WWE’s recent change of implementing the brand split once again has opened up a new world for the free agent market. There are more opportunities for talent to shine with the WWE having two programs on the USA Network. NXT also provides a third unique brand in need of a capable roster under the WWE umbrella. WWE has signed many of the top independent wrestling stars for NXT or the cruiserweight division. While those signings are pivotal for the future of the company, the need for star power in the short term also exists. Many of the top stars on the market are former WWE talents but not all want to come back.
The wrestling business typically has bitter endings and that is more prevalent with the WWE. More money and a bigger spotlight can create chaos and that has quite a few wrestlers expressing hatred towards the company. Luckily, many of the top stars available still hold a soft spot in their hearts for another WWE run. The legends, veterans, talents in their prime and formerly undervalued performers all have their own specific reasons for their mindsets. We’ll look at all of the stories across both sides of the table with eight stars that would not return to the WWE and another seven that would come back.
15 Would NOT Return: Ryback
The short time span since Ryback departed WWE means there’s a good chance he could change his mind, but he left on very unhappy terms. Ryback knew he was burning a bridge when he unleashed a tirade online about the WWE’s treatment of employees. After years of falling into obscurity, Ryback decided it was time to bolt and he's not looking back. The Big Guy hopes to continue his career in other promotions with his hands in other job fields as well.
Ryback broke two cardinal sins associated with the WWE world. Aside from ranting about how the company pays their employees, Ryback stated that Vince McMahon promised he would “squash” the “twerp” known as A.J. Styles at WrestleMania before plans changed. The fact that Ryback is releasing secrets McMahon doesn’t want to get out there means he has no interest in ever returning. We will likely never see Ryback have another match in a WWE ring.
14 Would Return: Goldberg
Bill Goldberg had one of the worst WWE runs for a legendary star. WCW made Goldberg the face of the franchise, but WWE had no clue how to use him. There was quite a bit of animosity attached following the bitter ending. Goldberg accused Triple H of trying to sabotage him and the company for wanting to make former WCW stars look bad. The relationship has finally made progressive steps forward after years of trash talk.
WWE selected Goldberg to be in the ads for the upcoming WWE 2K17 video game. Goldberg has done a lot of media work and has expressed interest in returning under the right circumstances. The legend wants his son to experience watching him wrestle once on the big stage. Fans share the same sentiment as “Goldberg” chants reigned supreme at SummerSlam during Brock Lesnar’s beat down on Randy Orton. Goldberg is open to returning and it is likely going to happen under the WWE umbrella if the two sides can agree on terms.
13 Would NOT Return: Catrina
Lucha Underground has become a cult hit with a combination of captivating in-ring wrestling and intricate storylines out of the realm of possibility. One of the better characters on the show is Catrina. Most understandably forget her time in the WWE as Maxine, but you have to wonder how WWE dropped the ball so badly on such a great talent. Dusty Rhodes specifically supported her in WWE developmental and viewed her as one of the most promising women to enter the company in quite some time.
WWE treated her poorly and Catrina has gone on the record to say she never wants to work there again. The priority for her is Lucha Underground and finding other roles to expand her acting career. Catrina’s screen presence any time she appears steals the scene. The talent is clearly there for her to excel in the acting world. WWE may reach out to her again considering the buzz behind her character work, but she is done with that chapter in her career. Catrina has no desire to ever form a relationship with the WWE again.
12 Would Return: CJ Parker
The WWE developmental system side of NXT has some flaws with the growth of the promotion. Fans want to see NXT and are proving that by selling out large venues. Triple H focused on signing top stars like Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Hideo Itami to take NXT to the next level by adding talent already good enough for the main roster, who only needed to learn the WWE style. That left wrestlers like CJ Parker in the dark.
Parker saw the writing on the wall and the first moments of drastic change coming. The young man requested a release to learn his craft on the independent wrestling scene and New Japan. Parker left with the intention of improving enough to become a valued commodity to the WWE. Under the name of Juice Robinson, he is one of the young lions in Japan learning from some of the best. The improvements have been shown in small spurts and he will absolutely want to come back if the WWE views him as someone worth signing to push.
11 Would NOT Return: Paul London
The abundance of the great in-ring workers in WWE right now is staggering. An average or undersized physique or height would take away from a young star trying to make it in the WWE back in the day. Somewhere along the line, things have changed completely. WWE is signing all of the top workers from around the world. That just makes it sadder to realize the number of talented stars to get used poorly years ago due to their size.
