It’s that phrase ever WWE wrestler lives in fear of: “We wish you luck in all your future endeavors.” WWE is a business first and foremost and sadly, that means cutting loose the dead weight every year. It can be someone who’s been a loyal worker for years or a newbie but the fact is, the company makes it clear very few are safe from the annual cuts. A few workers are able to bounce back from it, moving onto other places and making something of themselves. Others are stuck badly, soon sights on the convention circuit and coasting on their past fame. It’s tough to tell as some guys you thought were stars anywhere falter without the WWE machine while others can thrive. It’s tougher as TNA and ROH are the only real alternatives in the United States and thus it's harder for wrestlers to land on their feet after a release.
Sometimes, it’s obvious when one guy is going to sink as often WWE releases those with little potential or those past their primes. Other times, they can surprise you with bouncing back on the indie circuit. It goes the other way, guys you thought would thrive elsewhere are exposed as bad on their own. Here are 8 recently released WWE stars that the company will likely regret letting to and 7 who are no real loss as it’s unlikely they’ll make it elsewhere and shows how tricky it is judging outside of WWE.
15 REGRET: Santino Marella
True, his in-ring work is now curtailed by his bad neck. However, Santino is a viable guy for a backstage role. His push as the “Milan Miracle” was badly received, fans not liking his babyface act. But his transformation as a goofball idiot with mangled English soon got over with fans. His comedy antics were brilliant and even had runs as U.S. and tag team champion to boost him up more. While he had to cut his in-ring career short, Santino still had some potential for a backstage role. Indeed, one can imagine him as a whacky interviewer or even a GM making some fun stuff and entertaining fans.
He’s had a few matches on the indie circuit as well as his huge argument with Jim Cornette that got attention. The guy can be a good trainer for some stars to reach potential and WWE should have kept him on, as Santino was better out of the ring than in it.
14 WON’T: Alberto Del Rio
In terms of wrestling, they might miss him. But when it comes to public relations, WWE must be glad they dodged an ugly bullet here. Del Rio had a major push that wasn’t well received as fans disliked his shoving and his “Destiny” and his run as World champion not received. He did get sympathy for being fired for slapping a guy after a racist insult and thus his return was better received. He had a push again with the League of Nations but then they cut him loose after a failed Wellness test.
He moved to TNA/GFW as Albert El Patron and became their champion and looked like he was going to shove it in WWE’s face. But then came the domestic abuse charges over an incident with Paige and now Alberto has been stripped of the title and blackballed from the company. WWE must be happy about that, avoiding what would have been a very ugly mess and thus their release of Del Rio was a well-timed move. The company must also be thrilled that he and Paige recently broke up.
13 REGRET: Ho Ho Lun
WWE has been trying to make a big deal of 205 Live and the rebirth of the Cruiserweights. However, they are still criticized for not reaching out as hoped to the many guys out there who can beef the division up. HoHo Lun is a guy who could help out that division. The Hong Kong native has been building up a reputation in Europe and Asia, with terrific work in the ring with high-flying action and some good charisma to boot. He showed his stuff in the Cruiserweight Classic to wow fans and won himself a shot in NXT. This led to 205 Live where Lun again had a lot of promise.
However, reports are Lun was reluctant to stay in WWE as he had ailing family in Hong Kong he wanted to check on more. That’s understandable but still sad he got his release as he had the potential to be a breakout star and boost the company’s promise in Asia so it’s likely they’ll regret missing out on his star power.
12 WON’T: James Ellsworth
The latest addition to the list, Ellsworth’s release has been long coming. It was funny at first with this scrawny guy with no chin coming to the fore as a loveable loser type. His upset wins over AJ Styles got fans going along with his funny skits and promos. That was okay but it got annoying with his “hip hop” act and helping Carmella win Money in the Bank. The guy just wasn’t working out, his in-ring work always bad and his last appearance included getting the crap beaten out of him by the women of WWE during a European tour.
