The recent stories of wrestlers growing unhappy in WWE through the years have created a big shift in the industry. Many rumors going around right now feature names like Neville, Nia Jax, Dolph Ziggler and a few other unknown stars considering leaving due to the frustration working for WWE. One of the reasons leaving WWE is considered more desirable than it has been since the days of the Monday Night Wars is the ability to make good money elsewhere. Quite a few former WWE stars either chose to leave or were fired recently leading to it being a great move. They're making more money and having more fun on their own schedules being their own boss.
There are of course other stories of wrestlers failing to do anything noteworthy since leaving the company making it look like a horrible result. We'll take a look at both sides of the story when it comes to what happens when a wrestler leaves WWE today. You'll find out what each of the following wrestlers have been up to since leaving WWE along with how they are feeling about it. These are eight wrestlers that are thrilled about leaving WWE and seven that want to return.
15 Thrilled: Austin Aries
The release of Austin Aries was a huge surprise for the talented performer who worked his entire career to get there. Aries recently revealed on Chris Jericho’s Talk is Jericho podcast that the rumors of him demanding a release were inaccurate. WWE apparently had nothing creatively for him, so they fired him to send him back to the free agent.
Aries is however happy about the changes to his bank account that comes from leaving WWE. Since he was stuck in the Cruiserweight Division, Aries rarely traveled to the live events and made less money than the average WWE star. The claims of Aries are that he is scheduled to make more money off the next few months of independent wrestling bookings than he did during his entire main roster WWE run.
14 Regret: Ryback
One of the most disappointing wrestling stories for a talent leaving WWE is Ryback. The end of Ryback’s WWE tenure saw him trash the company when it became apparent he wasn’t going to sign a new contract. Ryback felt that WWE dropped the ball with him and implied he was going to set the wrestling world on fire with a run showing his talent without restraints.
Instead, Ryback barely wrestles now only appearing on lower tier independent wrestling shows. Most people only hear about Ryback these days when he makes a controversial comment on his podcast ripping wrestlers in WWE. Fans recently exposed Ryback as leaving comments on his own Amazon shop products since no one else was buying it. Ryback likely wishes he was back in WWE.
13 Thrilled: Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes has set the blueprint on how to succeed after leaving WWE. One of the reasons Vince McMahon is hesitant to give Neville and other talents their release from the company is noticing how well Rhodes is doing outside of WWE. The decision to leave was Cody’s when he grew frustrated as being the Stardust character with zero upside potential.
Rhodes has found the magic after leaving WWE by building his reputation up. The success has seen him land a spot in the Bullet Club, become the ROH Champion and a fixture in New Japan. Cody has stated that he made a lot more money this year than he did when he was in WWE. That isn’t too big of a surprise as the extra income coming in from Hot Topic and other merchandising makes a huge difference without WWE cutting in.
12 Regret: Alex Riley
Alex Riley was once viewed as a top prospect by WWE due to his cookie cutter athletic look and background in other sports. However, Riley struggled to progress in the ring and earned an enemy backstage in the form of John Cena. Many pundits have speculated that Cena’s hatred of Riley is what doomed his career. Riley would get released in 2016 after spending the final few years of his career in NXT.
The only thing of note Riley has done since leaving WWE is getting a role playing an 80s wrestler in the Netflix series G.L.O.W. Despite it being a good role to have, Riley has failed to get any credible roles outside of this. The fact that his only role is playing a wrestler in one episode of a show is a bad sign for his acting career. Riley probably regrets pissing off Cena every day.
11 Thrilled: Juice Robinson
Former NXT talent CJ Parker made a bold decision when he requested to leave NXT. Parker had an endearing heel character that provided entertainment but blocked him from ever moving up the card. This is why he chose to leave WWE in hopes of making a name for himself in New Japan. Currently known as Juice Robinson, he has had a breakout year in the second biggest wrestling promotion.
A star making match against top name Kenny Omega proved Robinson could hang with the best in the world today. The name value has risen since his departure from NXT. There is always the chance he returns to WWE in a bigger and better role now similar to Kassius Ohno and Drew McIntyre. However, Juice has proved that he doesn’t need the machine and his life has improved since leaving.
10 Regret: Hornswoggle
The release of Hornswoggle from WWE saw him get fired shortly after he violated the Wellness Policy. WWE suspended Hornswoggle for thirty days and kept him off television for some time after that leading up to the release. Hornswoggle loves the wrestling business and has remained involved working a full-time schedule since the firing.
However, there are so few roles for the little person in wrestling today. Top alternative promotions like New Japan and Ring of Honor don’t seem inclined to bring him in. Impact Wrestling is the only major promotion to book Hornswoggle somewhat consistency, but they're in poor shape. Hornswoggle is looking to find another spot in a relevant company. Unfortunately, WWE is his best bet and the ship seems to have sailed on a reunion.
9 Thrilled: Brandi Rhodes
Similar to her husband Cody Rhodes, Brandi Rhodes has been successful after leaving WWE. The entire stint of Brandi on the WWE main roster saw her work as a ring announcer. Despite being very good at the gig, she always wanted more. Brandi has worked for Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor and various wrestling promotions since leaving WWE as a wrestler.
The biggest move for her was recently announced as she will be a member of the WAGS: Atlanta reality television show. Brandi has benefited from being free of the WWE contract stipulations. There is no ceiling on what the Rhodes can do these days, and both members of the happy couple are thriving. It seems like one of the better household decisions a couple can make looking at the happiness of Cody and Brandi.
