Three years is a long time in any sport, but for professional wrestling, in particular, those 36 months really can change everything that we thought we once knew about the business. Performers can grow and decline in equal measure, meanwhile, the entire trajectory of promotions like WWE and ROH can change to the point where we ring in the beginning of a brand new era.
In this instance, we’re taking a look at 20 superstars both past and present who were let go in the year 2014. Some have gone on to have extremely successful careers elsewhere, but others have actually been able to return and make an impact – which is something that few could’ve anticipated.
As a whole, 2014 was a great year for the company, but as we look ahead to 2018 it’s interesting to see just how much the landscape has changed. We haven’t seen as many releases/departures in one calendar year since then, and given the nature of the business right now, that fact may remain true for quite some time.
JTG is fondly remembered by many as being one half of the popular Cryme Tyme tag team, and whilst they were certainly good, they never really went above the level of borderline racist in the WWE. Some will put that down to the nature of their gimmick, meanwhile, others will believe that they weren’t all that good to begin with.
Whichever camp you fall into nobody can deny that it was amusing to see JTG stay on the payroll as long as he did, especially given that he’s been fairly absent from the world of pro wrestling since leaving the company. He’s done a few bookings here and there both as a singles and tag team star, but his most noteworthy ventures have been writing two books and doing a few subpar acting roles.
19 Drew McIntyre
When Drew McIntyre came into the fold as the "Chosen One," it was clear that he was still fairly green. Sure, he had a great deal of talent and star quality behind him, but the Scot was still missing a few key elements that would’ve made him the next star of tomorrow. Then, upon being released back in 2014, he turned his career upside down – for the better.
After a few successful years on the independent circuit, he was back in the WWE as part of the NXT family, and his recent success can be measured by the fact that he is the reigning NXT Champion. It’s been a tremendous journey back to the top for the former 3MB member, and he isn’t the only one who has been shocking the world as of late.
18 Ezekiel Jackson
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As ECW Champion, Ezekiel Jackson was okay. As a member of The Corre, Ezekiel Jackson was okay. As Intercontinental Champion, you guessed it, Ezekiel Jackson was okay. For whatever reason, he never seemed to be given a free reign in the WWE and that’s a shame because his post-WWE career proved that he had a lot more in his locker.
In Lucha Underground, the man formerly known as Zeke was an absolute monster, fitting into the dynamic of the show perfectly. Sure, he wasn’t a sustained main event star, but he didn’t need to be given what he was bringing to the table. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to see more from him, but perhaps WWE will give him another chance someday – maybe down in NXT.
Unfortunately, when it comes to irrelevancy, Aksana would likely find herself near the top of the list nine times out of ten. The former WWE Diva never really did anything of note during her run, aside from being a semi-acceptable manager to a few names that have gone on to carve out relatively successful careers.
We aren’t exaggerating when we say that very few people took notice of her departure from World Wrestling Entertainment, and even fewer would be able to tell you what she’s up to in the present day. She may have had potential at one stage, but right now, discovering her latest move is like picking a needle out of a haystack.
Who knows, maybe she’ll eventually re-surface one day – but then again, maybe not.
16 Curt Hawkins
Face the facts: Curt Hawkins just isn’t all that great. Sure, he’s a capable in-ring performer and sure he’s funny on Twitter from time to time, but that doesn’t add up to being a "superstar" in this era. In fact, it didn’t add up to anything whatsoever back in 2014 when Hawkins was initially relieved of his duties by Vince McMahon.
Upon returning there wasn’t a whole lot that changed, and Hawkins was thrust right back into being a perennial jobber to the stars. He may or not be happy in that role, but if we had to guess, he’s likely collecting a handsome and sizeable living for himself in return for very few appearances. Whether or not that can be considered a good thing is up to him.
Dave Bautista is one of the most successful stars in the history of the WWE. If you dispute that then you may need to go back and evaluate the evidence, because this guy has just about done it all in professional wrestling. He worked his way up from the bottom, became a multi-time world champion, and even managed to become a success outside of the company.
Following his ill-advised second run that concluded in 2014 he seemed to experience a career rejuvenation of sorts, being thrust into the spotlight as part of the Guardians of the Galaxy cast. Being a part of this franchise shot him straight into the Hollywood limelight, with other roles in films like Spectre and Blade Runner 2049 placing him firmly on the map.
