WWE is the absolute dream job for anyone entering the wrestling business. This is the generation of talents that grew up watching the Monday Night Wars of WWE, WCW and ECW dominating the scene. WCW and ECW are no longer in business. WWE is the final destination for those wanting to work for a promotion that gave them their love for pro wrestling. It also provides by far the biggest spotlight and most money. Sadly, not everyone can succeed in the company. Getting your dream job is tough but trying to continue on after losing said dream job is far more difficult. The chances of making a living solely in pro wrestling are severely limited outside of WWE.
TNA, ROH, Lucha Underground and traveling the world are possibilities but it takes a great reputation to do that. The opportunities are limited with hungry talents all over the wrestling world. Many wrestlers leaving WWE are motivated to prove that Vince McMahon and company made a mistake by showcasing their talent in other promotions. Some get complacent and lack the drive to build up a reputation without the WWE machine behind them. We’ll look at stories from both sides of recently released WWE talents trying their luck elsewhere. These are eight of the best current wrestlers to improve and seven unfortunate talents that regressed after leaving WWE.
15 Improved: Ethan Carter III
Some would say WWE dropped the ball with Derrick Bateman, but they never even picked it up in the first place. Bateman toiled in the old NXT landscape of comedic bits and contestant show competitions. The promising young talent shined in the small spurts of television time he was given. As much as he showed potential, Bateman never looked like a future top star. The fit was bad and his WWE release ended up being the best thing to happen to his career.
TNA snatched him up quickly and introduced the Ethan Carter III character to much success. Fans instantly found entertainment value in EC3 and he became arguably the fastest rising star in TNA since Samoa Joe. Carter improved with the opportunity forcing him to show everything he could do. The motivation coming after failing in WWE likely also lit a fire under EC3 and he has never looked back. TNA has the face of their promotion with Carter evolving into the most beloved face in the promotion.
14 Regressed: JTG
JTG holds a special place in the hearts of all wrestling fans. The longstanding joke used to be WWE fans wondering how long he would hold a job with minimal television time. JTG achieved the majority of his fame in Cryme Tyme and actually showed potential. Once the tag team split and JTG moved into singles action, his television time diminished. There was a following of fans that believed JTG had potential that would never be fulfilled in the WWE.
The theory fell apart when JTG started making sporadic independent wrestling appearances. Unlike most, JTG eased into his post-WWE career and takes selective bookings as a free agent. JTG works singles matches and tag work with Shad depending on the booking. The former WWE star has done nothing to improve his reputation and none of the relevant promotions have expressed interest in him. Motivation and will are pivotal to thriving outside of WWE and JTG has shown none when it comes to pro wrestling.
13 Improved: Maria Kanellis
The story of Maria Kanellis’ career is rather fascinating, given the unlikely turn of events. Maria was hired by the WWE after being a contestant in the Diva Search competition. Maria typically featured in backstage interviews and gimmick matches meant to show off her body. She rarely did anything of substance and lacked the skills to succeed in the ring when becoming a full-time in-ring performer. Kanellis shockingly got her release after trying her hand in an outside career as a musician.
Following her departure, Maria rarely made wrestling appearances until she entered Ring of Honor as the manager of her real life love interest Mike Bennett. She played the heel role for the first time in her career and it showed new strengths that we never saw out of her in the WWE. Kanellis proved she could play a capable character that added to the overall show. Currently in TNA, Maria is one of the better promo workers on the show and has come into her as a great heel personality.
12 Regressed: Josh Mathews
Josh Mathews entered WWE during the original Tough Enough reality show competition for a contract. Maven won the contract over him but Mathews signed with the company soon after as a broadcaster. With various jobs over his tenure, Mathews scored the coveted full-time announcing gig on Raw with Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler for a short while. Mathews actually did a good job and played his role quite well. WWE just never believed in him being the successor to Cole and cut bait with him.
TNA signed Mathews days after his firing and gave him an office job leading the social media department on a daily basis in Nashville. Mathews eventually replaced Mike Tenay as the play-by-play commentator as TNA started a new era with a new voice. The work of Mathews has drastically declined and makes you wonder if WWE’s style of overproducing broadcasters is for good reason. Mathews is currently the worst play-by-play voice on televised wrestling.
