Every year, WWE parts ways with a number of Superstar for various reasons. Some may have requested their release, violated company policies or didn't contribute enough to be retained. While there are some names who manage to remain on the roster for a lengthy period, others struggle to impress management enough to stick around that long. Being employed by the WWE happens to be the goal of most professional wrestlers due to the salary, spotlight and other perks that they cannot enjoy elsewhere.
And while that may sound like a dream job on paper, that's not always the case as we have seen over the years. From bad booking to a brutal working schedule, there are plenty of reasons as to why some wrestlers prefer working the independent circuit over the WWE. Every former WWE Superstar is likely to be in demand once they leave the company although the transition isn't always a smooth one. Some names go on to improve as performers while also establishing a new fanbase, others struggle to remain relevant once the WWE hype fades away.
Being on the independent scene means that a wrestler to has increase their work ethic as they are no longer promoted nearly as much as they had been, so they have to maintain their fanbase while gaining new supporters along the way. In recent years, we have seen many names go from being near the top of the mountain in the WWE only to fall flat away from the company. Here are 10 recent WWE releases struggling in the indies and 10 who are thriving:
20 Struggling: Darren Young
Darren Young had several chances to succeed in the WWE as a singles competitor and a tag team performer, although he has never shone in his role. The final attempt to get him over was his partnership as Bob Backlund's protégé, but even the WWE Hall of Famer couldn't get him over with the fans. Young has only made a few appearances since his departure from the WWE - keeping away from the limelight for the most part. He has been featured in a number of matches for Chikara Pro although he has been unable to gain any buzz in the indies.
19 Thriving: Jack Swagger
Despite being pushed to the top by WWE, Jack Swagger was unable to retain his spot as a main eventer as he continued to fall down the card until his eventual release. Having won the World Heavyweight Championship as well as the ECW title, Swagger was expected to be among the top names for many years to come - although it became evident that he wasn't going to last in the company as he was unable to truly connect with fans. And while he struggled on the independent circuit early on, Swagger is now featuring for various companies including Northeast Wrestling and WrestleCade.
18 Struggling: Evan Bourne
There was a time when Evan Bourne was one of the most exciting Superstars in the WWE. His stint didn't pan out as expected and he was eventually released from the company. While a number of wrestlers go on to leave an even bigger mark elsewhere, Bourne hasn't been nearly as successful away from the WWE. And while reports have suggested that Bourne would return to the company, they have never come to fruition after all. With his reputation taking a turn for the worse following the incident in Japan, Bourne hasn't been booked by many successful promotions since then.
17 Thriving: Simon Gotch
Since his release from the WWE in 2017, Simon Gotch has managed to keep himself relevant. Given that he had hardly achieved much in the WWE during his brief stint, it is impressive that Gotch has gone on to work for promotions such as Ring of Honor and Major League Wrestling. He is currently making appearances for MLW as well as several independent companies, and has a podcast that is fairly popular with fans. He has done better for himself than most fans had anticipated when he parted ways with the WWE, while also improving as an all around performer.
16 Struggling: James Storm
It took some years but James Storm finally made it to the WWE in 2015 when he was signed to be apart of NXT. It wouldn't last too long as Storm opted to leave the company behind before returning to Impact Wrestling. This year has been arguably his least successful in the industry as his appearances have been very few, including a disappointing stint with MLW. And while he did feature for ICW in a number of matches, it has been nothing to write home about. Storm is one of the names on the list who would have been better off remaining with the WWE.
15 Thriving: Rich Swann
Following a controversial exit from the WWE, it appeared that Rich Swann would struggle to book many appearances. And while he did take some time off to resolve personal issues, Swann resurfaced on the scene with his first cameo at CZW. He would go on to sign a deal with Impact Wrestling, although he has remained active elsewhere featuring for many promotions such as Pro Wrestling Sunday, Highspots Wrestling Network, and Innovative Pro. It's evident that Rich Swann doesn't intend on slowing down and wants to make the most out of his career while he is still in top shape.
14 Struggling: Damien Sandow
Some fans still believe that WWE didn't use Damien Sandow to his full potential as the company failed to bank on his popularity. Upon his release, he moved on a different venture by competing for various independent promotions - including Chaotic Wrestling and MCW - to keep his name relevant in the industry. Sandow also appeared for Impact Wrestling under a new character, although some fans believed that he struggled to replicate the success he had accomplished in the WWE. With his wrestling career in a bit of a funk, Sandow was luckily able to earn an acting gig apart of the NBC show Midnight Texas.
13 Thriving: Emma
Emma is right now taking a break away from in-ring action due to an injury but she is looking to make a comeback in the upcoming months. Despite having been sidelined out of action, Emma is still in hot demand for meet and greets, as well as on-screen roles for various promotions. Prior to her injury, Emma was having an impressive start to her journey with Ring of Honor, and was among the most booked female wrestlers today. Having competed for companies such as WrestlePro and wXw, Emma expects to be back in the mix in the near future to resume her career.
12 Struggling: Summer Rae
Summer Rae has had a quiet exit from the wrestling limelight as she had been apart of many major WWE angles early on. Following a one year absence from television, the company announced her release in 2017 which didn't come as a surprise to many fans who were already speculating about her future. And while Rae did announce her intention to carry on with her wrestling journey, it hasn't been quite noteworthy to date with most of her appearances taking place at Battle Championship Wrestling. It seems like she is still intent on returning to the WWE at some point although she will likely have to impress more away from the company to make that happen.
