Contrary to the belief of some of the company’s most diehard fans, life for WWE superstars does not end upon their release. For some, it marks new beginnings and a chance to reinvent oneself. For others, it marks another beginning; the beginning of a downward spiral. For a select few, it marks the start of their journey back to WWE.
Dozens more names have been “future endeavored” that didn’t make this list. For those who did you will get an inside look at what they have been up to since leaving WWE and how they have changed both physically and perhaps mentally. Here are 25 WWE superstars released since the turn of the decade and where they are today.
It has been nearly 13 years since Carlito Caribbean Cool debuted on SmackDown. Do you feel old yet? Carlito, once ticketed for stardom, eventually bounced around in a number of different roles between WWE’s two flagship shows before eventually leaving on his own accord to pursue a freelance career on the independents.
Interesting about the case of Carlito is the door is pretty much open for him to return whenever he pleases. His younger brother and cousin, Primo and Epico, are still employed and Carlito, the oldest son of legendary Puerto Rican wrestler and promoter Carlos Colon, was rumored to be making his return when the company went on their hiring spree at the time of the 2016 brand split. However, the two sides could not come to an agreement financially. That is not to say he’ll never return to the WWE, but for now, you can catch Carlito main eventing for his father’s promotion, World Wrestling Council in Puerto Rico, as well as other lesser promotions around the world.
24. Chris Masters
Chris Masters, like Carlito (his former tag team partner, no less) also got a look in the main event picture upon his debut in 2005. While “The Masterpiece’s” chiseled physique earned him a television opportunity at just 22 years old, he sacrificed some of his athletic ability in favor of a more cosmetic-friendly appearance. A slimmer Masterpiece returned to the company in 2009 but the mystique of his finishing submission hold, “The Master Lock,” was gone and the reunion proved to be short-lived.
Today, you can catch Masters on Impact Wrestling, where he briefly appeared in 2015. He is currently using the name Chris Adonis, and has returned to playing a similarly heelish narcissist-type character he used for most of his WWE run. He is only 34 too, so he may be able to reclaim a prominent role on TV before he calls it a career.
23. CJ Parker
If you are looking for a case of a wrestler voluntarily leaving WWE to reinvent himself on the independent or international scene, look no further than the former CJ Parker, Juice Robinson of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Parker spent several years in WWE developmental, originally portraying a white meat babyface before moving on to a playing a pro-environment modern day hippie heel. NXT meanwhile began signing big names to beef up the touring roster, leaving little TV time for Parker to grow at the rate he desired. So he left under his own accord!
Nearly two years have passed since Parker left NXT and the improvement has been astronomical. He quickly signed with NJPW and morphed into Juice Robinson, a cooler babyface with a relentless motor in the ring. He endeared himself to the NJPW audience almost immediately and has since aligned himself with Hiroshi Tanahashi and worked a program with top heel Tetsuya Naito.
22. Tyler Reks
Tyler Reks has not done much wrestling since his WWE departure. Reks originally debuted as a surfer character on ECW in 2009. As hokey as that sounds somebody important within the company must have had big plans for him as he had a stint with the FCW Heavyweight Championship prior to making his main roster debut. He never really improved in the ring, however, and eventually got cut in 2012.
Reks has since developed a reputation as a bit of an everyman. He has put considerable time into perfecting his physique (as evidenced by his Instagram), has taken up public speaking, ran a gaming channel on YouTube, took part in a Doritos advertisement for a 2015 contest and intended to run for the District 2 senate seat in California back in 2014. One place you won’t see him any time soon is back in WWE. Reks, real name Gabe Tuft, has been very outspoken about the company in the past, especially when detailing his experiences with John Cena.
21. John Morrison
One has to wonder what the WWE was thinking letting the star of John Morrison slip through their finger tips and into the waiting hands of Lucha Underground. Morrison worked his way up from the very bottom, first by winning the third season of Tough Enough in 2003, then by slowly working his way up from lower-card fodder, to tag team wrestler, to upper mid-carder to brand main eventer.
Morrison clarified on the Stone Cold Podcast that it was ultimately his decision to leave in order to afford himself more time to heal from a bad neck injury. Creative differences within the company probably didn’t help either. After dwindling on the independent circuit for two years, Morrison found new life in the Johnny Mundo character he currently portrays on Lucha Underground. It is an extension of the John Morrison character from WWE. Mundo retains the cockiness of Morrison with added bonus of being entirely motivated by how much money he can make from match to match. Now completely healthy, the Lucha Underground mainstay has put on some phenomenal matches with the likes of Prince Puma, King Cuerno and Mil Muertes.