It’s hard to see Ellsworth doing much else. Sure, TNA might give him a shot but the guy is nothing more than comedic relief, no real ring skills and that can get old fast. He had a decent shot for someone of his size and such but Ellsworth has probably done as much as he can in wrestling and it's unlikely he’ll be anything big.
11 REGRET: Cody Rhodes
WWE should already be regretting this big time. As the son of Dusty Rhodes, Cody had wrestling in his genes and was showing it well. His run as IC champion showed his great promise as well as his terrific skills on the mic and he was a top-notch heel. That’s why it was so aggravating to see him saddled with the stupid Stardust character, in makeup and acting up in a bizarre way. It led to a tag title reign but not surprisingly Cody hated it and basically asked to be let go.
Since then, Cody has been doing his best to show up WWE. He had a short TNA run which wasn’t much but showed him out of the character. His standout work has been in ROH as the “American Nightmare” has taken off as champion and wowing crowds with amazing work. To have let go a guy who’s since gone on to some great stuff is a key reason WWE can annoy fans as Cody deserved to be a star with them, rather than ROH.
10 WON’T: Damien Sandow
For a time, it looked like WWE might be regretting it. Sandow clicked in the company with his arrogant intellectual act, showing off with some great promos and an obnoxious heel that fans loved to hate. His partnership with The Miz was golden, with Sandow somehow making a 'stunt double' gimmick work. Many felt Sandow deserved a bigger push with a singles title rather than lame comedic impressions of other guys. Thus, his release in 2016 was a shock and a huge outcry of how badly WWE mishandled him. However, it seems the company may have been right. Sandow’s tenure in TNA as Aron Rex was a total mess and short-lived. Thus, WWE may have been right in how Sandow didn’t have long-lasting appeal and backlash against his release has died down majorly.
9 REGRET: Wade Barrett
One look at Barrett and you’d think this guy had main eventer written all over him. Brash and skilled, Barrett took over as leader of The Nexus when Daniel Bryan had to be let go and performed well in the role. He was good in the ring and backed it up with some fine promo work. Barrett was soon a go to guy but sadly was hit by the injury bug at the worst times. A key was when his “Bad News” persona was taking off and he won the IC title but had to vacate it almost immediately due to an injury and took time off. It happened again with his “King Barrett” act and while the League of Nations had serious promise, WWE never gave them the push they deserved.
Barrett was cut loose which was seriously annoying given his vast potential with so many chances about. He has been on the indie circuit but can be rising up more and show WWE the mistake they made in not giving Barrett the major run deserving of him.
8 WON’T: Alex Riley
A very promising guy in WWE, Alex Riley was one of the first guys pushed in NXT, back when it was still a “Tough Enough” knock-off. “Mentored” by the Miz, Riley soon rose to help the Miz as his aide in various matches. This set up a split between them and Riley turning face. However, after a promising start, he faltered as he came up short in various feuds against Dolph Ziggler and others. A turn as a color commentator had potential with his “sports analyst” character yet didn’t take as well as hoped.
A return to the ring followed but was short-lived before Riley was released in 2016. Since then, his most notable appearance has been a small role in Netflix's GLOW series, with a few appearances here and there but nothing special. It seems Riley just isn’t going to amount to much despite his potential and thus it's no real loss for WWE.
7 REGRET: Jack Swagger
The problem with Jack Swagger wasn’t that he wasn’t a good worker. He was. The problem was that he was a good upper mid-card guy WWE pushed to the main event too soon. His tenure as world champion was a flop as he just didn’t connect on that level at that time. He seemed to have more promise with a face turn but that also went badly as the “All-American American” failed to light crowds on fire.
Since his release, Swagger seems intent on getting into the indies more and has a lot more promise there. He's also recently announced that he's joining Bellator. If he does well in MMA, that will increase Swagger's star power a ton. With that, combined with some work he's doing on the indies, Swagger can show WWE they should have handled him better and prove himself at last.
