It's very, very rare to see a wrestler have what amounts to having a WWE deal for life. And once their run is over, that's where their career paths may reach a crossroad – will they be better, or worse for having been wished the best in their future endeavors?
Oftentimes, wrestlers are better for leaving the WWE, and watch their stock rise up rapidly in their new promotions. Take a look at Derrick Bateman's transformation into EC3, for instance. You've also got Cody Rhodes having a much better, happier, more productive run after leaving WWE in 2016. Or what about Kenny Omega, who washed out of WWE developmental, but is now recognized as one of New Japan's brightest stars?
However, you've also got wrestlers who saw their careers take a serious downward turn, and never quite recover after leaving the WWE. May it be due to bad booking, bad life/career choices, or personal demons that include, but are not limited to drugs, alcohol, or crime, these individuals never got their wrestling careers back on track, and probably wish (or wished) they never left the WWE to try their luck elsewhere.
Who are these wrestlers whose careers and/or reputations were tarnished after they left WWE? Let's take a look at 15 of them below, and take note that while some of them may have redeemed themselves in life, ALL of them were never the same wrestling career-wise after their WWE runs were done.
15 Ahmed Johnson
He had a physique that screamed "main eventer" in the eyes of Vince McMahon, yet also a mouth full of marbles and a tendency to hurt opponents with stiff shots. Despite his shortcomings, Ahmed Johnson became the first African-American to win the Intercontinental Championship, and WWE seemed quite high on him for the most part. That is, until an ill-conceived decision to turn him heel and align him with the Nation of Domination, and a series of injuries derailed his WWE run.
Moving on to the WCW, Ahmed became known as Big T, and if you need evidence of how his run with Billionaire Ted was a disaster, you only need to look back on his feud with Booker T...over the rights to use the letter "T" in their ring name. (Read this Sesame Street-style: This wrestling rivalry is brought to you by the letter "T"!) After a few years in the indies, Johnson retired from pro wrestling, and is now known mainly for making homophobic comments in the light of Darren Young's coming-out interview with TMZ, and for really, REALLY letting himself go.
14 The Shockmaster
During his WWE tenure, Fred Ottman experienced some success, first as kid-friendly babyface Tugboat, then as the menacing Typhoon, as he teamed with fellow super-heavyweight Earthquake in The Natural Disasters. But with WWE in increasingly dire straits as the mid-'90s approached, he was soon off to WCW, upon which he was given the cartoonish heel gimmick of The Shockmaster. Still, the worst was yet to come.
We don't need to walk you through Shockmaster's debut; we can simply tell you that it still ranks among the most hilarious, embarrassing wrestling debuts of all-time. And thanks to Shockmaster's infamous blunder, WCW would soon make a gimmick out of his clumsiness, and even if he did briefly return to WWE and wrestle in the indies as Typhoon, people still remember him for that botched WCW debut of his.
13 Orlando Jordan
To be fair to former JBL Cabinet member Orlando Jordan, the tarnishing of his reputation was not his fault at all. But it's nonetheless disappointing to note that this onetime WWE midcard talent had resurfaced in TNA years after his WWE release, working the most tasteless of gimmicks, one inspired by his real-life bisexuality, yet depicting him as a lustful perv who made both men and women uncomfortable when around him. Of course, this was during Vince Russo was in charge of TNA Creative, so we can't really say we're shocked that the company interpreted Jordan's idea of a bisexual gimmick as such.
Needless to say, Jordan's time in TNA was a flop, and he would soon return to the independent scene. He's now based in Australia and semi-retired from professional wrestling, though it's a pity that the Orlando Jordan most people remember is his TNA version wearing yellow-and-black police tape.
You wouldn't have guessed it, but the fresh-faced young man who worked as the 1-2-3 Kid from 1993 to 1996 would soon become very familiar with the term "personal demons." Sean Waltman had success in WWE as 1-2-3 Kid, and later on as the grungier-looking X-Pac, but toward the end of his second WWE run, fans were sick of him, while he himself was still living the self-destructive lifestyle his old DX/Kliq buddy Shawn Michaels had recently abandoned.
Two years after leaving WWE, Waltman added "adult film star" to his resume, as he and then-girlfriend Chyna appeared in the cheaply-made, yet strangely popular 1 Night in China in 2004. Apart from that troubled relationship, he'd also battle alcohol and drug addiction on-and-off before seemingly turning the corner this decade and hosting a popular podcast with AfterBuzz TV's Keven Undergaro. Yet it's indeed troubling that Waltman was arrested just this April for drug possession with intent to sell.
