Once upon a time, WWE was more than the best option available to pro wrestlers who wanted to become famous; it was the only option available. Sure, smaller companies have always existed, yet from 1984 onward, Vince McMahon’s organization was considered the peak of the industry, a reputation that it still holds to this day. Well, for the most part, anyway. Increasingly, wrestlers employed by WWE are deciding to leave their big money contracts, walking away from the glitz and glamour and choosing to practice their craft elsewhere.
This is in part because WWE has been treating its staff pretty poorly for some time now, and another piece of the puzzle is the fact indy promotions are starting to rise in prominence thanks to exposure on the Internet. Thanks to these two factors, wrestlers no longer believe working for WWE is a necessary part of a wrestler’s career path. Recently, the top stars of Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and New Japan Pro Wrestling have been getting just as much attention online as anyone in WWE, and if they schedule things perfectly, they might be making more money doing it, too.
Of course, not every wrestler has all that much gas left in the tank, and might see the writing on the walls of the WWE Universe as a sign it’s simply time to finally pack things up and call it quits for their career. This is one area where sticking with WWE, at least for a little while, could be beneficial, as the benefits and tributes packages will keep them financially secure well into retirement. Keep reading for 10 WWE superstars who are bound for the indies and 5 who will just retire soon.
15 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: Tye Dillinger
For all the talk about him being a “Perfect 10” down in NXT, Tye Dillinger really hasn’t accomplished all that much since getting called up to the WWE main roster in April of 2017. Aside from a couple high profile losses to WWE Champion Jinder Mahal and United States Champion Baron Corbin, Dillinger has pretty much just been there, doing nothing, and showing none of the promise his fans believed was evident during his time in the developmental league. Maybe it’s too early to call, as Vince McMahon could always have one of his textbook changes of heart and decide Dillinger is bound to be a star, but his smaller size doesn’t bode well for his future prospects. It would probably be better for Dillinger to use his current fame and transition it to a top role in a likewise smaller company, where he could truly shine.
14 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: The Ascension
To this day, fans have no idea what the hell happened to The Ascension when they were called up to the main roster. In NXT, the duo was treated like the next coming of Demolition or The Road Warriors, reigning as the Tag Team Champions nearly a full calendar year. Since Vince McMahon has got his hands on them, though, they’ve almost completely turned into low level jokes, and the punch line is that these big, tough monsters lose almost every match they’re have. Were Konnor and Viktor to leave the big leagues and hit for a smaller, more rough-and-tumble company, they could easily climb back to the top of the tag team ladder. Many indy promotions have a throwback vibe, hearkening to wrestling’s territorial days, which was exactly the time the Road Warriors and their imitators were originally popular.
13 GUNNING FOR RETIREMENT: Goldust
Unless they’ve been paying very little attention, any fan of professional wrestling over the past two decades or so should always be able to remember the name…Goldust. Call him Dustin Rhodes and that timeframe could bump up another five years. Throughout it all, this grandson of a plumber has been one of the most technically proficient and verbally creative wrestlers around, a fact that may well hold true to this day. However, at 48 years old, it may be time to ask how much Goldust really has left to give inside the ring. Never a WWE Champion, Goldust was always successful without being a main event name, so it’s not like up-and-coming stars get all that much a boost by defeating him. He’s still competent enough in the ring that he probably still has another year or two in him, but that’s all. Hopefully, he’ll be able to recognize this and move backstage into a training/mentor role similar to the one once held by his father.
12 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: Rusev
More than once, it has felt like WWE was actually getting the picture with Rusev and recognizing he was one of the most unique and talented rising stars on their roster. He’s been involved in several top feuds against names like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Roman Reigns, but the thing is, these programs all ultimately end with Rusev eating a clean pin fall in the center of the ring. Basically, he’s the most textbook jobber to the stars in the company today, and unfortunately, we don’t see things getting better for him any time soon. Unless, of course, he follows in the footsteps of men like Cody Rhodes and Neville, deciding to leave the WWE Universe for greener pastures elsewhere. With his look, gimmick, and abilities in the ring, Rusev could easily be a top star at any indy in the country, and he might even get to win a few matches by making the move.
