWE. Sometimes, a lack of talent is masked by the high production values that WWE has, and the fact that it's the biggest stage in the wrestling world bar none. Regardless, some ex-personnel of the company have found a way to thrive in their absence, and have cultivated a new following for their work for other promotions. Let's take a look at who this applies to.
Ranked below are 10 former WWE stars ruining their legacy in the Indies, and 5 who are actually succeeding.
15 Ryback (Ruining)
As a generic musclehead with little in the way of in-ring ability, Ryback was naturally able to ascend in the WWE ranks fairly quickly. He had the look of a prototypical WWE star, only without much of the talent. That's been quickly and decidedly shown since his departure from the company in 2016, and Ryback is now stinking up the Indie scene on a regular basis.
He's freelancing for promotions that are hardly notable, even by indie standards, and he's not doing much more than resting on his laurels. Being one of the worst Intercontinental Champions of all-time still means you were an Intercontinental Champion, and Ryback is milking that for all that it's worth at this point. He'll be a low-level indie mainstay for the rest of his career in all likelihood.
14 Kevin Thorn (Ruining)
By some miracle, Kevin Fertig is actually still active in some low-level Indies, and is absolutely just using his name and nothing else to get booked on the card. Whether going under the Kevin Thorn moniker in WWE, or the massively failed Mordecai one, it's not a stretch to say that he was one of the most cringeworthy mid-card wrestlers of the 2000s, and a decided low-point for the company during that time.
Whatever Thorn hopes to gain by staying in the wrestling business, I am not sure. He's never going to ascend to one of the more dominant indie promotions, and has turned into a punchline for anybody that remembers his WWE run. He'll probably keep mucking it as long as he can still make a few bucks off his association with WWE.
13 Carlito Caribbean Cool (Succeeding)
Carlito Colon's run in WWE was up-and-down, though certainly wasn't the distinguished failure that others were around the mid-2000s. He was always a solid wrestler, with varying degrees of booking around him while with WWE. As a member of a wrestling family that happens to be Puerto Rican wrestling royalty, it's no surprise that Colon was able to succeed in the region's most popular promotion in WWC.
He had been there before coming to WWE, and will likely remain there for the rest of his career. Winning WWC's Heavyweight Title a whopping 17 times is a good indication that he's over with the fans in the promotion, and really has no incentive to go anywhere else for the long-term. Colon has worked American Indies as well, but is far more revered in Puerto Rico, where he's cemented his legacy as an all-time great.
12 Billy Gunn (Ruining)
A WWE staple for a long time, and one of the most recognizable wrestlers from The Attitude Era, Gunn has hit the Indie scene for a while now, and it's generally been a lame cash-in attempt more often than not. Without the WWE production behind him, Gunn is clearly past his prime, and doesn't have the same appeal that he once did. That is to be expected, of course.
He's also done a stint in NJPW recently, and he's arguably never looked worse since leaving WWE. His skills have simply eroded, and continuing to portray the Mr. Ass character is borderline embarrassing at this point. Gunn was a great worker in his time, but that just isn't the case anymore. He should really consider retirement.
11 Sean Waltman (Ruining)
When he's not dealing with the law and the various charges thrown his way over the years, Waltman finds time to run the Indie circuit, both as X-Pac, and under his real name. His work since leaving TNA in the mid-2000s has hardly been high-profile, but he's certainly been present in a variety of promotions, even if nobody is really taking much notice of them.
It's about what you would expect Waltman to be doing at this point in his career. He's not carving any new ground for himself, and instead has rested on his laurels from past gimmicks, and his name-value alone. The arrests have gone further to hurt his image during this time, and his in-ring work hasn't been able to override that. It's been a very underwhelming post-WWE career for Waltman.
10 Rey Mysterio (Succeeding)
Obviously, Mysterio was a huge star before he ever came to WWE, so it's not a surprise that he's been able to navigate his career in the absence of such a popular promotion backing him up. Truth be told, Mysterio is a true professional, and he'd be an asset to any company in the world right now.
Going to Lucha Underground was a savvy move from him, and it's likely that he's going to stay there for the long-term. Mysterio still has several years of relevance left as far as his in-ring competition goes, and he's happy in his current situation. This is an extremely quick turnaround for somebody who had spent a whopping 13 years in WWE. But for a veteran like Mysterio, it had to be expected.
9 Chris Masters (Ruining)
Masters is outright terrible as a wrestler. Boring, derivative gimmick, no versatility, and his matches are akin to watching paint dry. He was never over while in WWE from the beginning, so it's not a surprise that his career has been a trainwreck of mediocrity since his WWE debut in 2005. No matter with promotion he's been in, it's never been able to cure his penchant for bad matches, and being a poor draw.
He recently signed with Impact Wrestling earlier this year, but it's difficult to believe that it will mark any kind of improvement. Masters has been a pretender in the business from the start, and was predictably never able to get over with the tougher crowds of the indie scene. He just never had what it takes.
8 Rene Dupree (Ruining)
Dupree was able to fulfill his role as one-half of La Resistance when WWE desperately needed some competent tag teams in their ranks, but Dupree was never able to cut it as a singles wrestler. Runs with Japanese companies such as Wrestle-1 and AJPW followed his WWE career, as well tenures with indies in Canada and the United States. But Dupree's greatest chance at success was with WWE, where he had an automatic audience.
