Wrestling’s a business – a cut-throat world – where you can get dropped by a promotion just as quickly as you get contracted. Some have experienced just that, whereas others have had long and successful careers with their promotions before things heat up or they get released for no rhyme or reason. In the testosterone-fueled world of wrestling, tempers fray, animosity can be sparked between a wrestler and their promotion for the simplest of reasons, or it could be due to long-lasting issues between the two parties. In these instances, things can get rather messy when they part ways – just cast your mind back to that whole debacle involving CM Punk’s release from WWE; plenty of bitterness was felt by Punk in that situation, and understandably so.
But for many wrestlers, leaving promotions isn’t all doom and gloom. In many instances, it’s about mutual decision-making, and the end result is that wrestlers move on without that feeling of hate and resentment lingering on during the rest of their careers. Sometime it’s not mutual, but wrestlers understand that it’s a business, learn to live with it and don’t harbour any grudges. These are 15 wrestlers who parted ways with their promotion amicably and left on good terms.
Gunner enjoyed a pretty decent time with TNA; he won the Television Championship, World Tag Team Championship - with James Storm – and was just an all-round popular figure within the promotion. That’s why when Gunner announced that he would be leaving TNA in 2015, many were shocked, because he was one of the stalwarts of the promotion. It was totally out of the blue and came as a surprise to many fans who were eager to start playing the blame game. Initially there was a torrent of abuse hurled TNA’s way from Gunner’s fans, but this all simmered down when Gunner spoke out on the issue.
He said that it was no big deal; “I tend to keep a positive attitude, I’ve spoken to talent relations and Dixie and thanked them for the opportunity – it was just the right time to leave.” They certainly left on good terms and we – and I’m sure TNA – wish Gunner luck on his endeavors wrestling on the independent circuit.
14 Johnny Mundo
Most of you will probably know John Randall Hennigan for his portrayal of John Morrison – the guy who dominated the tag team division in WWE for just under a decade. He gained a huge amount of popularity during his time with the promotion. He’s since gone on to wrestle on the independent circuit and is currently contracted with the Lucha Underground TV series. Wrestling in Lucha Underground as Johnny Mundo, he revealed all about his departure from WWE in a no-holds-barred interview with the legend that is Stone Cold Steve Austin.
He felt creatively stifled with WWE and didn’t feel like he was getting his just deserts. He also wanted to get into the movie industry, so needed to balance his time more efficiently. But despite this he still left on good terms and isn’t ruling out a return in the future.
13 Joey Ryan
Joey Ryan’s been on the wrestling scene from the year 2000 and has wrestled with a number of promotions, winning a plethora of titles and championships in the process. When he joined TNA in 2012, he was over the moon. He got the call from the management after he impressed during the TNA Gut Check try-out program – a means of unearthing new talent and bringing new faces to the promotion. Ryan instantly signed the contract and was settling in nicely with TNA, but in the end, it was all rather short-lived. He was released from his contract after just a year, due to budget cuts, but Ryan understood and there were no hard feelings. "It was a decision they had to make. I'm not bitter about it and don't have anything bad to say about anyone there. It's just a business thing."
12 Rey Mysterio
The masked marauder, Rey Mysterio, was undoubtedly one of the biggest superstars in WWE; he was the star attraction on the roster and helped revolutionize the promotion with his Lucha Libre high flying style of wrestling. Mysterio won a ton of titles and gained plenty of accolades during his 13-year spell with the world’s biggest promotion, so the fans were understandably distraught when WWE announced that his contract had expired and wasn’t going to be renewed. But it was actually a mutual decision, and he left the promotion on good terms with Vince and the management.
He just wanted to escape the daily grind, spend more time with his kids and become a constant presence in his family’s life – something that was impossible when spending life on the road with WWE. He hasn’t ruled out a return to WWE, but at the moment, Mysterio’s content wrestling on the independent scene and taking part in Lucha Underground.
11 The Rock
The Rock left the WWE very quietly in 2004. Rumors have amounted the split was due to The Rock wanting to work on a part-time schedule while pursuing his WWE career. At the time, WWE wasn't quite as open to the idea of part-time performers and thus, The Rock's contract expired. The door was left open for The Rock to return to the WWE one day, when the time was right.
The Rock would be out of wrestling for seven years but he always maintained a good relationship with WWE and sure enough, he returned in 2011. It was an interesting case, as The Rock felt he had to make it on his own as a movie star before he made his return to WWE. Sure enough, that's what he did and he's now become the highest grossing actor in Hollywood.
10 Damien Sandow
After five years wrestling with WWE, Sandow was released in 2007. He initially wrestled with Ohio Valley Wrestling before making the step up to the main roster as Idol Stevens. His second stint with WWE progressed in pretty much the same way; he started out with the promotion’s Florida-based developmental territory, but this time his gimmick – the Damien Mizdow gimmick – gained him a fan following as he began teaming up with The Miz.
After he was released from his second stint with WWE, the reason given was that he didn’t fit in the company’s plans going forward. He was released in May 2016, and he kind of knew it was coming. “I have no problem with them needing time to let the other guys show their craft. When they called me, I was like ‘oh, cool. Thank you for everything. It was awesome.’ It was totally mutual.” A very professional approach to handle an exit – others could learn a thing or two from Sandow.
9 Beth Phoenix
After a long and somewhat illustrious career, Phoenix called it quits in 2012, ending her 11-year stint in the wrestling industry. For much of that time, she was contracted with WWE, and had a number of memorable moments; Trish Stratus' ally, as The Glamazon, her feud with LayCool, and the pinnacle of her success with the promotion – winning the Divas Championship.