11 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: James Ellsworth
Let’s face it, folks: the joke is over with James Ellsworth. For a brief moment after his debut, WWE truly had something special with the little wrestler that almost could, as his sudden feud against AJ Styles was a highlight of 2016. Ellsworth’s stature and plucky attitude made him the ultimate underdog, which is why turning him heel remains one of the most confusing moves WWE has made in recent memory. Quite frankly, Ellsworth couldn’t possibly be less suited for his role as the cocky boyfriend of Carmella, and from a career perspective, he should kind of be embarrassed that’s what he’s doing in the first place. Barely a year ago, the same guy getting slapped by the Princess of Staten Island was wrestling for the WWE Championship, and we highly doubt he’ll ever get anywhere near those heights again. Unless, perhaps, if he leaves WWE, and tries for a top title somewhere else.
10 GUNNING FOR RETIREMENT: The Big Show
In theory, we’re more confident about the Big Show’s retirement than any other wrestler on this section of the list, but on the other hand, anything can happen in the WWE Universe. While it’s natural to hesitate believing the news, Show himself has claimed that his current contract ends in February 2018, and he also said he has no plans to renew it or wrestle anywhere else. Show turns 46 that same month, which isn’t all that old for a person or even a wrestler, but considering his advanced size, the stress he’s been putting on his body these last two decades has no doubt started to catch up with him. Recently, he was taken out of action because he needed hip surgery, and this could potentially take him out of the ring for good regardless of what his plans were before suffering the injury. No matter what the reason, it’s clear the Big Show is almost over.
9 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: Breezango
By and large, Tyler Breeze and Fandango have done more for one another’s careers by teaming up than either had done on their own for several years. Both are talented wrestlers in singles or tag team competition, yet neither was able to assert himself in the WWE Universe, perhaps due to their comedic gimmicks. Bizarrely, throw two goofballs together and their powers greatly intensify to the extent what wasn’t working before suddenly became their greatest assets. On the downside, the specifics of Breezeango’s comedy stylings might be a little too cartoonish for Vince McMahon to ever take them as a serious threat. Behind the laughter, Breeze and Fandango are still two talented wrestlers deserving serious attention in whatever tag division they’re competing in. Anywhere outside of WWE, they just may be able to get some of it.
8 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: Paige
Yes, as of this writing, Paige is still technically a WWE Superstar – go figure. More so than anyone else on this list, though, we’re pretty darn certain this status won’t last for all that long. It’s been almost a full year since Paige was suspended for her second violation of the WWE Wellness Policy in the same year, and she still hasn’t been seen back on Raw or SmackDown Live. Yes, she also required neck surgery shortly after those offenses were made public, but the Anti-Diva herself has also claimed she’s been clear to make her return since September 2017. That’s almost a full month before this article was written, and there’s been no news to speak of in regards to such a comeback actually taking place. In addition to Paige’s own troubles, she’s also been dating Alberto Del Rio during her time off, leading many to speculate she could be following him to Impact Wrestling (well, so long as they take him back first…).
7 GUNNING FOR RETIREMENT: John Cena
Despite the fact he’s only 40 years old, WWE fans have been clamoring about John Cena’s potential retirement for several years now. It isn’t that we expect him to walk away from entertainment entirely. Far from it – most people firmly believe Cena will take the same path as The Rock, slowly transitioning away from sports entertainment and into the movie business. Cena’s definitely been laying the groundwork for this move in recent years, earning critical acclaim for his roles in Trainwreck and The Wall, followed by high-profile upcoming appearances in Daddy’s Home 2 and the animated film Ferdinand. There’s a few more potentially blockbuster roles ahead, as well, but the point should already be clear. Cena barely has time for WWE anymore, generally showing up for less than five matches per year, if that. He might be able to keep up this extremely low workload for quite some time, but as far as being a full-time performer, he’s virtually retired already.
