Many memorable wrestlers have endured bitter falling outs with WWE over the years. A lot is at stake when working for such a big company as WWE and ego is always involved. Everyone wants to make it to the top of the company and some have struggled to stay on the same page with management. Various stories have unfolded over the years leading to plenty of WWE stars having horrible departures from WWE. Most wrestlers like Kurt Angle, Bret Hart, Bruno Sammartino and Ultimate Warrior eventually returned in some capacity. WWE and the talents each realized it was best for all involved to get something done.
Not all stories play out like that. Randy Savage is the greatest example of someone never getting to return to WWE after a terrible falling out. The death of Savage would see WWE finally embrace his legacy again, but we never saw him back after his exit in 1994. Chyna’s recent death created the similar story. There are currently numerous active performers that had tough exits from WWE still working elsewhere today. We'll take a look at potential stories from both sides with nine wrestlers that might return after a terrible falling out along with six that will sadly never be back.
15 Might return: Batista
The end of Batista’s most recent WWE run back in 2014, it completely destroyed his love of the company. Batista bombed right away as a face being pushed over the fan favorite Daniel Bryan. It forced WWE to turn Batista heel. The reformation of Evolution was worth it as the three legends faced The Shield in back to back PPV main events but he disliked the fact that WWE split them up right after the series of matches.
Batista trashed WWE in interviews for booking him poorly and wasting his return. To make matters worse, WWE told Batista they had no interest in bringing him back to promote the original Guardians of the Galaxy movie because they thought it would be a bust. Batista still trashes WWE for how things went down, but he has stated he’d love to return for one final match against Triple H. If WWE offers this match, he'll be back to end his wrestling career on a high note.
14 Might return: CM Punk
CM Punk’s MMA career has appeared to hit a roadblock as there are no plans for a second UFC fight. It's rather obvious that Punk doesn’t have a chance to make it in the MMA industry at this stage of his life. The rumors of his return to wrestling are starting to circulate. Punk had one of the most bitter falling outs with WWE ever and has gone on the record stating he never wants to work there again.
Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks are reportedly recruiting him to join New Japan and Ring of Honor. WWE is still however the biggest promotion in the world. Punk could be happy wrestling elsewhere, but traveling and back forth between Chicago and Japan seems like a tough sell for a big name at this stage. Punk returning to WWE on a reduced schedule is not a crazy thought, especially with most WWE legends retiring and the number of attractions dwindling.
13 Won’t return: Ryback
Ryback basically ruined his relationship with WWE towards the end of his run and has burned all bridges since then. The terrible falling out occurred when Ryback publicly insulted WWE in a long blog about how the company is run. According to Ryback, the pay was unfair and they treated their wrestlers with minimal respect.
The funniest part about this all is that Ryback received some of the biggest pushes of a wrestler that proved nothing. In fact, some would argue that Ryback was overpaid given how he delivered in big matches and storylines. Ryback continues to bash WWE on his weekly podcast. There’s no way WWE is going to stoop low enough to bring him back. Ryback never became a legitimate main eventer and there’s no upside towards making peace with him. Fans don’t care for Ryback and WWE would not boost any interest with his presence.
12 Might return: Hornswoggle
WWE loved using Hornswoggle as an attraction for the younger audience. As a little person playing a comedic character, Hornswoggle connected with that demographic that just wanted to be entertained with harmless fun. Hornswoggle even joined D-Generation X during one of their returns to show how well he was doing. It all fell apart for him when he violated the Wellness Policy towards the end of his run.
Following the mandated thirty-day suspension, Hornswoggle was kept off television before getting released. WWE clearly didn’t appreciate one of their most children-friendly acts being suspended for using drugs. Hornswoggle however refrained from trashing the company and still works regularly. The idea of WWE bringing him back for future segments or even one more run is very possible. You can’t debate the fact that he delivered many memorable moments and has a WWE legacy.
11 Might return: Earl Hebner
Earl Hebner is regarded as the most popular referee in WWE history. Almost every major WWE match from the 80s boom period to the Attitude Era was officiated by Hebner. WWE however fired him and his brother Dale Hebner for illegally selling WWE merchandise on the side for extra money. Hebner signed with TNA during the 2000s and has spent the rest of his career after getting blacklisted from WWE.
There’s no chance Hebner is brought back as a full-time referee due to his age, but the potential of getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame is there. We could also see him make the save one more time for a pop as a final moment in the sun. Vince McMahon is viewed as a loyal person and Hebner’s role in the Montreal Screwjob could help his chances at getting appreciated in retirement.
10 Won’t return: Simon Gotch
The recent release of Simon Gotch came after months of having heat with the other wrestlers on the roster. Gotch reportedly got into a fight with Sin Cara that hurt his standing in WWE. Instead of things progressing for him to improve his career, it continued to get worse. A report suggested he was the most hated man in WWE for a few months before his release.
Gotch is wrestling on secondary independent wrestling shows and filmed a shoot interview. The honesty or Gotch saw him trash Enzo Amore among making other controversial comments about his time in WWE. There’s no chance he is ever going to get the call back to WWE. Everything is working against him. The other wrestlers disliked him. His comments fail to help improve his image to WWE. He never did anything noteworthy on the main roster. WWE will never work with Gotch again.
9 Might return: Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan has been involved in multiple terrible falling outs with WWE over the years and they always seem to make peace. Vince McMahon has a soft spot for Hogan after the two were the biggest forces in the company becoming mainstream in the 1980s. Hogan testified against McMahon in court, tried to run WWE out of business with WCW and refused to put over young talents years later.