6 WON’T: Simon Gotch
The Vaudevillains were a fun act in NXT. The idea was a pair of quirky guys acting like 1920s grapplers with huge mustaches but backed it up with great in ring action. Simon Gotch and Aiden English were good together and held the tag titles with promise of more. Sadly, their debut on the main roster was badly handled with the idea of them really acting like they were from “olden times” rather than just a funny act. They were too often in the shadow of The New Day, The Usos and other teams and the few times they got on TV, they were short battles.
Gotch’s release wasn’t much of a shock, as he was reportedly a headache backstage, although English is still with the company. As it is, Gotch is good but not a great worker and thus it's unlikely he’ll amount to much on the indie scene. He made his name on a gimmick he can no longer use and thus he’s likely to become ancient history just like the person he played on screen.
5 REGRET: Emma
Emma caught on with fans in NXT with her quirky dance moves and nice charisma. Sadly, what worked for a few hundred Florida fans didn’t take as well for the main roster and her first run was poor. But some training improved her, including taking it to Asuka in a well-received match. Thus, her sudden firing makes little sense despite reports of problems backstage.
Indeed, the fact she’s demanding a few grand for an indie appearance does indicate the woman has an ego. However, she can back it up in the ring and Impact Wrestling might be smart to grab her for the Knockouts division and let her show off at last and prove that WWE didn’t use her right. This could be a blessing in disguise for her.
4 WON’T: Summer Rae
With her gorgeous looks and amazing legs, Summer was a natural for WWE. She stood out being Fandango’s dance partner and then the complex feud with Rusev and Jack Swagger (which was messed up when Lana tweeted her real-life engagement to Rusev). That had some promise and her run on “Total Divas” boosted her presence more. However, it was obvious Summer was better in the looks department than in the ring, great in hot outfits but not so much for a match.
She was mostly a valet type for Tyler Breeze and others while some injuries ultimately did her in. Now released, Summer seems unlikely to do much more in the wrestling business. She can get some shots on the indies but it's unlikely to be anything special as Summer’s time looks to be fading fast.
3 REGRET: Austin Aries
The release of Aries is already cited as a terrible move by WWE. The man had built up a fantastic resume from ROH to TNA where he was a dominant and popular champion. Amazing in the ring, he could be killer on the mic, amazing performer and overall it was a great coup signing him up. Aries seemed poised to do stuff with 205 and NXT before moving up with many saying a run as champion would be great for him. But then he was let go, at first seemingly by his choosing but it’s come out he was fired for a bad backstage attitude.
While he wasn’t popular with other workers, Aries was still one of the best in-ring performers and quite over with fans, something WWE could use right now. It’s quite likely he’ll be doing some stuff on the indies, maybe even get a TNA return and Aries is out to prove WWE made one huge mistake dropping him.
2 WON’T: Eva Marie
There’s no denying Eva Marie is hot as hell. With her gorgeous build and lush red hair, she stood out easily. Sadly, the woman is now infamous for some of the worst performances by a female wrestler in recent times. Her botching in the ring was soon the material of viral videos with her inability to pull off the simplest moves. There was also her bad promo work, botching her lines and making folks laugh. Her time on “Total Divas” was a boost but clearly, nothing she was doing in the ring was notable.
Her release was seen as long overdue and while there's talk of her doing something on the indies, it’s unlikely it’ll be anything notable. The fact is, the woman just doesn’t have the knack for the business so while she can be a low-level B-movie actress, wrestling stardom elsewhere is unlikely.
1 REGRET: Darren Young
Darren Young really should have been a bigger deal for WWE. It wasn’t just his skills but also how he publically came out, something really big for a business infamous for being rough on homosexual wrestlers. He showed his stuff with the Nexus and then the Prime Time Players, a terrific run as tag team champions that promised more stuff. He was charismatic, tough and skilled as well as good on the mic and should have gotten a good singles run. He was marred by some bad booking and then the stupid idea of him mentored by Bob Backlund. Young could have been a real star and even champion for his sexuality but WWE ignored that for his bad stuff. It’s a shame but now Young can have a shot on the indies and maybe build up more to showcase how WWE let go a real potential winner.