6 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: The Revival
Like so many others in the WWE Universe today, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder’s team The Revival were considered one of the best ever to grace the NXT ring, only for that reputation to be wholly ignored since they’ve been called up to the main roster. Granted, this time around, it’s not entirely the fault of Vince McMahon failing to recognize what he has. Unfortunately, the two have been trading injuries since their debut, with Wilder out for seven weeks shortly after they first appeared, and Dawson later taken out of action for at least the next four to five months. On the other hand, the fact the Revival is a tag team means these injuries shouldn’t have necessarily stopped the other member dead in his tracks. The fact Dawson sat around and did nothing while Wilder was hurt, coupled with the reality that Wilder is doing the same today, suggests WWE doesn’t really care about either performer to begin with. Any indy in the world would recognize what they have, so after all the injuries heal up, they might want to forget about WWE altogether.
5 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: The Club
Immediately upon arrival, it looked like Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows were destined for big things in the WWE Universe. They debuted as the new lackeys of AJ Styles, who had already asserted himself as a main event star for life after less than four months in the company. It didn’t take long for the duo to win their first WWE Raw Tag Team Championships, yet the fact they only held them for a short two months and haven’t done anything of note since doesn’t bode well for their future. In fact, aside from their fluke, sudden championship victory, the two haven’t been all that noteworthy since splitting with Styles over a year ago, quickly descending into the role of a comedy tag team, far beneath their talent level. If they decide to return to New Japan Pro Wrestling or an American independent, The Club will go back to getting the respect they deserve, and for longer than a few random weeks.
4 GUNNING FOR RETIREMENT: Kane
To put it bluntly, what the hellfire and brimstone is Kane doing in a WWE ring at age 50? Forget that—what’s he doing wrestling Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and (filling in for Roman Reigns) Kurt Angle while also on the campaign trail to potentially become mayor of Knox County, Tennessee? Quite frankly, we have no idea how to answer either of these questions, and its pretty doubtful WWE does, either. The best they could argue is that there’s simply no high-profile names left for Reigns and their other preordained top stars to lose to. The thing is, everyone in The Shield has already defeated Kane, as has every other top name in the company. Not only that, but there’s been no call for a dramatic Kane return from the fans, making this one a complete head scratcher all around. It’s not like winning a few matches will make the people of Knox want to vote for him more…we hope not, anyway.
3 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: Bayley
As one of the most talented female wrestlers of her generation, it’s painful to think about how Bayley has been treated by WWE over the past year or so. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, she’s yet another superstar who showed tremendous promise in NXT, only for Vince McMahon to absolutely murder her character the second he got his hands on her. Once the never-say-die hero to women everywhere, in WWE proper, Bayley is just another catty, vindictive “diva,” no matter how hard they try to convince fans that term has been replaced by a “women’s revolution.” Granted, Bayley is clearly in love with WWE in just about every way imaginable, so we might be speaking too soon on this one. It’s not very likely she’ll up and leave the company just because her career is in shambles, but she has more to gain than almost anyone else on the roster by coming to her senses and trying her chances somewhere else.
2 HEADED FOR THE INDIES: Daniel Bryan
On the one hand, we’re right there with everyone else in the entire wrestling community, wishing that Daniel Bryan could return to the ring at the level he was right before being forced into retirement. On the other, it simply seems like this would be a medical impossibility. Unfortunately, Bryan himself is rather open about his desire to ignore everything his doctors once told him and return to the ring. The only catch is that WWE won’t let him, so he basically needs to leave the company and return to the indies to ever be happy in his career again. That WWE is so hesitant to let their most popular superstar wrestle should probably be a sign he might not be ready to do so, and based on what he said about his brain scans, we’re inclined to agree with them. Not that any of this matters, as some indy companies will hire just about anyone and let them do whatever they want, a freedom that Bryan would run towards while screaming, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
1 GUNNING FOR RETIREMENT: Vince McMahon
It should go without saying that even if the WWE Universe were to somehow crumble, Vince McMahon probably wouldn’t be working for an independent promotion anytime soon. If Vince goes out, he’s going out with a bang, or if he’s smarter about it, he might just throw in the towel and retire already before it gets to that point. Being totally honest here, we strongly doubt this one will actually happen, so this shouldn’t necessarily be considered a prediction, but rather a hope. At 72 years old, we really, really hope Vince McMahon finally realizes he just might not “get it” anymore, passing the company down to Shane, Stephanie, Triple H, his gardener, seriously, anyone else at this point. Maybe they’d actually remember how to run a wrestling company for the fans, and the rest of this list wouldn’t even be necessary.