WWE is the largest wrestling company in the world, with outreach to more homes in more countries and greater ease cost efficiency than any other promotion can touch. There are those people who associate WWE and pro wrestling as synonyms, like UFC to MMA, Kleenex to facial tissues, or Xerox to copy machines. On top of all of that, WWE has money. While a handful of top indie stars and international workers can make bank, there are very few wrestlers who can aspire to WWE money outside the WWE machine.
While the company’s corporate and commercial style aren’t for every wrestling fan, few and far between are those fans who didn’t follow WWE at some point in time. Moreover, as time goes on, and the territory days, AWA, WCCW, ECW, and WCW become more distant memories, it will become harder to find a wrestling fan who wasn’t at least initially hooked by WWE. From the descriptions of his colleagues, Zack Ryder is committed to being a WWE Superstar at any cost, even when the company doesn’t use him to his full potential, and is emblematic of a lot of stars who would commit to WWE at any cost.
I say all of this to arrive at the point that WWE matters, and so it matters if the company says a wrestler can’t ply his or her trade there. To be blacklisted, at least as a wrestler, by WWE, means that one’s prospects as a wrestler are pretty severely limited when it comes to accessing fame, fortune, and, by and large, realizing childhood dreams of the wrestling profession. This article takes a look at 15 wrestlers who find themselves in that boat.
15 Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock was a deceptively important figure in the Attitude Era. As a guy with a legit mixed martial arts background, he lent a new credibility and violent edge to the WWE product during a key era when the company was getting more serious and more inclined toward realism. He’d go on to be a successful in ring star for the company staging memorable matches opposite talents including The Rock and Owen Hart.
Post-WWE, Shamrock would briefly be a featured player for TNA, and work independents here and there, though the consensus tended to be that he priced himself out of most market, demanding bigger booking fees than a star of his stature really justified. Shamrock would go back to MMA for a time, and be successful for his age, and but not be able to thrive the way he once had in the early days of UFC.
Shamrock has spoken about WWE in interviews in recent years and his comments leave two strikes against him. For one thing, he seems to maintain too high of an opinion of himself, suggesting that even over the age of 50, he would be a dream opponent for Brock Lesnar. Additionally, he has bad-mouthed Triple H, indicating that he was jealous of Shamrock and that Hunter holds a grudge in not wanting to book him now. Whether or not you may agree with Shamrock in either of these cases, you can surely understand why WWE wouldn’t be eager to do business with him again.
14 Sexy Star
Sexy Star isn’t exactly a household name, but the well established luchadora did cross over to more American fans in recent years via Lucha Underground. Based on her efforts there and particularly winning the Lucha Underground title and putting on a killer No Mas submission match with Mariposa, Star began to enter the conversation of top female stars not to have worked with WWE.
Based on events at Mexico’s TripleMania event this fall, however, it’s now doubtful Star ever will make it to WWE. Star purportedly worked an armbar on opponent Rosemary too hard—actually shooting with the hold and legitimately injuring her. One of the most important aspects of pro wrestling is that wrestlers trust each other with their bodies, and to have taken these liberties meant Star crossed a line. Not only her colleagues, but a number of major figures from the wrestling world, including Chris Jericho have spoken in podcasts, interviews, and on social media to condemn her actions and make it clear she would not be welcome to share a locker room with them. You can be sureWWE won’t be taking a chance on her anytime soon.
13 David Benoit
Oftentimes, being the son of a famous wrestler is an all but guaranteed ticket to getting a shot with WWE. Just look at David Flair, who largely flopped in his limited run with WCW, but nonetheless got an opportunity in WWE’s developmental system in acknowledgment of his father, Ric Flair’s, importance to the wrestling business.
Every now and again, a wrestler’s lineage can work against him. Such is the case for David Benoit.
David hasn’t done anything overtly wrong in wrestling in his own right, but his father is arguably the biggest real life villain in wrestling history. He murdered his wife and child before committing suicide, all while under contract with WWE. To make matters even worse, the reasons for his breakdown were first linked to steroid use, and later to head injuries incurred during his wrestling career. All of this meant bad publicity for WWE, and made the company even more averse to ever having anything to do with the Benoit family again. While it’s conceivable David could change his last name, shine on the indies, and earn a chance, things don’t look good for the Crippler’s son.
12 Buff Bagwell
Buff Bagwell was a homegrown star for WCW who grew from the most white meat of baby faces into a smug heel with a big personality who many theorized would thrive in WWE. Bagwell did get one televised match for WWE, in the only Raw encounter branded as an official WCW match. That bout with Booker T flopped hard, and is widely blamed for WWE abandoning all attempts at pushing WCW as its own brand.
If Bagwell’s one bad performance weren’t enough, he also purportedly had his mom call in sick for him when he couldn’t work a show—a point that Jim Ross has noted multiple times as the biggest strike against him.
To his credit, Bagwell denies Ross’s claims and suggests that he was set up for failure in something of a conspiracy theory against him and other WCW talents getting over. It’s not entirely clear where the truth might lie, but as Bagwell has gotten older, and notably made money on the side working as a male escort, it seems clear WWE isn’t interested in offering him employment again.
