The WWE is the big leagues. Now, at times, this has not always been true. There have been some periods in the company’s 50+ year history that the WWE has not been the top wrestling organization. And there have even been plenty of periods when they haven’t produced the best wrestling. But, like it or not, over the course of its existence, the WWE has been the number one wrestling promotion, so when a wrestler makes it there, they’ve made it to the big time.
And that’s why leaving the WWE can be extremely difficult for many wrestlers. Some have thrived, to be sure. Back when the WWE had an equal in the NWA/WCW, many wrestlers could jump back and forth and find success. Many have left the WWE to work in smaller promotions and have also done well, in terms of both their output and their income. However, not all wrestlers have had such successful post-WWE careers. It can be a very tough transition to make. And whether a wrestler has left in search of more money, in search of more air time, as a result of backstage disagreements, or simply because their time in “the Fed” had run its course, finding greater, equal, or even comparable success elsewhere has proved a risky endeavor.
So read on and learn about 15 wrestlers whose careers went nowhere after leaving the WWE.
A note about this list: wrestlers who died within a short period of leaving the WWE (British Bulldog, Umaga, etc.) are not included as they didn’t have much time to do anything with their careers.
15 Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart
14 Leilani Kai
Leilani Kai was a beneficiary of the WWE’s boom period of the 1980s. This surge to mainstream popularity was due in large part to the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection” that saw the WWE team with the nascent MTV channel and pop stars such as Cyndi Lauper. Accompanied to the ring by Lauper, Wendi Richter defeated the Fabulous Moolah at The Brawl to End it All on MTV in 1984. The next year, Kai, a disciple of Moolah, beat Richter at The War to Settle the Score, also on MTV. She would drop the title back to Richter at WrestleMania I. Kai would then team with Judy Martin and find reasonable success as the Glamour Girls.
13 The Dynamite Kid
As the Dynamite Kid, Tom Billington revolutionized professional wrestling. He helped to innovate and popularize a style that would inspire dozens of future wrestlers, combining traditional British style catch wrestling, Japanese strong style, and junior heavyweight acrobatics. His matches with the original Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama) in New Japan Pro Wrestling as well as his matches in Stampede Wrestling against Bret Hart and others are legendary. But to most North American fans, he is best known as one half as the British Bulldog along with his cousin, Davey Boy Smith, in which they were once tag team champions.
12 Jacques Rougeau
Perhaps the Dynamite Kid’s most famous personal rival was Jacques Rougeau. The enmity between the two was such that they actually came to blows. On screen, however, Jacques would have three successful phases of his WWE career: as a part of The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers alongside brother Raymond (and perhaps the best entrance theme ever); as The Mountie where he would have a brief reign as the Intercontinental Champion; and as part of the Quebecers alongside Pierre Ouellet, in which he would win the Tag Team Championship three times. The WWE promoted a retirement match for Rougeau in 1994, but it seems Jacques wasn’t ready to retire.
As Sunny, Tammy Lynn Sytch holds a special place in the hearts (and maybe another body part) of adolescent male wrestling fans of the mid-1990s. Sytch got into pro wrestling through her boyfriend, Chris Candido. Her beauty, confidence, and charm led her to success in no time, with her being hired by the WWE at the tender age of 22. Although she rarely got in the ring to wrestle, Sunny is viewed by many as “the original diva,” having rejuvenated the WWE’s interest in female performers. For part of Sunny’s tenure, she was the only woman with a prominent on-screen role. Her behavior started to become erratic, however, possibly due to an addiction to painkillers. Sytch had a romantic relationship with Shawn Michaels, which led her to become caught up in the Michaels-Bret Hart feud. She also had a personal rivalry with Sable, the WWE’s new female star. All this lead Sytch to leave the WWE in 1998.
10 King Kong Bundy
King Kong Bundy had a reasonably successful career, primarily with World Class Championship Wrestling, prior to entering the WWE in 1985. It was in the WWE that Bundy’s massive size rocketed him up the card in no time. Bundy squashed “Special Delivery” Jones in seconds at WrestleMania I and would soon enter into a lucrative feud with WWE Champion Hulk Hogan, culminating in a loss to the Hulkster in the main event of WrestleMania II. Bundy would never again reach those heights. A mere year later at WrestleMania III, Bundy was involved in a six-man-tag match with Hillbilly Jim and “midget wrestlers” (the then-industry term for little people wrestlers).
9 Bret Hart
At first blush, it seems harsh to classify a post-WWE career that involved two World Heavyweight Championship reigns and a win in the main event of Starrcade a failure. But if you compare Bret’s career in WCW with the career he had in WWE --and the career he could have had in WCW-- you have no other option but to classify his run as a failure. When Bret left the WWE after the "Montreal Screwjob," he was the hottest babyface in the industry. And WCW paid a lot of money for him. But the first thing Bret did was a failure. The finish to the main event of Starrcade ‘97 (to which WCW had been building for 18 months) saw Bret having to right the “wrong” of what was supposed to be a fast count that heel referee Nick Patrick somehow contrived to botch.
