As fans, many of us have experienced disappointment when we have learned about one of our favorite wrestlers being released from the WWE. For some, it was simply a case of being in the right place at the wrong time or a story that has become annoyingly all too familiar that “creative has nothing for you”. Regardless of the circumstances, as the WWE reaches out to alumni to help fill the roster for three distinct brands under the company’s umbrella, there are a number of wrestlers that we hope will get the call – and still others that shouldn’t get another chance in the WWE fold.
In the event that a wrestler was simply saddled with a gimmick that didn’t have a chance to succeed, it’s time to take a look at that wrestler again in the current climate and identify where their skills might best fit. In other cases, it may be worthwhile to re-visit the circumstances that contributed to their release and assess whether time and distance have changed the context of that decision. Another important criteria, would be to look at what the wrestler has done since they were last in the WWE – have they flourished or floundered?
20 No Chance: Ken Kennedy
In the case of Ken Kennedy, his first run in the WWE seemed like a triumph for a wrestler that came up through the independents to land a spot as one of the most visible stars in the WWE. He was entertaining and factored into some key storylines during his time with the company. It’s not the number of injuries that sidelined him from action during his first run, nor his suspension for a wellness policy violation that would give us pause from seeing him re-introduced to the company.
Instead, it comes down to Kennedy’s paranoia that Randy Orton and John Cena going to Vince McMahon and reporting him for being reckless in the ring that creates the stumbling block for a return. With Orton and Cena both in very visible roles with the company, and now with 15 years seniority, why risk the direct friction created, or the chance for a division in the locker room?
19 Second chance: Muhammad Hassan
You can’t help but feel badly for Marc Copani. He was hired by the WWE to portray the role of Muhammad Hassan during a very politically sensitive time for the country. He came in and delivered so well in his role, that the WWE had no choice but to kill him off to satisfy the uneasiness of television executives that were uncomfortable with the storyline and the content airing on their network. Professional wrestling, particularly the WWE, had observed a long track record of tapping into the political turmoil of the day – promoting the Iron Sheik at the height of the Iran crisis in the 1980s and building up Sgt. Slaughter as an Iraqi sympathizer during the Gulf War.
Had Hassan not been introduced when the company was in prime time, he may have cemented his future career with the effective delivery of that gimmick. If he’s still in the market for another shot ... give it to him.
18 No Chance: Gail Kim
Gail Kim enjoyed a strong introduction to the WWE, winning the Women’s Title in her debut match with the company. After an initial three year run with the WWE, she was released from her contract as part of a reported cost-cutting measure and made the jump to TNA. When she returned to the WWE three years later, she failed to ascend to the same level of success she had experienced in her first run. In fact, the parting shot for Gail occurred during a battle royal when she eliminated herself in the early portion of the match and departed from the arena and the company thereafter.
Despite the increasing roster depth of the women’s division at this time, Gail identified that she felt that the female talent was being held back and did not enjoy her time with the company. Though the WWE is currently promoting a women’s revolution, it seems like her last departure would sour relations from the outset upon a return.
17 Second chance: Kenny Omega
Because he never appeared on television, many people may forget that Kenny Omega was ever under contract with the WWE. Originally scouted by John Laurinaitis after being discovered at the Harley Race wrestling camp, Omega was assigned to Deep South Wrestling before eventually asking for his release. At the time, Omega felt that the developmental system wasn’t allowing for him to create an individual identity, and has since created a lot of steam around himself. Under the current climate, with wrestlers atop the roster that fall outside of the WWE’s traditional mold including Kevin Owens as the Universal Champion and AJ Styles as the World Champion, the atmosphere could be ripe for Kenny Omega.
The Bullet Club member could excel on his own terms without conforming to anyone else’s model of what a WWE wrestler is supposed to be. With the recent aggressive acquisition of talent from across the independent scene, there has never been an environment more inviting for someone like Omega.