11 Jeff Jarrett
As the son of well respected promoter Jerry Jarrett, Jeff Jarrett had a clear pathway into WWE, and made the most of those opportunities through two distinctive periods of employment with WWE. Moreover, Jarrett got the most out of the Monday Night War, moving between WWE and WCW pretty fluidly to continually better his position and increase his earnings.
Jarrett’s final defection, however, may have come back to bite him. On his way out the door with WWE, he purportedly held up Vince McMahon for money. The story goes that his contract had already expired and he already had one foot out the door on his way back to WCW for a main event run. He was also the reigning Intercontinental Champion in WWE, locked in a feud with Chyna, and reportedly demanded a huge payday to drop the title to a woman in his last match.
Vince McMahon made no bones about shunning Jarrett, calling him out by name to say he wouldn’t be hired by WWE when they bought out WCW. Jarrett could see he wasn’t kidding, and cites his heat in WWE as a prime factor in choosing to create TNA. Starting a new company that has occasionally tried to compete with WWE doesn’t seem to have helped Jarrett’s standing with McMahon, and there’s indication he’ll ever be welcomed back into the fold.
10 Colt Cabana
Blink and you might have missed Colt Cabana’s run with WWE, working under the ECW brand as Scotty Goldman. Cabana failed to win over the powers that be and largely flopped in a forgettable run before getting released. Cabana returned to a thriving spot on the indies and running one of wrestling’s first and most highly regarded podcasts.
In and of himself, Cabana probably could have been welcomed back to WWE, particularly as the company has grown more friendly to the independent style and stars who don’t strictly conform to the WWE model. However, Cabana loses points in WWE’s eyes for his affiliation with CM Punk. In addition to being close friends with the Straight Edge Superstar, Cabana offered up his podcast, The Art of Wrestling, as a platform for Punk to ultimately air grievances against WWE’s creative practices, medical procedures, and more. The matter is still subject to litigation and has likely put Cabana on the outs with WWE permanently.
9 Juventud Guerrera
Juventud Guerrera may be best remembered for his work under a mask for WCW’s Cruiserweight Division, but he also worked for a spell with WWE in the aftermath of the Invasion as part of the Mexicools faction that rode a riding lawnmower to the ring, and as singles competitor. After close to a year with the company, he returned to the independent circuit and working shows in Mexico, which he has kept up right up to modern times.
Guerrera ran afoul of WWE management, however, when he directly disobeyed orders from the powers that be. WWE called on its more aerially oriented stars to tone down their offense do to a series of risky spots and avoidable injuries, which most notably included Guerrera hurting Paul London with a 450 splash gone wrong. The 450 was explicitly banned at this time, but Guerrera went ahead and used it anyway in his next match, resulting in his release.
While stars have come back from worse situations, Guerrera didn’t exactly stand out among WWE’s smaller wrestlers of the time, and hasn’t had the kind of smashing success outside WWE that would lead to him being a big enough draw to ever bring back into fold.
8 Mr. Kennedy
There was a time when Mr. Kennedy looked like the next major superstar for WWE, as he had the benefit of a Money in the Bank briefcase win and major angles like Mr. McMahon’s assassination and the reveal of McMahon’s estranged son, and an anti-authority run opposite William Regal originally built around him. One by one, bad timing, real world events, and especially injuries conspired against Kennedy to ultimately mean he never got out of the mid-card and was ultimately released.
Though Kennedy would go on to prosper for a fair bit of his TNA run, his choices to badmouth WWE management and Randy Orton in the meantime did nothing to re-ingratiate him to the company. In the end, he’s remembered in WWE as less of a megastar than a (repeatedly) failed experiment and it’s unlikely WWE ever revisit him.
7 New Jack
New Jack may be the biggest star of ECW to have never gotten a meaningful shot in WWE or WCW. For New Jack, this isn’t a matter of politicking, bad timing, or a career ending injury, but rather a horrible reputation within the wrestling business.
New Jack is notorious for having legitimately threatened other wrestlers, besides rumors that he’s purposefully hurt them. And then there’s the ever-present specter of the Mass Transit Incident—a time when he was working an untrained wrestler, cut him, and beat him mercilessly until he legitimately had to go to the hospital for life-threatening injuries. New Jack is, at the end of the day, too violent with too volatile of a personality to ever fit WWE’s corporate mold. All the more so, now that the company is family friendly, and now that New Jack is well, well past his prime, there’s no chance of the company ever taking a chance on him.
6 Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio ended his first WWE tenure on bad terms, released after he hit a backstage employee who had allegedly used a racist epithet. Few fans thought that WWE or Del Rio would ever want to work together again, which made it a shock when he did return to the fold the following year.
Del Rio’s second run was a massive disappointment, as his booking was directionless, and he looked lazy in the ring, in a cycle that fed upon itself, getting worse and worse before he left again. In the aftermath of his second departure, Del Rio was all the more outspoken against WWE and particularly Triple H, whom he refers to as “the one with the big nose” on social media and in shoot interviews.
