While some wrestlers have been able to make a career out of their elite standing in one company, for the majority of talent that isn't the case. Most wrestlers don't have the luxury of Steve Austin or The Rock-levels of popularity, and aren't able to sustain themselves on past accomplishments, or by crossing over into other fields. Most need to keep wrestling in some form, and after their time in the mainstream promotions is up, many opt to go to the Indie scene, looking to reestablish themselves for a new market.
It can be quite the fall from grace. Many former WWE and WCW performers were on top of the wrestling world during their time on the biggest stage, and then found out just how hard it was to sustain such popularity when left to their own devices, without the mega-backing they'd previously received. For many, their career took a significant step backwards, as they struggled to remain relevant in a crowded modern-day wrestling landscape. Let's take a look at some of the most notable examples.
Ranked below are 15 WWE and WCW performers who failed on the Indie scene.
15 Orlando Jordan
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One of the perceived rising stars in WWE during the early-2000s, Jordan was given a ton of air-time back then, and looked to be in line for a major push. A United States Title victory followed, seeming to confirm this, and then a myriad of bad booking deflated the rest of Jordan's tenure with WWE.
This kind of misfortune carried over into the indie scene when he left the company in 2006. Jordan never caught on anywhere particularly notable, which was surprising for someone who had held a significant title in WWE just several years prior. After a stint in Impact Wrestling, he once again returned to the indies, and continued to remain anonymous, mainly wrestling for peripheral promotions that had no real clout.
14 Adam Rose
Despite Rose being a veteran in the industry by the time he was signed with WWE, he had never risen to truly great heights, and as such, his time on the biggest stage was fairly underwhelming. Managing to hang on to the roster for a few years, he then has hit the indie scene, with results that follow suit with his so-so ability.
Rose may have had a great story attached to him, but his talent level just wasn't enough to make it, pretty much everywhere he went. His time spent with peripheral indie promotions was lackluster to say the least, and if he achieved any success at all, it wasn't the kind that was going to get any kind of legitimate attention. He's claimed that 2017 will be his final year in the business, and that's probably the smart move at this point in his career.
13 David Flair
Flair's emergence in WCW during the late-'90s probably hurt his career more than any other factor, and it looked to be another cheesy storyline gone haywire for a company that was rife with them at the time. Indeed, putting Ric Flair's son on TV as an active wrestler wasn't going to come off well, especially since he hadn't really put in the time for the business yet. Nevertheless, he was prominent in WCW's dying days.
But the younger Flair never was able to make a name for himself without the backing of his father and WCW. He tried in NWA-affiliated territories, for a brief time in TNA, and at a handful of other random promotions as well. Nothing clicked, and he never worked his way up the ladder. David's career was a far cry from the career that his father, "The Nature Boy" was able to achieve.
There's no doubt that The Brood was an awesome stable, and one of the more underrated ones of The Attitude Era as a whole. Gangrel was an integral part of it, even though it's more well-known for launching the careers of Edge and Christian, but he was never able to find his footing as a singles wrestler in WWE. He'd hang on until 2001, still donning the vampire gimmick, but his last year or so was fairly uneventful in comparison.
His time in the indies since then has been pretty unremarkable. It was obvious that Gangrel was never the best in-ring performer, and that was never the point of his presence anyway, but it really shows when he's been reduced to wrestling such nondescript and random promotions. It's worked for him for this long, but the clear high-point of his career will be with The Brood in WWE.
11 Buff Bagwell
There are few WCW mainstays who dropped off the map as quickly as Bagwell did after the buyout in 2001. His contract with WWE was quickly dropped for several different reasons, and since then he's stayed exclusively on the indie scene, and not in a prominent role. Outside of brief runs in TNA that never amounted to anything, Bagwell has been mostly anonymous since his heyday in WCW.
This is quite the contrast to his prime, where even his detractors wouldn't have denied that he was one of WCW's biggest stars. Maybe they shouldn't have pushed him to the degree that they did, as his wrestling skill was always under siege, and the fact that he's done next to nothing since leaving the mainstream is pretty telling.
10 Kevin Thorn
Working him through several gimmick changes, it's clear that WWE really wanted Thorn to succeed on a major level. That was never in the cards though, because his lack of overall talent was obvious to even the least jaded of fans out there. Still, management kept involving him in mid-card storylines for years, until he eventually faded into obscurity, moving back into the developmental ranks.
So it's not surprising that Thorn has been dead weight on the Indie scene since his departure from WWE in 2009. He's been scraping the bottom of the barrel, and has faded into complete obscurity. It's a predictable outcome for Thorn, who never did anything to impress inside the squared circle, even when in his prime.
As it was typical of WWE to push a wrestler with all-look and no talent, the fact that Ryback actually won the Intercontinental Title is still one of the biggest stains on the company's resume over the past decade. He didn't belong anywhere near a prestigious WWE title, and the entire push was just a derivative ripoff of better powerhouse wrestlers who came before him.
Ryback's complete lack of success since leaving in 2016 was to be expected, and there's little reason to predict that it will turn around. He's not a candidate to go to NJPW, and he can't wrestle well enough to warrant a booking on the upper-tier American indies. His career will soon be affected beyond repair, if it isn't already. Truly, the fact that he's made it this far is impressive, considering his lack of skill in every regard.