16 No Chance: La Resistance
Twelve years ago, La Resistance reigned as WWE Tag Team Champions. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility to consider that a team could make a comeback after a decade away – not unlike the Spirit Squad’s Mikey and Kenny have this year. However, in the case of La Resistance (at least among the two original members Sylvain Grenier and Rene Dupree), we’ve seen virtually nothing great come of their post WWE careers. Grenier returned home to Quebec where his asking price for bookings has been on par with the average local independent star and Dupree has traveled a rocky road, severing a number of relationships along the way.
While it’s sad to consider that a team from 20 years ago, The Headbangers, could make a return to a WWE ring, a team with a more recent track record needs to be excluded from consideration. Now, Rob Conway on the other hand ... maybe we shouldn’t lump him in with his partners on this one.
15 Second Chance: John Morrison
In the case of John Morrison, you have a wrestler who was discovered and developed completely through the WWE’s system. He stepped into the ring for the first time as a contestant on the third season of Tough Enough in 2002 and spent nine years with the company, laying claim to many title reigns during those years in both singles and tag team competition. When his contract came up for renewal in 2011, Morrison identified that due to a nagging neck injury he didn’t feel comfortable to commit to another three years. Still he went about his exit from the company in the proper way.
After his stint in Lucha Underground, John Morrison could be readily re-introduced to the WWE roster and would be a fit no matter where he was placed, factoring into the championship picture in any division. The obvious re-introduction would be to pair him against The Miz, who was responsible for Morrison being “stretchered out” of his last WWE match.
14 No Chance: Cody Rhodes
It’s not simply a case of Cody Rhodes requesting his release from the WWE that should disqualify him from consideration of a return to the company down the road. Instead, it is because he should have been able to secure the advice he needed from within his own family to prevent him from making a big mistake. Just ask Goldust how well his career went after leaving the WWE in 1999, or 2003, or 2006, or 2012. In each case, Dustin Rhodes didn’t return with a stronger footing for himself but instead an increasingly diminished profile with the company.
For Cody Rhodes, who has enjoyed the benefit of his father keeping a watchful eye over him, and no doubt a certain amount of creative influence, he has enjoyed the spoils that come with being the son of a WWE Hall of Famer. A two time Intercontinental Champion and a six time Tag Team Champion all within a nine year run – that’s pretty impressive, but maybe not enough to repair burned bridges in the WWE.
13 Second Chance: Kharma
Based on her commanding performances as Awesome Kong in TNA, we couldn’t wait to see what was in store for Kia Stevens upon her arrival in the WWE. Billed as Kharma, she provided a stark contrast to whole of the women’s division in the company and the vignettes used to build up this newcomer as a sadistic monster had us all intrigued. Unfortunately, before she could wrestle a single match, she discovered that she was pregnant and required a leave of absence from the company. To date, Kharma has appeared in only one match – the 2013 Royal Rumble. Since returning to the ring, she has been dominant wherever she has appeared.
However, with Nia Jax now poised to carve a wide swath among the women’s division, it might be time for the WWE to re-consider an opponent that could match up physically with The Rock’s cousin. That opponent could very well be Kharma.
12 No Chance: Tommy Dreamer
In the 1990s, Paul Heyman’s relentless promotion of Tommy Dreamer solidified him as a core stable member of the original Extreme Championship Wrestling. His drawing power would have been a hot commodity for either the WWE or WCW to snap up and capitalize on, particularly in the Northeast. However, what we have seen in the years since ECW closed its doors in 2001 is a repeated effort to go back to the same well and reprise the magic that was created in a Philadelphia bingo hall. The WWE hired a number of ECW wrestlers in 2001 for a hardcore invasion angle, TNA tried to re-create the same dynamic in 2010. In the case of Tommy Dreamer, unlike many others in the past generation, his is a gimmick that hasn’t evolved, but instead is a re-creation of the same overdone (and watered down) hardcore schtick that isn’t worthy of a recurring role on TV.