11 Improved: Trent Barreta
The most diehard wrestling fans would be hard-pressed to remember any noteworthy Trent Barreta moments in the WWE. Barreta always appeared to be a good worker but nothing stood out about him. Most of his appearances on television were in losing efforts or matches with no build. WWE thought he was good enough to be on the main roster, yet never had any plans to do anything with him. The writing was on the wall and Barreta was fired with no momentum at all as he embarked on the independent wrestling scene.
Things didn’t start out well for Trent with fans not having any attachment to him. A body of great matches started to build up his reputation as one of the better free agents in wrestling. PWG and EVOLVE started booking him regularly as he constantly improved into a performers fans would pay to see. Barreta now mostly works for New Japan and Ring of Honor in tag team action with Rocky Romero in Roppongi Vice. Hard work and persistence helped improve him into one of the best wrestlers in the world today.
10 Regressed: Carlito
Carlito once held as much potential as anyone in the wrestling business when entering the WWE. The second generation star delivered good matches, had tremendous charisma and knew how to work a crowd. Issues arose when Carlito gained the reputation of being lazy. Many veterans believed he lacked the commitment or work ethic to thrive in the company and he fell down the card all the way into a surprising release.
At a young age, Carlito had plenty of time to improve and build back his reputation. Promotions like ROH, EVOLVE and PWG help to add credibility to a wrestler’s standing in the business. Carlito had enough talent to get booked in those promotions but instead just proved WWE correct. With very sporadic appearances on shows offering big money, Carlito is hard to find. The matches you can find of his are typically mailed in with minimal effort and Carlito has fallen downhill in the wrestling landscape.
9 Improved: Matt Sydal
Very few wrestlers in recent history have been as inspired following a firing from WWE as Matt Sydal. WWE employed him for many years as Evan Bourne. The high-flying Superstar provided innovative moves and a lovable personality. Fans accepted him as a credible midcarder. That was a huge success at the time for someone of his size in the WWE. A couple of Wellness Policy violations and injuries put Bourne in the WWE dog house eventually leading to his firing.
Sydal returned to the independent wrestling scene and instantly connected. His love of wrestling was reinvigorated with new opportunities against new opponents in new promotions. His in-ring work is better than ever thanks to his steady improvement. Everyone would agree he was always great but the past couple of years have put him at the top of the wrestling world. You can find Sydal tearing it up in PWG, ROH, New Japan and various other promotions all over the world and stealing the show.
8 Regressed: Bull Dempsey
Many of the recent releases have been inspired to become big stars on the independent wrestling scene. The other wrestling jobs out there in TNA, Ring of Honor and New Japan also provide temptation to prove you’re worthy of a television contract. Bull Dempsey talked about wanting to show the world why he was held back in WWE’s NXT system. After a stalled push, Dempsey lingered in irrelevance with a comedic gimmick poking fun at his weight.
Sadly, Bull has not been able to showcase anything of note on the independent wrestling scene. The smaller independent wrestling shows book him and he shows the exact same thing he did in NXT – minimal upside. In fact, his unfiltered promos and longer matches have actually exposed Bull to make him look worse. The career of Bull Dempsey is trending downwards and it is hard to imagine him getting back to a noteworthy position in pro wrestling.
7 Improved: Catrina
WWE’s developmental system was met with criticism before the NXT days. Many of the talented performers were mistreated with John Laurinaitis favoring untalented stiffs and Bill DeMott (among others) disrespecting the young talents. Maxine was one of many promising prospects that never saw their potential fulfilled in the WWE. Dusty Rhodes viewed her as the best female performer in the system, but the powers that be just didn’t agree. WWE released her after doing absolutely nothing with her during her main roster tenure.
The project of Lucha Underground perfect casted her for the role of Catrina. From day one, the program showcased her as a huge part of the brand. Many would say she’s the face of the franchise. The potential seen by Dusty Rhodes was realized when Catrina began to dominate our television screens with her unbelievable character work. Catrina’s acting chops are among the best in the business and she gets better every single episode. Who knew all it takes is opportunity for a talented performer to excel?
6 Regressed: Original Sin Cara
The signing of Mexican wrestling icon Mistico to play Sin Cara in the WWE made waves in the industry. Fans from all over the world were excited to see how he would do in the biggest wrestling promotion under a new name. The answers came instantly with him falling apart on a weekly basis. Sin Cara became a punch line associated with comedic botches making him look like a fool almost every single match. Between his flaws and bad attitude, WWE parted ways with Mistico and gave Hunico the Sin Cara mask.
