WWE didn't announce a series of roster cuts following WrestleMania this year, in part because the company has made a point of keeping top talent locked up and away from other promotions lately. For the past 12 months, WWE has been hiring more and releasing less talent. Those they do release are usually for reasons other than freeing up space on the roster, which makes their return a little dicier as well.
In 2016 WWE even hired back several previously released superstars to help fill up the roster following the brand extension. One of those rehires was Jinder Mahal, the current WWE champion. Originally guys like Jinder and Curt Hawkins were signed to small contracts for the purpose of putting other guys over. Jinder was in the right place at the right time, however, and things ended up working out nicely for him.
The wrestling business is as good as it has been since the end of the Attitude Era and the Monday Night Wars. As such, released WWE talent have options now they didn't have 10 years ago. With exploding scenes in Europe, Japan, and Mexico (you might soon have to count Australia and New Zealand in there as well) there are plenty of places released WWE superstars can go to tweak their character and improve their game.
Here are 15 former WWE superstars, and what their chances of returning are:
15 Rey Mysterio
Chances are wrestling fans will get to see Rey Mysterio Jr. in a WWE ring again, only they'll have to wait until 2018 at the earliest.
Mysterio's contract with Lucha Underground ends following the airing of the show's 3rd season. He would then have to wait for another 90 days before appearing on another promotion's television programming. This means January is the earliest Mysterio could be back in WWE.
Recently, rumors have swirled that both GFW and WWE are interested. Mysterio and Karen Jarrett posted a photo of the two of them on social media recently, indicating the popular luchador is also negotiation with her promotion. WWE knows Mysterio is worth money, however, and they would love to get him back on their roster. The promotion has had trouble creating a new Latin American superstar as popular as Mysterio.
Chances: Likely to Return
14 Adam Rose
Don't expect to see Adam Rose in the WWE again, as he's not someone fans are clamoring to see.
Unfortunately, Rose got into some legal hot water in May of 2016. Police were called to his residence early in the morning and charged Rose with battery domestic assault and tampering with a witness. The tampering with the witness charge stems from him grabbing the phone out of his wife's hands when she was calling the police. WWE released him shortly after.
Rose made the odd decision to have his mugshot put onto a t-shirt and sold at his indy events. The backlash to the t-shirt was fairly immense and hurt Rose's public image even more so. Earlier this year, the 38-year-old announced that 2017 would be his final year in wrestling, making a WWE comeback all the more unlikely.
Chances: Extremely Unlikely to Return
At one time, there was no wrestler on the planet more over than Ryback. During his undefeated streak in 2012-2013, it looked as though Ryback was going to be a big star. His character got kind of derailed when CM Punk ended his undefeated streak inside the Hell in a Cell. Ryback lost the match when referee Brad Maddox fast counted him out.
Ryback's character plunged down the power rankings pretty fast afterward, perhaps spurred on by backstage rumblings that he was unsafe to work with. Eventually, Ryback ended up teaming with Curtis Axel in the aptly named "RybAxel" team.
Eventually, a contract dispute between he and WWE led to his release last August. Since then Ryback has been keeping active on the independents. WWE has seen him get over before, one day they might decide to give the 35-year-old another try.
Chances: A Definite Maybe
12 Alex Riley
While this is unlikely to affect your life to any great degree, Alex Riley will probably never appear on WWE programming again. The 36-year-old was signed to WWE for 9 years, but aside from being the Miz's run-in buddy during his WWE championship run, Riley never did much in WWE.
There are rumors that Riley's lack of a push could have been because of heat with John Cena. Riley has stayed quiet on the matter, but rumors abound that for whatever reason, Cena just couldn't stand working with him. Others have said that Cena would cuss out Riley in the back, and nobody else could quite figure out what it was about Riley that annoyed Cena so much.
Eventually, Riley tried to get a new start in NXT, even working as an announcer for the brand from 2013-2015. He was released in May of last year.
Chances: Unlikely to Return
11 Damien Sandow
If WWE decides to rehire some talent for the same purpose that Curt Hawkins was rehired for, then Damien Sandow could be back on the roster someday.
