World Wrestling Entertainment is viewed by many to be the grandest stage in all of professional wrestling; or as they prefer to call it, “sports entertainment.” It’s a justifiable claim. WWE has a history of being part of the American pop culture. Wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena being able to transition from the wrestling ring to the silver screen.
A majority of the best pro wrestlers in the world want to work for the WWE. However, the trend seems to be that not everyone needs the WWE to find success. There are a number of talented wrestlers who find themselves buried in the WWE’s mid-card rank or lower. It’s through no fault of their own. Names like Cody Rhodes, Ethan Carter III and Johnny Mundo (formerly John Morrison) had the seemingly perfect blend of athleticism and charisma.
But they leave the WWE and help other promotions. They find a decent wage working for promotions overseas in Europe and Japan. They don’t need to work for the WWE to be huge wrestling stars. But not every former WWE Superstar is able to make a successful transition out to working on the independent circuit.
Professional wrestling is arguably one of the hardest jobs to find a niche. There is so much competition beyond the WWE Universe that it can be hard to stand out. If you aren’t on your A-game almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week, someone is going to pass you by and earn the big payday.
The list looks at the pro wrestlers who have gotten better since leaving the WWE and also those who have gotten worse since departing the WWE.
20 Better – Matt Sydal (Evan Bourne)
Matt Sydal was a major independent wrestling star before being signed to a WWE contract in 2007. After a few years in developmental, he would debut in WWE as Evan Bourne. There was some potential with a number of good matches. However, he wasn’t able to win more than the WWE Tag Team Championship with Kofi Kingston. Bourne’s WWE run ended in 2014 after he had returned from a 2012 car accident that broke his foot in several places.
19 Worse – Brad Maddox
Remember when Brad Maddox was relevant in the WWE? Remember when he was the general manager of Monday Night RAW? This isn’t a Pepperidge Farms commercial. There was some potential in a comedy gimmick, but he was unable to really capitalize on the opportunities given to him on the WWE main roster. Eventually, he would cause his own demise by calling a live crowd “cocky pricks” on a microphone.
18 Better – Ethan Carter III
There were a few fans who found humor in watching Derrick Bateman’s run on the fourth season of NXT; especially the double date involving Daniel Bryan and the Bella Twins. However, the Bateman character never quite got the supportive push despite being very entertaining. Eventually, he would be released in 2013 and spent time developing a new character through TNA.
17 Worse – Bull James
Bull Dempsey was someone in NXT who had a hard-hitting offense, but wasn’t able to show much as a villain. Eventually, he was turned into a comedy act that made fun of his weight with the “Bull-Fit” gimmick. It had a few good moments but didn’t show that he had a lot of upside and potential in the WWE. He would eventually be released in early 2016 with hopes of showing what he can do on his own.
16 Better – Maria Kanellis
The WWE Diva Search gave us a few memorable women to grace the WWE ring. Not all of them ever made major contributions to the competition. Maria Kanellis was one of the competitors of the 2004 WWE Diva Search that was ultimately won by Christy Hemme. Kanellis was still offered a contract and spent most of her WWE career as a ditzy backstage reporter who had a few relationships and a couple of matches here and there.
15 Worse - Eugene
In 2004, the WWE debuted possibly one of the more insensitive gimmicks possible in Eugene. Nick Dinsmore portrayed a mentally handicapped wrestler who was Eric Bischoff’s nephew. It shouldn’t have gotten over, but Eugene was certainly able to become a big star very quickly. The character eventually started to falter and led to Dinsmore’s eventual release in 2007. He had a brief return in 2009, but the WWE noticed that he had gained some weight and wasn’t in good conditioning.
14 Better – Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy historically has been the more popular brother in the Hardy family. That has changed a little bit this past year as Broken Matt Hardy has shown his “broken brilliance.” However, Jeff Hardy has continued to find success as one of the bigger draws for TNA Wrestling and also in various independent promotions. While his professional wrestling career has maintained a level of success, it’s his personal life that has seen improvement.
13 Worse – “Wildcat” Chris Harris
In recent years, a number of TNA Wrestling superstars have made successful transitions into the WWE. Granted, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles sort of worked elsewhere before going to WWE. “Wildcat” Chris Harris was one of the best tag team wrestlers in TNA, which included being a six-time NWA World Tag Team Champion with James Storm. But after a singles run in TNA, he would sign a contract with WWE in 2008.
12 Better – Johnny Mundo
One of the most gifted all-around athletes the WWE Universe had ever seen was John Morrison. He was a favorite among many fans for his parkour abilities that would translate into the wrestling ring. However, he was barely able to get beyond the mid-card status in the WWE with mostly WWE Tag Team and Intercontinental Championship reigns before leaving the WWE in 2011.