20. Kelly Kelly
Nothing much has changed about Kelly Kelly. Real name Barbie Blank, Kelly first debuted on ECW, showcasing her Extreme Expose on a weekly basis which eventually evolved into multiple storylines. She later participated in a romance angle with Dolph Ziggler (one of many for the Show-Off) and became a semi regular wrestler in the Divas division and even held the Divas Championship for a near-four month period.
Today, as evidenced in the picture above she has not missed a beat and is still as beautiful as ever. Of course, she made her WWE debut at just 19 years old, so it goes without saying she has aged well. She recently married former NHL defenseman Sheldon Souray and, as a result has become a regular on the E! television show, WAGs. She has also dabbled in acting, making her acting debut on a recent episode of Days of Our Lives.
19. Josh Mathews
Josh Mathews’ persona has taken a bit of a turn since leaving WWE. Literally. Mathews’ road to WWE extended through the original season of Tough Enough. While he did not win the contract, the company, understanding his passion, brought him in as a broadcaster with the idea that he could eventually replace Michael Cole when Cole slid into Jim Ross’ shoes upon his eventual “retirement.”
With other young commentators coming up through the ranks like current SmackDown play-by-play man Tom Phillips, the company saw Mathews as expendable and let him go in 2014. He landed on his feet, however, with Impact Wrestling, where he can still be seen on television as of this very writing. He is currently locked in a feud with Jeremy Borash over the show’s lead commentary spot, and as it turns out, Mathews is a natural heel.
JTG, an acronym for “Just Too Gangsta” (or Jayson the Gangsta, as other sources claim) is another wrestler who came into the WWE at a young age but never developed past being a tag team wrestler. Along with tag team partner Shad Gaspard, JTG made up one-half of Cryme Tyme, a highly successful tag team throughout 2007. When the team inevitably went their separate ways, JTG was directionless. Creative had no clue what to do with him and he struggled to shine in the limited opportunities he did receive. His release was inevitable.
Now 32, JTG has struggled to make waves on the independent scene. He still wrestles from time to time, but his main claim to fame has been authoring two books detailing his time in WWE. The first, DAMN! Why Did I Write This Book? came out in May 2015 and the sequel, DAMN! Why Did I Write This Book Too? How to Play The Game came out just 10 months later.
17. Matt Striker
Matt Striker burst onto the scene in 2005 as the school teacher who achieved his dream but eventually developed into a smarmy heel “know-it-all” character who became more of a bumping manager than an everyday wrestler. It suited him too. When Striker’s time came behind the announcer’s desk, he took to it like a duck in water.
His time in WWE expired in 2013 but took what he learned behind the desk and applied it to various independent promotions around the world as an international commentator. He has called matches for NJPW, What Culture Pro Wrestling, AAA in Mexico and is the regular English-language commentator for Lucha Underground alongside Vampiro.
16. Abraham Washington
Roughly five years removed from his WWE firing, former manager Abraham Washington is now unrecognizable from his former self. He did wrestle in developmental, but most of his time on the main roster was spent as an evil late-night talk show host of sorts before transitioning into owning his own “agency,” which featured the Prime Time Players. It was around this time he came under fire for a comment he made on the live microphone he would use during matches, as part of his gimmick: “Titus O’Neil is like Kobe Bryant in a hotel in Colorado. He’s unstoppable!”
Today, Washington wrestles sporadically on the independents, but dedicates most of his time towards regimented bodybuilding. His wrestling persona, the G.O.A.T., is a unique one. He wears an exuberant Lucifer-inspired mask down to the ring during his entrance but has since shaved his head, grown a goatee, put in some tinted contact lenses and gained perhaps 20-30 pounds of muscle mass. Washington’s actions during his initial run justly got him cut, but one has to wonder how Vince would react to that physique.
15. Derrick Bateman
Watching the soap-opera NXT version of Derrick Bateman, it was tough to see what sort of level he would reach in the pro wrestling industry. He had deceptive size and strength, had a great sense of humor and quick wit, but had an awful haircut and fans struggled with taking him seriously. Though the WWE seemed at first keen on repackaging him, it took leaving the company to truly find himself as a wrestler. Today, he is almost unrecognizable.