Paul London stands out as one of the better wrestlers of his era before coming to the WWE. His body of work shown in ROH was in the same tier as guys like Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and Samoa Joe. WWE snagged him but only utilized him effectively as a cruiserweight or tag team wrestler. London remembers the moment of Triple H hitting the Pedigree on him and Brian Kendrick after they helped him in a memorable segment. His horrible use caused him to despise the company and the corporate politics involved. London claims he has no intention to ever return and would rather find work elsewhere.
10 Would Return: Jim Ross
Jim Ross has more reason to resent Vince McMahon and the WWE than anyone else on this list. The greatest commentator of all time was frequently shown disrespect and fired for completely ridiculous reasons. Ross’ latest firing came from not being able to stop a drunk Ric Flair from making a fool of himself at a WWE 2K event. Basically, anyone in his position would lash out against WWE, but Ross keeps everything cordial.
JR states he lives a comfortable life thanks to the WWE and doesn’t have any ill will whatsoever. The current career of Ross sees him do commentary work for New Japan’s television show in the United States, host his own podcast and run live one-man shows, sharing stories. Despite having a full plate, Ross would definitely return to the WWE under the right circumstances. NXT is currently looking for a new commentator to replace Corey Graves. Raw or SmackDown could always be improved with Ross’ voice. WWE would have to reach out, but Ross appears open to returning.
9 Would NOT Return: Jim Cornette
Jim Cornette's hatred towards the WWE is rather intense and he shows no inkling towards ever wanting to repair the broken relationship. Cornette has the reputation for speaking his mind in a very blunt and vulgar manner. No wrestling promotion is safe from Cornette’s verbal tirades, but his WWE rants have a deeper intensity. They fired him for slapping Santino in WWE developmental and that caused a rift that has existed for over a decade now.
WWE could offer an olive branch by including him in WWE Network specials with the talking head spots open. Cornette happens to have a very stubborn mindset when it comes to pro wrestling. The perception of going back on his words against what WWE currently represents would be enough for him to turn down a deal. Today’s wrestling presence of Cornette will likely just consist of him trashing the current wrestling product on his weekly podcast.
8 Would Return: Rey Mysterio
One of the bigger stars to leave the WWE quietly is Rey Mysterio. Everyone knows Mysterio requested to be released from his contract, but there was no bad blood publicly expressed like the other recent departures, despite WWE not releasing him immediately. The legendary luchador dominated the company for quite some time as a groundbreaking performer. Mysterio is happy working for Lucha Underground and experiencing the new life of the independent wrestling scene. The money is good and Mysterio has a much lighter schedule.
Despite all of that, Mysterio would be down to return to the WWE under the right situation. One tipping point in Mysterio’s decision would be having a lighter schedule. The idea of working a part-time schedule of a few months at a time or just making rare big match appearances would see Rey return again. Raw’s cruiserweight division and SmackDown’s lack of star power makes Mysterio a valued free agent that would return if they gave him a great deal.
7 Would NOT Return: Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner has been contacted in the past year about signing a WWE Legend’s contract. The controversial and unpredictable muscle head is known for going off the rails. All of his rants and threatening messages have made Steiner quite a bit of enemies in the wrestling business. The magic that makes it highly entertaining is the fact that Steiner does not give a damn at all. Everyone bites their tongue to keep ties to a promotion, but Steiner is the exception.
Triple H is one of the enemies of Steiner, but enough time has passed that WWE reached out to Big Poppa Pump. The company wanted to start selling legends’ merchandise but Steiner flat out denied them. Steiner claimed they would have to offer a lot more money for him to come on board. WWE doesn’t do that with retired names unless they are the likes of Steve Austin or Shawn Michaels. Steiner will never return unless WWE completely changes their stance on what they pay legends.
6 Would Return: Ethan Carter III
The debacle of WWE’s poor booking with Derrick Bateman made them miss out on a future star. TNA signed him following his release and rebranded him as Ethan Carter III. The freedom to showcase his natural charisma and aptitude for pro wrestling turned him into the most beloved star in the company today. EC3 is still going strong in TNA, but he may be ready to tackle the WWE challenge once again.
WWE has been better with utilizing their talent lately and a young talent like EC3 would be taken more seriously now. His value increasing in his time away just made him a valuable asset and WWE desperately needs depth for both Raw and SmackDown. TNA has done a tremendous job elevating Carter, but they are in a position where there’s no room for growth. The best time is now for EC3 to make the leap back to the WWE. While he has expressed frustration, he doesn’t have a bad relationship with the company and would return if they showed the proper respect in his deal.