8 Val Venis
One of the longest tenured WWE wrestlers at the time of his release in 2009, Venis never fit in on the indie scene. He had spent too long with the company to reestablish himself elsewhere, and he was synonymous with his WWE character to the point where it essentially became a parody to see him wrestle at other events.
Venis was restricted to peripheral indie promotions with little fan interest, or at legends-based events where the show was basically a nostalgia act. It wasn't entirely his fault at all, but there was just no room to reinvent himself by the time he even got a chance to get back on the indie scene. The timetable just wasn't in his favor, and now he remains essentially retired.
7 Shane Douglas
Though he's played prominent roles in WWE, ECW, WCW and TNA, something just about nobody else can lay claim to, every time Douglas works a true indie event, it never seems to live up to expectations. His stints in this realm have largely been for low to mid-level East Coast promotions, and ECW-based legends events that are only put on for the nostalgia.
Granted, Douglas is older now, but for him to have zero high-profile indie matches is a bit of a surprise. He's pretty much stuck to wrestling his peers from his generation of wrestling, and never ventured into performing with younger stars in more relevant promotion such as ROH and the like. His resume in the '90s says that he doesn't have to do this, but it's still more than a little surprising.
For whatever reason, Vampiro received a huge push in WCW during the late-90s. Sure, he had the resume in the Mexican-based CMLL promotion previously, but the gimmick just didn't fit with the size of the push at all. It was entertaining mid-card fodder, but it clearly wasn't going to develop into anything more than that. Regardless, Vampiro was all over WCW programming circa 1999.
While his resume outside of the company is large to say the least, with stints in Mexico, Japan and the United States, the level of success just hasn't been there for Vampiro. He's always been more recognizable than he's ever been an elite talent, and that's shown at the various stops he's made since 2001, when WCW closed its doors. Vampiro wasn't the elite talent that some thought at the time.
5 Yoshi Tatsu
Tatsu may have been a regular in NJPW for several years before WWE signed him, but he was never one of their top-flight stars. So it was surprising to see him get a contract with the biggest promotion in the world at the time, and the move is still somewhat baffling today. Tatsu spent a considerable amount of time in WWE considering his mid-card status, and since his release in 2014, he hasn't amounted to much.
His foray into the American indies wasn't successful at all, so he's found himself back home in Japan, in a similarly subversive role on the AJPW and NJPW rosters. Tatsu just has never been a premier talent, and it's shown just about everywhere he's gone. Why he ever got a shot in WWE to begin with is still a mystery.
4 Rene Dupree
WWE tried to rejuvenate their tag division with La Resistance, and it was the character that Dupree built his entire career off of. After leaving WWE in 2007, he's wrestled in many territories including Canada and Japan. The problem is that nothing he's done has been that notable. He's generally not been wrestling for a top-dog promotion since the mid-2000s.
Calling it a failure may be a stretch, but when you consider that Dupree is wrestling these mid-level shows after being a consistent member of the WWE roster in the post-ratings war era, it's a little bit of a letdown. His roots are in Canada, to be fair, but a little more variation in his career would have been nice to see.
3 Shannon Moore
Some say Moore was buried in WWE, and some say that he had ample opportunity gain success and cultivate a following. Whatever the opinion, it was unfortunate that he had to begin his career working for WCW in their dying days. His several stints in WWE were adequate at least, but every foray he's made into the Indie world hasn't yielded anything substantial.
With his penchant for speed and high-flying maneuvers, you would think he would have caught on in ROH, PWG, in Mexico, or anywhere but the ho-hum indie promotions he's worked at various points in his career, including at the present moment. Ultimately, Moore couldn't shift his career into the next gear when it mattered most.
2 Lash LeRoux
Receiving a slight push in the WCW cruiserweight division of the time, LeRoux was slated to be one of the top young stars in the company for a while. He was winning matches on a regular basis, before some horrid booking (in typical late-era WCW fashion) derailed his career into that of a no-name mid-carder will no potential to elevate his career.
True, WWE released him as well, but LeRoux should have had the entirety of his push go through. As it turned out, he flamed out of TNA in their early days, and ended up wrestling mid-level indie promotions in the South, before he retired. It was a nondescript end to a once-promising career, and LeRoux eventually faded into oblivion, as far as wrestling is concerned.
1 Jeff Jarrett
Until his recent departure from Impact Wrestling, the company he helped shape and create, Jarrett had pretty much spent his post-2001 career trying to compete with WWE, and build up Impact Wrestling/TNA to the point where he would be legitimate competition in the mainstream. This has been a massive failure in every regard, and while the promotion is still around, it has had to bear heavy criticism throughout the years for bad booking and the same pitfalls that killed WCW.
Actually, Jarrett has never really been successful on his own, outside of the WWE and WCW banners. His time spent wrestling in Memphis was so obvious aided by the fact that his father, Jerry Jarrett, was a certified legend of a promoter for the territory, and literally owned most of the promotions that Jarrett wrestled for in his younger days.
So outside of a six or seven-year window, Jarrett's career has been marred by cronyism and failure wherever he's gone. For his own reputation, he would have been better off staying in WWE.