11 Thriving: Adam Rose
Adam Rose was talented enough to warrant a better run with the WWE, but unfortunately that didn't take place once her made it to the main roster. And while he did have some memorable moments apart of the NXT roster, the transition wasn't quite as smooth due to the lack of opportunities and character changes.
Fortunately for him, when one door closed in the WWE, another opened on the independent circuit as Rose has had quite an impressive run with most of his appearances taking place at Go Pro Wrestling, Revolt Pro, and South Wrestling Federation. And while a comeback to the WWE is unlikely, at least he has done well for himself on his own.
10 Struggling: Wade Barrett
When Wade Barrett left the WWE in 2015, he made it clear that he would be taking a break from professional wrestling as he explored other ventures. He did end up appearing in roles away from the ring for Defiant Wrestling and World Of Sport, but it seems like Barrett finally decided to get back into action in 2018. He has had a few appearances for independent promotions, and is set to work for Ring of Pakistan as well. Now that he is set to debut for Lucha Underground soon, Barrett will have a major opportunity to once again be relevant.
9 Thriving: Ryback
Ryback's exit from the WWE was a controversial one to say the least, leading to a new journey for The Big Guy. And while he got off to a slow start on the independent circuit, he has turned it around in the past year with a much improved stint. He had gotten a taste of the WWE main event scene for a brief period before he fell through the ranks, which undoubtedly frustrated Ryback who believed that he could be doing greater things. And while he has had a busy schedule thus far, Ryback continues to accept future bookings for the time being.
8 Struggling: Alberto Del Rio
WWE envisioned Alberto Del Rio as one of the company's stars for many years to come, but that didn't pan out as initially planned. While he had been handed several World title reigns among other notable accomplishments, Del Rio was still not nearly as over as he had been pushed. With his second departure from the WWE in 2016, Del Rio continued to work for various promotions around the world although he has slowed down in the past year.
While he has made many appearances for ICWA, he is no longer in demand compared to previous years. And based on his recent activity, it appears that Del Rio has began a transition into an MMA promoter.
7 Thriving: Austin Aries
Austin Aries was far from pleased with his WWE run and couldn't wait until the company granted his release, as he had far larger plans in mind. Not only was he upset with being made into an exclusive 205 Live performer, but his frustrations grew as he felt that the company didn't exactly care for the division. Aries' all-around talent was always on display wherever he was, but joining Impact Wrestling allowed him to reach new heights of success. On top of his impressive run with the company, Aries is also a trending name on the independent circuit with bookings from Defiant Wrestling and IPW.
6 Struggling: Kenny Dykstra
Upon his return to the WWE in 2016, many fans were hopeful that Kenny Dykstra would stick around for some unfinished business. But after having been involved in a brief storyline with former Spirit Squad partner Dolph Ziggler, Dykstra only competed in a handful of matches before quietly leaving the WWE. His journey outside of the WWE hasn't been particularly impressive with Dykstra only managing to book appearances for lower tier promotions, such as Lucky Pro Wrestling. Given that he is only 32 years old, he still has the chance to turn his career around before it is too late.
5 Thriving: Bubba Ray Dudley
Bubba Ray Dudley has always been one of the very few wrestlers capable of being highly successful regardless of where they are. While he is now 47 years old coming off what many thought to be a final wrestling run with the WWE, Bubba Ray wasn't quite ready to call it a career just yet as he signed a deal with Ring of Honor as a solo performer.
Additionally, he has also been active on the independent circuit with multiple appearances per month for different promotions such as House Of Glory Wrestling, Remix Pro Wrestling among many others around the United States.
4 Struggling: Big Cass
Big Cass has had a rough year to say the least. After having been pushed in the WWE earlier this year, including a feud against the returning Daniel Bryan, he was released from the company in June. He was away from the wrestling scene for a few months before he made his very first appearance as Big C for Big Time Wrestling. Given the various reports from fans in attendance, as well as the photos surfing around the web, Cass' journey on the independent scene didn't get off to a brilliant start. But of course the potential is there if he is able to get it together.
3 Thriving: Neville
When Neville decided to leave the WWE in October 2017, it was unknown whether he would be returning to competition anytime soon. It took nearly a year for the dispute between the two sides to come to an end, as he was let go in August of 2018. More recently, Neville has finally been cleared to compete for other promotions and he has wasted no time in getting his career back on track.
Neville has already made appearances for Dragon Gate with many scheduled matches coming up for promotions such as Over The Top Wrestling, Revolution Pro Wrestling and BWR.
2 Struggling: James Ellsworth
James Ellsworth's one year stint with the WWE did wonder for his career as he was in hot demand once he left the company. Despite his limited wrestling talent and all-around character, he was still able due to book appearances for various promotions. And when he returned to the WWE for another brief run in 2018, that only helped him increase his stock on the independent circuit. But that has changed in the last little while with the recent story surrounding him as a number of companies have dropped him from their events, while many wrestlers supposedly no longer want to work with him.
1 Thriving: Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes is one of the few wrestlers who managed to exceed their WWE run with greater success away from the company. Not only has he made appearances for New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling, but Rhodes has also been among the hottest names on the independent circuit. There aren't many names who are currently in more demand as Rhodes has managed to develop a huge following that he previously didn't have during his WWE stint. Seeing how successful he has been outside of the company may also influence a number of current Superstars to follow his footsteps.