Ethan Carter III was Bateman’s ticket into TNA as Dixie Carter’s spoiled nephew. The new gimmick highlighted his strengths and gave him a fresh group of names to wrestle with, perhaps most notably Kurt Angle. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron, and working with Angle no doubt gave the former Derrick Bateman some credit in the fans’ eyes as someone who has improved and is capable of entertaining them in a more serious role. It led to an eventual face turn and while EC3 is now Ethan Carter in name only, he is still going strong as a key cog in the Impact Wrestling product. He is currently in his first reign as Impact Grand Champion.
For the minor role he played in several mediocre-at-best WWE storylines, Hornswoggle, now known as Swoggle on the independents, has done a pretty good job of keeping his name in the heads of wrestling fans. The little guy actually held a job with WWE for 10 years from 2006 to 2016, and survived the role of being Fit Finlay’s leprechaun by being as entertaining as can be whenever WWE needed him, whether it was as a replacement for the Mr. McMahon illegitimate son storyline, or for the WeeLC match against El Torito.
Today, Swoggle, real name Dylan Postl, is currently working for Impact Wrestling and mired in a feud with Rockstar Spud. He also appears at various wrestling conventions and sometimes wrestles, even going so far as to defeat Grado at WrestleCon in 2016. Outside of Impact, Swoggle has made a few appearances for CHIKARA under the name, “The Big Deal.”
13. Todd Grisham
Todd Grisham was always in a similar boat to that of Josh Mathews. No, Grisham did not go through Tough Enough to become a broadcaster, but he always seemed to be alternating with Mathews as a commentator the WWE wanted to set up for future success. Most of his experience behind the booth came on Sunday Night Heat, and his role as a backstage interviewer evaporated when the higher ups decided to go for more attractive women, robotic as they were in that spot. This made Grisham expendable and his contract expired in 2011.
Grisham always stuck out for his knowledge of the product and solid cadence. He is a good broadcaster, so it came as a surprise to few when he caught on with ESPN almost immediately following his WWE release. He worked as an anchor on some of ESPN’s minor shows like News and MMA Live. Back in January, Grisham left ESPN for a job with the UFC to work in a dual studio desk and play-by-by role for the company. It has been speculated that he could be an option to replace the recently released Mike Goldberg as the company’s main voice on pay-per-view broadcasts. Needless to say, Grisham has done alright for himself.
12. Yoshi Tatsu
Yoshi Tatsu came into the WWE during a long stretch of time where the powers-that-be simply did not take Japanese wrestlers seriously as upper-card wrestlers. It should come as no surprise that his best moment in WWE came during his main-roster debut on ECW when he rolled up Shelton Benjamin in a matter of seconds to get the win. Tatsu received his pink slip in June 2014.
The lesson to be learned from Yoshi Tatsu is that just because a WWE did not push a foreign wrestler properly does not necessarily meant they were being misused. Tatsu slightly altered his name to the more culturally-friendly Yoshitatsu, and returned to his roots in New Japan later that year. Since then he has not really lived up to the hype of his former status as a young boy prospect and his gimmick is now more or less a Japanese late-1990s version of Triple H. He also nearly had his career ended when he broke his neck at the hands of A.J. Styles’ Styles Clash.
Kharma, perhaps better known for her work as Awesome Kong in TNA, actually spent two and-a-half years in WWE, though it felt much shorter due to her pregnancy in 2011. In fact, her only official WWE match came when she made an appearance in the 2012 Royal Rumble. Ultimately she decided to part ways with the company because they wanted her to return immediately after having her child rather than allowing her time to get back into ring shape.
Kharma immediately went back to her Awesome Kong persona and spent two more years in TNA between 2015 and 2016. With TNA, I mean, GFW, now under new management, a return to her roots is not out of the question for her, though she was initially let go after a backstage altercation with Reby Hardy right before the company’s United Kingdom Tour. Kharma has made the most of her time away from the ring too, slimming down following her pregnancy and starring in the hit new Netflix series, GLOW, as Tammé “The Welfare Queen” Dawson.