11 Second Chance: Victoria
When you think about the timeline of the careers of some of the current headliners like John Cena and Randy Orton, they first appeared on our radar in 2000-02 as they created a name for themselves in the WWE’s developmental system. A two-time WWE Women’s champion, Victoria debuted in 2002 and spent seven years with the company. She then spent four years with TNA and at the end of her contract was vocal that she would not be renewing her relationship with the company. She also was quoted saying that her time in Florida had made her “appreciate WWE a lot”. She has continued to maintain a visible presence in the ring and would be a suitable addition to the current WWE women’s division, adding another experienced lady to the roster to test the generation of female stars on the ascent of their careers.
10 No Chance: Rob Van Dam
In the mix of talent being integrated into the WWE following the closure of both WCW and ECW, few wrestlers captured the attention of the ticket-buying audience as Rob Van Dam. Immediately thrust into the main event mix, “Mr. Monday Night”, Van Dam lays claim to 16 championship reigns over two separate runs with the company. It’s not that there is any doubt that Van Dam could still deliver in the ring, but he already turned down an offer to be re-introduced to the WWE in 2015. Given his active marketing and promotion of his own brand through media projects and other endeavors, he would seem to be a perfect fit for the WWE’s brand vision – except RVD isn’t about the WWE team and being a part of that machine; he’s all about RVD alone.
9 Second Chance: Damien Sandow
One of the most disappointing releases this year was when fans learned that Damien Sandow had been let go from the WWE. However, when you take a moment to consider what he had been made to work with over the final year or so of his contract, it may have been a blessing in disguise. In a perfect world, Sandow’s break from WWE audiences will play out like Leif Cassidy’s departure from the WWE, returning as Al Snow. Let’s give fans some time to forget about how we diminished the credibility of this talented wrestler and re-introduce him again down the road with an opportunity to use him to his full potential.
The fact is, Sandow was first signed to a contract by the WWE in 2002 and relegated to the developmental territories – they’ve never really known what to do with him. Hopefully a little time to discover himself on the independents will give him a new lease on life with Vince McMahon’s talent relations department.
8 No Chance: Ryback
For many, we hope that Ryan Reeves learns some hard lessons about the climate of the wrestling industry now that he has elected to walk away from the WWE and their marketing machine. The fact is, since 2004, Ryback has been under contract with the WWE and working within their system in some capacity. He’s never experienced anything different. So earlier this year when he started to make waves about his frustrations with the creative direction and the pay scale within the WWE, very few of us could really sympathize with his woes.
Once he gets a taste of what other wrestlers paying their dues have to endure and understands the difference between a guaranteed contract with a merchandising royalty as opposed to the pay for play nature of the independent wrestling scene, he may soon see the error of his ways. Ryback was given every opportunity to succeed. If he couldn’t make it in the WWE, chances are it’s not going to happen elsewhere.
7 Second Chance: Drew McIntyre
The WWE announced on June 12, 2014 that they were releasing Drew McIntyre and Jinder Mahal from their contracts, thus also simultaneously terminating the trio of the “Three Man Band” with Heath Slater. The announcement came as a shock to many, as McIntyre had been a dominant and visible star on the roster for five years since being introduced as “The Chosen One”. Given his recent success in TNA, including a victory for the World Title, it has been widely speculated that he might once again be attractive to the WWE and it would be great to see him return and pick up where he left off.
That McIntyre was released and Slater was retained stands as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in recent memory. How would McIntyre best fit in the current climate of the WWE? He is a versatile enough talent that he could factor into the roster anywhere and make his presence felt in short order.
6 No Chance: James Storm
It remains a mystery to this day why James Storm elected to stay with the sinking ship that is TNA rather than sign on with the WWE, even if it was only as part of the NXT roster. The WWE, for its part, made a bit of noise on social media when James Storm made a pair of appearances in NXT in the closing months of 2015. Certainly, there have been some successes for wrestlers that have made the jump – AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries and now Bobby Roode have all successfully transitioned to the WWE. It stands to reason that James Storm might have expected similar results from his career move. However, after only a pair of appearances, Storm turned down a WWE deal to go back to TNA.
