Most wrestlers work their whole life to achieve their dream of working for the WWE, giving their blood, sweat and tears to reach their goal. For those who do actually make it to the company, the everyday grind of the schedule combined with the constant threat of release create a stressful work environment. The pressure of being a WWE star can create diamonds out of coal, but can also see many wrestlers crack under the pressure. No matter how you react to the situation, everyone eventually is released from the WWE in some shape or fashion. In the case of some, it may be voluntary while others may go down in a blaze of glory.
Since we just passed the one-year anniversary of WWE’s mass exodus it seemed appropriate to revisit some of the stars who were released in 2016. The WWE’s annual act of mass firings is always expected, but the 2016 list really hurt many fans. Favorites like Wade Barrett, Santino Marella, and Cody Rhodes all left the company. Everyone on this list left on slightly different terms than the previous and has found some sort of success outside of the WWE. It’s up to you to decide which has been the most successful.
As always feel free to let us know what you think in the comment section.
Ryback is seemingly in the news every day thanks to his newfound freedom following his release from the WWE. The Big Guy got into a nasty contract dispute with WWE management last year, which led to him and the company parting ways. If you listen to Ryback’s story, he claims that the WWE offered him a nice contract but the creative wasn’t fulfilling enough for him to stay. In any case, Ryback left the company and began taking independent bookings the week after his release.
Ryback has also branched into other non-wrestling areas such as developing his line of supplements, starting his own podcast and writing a book. Ryback has been pretty open about his time in WWE, which could limit his ability to return to the company in the near future.
14 Alex Riley
While working with The Miz in 2010, Alex Riley seemed to be on his way to the main event scene. By the time his rookie year in the WWE had ended, Riley had already been featured in numerous main events, and was even an integral part of WrestleMania XXVII's final match. But unfortunately for Ay-Ry, backstage politics halted his career, and after just six years he was released from the WWE. Since his release Riley has stayed relatively quiet on the wrestling scene, only popping up with his obligatory John Cena trashing. More recently it was revealed that Riley will be featured as a member of the Netflix original GLOW, but until it debuts in June we won’t know to what extent he was involved.
I want you to think about this next statement for a second. Hornswoggle had a longer full-time career with the WWE than Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Kurt Angle. Yeah. After a decade with the WWE, Hornswoggle was finally released in 2016 and quickly found success on the independent wrestling circuit for the next few months. Now wrestling under the name of Swoggle, the former WWE Cruiserweight Champion is now signed to Impact Wrestling.
Swoggle debuted with the company after making a surprise appearance as a participating in the Total Nonstop Deletion event. The small statured wrestler is currently involved in a storyline with Rockstar Spud, who he viciously attacked with a hammer on a recent episode of Impact. We'll see how long his Impact career lasts.
12 Sara Lee
My first #Mothersday as a momma was fantastic..spent with amazing friends, naps, yummy food, and my first time back in the actual gym since having her..I am so blessed ?????and thank you everyone who wished me a happy Mother's Day!! Happy Mother's Day to all the mamas out there ?
There has been a long-running superstition that the winners of Tough Enough are doomed to fail in the WWE. After winning the most recent season of the competition, Sara Lee looked as if she was going to break the curse but was released in 2016 wrestling only nine matches during her WWE career. Though many thought that her release was due to her pregnancy, insiders reported that WWE officials saw little to no improvement in Lee and that was the reason she was fired.
Lee gave birth to a baby girl, on May 10, which kind of flew under the radar due to Brie Bella giving birth the day before. Only time will tell if Lee considers getting back in the ring, as her boyfriend -Wesley Blake - still works for the WWE.
11 Bull Dempsey
When the WWE signed Bull Dempsey in 2013, the 300+ pounder had already been around the wrestling scene for nearly a decade. Though he spent three years at NXT, Dempsey never really accomplished much for himself as part of the brand. There were shimmers of something more, but for the most part, Dempsey was used as an enhancement talent. It almost looked like Bull was going to get a run with Samoa Joe, but that was quickly squashed.
When he was finally released in 2016 it may have come as a relief to Dempsey, as he sold his WWE ring gear on eBay soon after. Since leaving the WWE Bull has worked at Combat Zone Wrestling and Ring of Honor, as well as appearing at countless minor promotions throughout the country.
10 Zeb Colter
Long time wrestling fans will know that Zeb Colter's most recent stint in the WWE was severely underwhelming when compared against past performances from the wrestling manager. Colter was set to be a heel mouthpiece for Jack Swagger, who was about to receive a big push in 2013 before being derailed by a DUI arrest. Zeb continued to manage Swagger, but never really achieved the success that the WWE had hoped he would. He had a brief stint in 2015 as the manager to Swagger's former adversary Alberto Del Rio.
After three years with the WWE, Colter was released in 2016 after not appearing on television for six months. Since leaving the WWE, Colter was hired by Impact Wrestling where he started as a creative consultant, but since has moved to the head of the creative team.
Although her career with the WWE was uneventful, Cameron made the best of her time in the company. Besides being a prominent member of the Funkadactyls, Cameron enjoyed more success as a cast member on the reality show Total Divas for four seasons. She was able to use the popularity of the show to launch her social media career, and when she was cut in 2016 landed firmly on her feet because of it. In just a year Cameron has been featured on multiple fitness websites, is nearing one million Instagram followers, has launched a YouTube channel and will be hosting an online show in the coming months.