11 Worse – Yoshi Tatsu
One can’t completely blame Yoshi Tatsu for his struggles in the WWE. For one, he had possibly one of the silliest theme songs that sounded like it came from a children’s video game. They also kept that when he first debuted a darker character in 2011; because that didn’t feel awkward for the audience at all. But he was able to find work after his departure in 2014 with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
10 Better – Chris Hero
Chris Hero just made his return to the WWE and plenty of wrestling fans were buzzing at the video of him confronting current NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura. His previous run in NXT as Kassius Ohno ended in 2013. There were some concerns about his weight, but Hero said there were multiple things that led to the decision of being released back in 2013 – including how he worked matches.
9 Worse – Awesome Kong
Awesome Kong was certainly one of the most dominant women in professional wrestling. She spent several years through the independent circuit and TNA Wrestling as a force to be reckoned with. So the fact that the WWE signed her to a contract got fans pretty excited; especially with her vignette showing her ripping a Barbie doll to pieces. But her run as Kharma was cut short due to being pregnant; which later turned into an unfortunate miscarriage.
8 Better – Drew Galloway
There was once a time when the WWE debuted Drew McIntyre in 2009; the man chosen by Vince McMahon to be the next big superstar in the WWE. Early on, it seemed there was some truth behind that claim. But McIntyre would quickly fall down the card and have to settle being in the 3MB faction with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal. It wasn’t that it was a collection of bad wrestlers, but more a collection of guys the WWE didn’t know what to do with.
7 Worse – Sin Cara/Mistico
Before coming to the WWE, Luis Ignacio Urive Alvirde had become one of the biggest stars working for Mexico’s Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre. He had an exciting move set which led to WWE officials having an interest in him and led to his WWE signing in 2011. The WWE tried to make him a big star under the Sin Cara gimmick. Unfortunately, the original Sin Cara was unable to adjust to the WWE style and was eventually replaced by another wrestler before his 2014 release.
6 Better – Cody Rhodes
Like many pro wrestlers who are often held back in WWE despite having a lot of potential, it wasn’t a surprise to see Cody Rhodes leave the WWE in 2016. For nearly a year, Rhodes wore face paint and ring gear similar to his brother Goldust. The Stardust character never went anywhere beyond the mid-card and spent most of the time on the lower-part of the WWE talent totem-pole.
5 Worse - Rikishi
Rikishi is one of the better mid-card superstars the WWE had through the late 1990s and into the 2000s. Plenty of that has to do with coming from the successful Anoa’I family that has produced a number of great wrestling stars. He had a few runs as a Tag Team Champion in the WWE and even held the WWE Intercontinental Championship near the end of the Attitude Era. But he was let go from WWE after he was not able to lose the weight the WWE wanted him to drop.
4 Better – Bobby Lashley
During his time with the WWE from 2005 until 2008, Bobby Lashley felt more like a Goldberg rip-off who never had to develop a lot of personality. He was definitely a talented wrestler with a background both at Missouri Valley College and through the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program. However, fans didn’t get too sad when he left the WWE. They also weren’t initially excited when he first came to TNA Wrestling.
3 Worse – Mr. Anderson
There was once a time when there was a bright young star in the WWE that competed under the name Mr. Kennedy. Ken Anderson was given quite the push that included winning Money in the Bank in 2007; only to lose to Edge shortly thereafter. Throw in a supposed botched suplex to Randy Orton and his time in WWE was done after a 2009 release.
2 Better – Matt Hardy
There’s an old saying that if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. However, Matt Hardy in his “broken brilliance” is something fans hope doesn’t get fixed. What initially seemed like the stupidest idea in pro wrestling history has turned out to be one of the biggest things in wrestling outside of the WWE. He’s gone from someone who struggled to get beyond the mid-card in WWE to someone who initially struggled in TNA Wrestling.
1 Worse – Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio has had his share of backstage incidents that led to him leaving the WWE not once, but twice. Most recently, he left the WWE in the fall of 2016 after there were problems stemming from a WWE Wellness Policy violation and his relationship with WWE Superstar Paige (note: he’s not officially divorced from his wife). But it seems that Del Rio can’t stay out of trouble.
Beyond being a no-show to a show for AAA in Mexico last October with promoters saying he “failed Mexican public,” he’s also been in fights outside of the ring. The most recent situation involves a fight with his brother El Hijo de Dos Caras on Dec. 30. It also continued when both were taken to a nearby police station where the fight got bloody with Del Rio knocking his brother out. It’s a sad situation that continues to unfold.
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