Shortly after that, Bret turned heel, ruining his built-in sympathy as a babyface. When WCW finally got serious about pushing Bret as a babyface world champion in the autumn of 1999, the company had already fallen from their once heady heights. And sadly Bret’s career was effectively ended when he suffered a major concussion from a kick from Goldberg just a few months into his title reign at Starrcade ‘99.
8 Ahmed Johnson
Pretty much any wrestler who was even some semblance of a star in the 1990s has been brought back for a show in some capacity at least once by the WWE, but not Tony Norris, aka Ahmed Johnson. Despite limited wrestling ability, a bizarre array of knee pads placed on his body, and a complete inability to speak without sounding as though he had billiard balls in his mouth, Ahmed Johnson was presented as a star in the WWE during his time there (1995-1998). Presumably because of his ridiculously muscular physique, Vince McMahon liked him so much that he had Johnson win the Intercontinental Championship, becoming the first ever black wrestler to hold a singles title in the WWE.
7 Scott Hall
Scott Hall’s post-WWE life has been so bad that he is now classified as a success story, simply because he is still alive. But before he went to live with Diamond Dallas Page in 2013 and joined his yoga program and finally got a handle on his alcoholism and substance abuse problem, Scott Hall’s life was a complete mess. After a lucrative and initially successful, but troubled, run with WCW, Hall returned to the WWE as part of the NWO in 2002. He would not last long. After a disappointing match with Steve Austin at WrestleMania X-8, Hall would be released in May after the infamous “Plane Ride from Hell.”
Yokozuna main-evented back-to-back WrestleManias (IX and X) and had the longest WWE Title reign of any heel up to that point. But while Yoko’s first two years in the WWE were great, the surprisingly agile big man became gradually less agile as he became bigger. Year over year, Yoko continued to gain weight. By the end of 1995, he was barely mobile and by the end of 1996, he wasn’t medically cleared to wrestle. Yoko actually tried to lose weight, and did lose a significant amount, but not enough to satisfy the WWE’s medical staff nor the New York State Athletic Commission.
5 Jake “The Snake” Roberts
And with Jake “The Snake” Roberts, we round-out the full complement of the Heroes of Wrestling main event. Despite a brief stint in ECW, the one-off abysmal independent wrestling pay-per-view show was Roberts’s only noteworthy wrestling appearance after being fired by the WWE in early 1997. On the show, Roberts delivered a now-infamous incoherent promo about blackjack before heading to the ring for his co-main event match against Jim Neidhart. Roberts was extremely inebriated and spent more time making out and rudely gesticulating with his snake than wrestling. Mostly he just laid on the ground. Neidhart was baffled and did not know what to do. King Kong Bundy was sent out to somehow save the event, effectively turning it into a handicap match with Bundy and Neidhart beating up an already barely conscious Roberts. Yokozuna eventually came down and an impromptu tag match took place, but it still sucked and was very sad.
4 Monty Brown
Sunny and Sable were popular female performers before Chyna. Trish Stratus and Lita were better wrestlers after Chyna, but Chyna is arguably the most famous female wrestler ever. Chyna received significant mainstream media coverage during her time as a popular character in the Attitude Era, as a member of D-X and later as a singles star, wrestling men. Chyna would win the Women’s Championship as well as the Intercontinental Championship, being the first woman to do so. Chyna left the WWE in 2001, partly to pursue an acting career, but also maybe because her real life boyfriend, Paul Levesque (Triple H), began a relationship with his future wife, Stephanie McMahon.
2 Perry Saturn
When we say a wrestler “fell off the map” after leaving the WWE, we usually mean he only wrestled for very small promotions, or perhaps left wrestling entirely to do something else, but Perry Saturn actually did fall off the map. He literally disappeared. He probably always physically existed somewhere, but nobody knew where. We still don’t. And neither does he! After leaving the WWE in 2002, Saturn wrestled occasionally for TNA and NJPW. In 2004, Saturn was shot in the back of the neck and shoulder when trying to help a woman who was being raped. Saturn, who had struggled with addiction before, became addicted to methamphetamine. He became homeless and even his friends and family did not know where he was or what had happened to him. Saturn still doesn’t remember large swaths of this time period.
1 The Ultimate Warrior
After a suspension due to a squabble over money, The Ultimate Warrior returned to TV at WrestleMania VIII in 1992, but he would be fired that autumn for violating the WWE’s new drug testing program. He wrestled only a handful of matches for small, independent promotions over the next four years before returning in 1996 for a nothing match against Triple H at WrestleMania XII. Warrior would go on to have an uninspired few months before being released again, this time for missing shows. Warrior would then join WCW in 1998. He had three matches there, the most prominent one being against Hollywood Hulk Hogan at Halloween Havoc 1998. That match was perhaps the worst pay-per-view match from a major company in the history of pro wrestling. After that, Warrior disappeared from the business. He legally changed his name from James Hellwig to “Warrior” and would embark on a motivational speaking career, in which he did little more than ramble incoherently and homophobically.
Warrior would return in 2014 to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He would shockingly die from a heart attack only a day after delivering a speech on RAW that was effectively his own eulogy.
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