She went on record as stating that she could return to the WWE, but she knows that women have limited careers in the company and she wanted to be a “Jill of all trades”.
8 El Torito
When El Torito was brought into the WWE in 2013 it was to serve as the mascot for Los Matadores, but he quickly became the most popular part of the group. Though he didn’t participate in many matches, Torito did have his very own Royal Rumble moment and participated in the first ever “WeeLC”. The match featured Torito and fellow little person Hornswoggle facing off at Extreme Rules in 2014, using all miniature weapons. Torito won that match but failed to recreate anything else nearly as memorable before being released in 2016 after WWE had committed to embarking on its 'new era'.
Since then Torito has taken back his old name Mascarita Dorada and has been wrestling on the independent circuit working for promotions like The Crash and CZW.
7 Santino Marella
Although he was officially released in 2016, Santino Marella was barely an active member of the WWE roster after 2014. After injuring his neck for the third time, the former Intercontinental Champion was relegated to only making non-wrestling appearances for the WWE. Marella admitted that the WWE offered him an extension until 2017, but rescinded their offer upon further consideration. Since leaving the WWE Marella has put all of his focus on Battle Arts Academy, which is a wrestling/martial arts school that he owns in Ontario. Marella takes an active role in teaching amateur wrestling as well as professional wrestling in the 15,000 square foot facility. When he isn’t teaching classes, Santino is helping to raise money for multiple charities in Canada, specifically organizations that focus on children.
6 Wade Barrett
I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news… Wade Barrett was released from the WWE last year seemingly never reaching his full potential in the company. Since leaving the company Barrett, now going by his given name Stu Bennett, has focused primarily on making movies. So far the former leader of Nexus has starred in four films, with a few more on the way. Bennett has since admitted that he was ready for his release, as the grind of traveling non-stop for nine years had taken a toll on his body. He hasn't, however, ruled out another full-time return into the world of professional wrestling, as he is highly sought after on the independent scene at the moment.
Though he is a hot commodity, Wade hasn’t wrestled since leaving the WWE instead, he has focused on making appearances and participating in Q&A sessions.
5 Damien Sandow
The WWE never really knew what to do with Damien Sandow by the time he was released in 2016. The former Money in the Bank winner could always make the best of what he was given by the creative team and won over the crowd with his pure charisma. Many were confused as to why the WWE would let Sandow go at what seemed like the height of his popularity following his run with The Miz. Sandow bounced back fast, however, and showed up on TNA Impact Wrestling shortly after his release under the gimmick of Aron Rex. Though he won the Grand Championship during his brief stint with the company, Sandow never actually had a contract with Impact and left the company without making a major splash.
While being interviewed by X-Pac in April, Sandow stated that even though he isn’t doing indie shows at the moment he is not retiring, instead, he will be focusing on some other things in his life.
4 Cody Rhodes
When Cody Rhodes was released from his contract last year it was surprising, to say the least. The lifelong WWE roster member had a guaranteed spot with the WWE given his last name, and was all but guaranteed a solid run following the brand split. Even more surprising is that unlike others on this list, Rhodes actually asked for his release, citing that he wanted to go find his true self on the independent scene. Rhodes wasted no time on the indies, showing up in TNA, Ring of Honor and NJPW all within a few months of being future endeavored. Currently, Rhodes is still with NJPW wrestling as The American Nightmare (a play on his father’s wrestling name) as a member of the Bullet Club.
3 The Dudley Boyz
Perhaps the greatest tag team of all time, The Dudley Boyz completed their WWE farewell tour in 2016 after a decade-long hiatus from the company. The duo returned to the company for less than one year but was able to recapture some of the magic that they were known for during the early 2000s. D-Von and Bubba Ray departed the company the day after SummerSlam, with the team fittingly being put through tables during their final appearance on WWE programming.
Since then the duo wrestled at a few indie shows before D-Von officially retired from the ring, quickly being signed by the WWE as a road agent. Bubba Ray Dudley, on the other hand, is still wrestling and is currently signed to Ring of Honor.
2 Adam Rose
After a string of issues at home and a couple of wellness policy violations, Adam Rose was released from the WWE in 2016. Rose’s character on the WWE main roster was never as compelling as his Leo Kruger persona that he developed in NXT, which is why he returned to a similar style once going to the indies. Now going by Krugar, Rose instantly found controversy by selling t-shirts that featured his mugshot on them. This normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but the picture stemmed from one of his domestic abuse charges.
Though the idea for the shirt came from his wife who filed the charge, the idea rubbed many fans the wrong way and may have hurt his bookings during his early independent run. Since then Rose has bounced back but has since announced that 2017 will be his final year in wrestling.
1 Alberto Del Rio
The past few years have been interesting for former WWE star Alberto Del Rio, to say the least. After signing a contract to come back to the WWE in 2015, Del Rio left the company again less than a year later. He was able to do so because he negotiated his contract with a clause that said he could leave without financial fault if he was “unhappy” about his position in the company.
Since leaving the WWE in 2016 he has trashed the company publicly non-stop and has wrestled everywhere from Impact Wrestling to GFW and even WCPW. Currently the GFW Global Champion, Del Rio has stated that he will never go back to the WWE, even though Vince McMahon has floated the idea of him returning to the company.