Following the disaster in the United States, Mistico returned to Mexico believing he would ease back into the greatness of his legacy he left behind. Early shows gave presented him as a former Superstar returning home, but the welcoming party ended quickly. With two name changes and a lack of direction for his career, the original Sin Cara has regressed into irrelevance.
5 Improved: Drew Galloway
WWE is the place every wrestler wants to work, as it's the biggest promotion and it pays the most. Unfortunately, there are as many flaws to working there as there are benefits. Drew McIntyre was the perfect example with one push coming at the wrong time in his career and ruining his career. Following his inability to get over as "The Chosen One” of Vince McMahon, WWE relegated him into lower-card work or worse until he was eventually released.
Using his real name Drew Galloway on the independent wrestling scene, he showed a hunger that has made him improve massively since leaving WWE. Galloway gradually delivered matches better than the last from EVOLVE to PWG to TNA to Scottish promotions. The only way to get better is to continue wrestling good opponents in credible situations. Galloway has done that all over the world after leaving WWE and is now an absolute star.
4 Regressed: Yoshi Tatsu
WWE has never held a great track record with Japanese wrestlers. Most performers from Japan get saddled with ridiculous gimmicks of stereotypes and bad comedy. This appears to be changing with the presentation of Shinsuke Nakamura, Hideo Itami and Kota Ibushi. Yoshi Tatsu unfortunately was one of the wrestlers from the previous era that didn’t get treated as a legitimate performer. They did nothing of note with Tatsu and he basically just worked Superstars matches until WWE decided to part ways with him.
Tatsu went back to Japan and has been hit with a stretch of bad luck. A high profile match with A.J. Styles saw him suffer a severe neck injury that kept him on the sidelines for a substantial amount of time. Yoshi has since returned to the ring but looks to have regressed since his WWE days. The potential many believed WWE squandered looks to be gone now and Tatsu is barely getting any noteworthy matches in Japan.
3 Improved: Johnny Mundo
John Morrison was always exciting to watch, but WWE never gave him the freedom to progress higher up the card. Morrison guaranteed a great match every time out for many years on WWE television. His depth was impressive with the ability to play both the cocky heel and likable face. Morrison was at his best as a face becoming more popular with the fan base after outstanding matches against Sheamus and The Miz.
For whatever reason, WWE never believed in him as a main eventer and Morrison parted ways with the company after seeing what his future would be. Lucha Underground signed him as the biggest name for their launch and gave him the name Johnny Mundo. The already impressive Mundo improved into an elite star, who is now leading Lucha Underground into the future. They needed a credible and established name to perform at a high level. Mundo has done that and is now one of the best overall performers in wrestling.
2 Regressed: Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin
Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas entertained wrestling fans in the early days of the original brand split as The World’s Greatest Tag Team. Both men were extremely talented and fans felt they were underused as a tag team and later as singles performers. After each man was let go, they reformed in Ring of Honor and received a huge push as tag champs. They appeared to lose their entire luster as the stint went on and proved they couldn’t hang with the stars of today.
The news of Benjamin returning to WWE this year was met with intrigue before an injury prevented it. Most fans haven’t watched his recent work. Between his terrible ROH tenure and mediocre work in Pro Wrestling NOAH, Benjamin is no longer a premiere performer and has regressed. The same applies to Haas, who now wrestles part-time. Rumors circulated that he would reunite with Benjamin in WWE and fans will find an unpleasant surprise if it does eventually happen.
1 Improved: Bobby Lashley
WWE badly wanted Bobby Lashley to join the ranks of John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista as the faces to lead the company into the future. Lashley had a world of potential but was pushed way too soon. None of his early matches stood out enough to make him a credible star in the eyes of the fans and his promos were a glaring weakness. The moment was too big for Lashley. WWE would sour on him leading to them parting ways.
Lashley went on to have multiple stints with TNA. It took a long time but he has improved to finally hit his potential. Lashley is currently the TNA World Champion and has delivered outstanding matches against the likes of Drew Galloway, Kurt Angle and Eddie Edwards. His promo work has even improved to a competent level. Lashley’s overall body of work has never been better and he has certainly come a long way from the WWE days.