Recently, Dupree has been working Canadian indies with regularity, including appearances with Sylvan Grenier, thereby reforming La Resistance. It's not the best move when you're a wrestler who's still relatively young (Dupree is 33-years-old), and shows a clear lack of growth for Dupree, who is clearly content to use tired gimmicks with limited upside, even if they were once popular over a decade ago.
7 The Sandman (Succeeding)
It's nearly impossible for The Sandman to ruin his legacy on the indies, because his legacy was built up through the indies and ECW to begin with. In fact, in a way, Sandman's career was hurt when he worked for WWE and WCW moreso than it was with smaller promotions. He doesn't have the character for primetime TV, and does better in the dimly-lit, smaller arenas where his reputation is the strongest.
It's true that he hasn't been in much of the spotlight since his last run in WWE during the mid-2000s, but Sandman will routinely make the rounds of many Indie promotions, many in the Northeast, and give the crowd a memorable moment in one way or another. He's a sideshow attraction, but it may be the best of its type in the business.
6 Teddy Hart (Ruining)
For every advantage that Hart has intrinsically had, given that he's a part of one of the most legendary wrestling families in history, he's done remarkably little with it. He's had numerous opportunities to succeed in WWE, but ultimately failed due to his spotty in-ring work and piss-poor attitude. He's spent a ton of time in AAA and with other promotions, but has never ascended to the upper echelon of the wrestling world, for the reasons mentioned above.
Now, he's generally content shifting from one low-level indie promotion to the next. It's a far cry from the chance he had to succeed on wrestling's biggest stage, but Hart did it to himself, and has to live with being one of the most underwhelming members of his esteemed family, as it relates to the wrestling business.
5 Alberto Del Rio (Ruining)
As a former CMLL Heavyweight Champion, Del Rio signing with WWE was initially a pretty big deal. He was rewarded by being pushed into the main event scene, and becoming one of the hallmark WWE talents of the early-2010s. His run was successful, there's no doubt about that, but he's had difficulty re-establishing himself since his departure in 2014.
Del Rio has spent time back in Mexico for AAA, WWC and in ROH as well. Nothing has really been able to make a lasting impression on his career, outside of a brief WWE return which ended in 2016. A predictable signing with Impact Wrestling followed, but since inking that contract, Del Rio has still failed to reemerge as one of wrestling's elite, instead ending up in the news for his drunken antics and chaotic relationship with girlfriend Paige. We'll see if he's able to do so in the future, but time is running out.
4 Raven (Succeeding)
Despite his tenured career in the business, Raven is still putting in quality work on the indie scene, and has proven to be a true wrestling lifer. While he's obviously not in his athletic prime anymore, a wrestler who understands the psychology of the industry is going to succeed for a long time. No matter the stage he is on, or how small the promotion, he's been able to turn in consistently great performance year-in and year-out.
As one of the few who was able to succeed in WCW, ECW and WWE in the past, Raven's consistency is well-noted, and his style is adaptable to just about any promotion. This one is to be expected, just because of his track record, and his sheer level of talent. It's difficult to make Raven look bad in or around a wrestling ring. He wasn't dependent upon WWE to make a name for himself.
3 Jack Swagger (Ruining)
Swagger is a notable example of an accomplished amateur wrestler who's been able to seamlessly transition into the world of professional wrestling. He adapted quickly, and soon became one of the hallmark WWE talents of his era, until he departed from the company earlier this year. Since then, it's been an uphill battle to make a name for himself without the WWE machine backing him up.
It's not necessarily a surprise. Swagger has been under WWE control for his entire wrestling career, so he hasn't been able to cultivate a fanbase anywhere else, or make the same connection as a wrestler who worked their way up the indie ranks. Swagger has to do that now, all on his own, so it looks like smaller indie promotions, and low-capacity crowds are in his foreseeable future, until he make a signing somewhere more prominent.
2 Rob Van Dam (Ruining)
Nobody denies Van Dam's resume in ECW and WWE, and the fact that he's one of the hallmark performers of the '90s. With that said, when a wrestler's time is up and they refuse to acknowledge it, the rest of their career isn't going to measure up to their past work. Van Dam is bouncing around to nondescript indie promotions, just barely getting by on his reputation alone, and charging overpriced autographs.
Truly, the last run he had in WWE was his last hurrah as a notable in-ring competitor, and even that one didn't go very well, which prompted him to walk away from WWE yet again in 2014. The work he's doing now is merely saving face, or at least trying to desperately reap rewards from a previous era when he was in his prime. RVD may be an all-time great, but his attitude and deteriorating in-ring ability have tarnished his present-day reputation.
Stick to watching his ECW matches from 20 years ago.
1 Cody Rhodes (Succeeding)
It's well-accepted that Rhodes had been hung out to dry by WWE creative when he was given the horrific Stardust gimmick. It effectively killed all the momentum he had built up to that point, and ensured that he would never be a long-term star with the company, despite nearly a decade on WWE programming. Clearly, WWE figured Rhodes had already reached his prime, but right now he's proving them wrong emphatically.
All of the work on the indies that Rhodes has done since his WWE departure has led to him getting a shot in NJPW, and being involved in several notable, high-profile matches within the ascending company. Rhodes is young enough to establish himself with NJPW for years to come, and override the bad break he received near the end of his run with WWE. The feeling is that Rhodes hasn't yet hit his peak, and that should be an exciting prospect for any wrestling fan.
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