11 Damien Sandow
WWE had lightning in a bottle when the otherwise forgettable Idol Stevens returned to the company as Damien Sandow, the Intellectual Savior of the (Unwashed) Masses. It was a brilliant gimmick that suffered from Vince McMahon's tendency to lose interest in things very quickly, and while he did redeem himself briefly as Damien Mizdow, Aaron Haddad's second WWE run was a waste at the end of the day – what if Vince listened to the fans for a change and pushed someone they feel deserves to be pushed?
After WWE released him in the spring of 2016, Sandow toiled in the indies for a few months, before showing up on TNA as Aron Rex. It turned out to be the wrong move, as Rex was similarly misused – by the end of his brief run, he was transformed into a Liberace knockoff whom fans simply didn't get. It didn't help either that Rex was clearly unmotivated as his run in TNA progressed, not to mention carrying more than a few extra pounds on his frame.
10 Ludvig Borga
Among the many foreign heels WWE paraded out in the '80s and '90s, Ludvig Borga is arguably one of the more forgettable. But he did have an interesting twist to his America-bashing gimmick – he'd call Americans out not simply for being "inferior" or "weak," but for polluting the planet and lacking education. But the Finnish strongman wasn't long for the WWE, as he was gone from the company early in 1994, mere months after debuting with a decent enough push.
What followed was a long and bizarre career that included stints in the early UFC (where he became Randy Couture's first victim, losing in just 56 seconds), politics (as part of a Finnish nationalist party), and even music. That's right, music – the real-life Tony Halme released a few dance/pop-ish singles where his spoken/rapped lyrics made Randy Savage sound like Snoop Dogg. Borga/Halme's colorful, controversial, and ultimately troubled life ended in January 2010, when he shot himself just three days after turning 47.
9 Brian Christopher
Although he was no better than a midcarder during his time in WWE, Jerry Lawler's oldest son Brian Christopher was an entertaining, memorable figure in the company's Attitude Era. And why not? As "Grandmaster Sexay," he and Scott "Scotty 2 Hotty" Taylor were the epitome of Offspring's 1998 hit "Pretty Fly for a White Guy," and it was somehow entertaining to hear "The King" always deny on commentary that he was Brian's father, despite the obvious resemblance between both men.
Unfortunately, Brian fought the proverbial "personal demons" for a good part of the 2000s after leaving WWE. In 2009, he racked up multiple arrests, and was even jailed for 30 days for refusing to enter a treatment program connected to a public drunkenness arrest the month prior. But on a positive note, Christopher seems to have turned a corner in recent years, and makes occasional throwback appearances with Scotty 2 Hotty to reprise their "white hip-hop fanboy" gimmick for nostalgic Attitude Era fans.
Sometimes I have to ask myself if I get tired of placing Ryback on these lists. But he has no one to blame but himself for the fact he's become a pro wrestling punchline. As mentioned previously, his podcast is oftentimes a marathon gripe session where the same old anti-WWE stories are repeated ad nauseam, and in the months before he actually left WWE, he was already the butt of jokes for suggesting everybody in the WWE, from jobbers to main eventers, deserved to be paid equally. What else don't we know about how Ryback shot himself in the foot post-WWE?
It's clear that Ryback has turned himself into poison to major wrestling promotions, and not just to his old employer, but also to the likes of Impact Wrestling, New Japan, and even larger indies like ROH. There's no way in their right mind they'd want to feed this guy more after seeing how he's conducted himself post-WWE.
7 Vince Russo
Yeah, we hear you. Vince Russo technically isn't a wrestler. But he did, for all intents and purpose, once book himself as WCW's World Champion, so there you go. As WWE's top writer during the rise of the Attitude Era, Russo was hailed by some as a genius, and he too saw himself as such, thinking his brand of "crash TV" would be hot you-know-what when he left WWE to work for the competition. Alas, without the other Vince's (McMahon) hands-on filtering, Vinny Ru once left to his own devices was like asking a kid with a student license to drive a Formula 1 race car.
Instead of being hailed as the man who helped invent the Attitude Era, Russo is now derided even more so as the man who helped kill WCW with numerous swerves, title changes, and ill-conceived attempts to break the fourth wall. And if you ask him, even up to this day, bro, none of that, and I repeat, none of that, bro, is his fault.
6 The Ultimate Warrior
Despite lacking technical wrestling skills and cutting some of the most nonsensical promos WWE has ever heard, WWE wanted The Ultimate Warrior as the new face of the company, with a brilliantly-told match against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI putting him over and sending him on the path to greatness. Sure, Warrior had a successful career in the years that followed, but frequent money disputes with Vince McMahon had him leaving the company on bad terms twice in the 1990s.