10. Evan Bourne
Evan Bourne, now once again known as Matt Sydal, carved out a decent niche for himself in the WWE’s post-cruiserweight division era. He took on more of the Rey Mysterio underdog role, but nevertheless got over thanks to a pay-per-view victory over Chris Jericho and a successful tag team run as Air Boom alongside Kofi Kingston. A car accident that broke his foot in four places marked the beginning of the end of his WWE run.
Sydal returned to his roots in Ring of Honor and has also since wrestled matches for Dragon Gate, PWG, Evolve and NJPW. He can currently be seen on Impact Wrestling. One of the best athletes in the business today, his work inside the squared circle has never been better. However, Sydal is also a known advocate for marijuana, which landed him in hot water over in Japan. Sydal reported stuffed a little over two grams of marijuana inside an e-cigarette. Ultimately, he accepted three years probation as his sentence but the punishment could have been a lot worse, especially with the arrest having occurred on foreign soil.
9. Trent Barreta
Trent Barreta is another example of a wrestler who upped his stock following his WWE departure, though it is not as if he ever received the opportunities necessary to make an impact anyway. Most of his WWE tenure was spent as one-half of the Dudebusters with Caylen Croft. He also spent some time on Superstars and NXT, regularly feuding with the likes of Drew McIntyre and Tyson Kidd.
Rather than immediately jump into a gig with New Japan, Baretta headed straight for PWG following his WWE release, and formed a highly successful tag team with Chuck Taylor, “The Best Friends.” The duo meshed well together and won the 2014 Dynamite Duumvirate Tag Team Title Tournament. Barreta parlayed his tag team success into a tag team with Rocky Romero in New Japan, as Rocky needed a tag team partner after Forever Hooligans broke up. The result? Roppongi Vice, another successful tag team that went on to become four-time holders of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. Barreta recently announced his intentions to become a singles wrestler and join the heavyweight division.
8. Justin Roberts
Justin Roberts may not have been a wrestler and is far from even being the biggest name on this list, but his name has come up in controversy in light of the recent John Bradshaw Layfield bullying accusations being thrown around over social media. Roberts served as the in-ring announcer for pay-per-views, television shows and house shows and became a face recognizable to all sorts of WWE fans. Roberts spent 12 years with the WWE before receiving his release immediately following an episode of Raw in October 2014.
Upon his release, Roberts began immediate production on his autobiography, Best Seat in the House, which came out earlier this year. The book detailed his WWE experience and offered an honest, slant free behind-the-scenes look at the goings on within the company. He also still announces for the occasional pro wrestling iPPV and for CBS boxing events. His new career involves managing VIP events for the band Tool.
Ryback, like another former WWE competitor soon to be mentioned on this list, spent the majority of his career in the WWE, starting with Tough Enough. Little by little, he eventually broke ground with the Nexus as Skip Sheffield before getting repackaged as Ryback, a character which rocketed him straight into the main event picture to work with the likes of John Cena and CM Punk. Some might say the sudden success went to his head, much like another bald, musclebound main eventer from a bygone company. Regardless, WWE cut bait with Ryback after he made preposterous demands over his wages and suggested that all wrestlers be paid the same.
Needless to say, Ryback is not as active as many of the names on this list by virtue of his price tag being so high. His lack of bookings have, however given him more time for his podcast, Conversation with the Big Guy, where he routinely tells candid stories of his life and times in WWE. He also legally changed his first name from Ryan (Reeves) to Ryback so he could continue to use the name professionally.
6. Vickie Guerrero
Although she was originally introduced to the WWE Universe in tandem with Eddie Guerrero, Vickie Guerrero really became a more prominent character in the late 2000s. She became “romantically” involved with Edge and Dolph Ziggler, even “marrying” the former and giving Edge’s career new life with the La Familia stable. She even patented one of the company’s top catch phrases of the time by shrieking “EXCUSE ME!” whenever the opportunity presented itself. All good things must come to an end, however, and Vickie sort of ran her course over a near nine-year stint with the company.
Shortly after leaving the WWE, Guerrero remarried to a man named Kris Benson. Her oldest daughter, Shaul, married Aiden English just four months later. Guerrero, who still makes appearances at wrestlecons and wrestling podcasts, has not ruled out a return to the company at some point down the line but for now is happy living a normal life. She currently works in pharmaceuticals.