With rumors of TNA’s demise looming with each passing week, Storm should live with his decision, even if that means he sits at home while his former colleagues reach greater heights in their careers.
5 Second Chance: Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle isn’t the only former Olympian to make the transition to professional wrestling, but it could be easily argued that few who have saw the same level of success – or ascended as quickly – as Angle. Angle stands out among a legendary cast of characters including Steve Austin, The Rock, Chris Jericho and Triple H during the “Monday Night War” era of professional wrestling and was featured in some of the greatest matches as well as the most entertaining vignettes. Angle departed from the WWE citing that he was burned out from the schedule required from the company and has since excelled in TNA.
Over the past year, Angle has expressed an interest in returning to the WWE and we can’t help but feel that an Angle vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania would be a greater pairing than some other possibilities that we’re hearing. The schedule is much different today than when Kurt left the company – bring him back.
4 No Chance: Bobby Lashley
Similar to the case of Ryback, Bobby Lashley had the world by the tail under Vince McMahon. Let’s not forget that it was less than two years from his WWE television debut that he would find himself in a featured match at WrestleMania in a battle that pitted the interests of Vince McMahon vs. incoming U.S. President Donald Trump. He was eventually released after an extended absence due to injury, but when you consider his schedule since in both wrestling and MMA, one has to wonder if he hadn’t milked the injury while under a guaranteed contract situation with the WWE. Sure, Lashley has maintained a high level of visibility and success in both sports realms, including multiple title reigns in TNA and it’s possible that Lashley vs. Lesnar could have some box office appeal. However, a reinvestment in Lashley would be a waste of money and the fans aren’t clamouring for his return to the fold either.
3 Second Chance: Killer Elite Squad
While Harry Smith enjoyed a level of success in the WWE owing in part to his bloodline including a Tag Team Championship run as part of the Hart Dynasty, the 6’9” Vance Archer never really found his feet during his one year with the WWE. However, since the release of both wrestlers from the company within six months of each other five years ago, they have forged out to create their own momentum. As the Killer Elite Squad, the duo has held the NWA World Tag Team Titles, the New Japan Tag Team Titles and the Pro Wrestling Noah Championships. Reintroduced as a team, this pair of heavyweights could create an impact in the WWE tag team division on any of the WWE’s three brands. Paired against Gallows and Anderson, or inserted into the SmackDown brand to introduce that Japanese influence on that brand, either way the Killer Elite Squad are money.
2 No Chance: Jeff Hardy
There’s no two ways about it: Jeff Hardy is a walking train wreck. Jeff and his brother Matt were well promoted in the mix of rising stars as part of the WWE’s youth movement in the late 1990s. The brothers, especially Jeff, were even able to survive through the amalgamation of WCW and ECW talent into the WWE roster. Hardy was released in 2003 for erratic behavior, drug use, no-showing appearances and a deteriorating ring performance. He was brought back to the company after a three year hiatus and rose to even greater heights with the company.
When he was given time off to heal injuries, he returned to TNA wrestling rather than resting, avoiding the return to action under Vince McMahon’s banner. Add to this his multiple wellness policy violations while under contract, and his conviction for drug trafficking and he is simply a liability that the WWE can’t afford to take a gamble on. While popular with the fans, he’s simply not worth the risk.
1 Second Chance: Colt Cabana
Look at the career of Colt Cabana and you see a talent that seems to be a perfect fit for the current culture of the WWE. Cabana is not only an outstanding entertainer with a long list of credentials between the ropes, but he has created a lot of visibility for himself through his Art of Wrestling podcast. Watch any of the videos that he has produced to hype his appearances for various independent promoters and you’ll see a guy that understands the concept of talking people into the building. During his previous stint in the WWE, billed as Scotty Goldman, Cabana is one of the premier case studies in “creative has nothing for you”.
With some of the WWE’s current writers and producers being well familiar with Cabana’s strengths, the current environment could provide a setting to right the wrong of Cabana’s previous WWE stay.