After Warrior's third and last WWE stint, he moved on to WCW in 1998, where he had a very brief, often-ridiculed run, as well as a rematch against the now-evil "Hollywood" Hogan at Halloween Havoc that ranks as one of the worst matches in ALL of wrestling history. And to further tarnish his career, his post-wrestling job saw him working as a racist, homophobic, hardcore conservative motivational speaker. (And the inventor of the word "destrucity," for what it's worth.)
5 Jake Roberts
Thankfully, we can now look at Jake "The Snake" Roberts and see a man who's finally in a good place in his life, while also enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame as one of the all-time greats. But Roberts' wrestling career is also filled with "what could have been" scenarios, mainly what could have been had he not been so messed-up on booze and drugs during what should have been the prime of his career.
Roberts' fall from grace after leaving WWE in 1991 was bad enough, but it was much worse when he left WWE a second time in 1997. After his attempts to find religion had failed epically, Roberts was in an even worse substance abuse-related rut than he was before. And while we may find Jake's four-sheets-to-the-wind Heroes of Wrestling blackjack promo funny and embarrassing, it's ultimately sad if you come to think about it, because this was a man who was obviously wasting his talent on his vices.
When talking about wrestlers who fell from grace after leaving WWE, you can't omit Tammy Sytch's name from there. This was a woman who let the fame get too much in her head, as her diva-esque attitude got her fired from America's top three promotions of the '90s – WWE, then ECW, then WCW. But while we may look back fondly at her time in WWE, you'd also be hard-pressed to remember her ECW and WCW accomplishments, as drugs and alcohol were making her increasingly unreliable around that time.
It's sad that poor life decisions have made Sunny into a running joke of sorts, now that she's charging fans for nude Skype chats, while carrying a good deal of extra weight compared to her slim and sexy figure from her '90s heyday. We can only hope she gets her life in order, instead of always bitterly ranting about her wrestling days and spreading intimate details (which are often best taken with a grain of salt) about her sex life.
3 Johnny K-9
You probably don't recall the jobber called Johnny K-9, but he remains in this writer's memory as one of the more colorful enhancement talents of late-1980s WWE, together with the likes of Iron Mike Sharpe, Brooklyn Brawler, and Randy Orton's uncle, Barry O. The beefy Canadian was also an indie mainstay, competing in his home country's Stampede Wrestling, and in Smoky Mountain Wrestling under the name Bruiser Bedlam.
Johnny K-9 (real name Ion Croitoru) would see his arrest record pile up in the years after he left WWE in the late-‘80s. And boy, was his rap sheet colorful — he racked up multiple murder charges as the leader of the Hamilton, Ontario chapter of the Satan’s Choice biker gang. By the time he died in February 2017 at the age of 53, he was still serving time in a federal halfway house. He could have enjoyed a much longer wrestling career, but instead chose to be a real-life heel, much to his detriment of himself and his victims.
2 The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, British Bulldog)
As we've often mentioned how Bret Hart's wrestling career went south the moment he, um, went south from Stamford to Atlanta to join WCW in 1997, we've got a little twist for this entry – we're including all three Hart Foundation members who jumped ship after the Montreal Screwjob. Of course, we know how WCW's haphazard booking had Bret switching from heel to face and back and taking part in illogical angles, and how a Goldberg kick concussed Hart and ultimately ended his career. But what about his brothers-in-law, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart and Davey Boy "British Bulldog" Smith?
As it turns out, Neidhart and the British Bulldog were booked as a tag team in WCW, but were pretty much afterthoughts on the company's huge roster. Anvil was done as a full-time wrestler after WCW quietly released him and Davey Boy in 1998. Bulldog, on the other hand, notably contracted a staph infection after bumping on a trap door meant for fellow WCW failure (Ultimate) Warrior, and when he returned to WWE in 1999, he was hooked on painkillers and a pitiful shadow of his old self. Bulldog died in 2002 at the young age of 39 after suffering a drug-related heart attack.
It's hard to mention someone who had just recently died as the number one example of a wrestler whose career was tarnished after they left WWE. But that was the sad fate of Joanie Laurer, better-known to fans as Chyna, whose life went into a tailspin after she and Triple H ended their four-year relationship in 2000, and after she left WWE a year later.
Despite showing great potential as a crossover star during the peak of her WWE popularity, the Ninth Wonder of the World instead became a fixture of trashy reality shows for has-beens (The Surreal Life), an adult film star with several movies under her belt (including the aforementioned films with X-Pac), and a known drug and alcohol abuser whose name would oftentimes be synonymous with "train wreck." And while the last few years of her life offered some faint glimmers of hope, Chyna sadly passed away in April of 2016, only 46 years old, from an accidental drug overdose.