At one time, Sandow was one of the more popular guys on the WWE roster. Sandow won over a lot of fans while performing as the Miz's personal stunt double.
Following his storyline with the Miz, however, WWE never gave him much else to do. Despite his popularity, the company released him in 2016. After a short run in TNA, Sandow announced that he was taking a hiatus from wrestling to focus on acting. He has since been taking acting classes, including for Shakespearean plays, which he would probably be good at.
He has said that while he would like to act in movies, he is not ruling out stage acting as his next career. Perhaps Aiden English can help him find work.
10 Cody Rhodes
Recently Cody Rhodes let it be known that he is currently making 3x as much money on the independent scene as he did in WWE. While this fact, if true, would seemingly prevent Cody from ever deciding to return, it seems even less likely that he doesn't go back to WWE at some point.
Cody was signed to WWE as a 21-year-old. Now 32, Cody is entering his prime years as a wrestler. He left WWE because he felt the promotion didn't see him as the same level of the star he sees himself as. If Cody can spend a few years main event'ing shows for ROH and playing a big role in NJPW, it might be enough to get WWE to change their mind about him. If they do, expect Cody to give the promotion another chance.
Chances: Probable To Return Someday
9 Wade Barrett
Don't be surprised if Wade Barrett makes a WWE return at some point. The 36-year-old left on good terms with the company in 2016 and the door has been left open for a return. Currently, Barrett is looking into an acting career but hasn't ruled out a return to the ring. If he does return to WWE, expect him to play some role with the company's UK division, assuming said division is ever featured again on the Network.
Barrett was signed by WWE in 2006 after a tryout match while the company was on a tour of the UK. He was sent to developmental but would eventually get his break on the first season of NXT. The original NXT was something of a reality TV show, but would later become an angle when several NXT superstars formed the Nexus. Barrett was one of the faction's most noticeable talents.
Chances: Somewhat Likely to Return
8 Alberto Del Rio
They say never say never in wrestling, but with that being said, WWE will never re-sign Alberto Del Rio. No way, no how, not happening.
Del Rio quit the promotion following the brand extension when he and current wife, Paige, were drafted to separate brands. WWE brass is rumored to have been concerned over Del Rio's influence on the 24-year-old Paige. Not long after Paige and Del Rio began dating, Natalya voiced her concerns over the relationship on Total Divas. Natalya's thoughts seemed genuine, and given recent events involving the couple, it's probably safe to assume they were.
There has been too much bad publicity involving the 40-year-old Del Rio and Paige for the company ever to bring him back. Luckily, it seems Paige is on her way back to the promotion. Perhaps she and Natalya will have a chat when she does.
Chances: No Chance In Hell
7 Santino Marella
Santino Marella retired after neck surgery in 2014. He was released from his WWE contract in 2016. After his surgery, he had stated that his rehab had gone well enough that a return to the ring was possible, but it appeared WWE wasn't interested.
Now 43, Santino runs a wrestling school out of his hometown of Mississauga and is a panel member of "Aftermath", a show airing after Raw and Smackdown in Canada.
Considering Santino was predominantly a comedy act throughout his career, there isn't much stopping WWE from bringing him back occasionally. Comedy acts tend to have longevity in wrestling promotions, just ask Goldust and R-Truth.
Despite being a comedy wrestler, Santino won the US title, the tag titles, and the Intercontinental championship twice. Jim Cornette once slapped him in the face as well, but that's a story for another time.
Chances: Likely To Return Periodically
6 Ho Ho Lun
Ho Ho Lun is the man who wants to bring WWE to China, but it looks as though that plan is on a temporary hiatus. Lun recently requested his release from the company because his mother is sick.
The 30-year-old created the Hong Kong Pro-Wrestling Federation and an accompanying school. Before Lun, wrestling didn't really exist in Hong Kong. Lun was only 22 years old when his promotion held their first event.