The original Sin Cara was initially known as Mistico in his homeland of Mexico, and the announcement of his signing was met with a great deal of optimism among WWE fans. His high flying style had many people tipping him to be the next Rey Mysterio, but for whatever reason, that position was never quite filled by The Faceless One.
Botch after botch certainly didn’t help his cause, which he actually blamed on having to transition into the WWE style of wrestling. Either way, he only stuck around for a few years and whilst Hunico took over the character, Mistico went crawling back to Mexico where he once again resides as one of CMLL’s top names.
This, in essence, was the definition of a poorly managed experiment.
Poor old Albert has always been handicapped with misguided gimmicks and poor storylines, and that trend continued once he had returned from Japan in order to pursue another run with the WWE. From his entrance to the eventual comedy segments, things were trending in a very bad direction and this led to the retirement of the man formerly known as A-Train.
But when one door closes another one inevitably opens, and that’s exactly what happened to Matt Bloom. He quickly became a permanent fixture down in NXT as one of the lead trainers, and he actually became the head man in charge just a few years back. Nowadays, he’s continuing to shape the superstars of tomorrow – and we couldn’t be happier to see him thriving.
12 Theodore Long
There was a time a few years back when tag team matches were the "thing" on SmackDown Live, and a big reason for that was Teddy Long. The former blue brand general manager built a fantastic reputation for himself on Tuesday/Thursday nights, with fans regularly considering him to be one of the most enjoyable GMs of the last decade or so.
His release was met with criticism by some, meanwhile, others felt that his time had come and gone. Either way, he was still able to make a number of post-WWE appearances, which culminated this past April with his well-deserved induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Some can sing, some can dance – but very few can do what Teddy Long has throughout the course of his tenure in professional wrestling.
This may well be the most surprising of all the entries on this list, mainly because a lot of fans won’t really know who Camacho is. For those in the dark, the guy was considered to be nothing more than a bodyguard in WWE alongside his tag team partner Hunico (yes, the same Hunico who would eventually become the next Sin Cara).
But when he left WWE, everything changed. Camacho hopped on a plane to Japan and altered his persona to "Tanga Loa," and it was in the Far East where he found great success as a member of the Bullet Club. Plus, he’s a three-time tag team champion alongside the always popular Tama Tonga. Perhaps there is room for growth outside of the big leagues after all.
10 The Great Khali
Despite being a former World Heavyweight Champion, you won’t find too many members of the WWE Universe who actually rated the abilities of The Great Khali. Whether that was down to his size or lack of mobility, we just couldn’t really get all that invested in him as a character – which is probably why so many were happy to see him go back in 2014.
But the few fans that the Indian juggernaut had were rewarded earlier this year when the 45-year-old assisted Jinder Mahal in retaining his WWE Championship against Randy Orton. Aside from that he usually only makes sporadic appearances in the public eye, which may be a smart move given his overwhelming popularity within his homeland.
Let’s just be thankful that he didn’t wind up sticking around after Battleground.
9 Mason Ryan
If you ask anyone who was watching Monday Night Raw back in 2011 who Mason Ryan was, many will tell you that they initially thought The Animal, Batista had returned to the fold. But, as we now know, it was the Welshman Ryan who made his presence known when he clotheslined CM Punk and became a member of The New Nexus.
From that point on it became obvious that he was quite green in the ring, and despite some work down in NXT, his release seemed somewhat inevitable. Thankfully for Mason, though, he landed on his feet with a new role as the chief archer of Ka at Cirque de Soleil. Sure, it wasn’t like he landed the lead role in Star Wars or anything, but it’s still a noteworthy accomplishment.
Many tag teams have come and gone in this business over the years, but few have had the impact that Edge & Christian did. The multi-time world champions were considered to be revolutionary in a lot of ways back in the '90s and early noughties, with their exploits earning them many title runs in addition to separate glories as singles stars.
Christian's heel run in 2011 was particularly fascinating, but unfortunately, it wasn’t something that he was able to maintain. A string of concussions would soon force him onto the sidelines, and nowadays he’s once again teaming up with best friend Edge as a co-host of their Pod of Awesomeness.
Do yourselves a favour if you haven’t already, and go listen to it – they’re hilarious.