At this stage of his career—already an international star and probably just a few years away from retirement, Del Rio really doesn’t need WWE. All the more so, even if he did have a change of heart and try to come back, rumors abound that Triple H didn’t want to give him a second chance with WWE anyway, and after the second run went so poorly, he’d have more than enough influence and justification to make sure Del Rio never got an opportunity with the company again.
Nailz was a memorable, if short lived character from the early 1990s who was brought in specifically to feud with the Big Boss Man. You see, while Boss Man’s vocational gimmick was that of a prison guard, Nailz played his counterpoint as an ex-convict, intent on terrorizing the guard whom he felt had terrorized him when he was behind bars. After the Boss Man feud, Nailz looked like he was gearing up for a run opposite The Undertaker.
That feud would never really come to fruition, though, as Nailz ran into some intense backstage issues. He purportedly confronted Vince McMahon over what he perceived as broken promises regarding the money he’d be making, and his position within the company. From a variety of accounts, the argument would escalate to Nailz yelling at and then strangling McMahon. Police were called to the scene and in the aftermath, Nailz tried to claim McMahon had sexually assaulted him. Laying his hands on McMahon without clear provocation would probably be enough for a star with Nailz’s limited tenure and legacy to be blacklisted; the headaches to follow pushed things over the edge to confirm he wouldn’t get another shot.
4 Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan is arguably the biggest icon in professional wrestling, but he’s had his ups and downs with WWE. After rising to superstardom with the company in the 1980s, he defected to WCW in the mid-1990s, and after WWE had welcomed him back in the early 2000s, he eventually teamed up with TNA in what was a purported attempt to compete with WWE. When the Hulkster returned once again in 2014, not as a wrestler but a legendary figure and ambassador, it looked as though that might be how he’d ride out his time in wrestling, if not his life—if only for lack of another credible company to partner with. After getting caught up tape repeatedly using racial epithets, however, WWE cut ties, releasing him from his contract and mostly scrubbing him from their website.
In the last year, WWE has started making mentions of Hogan again, which may indicate they’re open to doing business once more now that the PR disaster is under control. For now, though, Hogan remains absent from WWE, and between his personal issues and his advanced age, there’s no real chance of WWE letting him in the ring again.
While Konnan has suggested that he has a perfectly fine relationship with WWE, and just hasn’t worked for them since his brief stint in the 1990s, rumors abound that there remains legitimate heat between the company and the star wrestler.
The source of purported tensions is mostly Konnan’s brief tenure working as Max Moon—a gimmick WWE reportedly put a lot of resources into, only for Konnan to back out after a few short months because he thought his business prospects were better back in Mexico. Konnan would go on, years later, to work in a prominent spot for WCW, particularly as part of the nWo Wolfpac, and would more recently work as a manager for Lucha Underground.
The rumors go that WWE wants nothing to do with Konnan, and feels so adamantly that they’ve declined working with other luchadors who are now affiliated with him, just to continue freezing Konnan out.
2 Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan was the little indie engine who could—too small of stature and too technical in style to really appear to WWE’s sensibilities, and yet ultimately too talented as a professional wrestler for the company to ultimately deny him. He got signed and then got sent home when he was made the creative choice to choke Justin Roberts in a heelish attack. He got brought back and relegated to mid-card status only to prove himself over and over again with every opportunity afforded him that he could get over and could capture the imagination of fans.
While Bryan remains a part of WWE, cast as SmackDown’s kayfabe general manager, it’s no secret that his in ring career ended far sooner than he wanted it to. Head and neck injuries took him out of the game at the height of his success as an in-ring artist, but research and consultations have since led him to believe that he could safely return to the ring. WWE has no interest in assuming that risk, however, particularly given the current culture around concussions in sports and a class action lawsuit against the company. The rumor mill has Bryan potentially getting in the ring elsewhere once his WWE contract is up.
1 CM Punk
To say that CM Punk left WWE on bad terms is a pretty big understatement. He walked out on the company after he’d met the obligations of his contract, but abruptly before the company had planned for him to head out. He proceeded to speak out against company’s management, its medical personnel, and its creative direction in a blistering podcast interview with Colt Cabana.
Could Punk ever come back to WWE? It’s conceivable that, as an older man, he might come back around for one more match or angle, or a Hall of Fame induction. Certainly, Vince McMahon has proven his willingness to ultimately forgive transgressions in favor of making money. However, McMahon is now 72, and for as stubborn as Punk is notorious for being, there are real questions as to whether his resolve will ever give out—let alone while McMahon is still in charge of the company.
So that leaves Triple H as the most likely top dog for WWE’s talent relations and creative direction. Triple H was specifically, personally offended because Punk cited having to wrestle him in a non-main event match at WrestleMania as one of the final straws that made him walk out. And while McMahon has proven his willingness to put aside personal matters to do what’s best for business, it’s not yet clear that Triple H would do the same. So, whether he ever wants to come back or not, there’s a good chance Punk will never be welcomed back into the WWE fold.