He was hired by WWE in 2016 to compete in the Cruiserweight Classic. After defeating Ariya Daivari in the first round he was eliminated by future Alicia Fox boyfriend, Noam Dar.
Instead of going to 205 Live however, Lun wrestled on NXT. He teamed with Tian Bing in 2016's Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. He also dropped singles matches to Andrade "Cien" Almas and Patrick Clark.
Chances: Incredibly Likely to Return
5 Austin Aries
At one point It looked as though the Austin Aries vs. Neville feud might be just what the cruiserweight division needed. Here were two guys with great reputations, finally bringing some credibility to a title that badly needed it. Unfortunately, after their angle finished, Aries asked for his release from the company.
According to Aries, he was unhappy about where WWE wanted him to go after losing to Neville. Aries was scheduled to just drop down to the mid-card on 205 Live, and he was not having any of that. Instead, he asked to be released outright.
One can perhaps be sympathetic towards Aries not wanting to go to a brand that is seen as struggling. If other superstars refuse to report to 205 Live however, what hope does the division have?
Chances: Unlikely to Return
4 Eva Marie
Much to the delight of Corey Graves, Eva Marie returning to WWE is possible. The 32-year-old fitness model was released from her contract on August 4th, 2017 almost one year since her last match on WWE television.
WWE signed Eva Marie in 2013 at a time when the company was veering away from signing fitness models ahead of women who grew up wanting to be wrestlers.The problem was that she never became even passable in the ring. The WWE audience knew this and didn't respect her for it. Nobody as smoking gorgeous as Eva Marie has ever been booed so un-mercifully by professional wrestling fans. It really is a sign of the times.
While she'll never wrestle for WWE again, there is nothing stopping the company from bringing her back as a valet. In fact, it would probably be a good idea for them to do so.
Chances: It Could Happen
3 Jack Swagger
It is unlikely we see Jack Swagger back in WWE, although it shouldn't be ruled out entirely. After 11 years in the organization, Swagger requested and was granted, his release earlier this year. Considering the number of times WWE tried and failed to make a star out of Swagger, it's doubtful they ever rehire him.
At 35 years of age, Swagger still has several years left in the ring if he chooses to keep wrestling. He has been keeping active on the independent circuit and has even wrestled a bit in Mexico. Swagger is rumored to want to fight MMA however, though his credentials are significantly better than CM Punks. He holds the season pin record for his weight class at the University of Oklahoma and arguably could have gone into MMA if Jim Ross didn't recruit him right out of college.
Chances: Little Chance of Returning
2 Simon Gotch
Don't expect to see Simon Gotch back in WWE anytime soon. The 34-year-old developed a reputation as something of a bad apple backstage.
Gotch wrestled under the name Ryan Drago for 9 years before being signed to WWE in 2013. He had been using a gimmick similar to his Vaudevillian persona long before he got to WWE and continues to use it now that he is gone.
WWE released Gotch shortly after WrestleMania this year. Normally several superstars are released around the same time, but this year there were only scattered releases and all for separate reasons. Rumours are, Gotch didn't have too many friends backstage, and nobody was too sad to see him go. He now wrestles as Simon Grimm on the independents.
Since Gotch's release earlier this year, Aiden English has gone back to the singing gimmick he had before joining the Vaudevillains.
Chances: Unlikely to Return
1 CM Punk
CM Punk will not go back to WWE. Many have made similar claims which they’d later go back on, but Punk won’t. There is something about CM Punk which leads me to believe he's never going to go back on his word on this one.
WWE would bring back Punk, even despite the legal action between the two. Jesse Ventura once successfully sued Vince McMahon for $800,000 and they brought him back. Bret Hart punched Vince McMahon square in the face, and they brought back him too. If WWE can make money from someone, they'll bring them back.
Punk’s not going to go back on his word. Him returning to the independent wrestling scene, on the other hand, is something that could happen one day. His old promotion, Ring of Honor, have openly said they are leaving the door wide open for him. Punk back in ROH would be the biggest thing to ever happen to the company.
Chances: No Chance of Returning