5 Would NOT Return: Jeff Jarrett
WWE typically gives anyone a chance to return to the company in some form following bitter endings. Vince McMahon will try to get every dollar possible before allowing personal vendettas to stop him from booking someone. Jeff Jarrett is one of the few to fall under the exiled list with no olive branch extended to him. During the heated Monday Night Wars, Jarrett demanded a big figure to have him drop the Intercontinental Championship to Chyna and threatened to take it to WCW if they didn't pay him.
McMahon paid him the big bucks but held a grudge that has lasted over fifteen years. After he purchased, he cut an infamous backstage promo that saw McMahon say Jarrett would have no role in WWE going forward. It was very elaborate and showed his hatred for Jarrett. With the years of tension failing to get them back on the same page in any platform, Jarrett will do his best to make a living in wrestling outside of the WWE. A return would just showcase him in a negative light.
4 Would Return: Kurt Angle
Wrestling fans are dying for the patriotic theme to hit, so they shower the beloved Kurt Angle with sarcastic “You suck” chants. Angle has a reputation as one of the most elite in-ring performers in pro wrestling history. It started instantly with arguably the greatest rookie year WWE has ever witnessed. Angle's range provided entertainment from spectacular work rate in his matches to hilarious comedy in his backstage antics. Angle thrived in just about every aspect of the wrestling world.
His unfortunate departure in 2006 saw him make the huge move to join TNA and he has yet to return to the WWE. Rumor mills suggests Vince McMahon and Triple H are against Angle returning due to the various health risks attached to him at his current age. Angle gave his all to the business and believes he is good enough to have one more run in the WWE, as he currently works a sporadic independent wrestling schedule. The desire to return to WWE is strong for Angle. He wants to end his career on the biggest stage. WWE extending an offer is questionable, but Angle definitely wants to retire for the same promotion he achieved his fame in.
3 Would NOT Return: Gail Kim
The women’s revolution in the WWE is creating new opportunities for the female performers based off their talent and it's been a welcome change thus far. It still doesn’t erase their many years of terrible decisions regarding the women’s division. One talent that will never forget the old stance in WWE is Gail Kim. The elite in-ring worker was never used well in with the company. Over the course of two stints with the WWE, Kim rarely received any substantial booking behind her.
A podcast interview on Jim Ross’ The Ross Report revealed that Vince McMahon didn’t believe men wouldn’t find Kim attractive. Kim understandably holds a deep disdain for McMahon because of that and has said she never wants to work for the WWE again. If she did return, she could provide some dream matches in the current division, but we’ll likely never get to see them happen. Kim is happy in TNA, as she'll enter their Hall of Fame this year and plans to take any alternative over working for the WWE again.
2 Would Return: Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy is the most popular active wrestler to not work for the WWE at the moment. Fans still support Hardy in TNA and at various independent wrestling shows by showing up and buying merchandise. Hardy's popularity would become substantially larger in the WWE with a bigger platform. Hardy’s last run in the company featured him ascending to the top of the company as the most popular face behind John Cena. Fans are still clamoring for one last run in the WWE for everyone’s favorite artistic daredevil.
The risks associated with Hardy’s style likely means he doesn’t have too many bumps left in him, but he still puts out impressive work in TNA. Despite expressing happiness in his current climate, Hardy wants to end his career in a WWE ring. Various interviews have seen him admit his dream is to face The Undertaker at WrestleMania inside of the Hell in a Cell structure. That likely won’t happen, but there are plenty of dream matches on the table against the current top new stars. Hardy definitely wants to return and WWE will likely oblige if he’s healthy when his TNA contract expires.
1 Would NOT Return: CM Punk
The ugliest falling out between a wrestler and promotion in recent years is CM Punk choosing to leave the WWE. Punk has a great deal of confidence and believes in his vision. WWE didn’t always give him the platform to achieve what he wanted and he reacted negatively. The blame can go around on both sides depending on the issue, but the only thing we can all agree on is that Punk loathes the WWE and the people who run it.
Punk is currently chasing a new career with the UFC. Most believe it will fail rather quickly and he’ll have to consider returning to the WWE. Unlike most, his convictions make him who he is and Punk likely will take any other path to avoid going back to the place he bolted from. Punk apparently saved most of his money and would make more than a respectable living working on the independent wrestling scene. We will likely see CM Punk return to pro wrestling at some point, but he’ll never step foot in a WWE ring again.