There has always been life after the WWE. Contrary to popular belief, former WWE wrestlers have nearly always found work with independent promotions following their departure from the company. In the late 1980s and 1990s, many wrestlers jumped to WCW. Some excelled down south, while others prepared to return to the WWE for another run. The end of WCW, and ECW as well, has meant former WWE stars must now work the indie circuit. Some, like Cody Rhodes, have found a tremendous amount of success. Meanwhile, there are others who haven’t reached the same levels of financial comfort as “The American Nightmare”.
In truth, there have always been opportunities for ex-WWE wrestlers to work on the indie scene. During the 1990s after the territories had died out, former WWE wrestlers like Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and others worked regularly around the United States and Canada. It was a way to prepare themselves for another shot at the WWE. But it was also a way to keep money flowing into their pockets and fans aware of who they were.
The old cliché is true. The more times change, the more they stay the same. Ex-WWE wrestlers are still in demand, and they can still draw fans to local gymnasiums or other smaller venues on the indie circuit. Thanks to a rejuvenation in wrestling fans over the past five years, more and more people are supporting indie wrestling. These are 15 former WWE stars who used to main event WWE TV shows, but who now main event gymnasiums.
According to Carlito’s Twitter page, he is a former professional wrestler. However, a look at his most recent match results shows the former WWE grappler is still working regularly. Carlito was called up to the WWE’s main roster in June 2004 and nearly a year later, he was crowned Intercontinental Champion. After a six-year run that saw him paired at one time with Torrie Wilson as an onscreen couple, Carlito left the WWE due to his addiction to painkillers. Over the last seven years, Carlito has worked the indies as well as Puerto Rico’s World Wrestling Council and in Mexico. Like other former WWE stars, Carlito continues to get booked on shows thanks to his history with the company.
14. Colt Cabana
Without Colt Cabana, the world wouldn’t be overrun with every professional wrestler starting a podcast. Cabana’s Art of Wrestling changed the landscape of the podcast world for wrestlers, and it helped the former WWE star raise his profile as a top indie worker. Cabana has long been called the “Godfather of Indie Wrestling”, as he has worked wherever and whenever booked. That has meant working in ever gym and auditorium he can get booked in. Despite flirting with the WWE over the last decade, the company has stayed away from re-hiring comedy wrestler. Cabana still works the indie scene quite heavily, and adds bookings with DDT Pro Wrestling in Japan to his calendar. Cabana can be seen as a commentator with ROH, but if you want to watch him headline a show, you can typically see him working an indie show at a gym near you.
13. John Morrison
Casinos, gyms, you name it, John Morrison is wrestling their today. The former WWE wrestler hasn’t just kept his career going, but he has also made movies since leaving the company. Or at least, a movie. Morrison was over with fans in the WWE, but he, like so many others, had a glass ceiling. Since leaving the company, Morrison has had a lot of success; although it is arguable if that success is equal to his time as Intercontinental Champion or during his tag team with The Miz. Originally signed through WWE’s Tough Enough television show, Morrison showed he could work in the ring and talk on the mic early on. Currently under contract for series four of Lucha Underground, Morrison has been able to transition from the WWE to make a leaving in both grappling and acting.
12. Matt Striker
Prior to his departure from the WWE, Matt Striker spent eight years with the company as a wrestler, manager and commentator. In an interview following his release, Striker stated he wasn’t “vanilla” enough to be a WWE interviewer or commentator long-term. Despite being away from the company, Striker has found a niche in wrestling. He has spent much of his post-WWE career as a wrestling commentator. Striker appeared for New Japan Pro Wrestling on the company’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 show in 2015. He has also appeared on Lucha Underground as a play-by-play man. The grappler does still don the wrestling tights. Striker has worked for Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore promotion along with a number of small northeastern indies. Striker made an appearance on the mega-indie show Wrestlecade in November 2017. He wrestled in a 20-man battle royal with several other former WWE stars.
11. Cliff Compton
Cliff Compton may not be a name WWE fans remember. The Monster Factory graduate worked in the WWE under the gimmick Dice Domino. He was one part of the greaser, 1950s inspired tag team Deuce ‘n’ Domino. His tag team partner, Deuce, was the son of WWE legend Jimmy Snuka. Compton’s WWE run was short. It started in January 2007 and ended in August 2008. The team did win the WWE tag team belts, but due to the gimmick, the team’s shelf life was short. Compton went on to work the indies and had a few shots in ROH. His biggest claim to fame came thanks to two appearances on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast. It allowed fans to experience Compton’s funny, outgoing personality. His podcast appearances helped Compton continue to get booked, and it led to Pro Wrestling Tees hooking him up with his own store.
Sabu will always be remembered for going over the top with his performances in the ring. But he takes going over the top to a new level in the sense that he is still wrestling! Despite some very serious problems with his body (brought on by years of abuse in the ring), Sabu continues to entertain the wrestling community in a variety of places, but usually about the size of a gymnasium.
His dedication to his craft is extremely admirable. But one has to question if all those steel chairs to the head have not clouded his judgement. He should be thinking of his long term health and hang up his boots before it is too late.
Injury prone, allegedly dangerous and limited in talent, those have been just some of the words former WWE colleagues have used to describe Ryback. A big, strong, impressive looking grappler, Ryback was given the Bill Goldberg treatment during his run in the WWE. It was something newer fans liked, while making older fans consider Ryback as simply a Goldberg ripoff. In August 2016, the grappler and the WWE parted ways. Upon release, Ryback began working the indies. According to one well-known wrestling insider, Ryback was charging some indie promoters up to $5,000 to work a show. Whether the promoters were able to recoup the cost is unknown. Ryback has worked a consistent indie schedule since leaving the WWE. From high school gyms in Meadville, Pennsylvania to Rec Centers in Rahway, New Jersey, Ryback has found a home on the indie circuit post-WWE and we’re happy to see him working.
8. Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio is considered a legend to some wrestling fans. To others, he is a 5ft 6in, high-flyer that killed the credibility of the sport when he defeated larger opponents. Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on, Mysterio had an extremely successful run in the WWE from 2002 to 2015. Unfortunately, due to his high-flying, he began to suffer injury after injury during the later portion of his time with the company. Since leaving the WWE, Mysterio has worked in the United States and Mexico with AAA and Lucha Underground, respectively. He also headlines shows across the US in a variety of venues, including the gymnasium at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario. Perhaps Mysterio’s most famous, or infamous, moment since leaving the WWE came in March 2015. Fellow wrestler, and friend, Perro Aguayo Jr passed away in the ring during a tag team match against Mysterio and his partner Xtreme Tiger.
7. Jack Swagger
A former top-rated amateur wrestler at the University of Oklahoma, Jack Swagger was able to make the transition to the WWE in part to his mat skills. He started out in the company’s ECW brand. There, he captured the ECW title belt. Swagger later moved to the WWE’s main roster and won gold there, too. In March 2013, tired of the WWE schedule, lifestyle, booking and seeing former stars make it on the indie circuit, Swagger asked for his release. Since it was granted, Swagger has worked consistently in the United States on indie shows big and small. One company he regularly works for is IWR, which runs high school’s in Oklahoma. In November 2017, it was announced that Swagger had signed with Bellator. Many mixed martial arts experts believe he could make the transition CM Punk was unable to pull off.
6. Val Venis
Sean Morley will never shake off the Val Venis gimmick he was given during the Attitude Era. Really, why would he? It has allowed Venis to continually get work outside the WWE since he left the company in 2009. Venis has worked the indie circuit despite his adult film star looks of the late 1990s fading. While he now works the indies across the United States, Venis also campaigns for the legalization of “herbal” medicines. Venis regularly talks about the medicinal benefits of his favourite plant to whoever will listen to him. He also sells it at his store in Arizona. The Big Valbowski’s work as a salesman and advocate has kept his wrestling appearances limited of late. But the former two-time WWE Intercontinental Champion could be in a gym near you soon.
5. Chavo Guerrero
Chavo Guerrero had a 10-year run with the WWE during the 2000s. It is a time that seems long ago in the fast-paced world of the WWE. The former six-time WWE and WCW Cruiserweight Champion left the company in 2011. At the time he quit the WWE, Guerrero said he was stuck at the bottom of the card and was going nowhere. The company’s travel was another reason he decided to leave as the jet set life had finally got to him. Unfortunately, since leaving, Guerrero has bounced around the indies. He has also done the requisite stop-offs in TNA and Lucha Underground. He is still a big name on the indie circuit, despite being nearly 50. In 2017, Guerrero featured on shows all across the United States in gyms and fairgrounds. He is expected to be with Lucha Underground in 2018.
MVP (Montel Vontavious Porter) spent the better part of four years working in the WWE. In 2010, he was released by the company, but he didn’t stay unemployed for long. MVP joined New Japan Pro Wrestling, and worked with the company for two years. A lover of Japanese wrestling, MVP was a part of NJPW as it gained popularity in the United States. Since leaving Japan in 2013, MVP has bounced around. First with TNA and then with Lucha Underground, MVP now works solely on the indie scene. Most recently, MVP has been wrestling with Major League Wrestling (MLW). He recently began running shows in Florida after more than a decade of being dormant. Fans of MVP can listen to his MVP Lounge podcast on MLW Radio. Coincidentally, the podcast was the reported reason MVP was fired from Lucha Underground as he wasn’t supposed to interview the company’s talent. Oops!
3. PJ Black
PJ Black, better known to some as Justin Gabriel, kept his career going thanks to indie shots and TNA appearances in the wake of his departure from the WWE. He was part of the Global Force Wresting invasion of TNA, when that was a thing, in 2015. Black has been working indie shows and with Lucha Underground over the last few years. The South African is expected to be part of the company in 2018 when it launches its fourth season. Black lost a finger in the summer of 2017 when he was involved in a base-jumping accident. The “Dare Wolf” has since come back from his injuries, and can be seen headlining small shows when he isn’t with Lucha Underground.
2. Terry Funk
The hardcore legend can be called anything from an icon to a wrestling mainstay. If you thought Sabu was absolutely crazy for continuing to wrestl at his age (and in his condition), then you may be in for a shock. Despite being 73 years old (far past even the average person’s retirement age), Terry Funk continues to wrestle.
Funk has been consistently reported to say that he never plans on retiring, and surprisingly still puts on some very rough matches in his golden years. This may explain why fans are still willing to pay to see the legend perform, albeit in smaller venues than he was remembered for.
1. Marty Jannetty
Marty Jannetty was famously thrown through the barbershop window by Shawn Michaels and ever since that moment the former Rocker has been on the decline. Besides all the personal drama in his life (including trying to start an intimate relationship with a girl he thought was his daughter), there are photos all over the internet of Jannetty performing in many tiny venues.
From senior homes to community halls, Jannetty can be seen still wrestling despite his age and rough appearance. It is incredible to think that he and Michaels were part of the same Tag Team. While Michaels went on to become an all-time great, Jannetty has to continue wrestling in small circles to earn money.
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