All of these factors have been forgiven leading to Hogan somehow passing all those former strikes. Hogan’s racist tirade in his leaked sex tape forced WWE to fire him to avoid the negative press. WWE however has softened their stance on referencing him on shows. Hogan getting another chance in the spotlight and working within the company is more than likely with McMahon still in charge.
8 Won’t return: Brad Maddox
Brad Maddox ended his WWE career in lackluster fashion by crossing the line in a promo that didn’t even make television. The dark segment before a SmackDown taping saw Maddox introduce a new heel character in his latest revamp. Maddox however broke a backstage WWE rule by using the term “cocky pricks” in the ring to insult the fans.
Vince McMahon apparently despises the word “prick” being used in promos and considers it a swear word. Maddox was fired days after and has done nothing of note since then. A recent tape leak of Maddox and Paige from their time together years ago completely ruined any shot of him returning. There are too many things working against Maddox to get one more chance in WWE.
7 Might return: Carlito
The career of Carlito should have been so much more in WWE. Expectations were for him to become a future main event star and potential World Champion. Carlito’s backstage antics and poor attitude sunk his chances at moving up the card. Reports of him being viewed as lazy and unmotivated by management and the top stars said everything about his career.
WWE eventually fired him after he violated the Wellness Policy and refused to go to rehab. Carlito has been wrestling on lower tier independent shows as his name value dropped. However, people in WWE still believe in his talent. Carlito was on the rumored list of former talents WWE wanted to reach out to for the brand split. His brother Primo and cousin Epico are still employed and in need of a having a better talker. Carlito easily could return to the company to work with his family.
6 Won’t return: Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner has always been vocal about his feelings towards others in the wrestling business. A singles run in 2003-2004 saw Steiner get signed with the talk of being a huge star only to flop instantly. The series of matches with Triple H ended all plans for him becoming a major player. Steiner would get fired after a long stint in the undercard and off television.
Following his WWE falling out, Steiner trashed WWE and claimed he was vocal about his unhappiness with those in the company. Triple H was the biggest target of Steiner. The fact that Triple H is being groomed to succeed Vince McMahon doesn’t bode well for Steiner. WWE reached out one more time with a legends contract. Steiner turned it down and doubled down on his verbal attacks. There’s no way he’s working for WWE again.
5 Might return: AJ Lee
The decision of AJ Lee to retire at a young age was stated to be due to injuries and wanting to find other opportunities. We all know it was due to the hostile relationship between her employer WWE and her husband CM Punk. Lee worked for another year with WWE after Punk quit and it created tension.
At one point, Lee trashed Stephanie McMahon on social media for saying she was for women’s equality despite the pay scale and merchandising options being different in WWE. Things got uglier when WWE sent Punk his termination papers on their wedding day. Lee however still loves wrestling and it’s obvious she won’t wrestle for anyone but WWE. A recent appearance during her book tour saw AJ state she misses the ring. WWE would love to have her star power back against the current new stars.
4 Won’t return: Gail Kim
Gail Kim worked for WWE on two separate occasions in hopes of creating a better Women’s Division. The talent and body of work from Kim proved she was a superb wrestler. TNA showcased this in between her two stints that made Gail get the reputation as arguably the greatest women’s wrestler in the world. WWE signed her away the second time and Kim looked to prove her worth.
Instead, she was wasted again leading to her requesting a release. Gail eliminated herself from a battle royal on her final night to leave in controversial fashion. WWE has taken many strides forward in progressing their women’s division and it is better than ever. Sadly, Kim has been burned by WWE too many times. The disrespect she personally felt from Vince McMahon has led to her stating she will never return and is looking to retire at the end of the year.
3 Might return: Rey Mysterio
The controversial end of Rey Mysterio’s WWE tenure almost ruined over a decade of a great relationship. WWE tried to keep Mysterio under contract due to a clause that saw his prior injuries that allowed them to retain it. Mysterio wanted to become a free agent wrestling on his own schedule without the wear and tear of the WWE workload.
Following months of ugly rumors, WWE finally allowed Rey out of his deal. Mysterio has been working for Lucha Underground and independent promotions since then. The end of his Lucha Underground contract has Rey contemplating a return to WWE. According to Mysterio, he has no bad blood with the company and would be content having one more run. WWE would definitely welcome his star power and it could be a perfect fit.
2 Won’t return: Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio’s most recent WWE stint ended very publicly and still gets uglier by the day. The relationship between Del Rio and Paige was something the company tried to nip in the bud before it got as serious as it is today. Both wrestlers ended up violating the WWE Wellness Policy for failing a drug test. Alberto requested his release after refusing to return after the suspension.
The past year has featured Del Rio revolting against WWE in a public manner. Alberto curses out WWE at his live shows, threatens Triple H to fights on social media and essentially says everything about the company is evil. The fact that his girlfriend still works there doesn’t see him hold anything back. WWE is definitely not going to do business with him again and Del Rio doesn’t appear to want to ever return at this rate.
1 Might return: Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes set a precedent as one of the rare wrestlers making great money to choose to leave WWE for the independent circuit. The desire of Cody to leave a legacy in the wrestling industry made him bet on his own passion. WWE wanted him to continue playing the Stardust character that was obviously going nowhere. Rhodes told WWE he wanted out and it made them look bad in the process.
Things have worked out perfectly perfect for Cody about a year into his new career chapter. Rhodes is the current ROH World Champion, a prominent member of Bullet Club in New Japan and a huge star outside of WWE. Between his bookings and a new merchandising deal with Hot Topic, he's allegedly making more money than he did during his WWE days. All of this may lead to WWE offering Cody a great deal when in a year or two. Recent interviews have stated he would be open to it despite being happy where he is now.