Fans were sad to see her go, as she had established herself as one of the dominant females of her era. Phoenix wanted to leave for family reasons and she said WWE were very understanding and they ended their relationship on good terms: “I absolutely loved everything I did with WWE, and I had a wonderful career with them.” Beth has since been living a quiet life at home and now has two children with Edge.
8 Sami Callihan
Six years into his wrestling career, Sami thought that he had hit the big time after impressing in a dark match for WWE – it ended in defeat, but he showed promise and stuck in the promotion’s mind, who started contract negotiations the following year. He was signed up to WWE NXT, but his stint at WWE was short-lived and lasted for just under three years.
Most people would relish the chance to be contracted with the world’s biggest wrestling promotion, but in November 2015, Sami requested to be released from his contract and he got his wish. He got injured and just wasn’t being used the way he wanted to– a combination of these factors caused him to walk. But he left WWE on good terms and hasn’t ruled out a return – he was after all, only 28 at the time of his departure. Despite the riches and the prestige of being with WWE, Sami just wasn’t happy. But Triple H left the door open for him: “To quit the top company in the world takes balls. You left on good terms and did it professionally, so if a spot opens, it’s yours.”
Sizzling hot diva, Kaitlyn, was one of WWE’s female stalwarts; she spent her whole career wrestling with the promotion, starting out with Florida Championship Wrestling, progressing to NXT, and then rising through the ranks to become a much loved figure on the main roster. She only won one championship throughout the course of her career, but that championship was certainly a good one – the WWE Divas Championship.
Kaitlyn was one of the more popular figures in the wrestling industry. She stayed out of trouble, didn’t concern herself with any pettiness, and was well-liked by others in the industry and the fans. So her departure came as a bit of a shock.
Kaitlyn left WWE – and wrestling – on good terms, to focus on other business ventures – her family life and her clothing line.
6 Ric Flair
Ric Flair’s been around for what seems like forever; with over 40 years in the industry, Flair’s the very definition of a legend. He’s wrestled with WWE many time during the course of his career, his first stint with the promotion ending in 1993 after just a couple of years. This surprised many people at the time because Flair had already been around for a good 20 years by that period and was making waves in the wrestling industry.
But he left the company – first time around – on very good terms, and they left the door open for his return, a door which he stepped through again in 2001. He left in 2009 because he wanted to explore other opportunities; he had turned down a lot of potentially lucrative offers from other promotions, and wanted to try and stand on his own two feet, without Vince propping him up. He still appears at WWE events here and there, but at 67, his in-ring days are long behind him.
5 Christian Cage
From 1998-2005, Christian won a ton of titles with WWE – both single and Tag Team Championships. Fans were therefore very surprised when he left the world’s biggest promotion for TNA. His contact expired in 2005, and apparently, Christian was still in the company’s plans and was asked to sign another contract right away – a request that he turned down. Despite the rumors of there being a falling out between the two, Christian didn’t leave WWE for any other reason than just wanting a change. It was a difficult time in his life and the departure was due to an accumulation of many factors. But there was no bitterness or resentment felt between the two parties; he returned to WWE in 2009 and ended his wrestling career with the company, so everything was rosy between Christian and WWE.
4 Eve Torres
Torres was a much loved figure in WWE, but in the years before she left the company, she started to get increasingly involved with the world-famous MMA – more specifically Brazilian jiu-jitsu – Gracie family.
Torres began dating Rener Gracie who operates the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in California. She gained a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and then started to think about getting involved in the Gracie family business on a more permanent basis. WWE were aware of this, as Torres and the company had discussions in 2012. Everything was sorted out professionally and Torres wrestled for the final time the following month. She remained classy until the end of her tenure and parted ways with WWE amicably. She’s since married Rener Gracie, they’ve had a kid together, and she takes charge over the Gracie Women Empowered Self-Defense program, making her plans after WWE a reality.
3 C.J. Parker
C.J. Parker’s still a baby in the wrestling industry, but he’s still been around for a long time. He started out in 2008 at the tender age of 19, and within a few years of wrestling on the independent circuit, must have thought that he’d hit the jackpot after WWE came calling. Understandably he bit their hand off at the opportunity and signed on the dotted line. But after wrestling with Florida Championship Wrestling for a couple of years, and then being sent to NXT until 2015, he decided to walk away in order to broaden his horizons and gain experience with other promotions.
In an interview following his WWE departure, he said he may still come back to the company in the future: “I loved my time in WWE. I know I left on good terms. I’m only 25 and I have a long time ahead of me. Stay tuned.”
After 14 years with WWE, JBL announced that he was retiring from the promotion in 2009. He’s since made sporadic appearances, appeared as a guest referee, and has been used as a commentator the last few years. But the cocky, loud-mouthed businessman will always be remembered for winning an amazing 26 titles and championships during his time with Vince’s company. That’s why when he grabbed the mic and said “I quit” at WrestleMania XXV, the fans were speechless, thinking that perhaps Vince had something to do with it.
But JBL later cleared up the rumors: "I heard rumors that I left on bad terms with the WWE, but this could not be further from the truth. In fact, I don't think I could have left on better terms. I will always be a WWE fan no matter where I am."
1 Gail Kim (TNA)
Kim’s first stint with WWE didn’t really end on great terms. She spent a couple of years with the promotion and was beginning to make some headway, but was let go due to cost-cutting. She was pretty surprised by the decision, but picked herself up and embarked on a career wrestling on the independent circuit, before joining TNA for a couple of years. But in 2008 she returned to WWE for a second time for a three-year spell, before she once again returned to TNA.
When Kim left TNA first time around, unlike her release from WWE, she left on good terms with the management – her decision was purely financially-based – who said they would welcome her back with open arms if she ever chose to return. She did just that and is currently still wrestling with the promotion – her yo-yoing days are now well behind her. While she has two ugly departures with WWE, her departure with TNA was clearly an amicable one.