8 Regret: Adam Rose
Adam Rose was fired from WWE, but he basically is responsible for his time in the company coming to an end. The issues of Rose outside of the ring would see get accused of domestic abuse and violate the WWE Wellness Policy by failing a drug test. Rose called out WWE’s Wellness Policy claiming he was innocent by using a prescribed medication. This ultimately led to his release.
The post-WWE tenure of Rose started off horribly when he sold a t-shirt making light of his domestic abuse allegations as if it were something to joke about. Rose then struggled to get bookings in relevant promotions as his in-ring work paled in comparison to the top independent wrestling names. A recent claim of Rose saw him say he was retired but he is booked for lower tier shows wishing he was back in WWE.
7 Thrilled: Wade Barrett
Time away from the ring is sometimes the best thing to benefit a wrestler’s career. Fans will take someone for granted if you see them in the ring every week wrestling the same opponents with little on the line. That was the story of Wade Barrett’s career. Once the Nexus stable ended, Barrett struggled to find relevance and worked consistently in forgettable mid-card angles.
Barrett has done some acting during his time from WWE and has yet to wrestle a match outside of the company. Recent interviews have indicated that he is planning a comeback at some point in the near future. Fans reacted with more excitement to this than anything he did in his final few years with WWE. Barrett is a hotter commodity after taking time off to heal up and try new things.
6 Regret: Kaitlyn
Kaitlyn was one of the women that decided to leave WWE on her own terms rather than waiting for them to fire her. The shelf life for female wrestlers in WWE was shorter just a few years ago as the company wanted models in their 20s. Kaitlyn decided to get her release so she could start planning accordingly for her future outside of the wrestling business.
The fitness personality has done some good work starting her own workout clothing line, but a recent post on social media suggests she misses the ring. Kaitlyn posted a picture inside of a wrestling ring with a comment stating that it was her happy place. The fact that she misses wrestling means she likely regrets not staying with WWE longer.
5 Thrilled: AJ Lee
The best friend of Kaitlyn is fellow former WWE Diva AJ Lee. Similar to Kaitlyn, Lee chose to leave WWE on her own and has stated she does miss wrestling. However, AJ has done a lot in her time away from the ring to find happiness. The release of her autobiography Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules made an impact as a New York Times bestseller.
AJ spent over a year writing the emotional story of her tough upbringing and long road to the top of the WWE. The fact that Lee’s husband CM Punk is the number one enemy of WWE makes it even more obvious why she doesn’t want to work. Fans unfortunately missed out on many AJ dream matches, but she is doing just fine away from the ring.
4 Regret: Damien Sandow
Damien Sandow is a wrestler that fans consistently complained about being underrated and underutilized by WWE. The promos and matches of Sandow indicated he was a very talented performer that deserved to be higher up the card. Sandow losing his Money in the Bank title shot hurt his career in the long run. WWE eventually released him after years of ups and downs ultimately going nowhere.
The first move for Sandow after leaving WWE was signing a deal with TNA. Sandow unfortunately looked like a different person appearing out of shape and unable to keep up with the younger talent. It became obvious that he either lost what he had in WWE or we were the ones overrating him all along. Sandow has since claimed to have left the wrestling business to find a new career path.
3 Thrilled: Sami Callihan
One of the wrestlers to request a release from NXT is talented wrestler Solomon Crowe. The career of Crowe as Sami Callihan on the independent circuit was thriving before he joined NXT. Crowe would fail to have the same success as fellow names joining the company like Kevin Owens and Finn Balor. Once it became apparent he wasn’t going to be pushed any time soon, Crowe asked to leave NXT.
Now that he is using his old Sami Callihan name and working without restrictions, his career is back on track. Callihan has become a top independent name again working as a regular in PWG and other promotions. Impact Wrestling recently introduced him at Bound For Glory and he will be making his New Japan debut this month teaming with Juice Robinson.
2 Regret: Alberto Del Rio
Here with the real legends... the man himself, the best person in this world my dad and one of the best luchadores in the biz @officialelhijodelsanto it was a pleasure to share the ring with you amigo... thanks to all the #monterrey for packing that arena tonight.. god bless you every day. Amigos que gusto regresar a tierras regias, gracias por abarrotar la arena coliseo el día de hoy, un gusto ver al hombre que es y será siempre mi inspiración en la vida, mi señor padre, el verdadero patrón #sisisi y ver a un gran amigo y una de las máximas legendas en este negocio... un honor compartir el ring contigo amigo #elhijodelsanto
The decision of Alberto Del Rio to leave WWE came through a series of controversial events. WWE tried to break up Del Rio and Paige by putting them on separate shows in the brand split. Both partners would fail a drug test to violate the Wellness Policy leading to a suspension. Del Rio then demanded his release claiming Triple H and others running the company were trying to ruin his life.
Despite the fact that Alberto still trashes WWE, his career has gone downhill big time in recent months. Allegations of domestic abuse and other personal problems made him a risk to book. Impact Wrestling is the only wrestling option for Del Rio right now. That isn’t a statement any wrestler wants attached to their standing in the business. You have to believe Alberto misses the consistent checks without drama from WWE.
1 Thrilled: Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger isn’t a name most would have expected to love the independent circuit, but he is enjoying life since leaving WWE. Following many years of inconsistent television time with no direction, Swagger requested to get released from the company. The early push of Swagger saw him win the World Championship early into his career but remain in the lower card after a poor title reign.
Swagger has been happier than ever on the independent circuit despite the fact that he doesn’t wrestle for any of the top promotions. The happiness Swagger gets from wrestling is seen in the pride he takes in his work these days. Swagger even posted a video speaking up for independent wrestling when WWE ran a show in the same market as his show on the same weekend. The wife of Swagger also now works with him on independent shows along with their other projects for income leading to a happy life all around.