7 Brodus Clay
From one member of the WrestleMania XXVII WHC match to another: Brodus Clay. The former Funkasaurus seemed to possess every skill that a big man wrestler could ever hope to obtain, and yet, he was downgraded to being nothing more than a dancing dinosaur week in and week out. Come to think of it, is anyone all that surprised that he wound up on the firing line?
Either way, he continued to pursue his dreams even after being let go, which led him down the path of Impact Wrestling. He was an effective bodyguard for quite some time in TNA and even started up his own YouTube channel, but he was eventually released earlier this year in August.
Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, he has one last run somewhere.
6 Evan Bourne
Few superstars were able to capture the imagination of the fans like Evan Bourne back in 2010, and few were able to take an RKO as well as him too. His exploits led to some early success with WWE, which included a pinfall victory over none other than former multi-time world champion Chris Jericho.
Of course, as we all know it didn’t last, with Evan being his own worst enemy in many regards. The king of the shooting star press was considered to be a hot commodity once he was released back out onto the indies, and he fulfilled that promise with intriguing stints in both NJPW and ROH. Now, he’s attempting to reach the top of the mountain with everyone’s favourite rehabilitation facility: TNA.
5 Oliver Grey
Even the most loyal of NXT fans will second guess whether or not they know who Oliver Grey is, and that makes sense. The guy wasn’t exactly around for all too long and whilst he did manage to become a one-time tag team champion (alongside Neville) down in developmental, it wasn’t a stint that was particularly memorable.
Alas, the same can also be said of his independent career, with Grey returning to the United Kingdom in order to try and prove WWE wrong for releasing him. So far it hasn’t gone all too well and whilst he may be making a decent enough living off of it, there aren’t too many high profile bouts that he’s been involved in over the last few years.
That’s not a dig, either, it’s just the truth.
4 Yoshi Tatsu
Yoshi Tatsu’s clean-cut babyface act in WWE always seemed fairly ridiculous, if only because his in-ring work led us to believe that he was capable of so much more. Nonetheless, he stuck at it, and despite not doing much of note he probably still collected a sizeable sum for his work as a jobber to the stars. Good for him.
Away from WWE, he did some decent stuff in New Japan Pro Wrestling, although he was never the featured star that many probably would’ve wanted him to be. Nowadays he is plying his trade in All Japan Pro Wrestling, which could wind up being the perfect spot for him given that he’s moving towards the back end of his career.
At least he won’t have to take the Styles Clash ever again.
3 Jinder Mahal
Back when the idea for 3MB first came to fruition, few could’ve envisaged what the following few years would have in store for all three members of the group. In particular, Jinder Mahal has been on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and that’s putting it lightly, with his trajectory in this industry taking a turn for the better in the wake of his 2014 release.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, Mahal captured the WWE Championship earlier this year when he defeated Randy Orton at Backlash. It was a truly stunning upset and it caught many fans off-guard, but it also proved that no matter how far gone a performer seems, they’re never truly beyond repair.
Congrats, Mr. Modern Day Maharaja.
2 CM Punk
Let’s not beat around the bush here, CM Punk was one of the greatest WWE superstars of all time. The Voice of the Voiceless is still spoken of to this day, with millions upon millions of fans awaiting the day that he finally makes amends with Vince McMahon and returns to the place that people feel is his true home.
But, as we all know, that’ll probably never happen. Instead, Punk is hell-bent on continuing on with a career as a professional MMA fighter within the Ultimate Fighting Championship. His first fight against Mickey Gall didn’t exactly go to plan, but moving forward, you’ve got to appreciate the guy’s overall work ethic and determination.
If you don’t, then we don’t really understand your thought process.
1 Rob Van Dam
Mr One Of A Kind himself Rob Van Dam is arguably one of the most underrated professional wrestlers of all time, with his popularity in the early to mid-noughties proving that beyond a shadow of a doubt – at least in our minds. The former WWE Champion has been a mainstay in North American wrestling for nearly two decades now, and we hope that continues.
RVD is still doing appearances from time to time and whilst he isn’t wrestling as prominently as he once did, you’ll still be able to catch him at ICW’s upcoming Fear and Loathing show which should be one hell of a night.
Will he ever return to the WWE? We can only hope because let’s face it: there’s only one king of the five-star frog splash.