5. Mason Ryan
Mason Ryan, a former Welsh soccer player, was initially ticketed to stardom due to his striking resemblance to Batista and larger-than-life physique. Another former FCW Heavyweight Champion, Ryan eventually debuted on the main roster as the muscle for CM Punk’s New Nexus faction. However, WWE officials quickly learned that Ryan could not talk and his resemblance to Batista actually ended up working against him as the fans were hesitant to accept him. This led to him growing his hair out, but his ring work never came around.
Ryan still competes in the occasional match on the independent scene but has really carved a niche out for himself in the performance arts. As of 2016, Ryan has been working for Cirque Du Soleil as a chief archer in the company’s Kà show in Las Vegas. As seen above, the face and body paint seems to be a good look for him. He won’t be confused with Batista anymore, that’s for sure.
While he may be more universally known as the hard-hitting Low Ki, the WWE-branded Kaval signed with the company in 2008. As traveled as he was prior arriving he spent the better part of two years in FCW having to learn the slower, more methodical WWE-style of wrestling. He seemed like a square peg in a round hole from the onset but the higher ups had big plans for him regardless. He won the second season of NXT but nothing came of it and before long he was gone from the main roster as quickly as he landed on it.
Since his departure, Low Ki, now 37, has for the most part resumed the busy independent schedule he had prior to his signing. He has appeared in promotions like All Japan, New Japan and Dragon Gate USA, all of which encourage the fast paced and hard hitting style he brings to the ring. He has also made a grand total of four stints in TNA/Impact Wrestling in his career and can be found on Impact television today.
3. Alberto Del Rio
The career of Alberto Del Rio, now Alberto El Patron, is one filled with ups and downs. An up? Ditching the Dos Caras mask and gimmick in WWE to create something fresh atop the roster. A down? Although it may have been justified by the worker’s allegedly racist remarks, he supposedly verbally abused and slapped a WWE social media manager, which led to his initial firing from the company. His eventual return to the company in 2015 marked another “up” in his career when he came back to a raucous reaction. Another “down?” Violating the wellness policy, which eventually led to him exercising an opt-out clause in his contract.
Since departing, not much has changed for Del Rio. He just recently became the Unified World Champion of Impact Wrestling, defeating Bobby Lashley in a solid match at Slammiversary on July 2 and became the President of Combate Americas, a new MMA promotion. He also took his relationship with Paige to the next level, but controversy has followed the couple. Del Rio regularly takes shots at Triple H, whom he refers to as “Big Nose,” in his Instagram rants and has been arrested on multiple occasions in addition to no-showing the occasional indy show. The status of his relationship with Paige is not known but he is currently under investigation for domestic abuse and battery in the state of Florida.
2. Cody Rhodes
Much like Juice Robinson, Cody Rhodes also left the WWE under his own accord to become an independent freelancer who had control over his own character and could have matches with whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted. After spending recent years as Stardust, a character that had run its course with no end in sight, Rhodes was looking to do something different. However, his departure has allowed him to get over in ways WWE’s at-times antiquated storytelling format would have never allowed.
Now simply known as “Cody, the American Nightmare,” Rhodes has wrestled matches for the “who’s who” of independent promotions, including Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerilla and New Japan Pro Wrestling. In Japan, Rhodes has become a key member of the Bullet Club faction and regularly appears on the faction’s YouTube series, Being the Elite. Perhaps his best achievement to date came just a couple weeks ago when he defeated Christopher Daniels for the Ring of Honor Championship at Best in the World, which many received as a true feel-good moment for the son of Dusty Rhodes even though he is a heel.
1. CM Punk
Last but not least is CM Punk, who had one of the more publicized WWE departures in recent memory. Not much more can be said about his in-ring career that hasn’t already been said. He was a true superstar. The more he wrestled, the more his demand grew. When he walked out on the company, his fans were sure to follow him to wherever he ended up.
Punk’s landing spot ended up being the UFC. He signed a multi-fight deal at the end of 2014, but did not fight until he met Mickey Gall in a welterweight bout at UFC 203. Punk trained for over a year with Head Coach Duke Roufus and former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis at Roufusport before the fight, intent on coming up victorious in his debut. Unfortunately, Gall stopped Punk via rear-naked choke in the first round, and hence put a temporary stop to the CM Punk hype train. Elsewhere in Punk’s life, he married AJ Lee, has been helping write comics for Marvel, and is still mired in a lawsuit against Dr. Christopher Amann and his former employer over a purportedly misdiagnosed staph infection.
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