This is the best time to be an independent wrestler since the territory days and even the best time to be a wrestler since WCW and ECW closed down. Thanks to the Internet, social media, and all the different ways performers have to promote themselves these days, a wrestler no longer needs WWE's bright spotlight to become a star.
In fact, there are numerous wrestlers on the independent circuit right now who have become bigger stars than they were when they were signed to WWE. On the flip side, however, the opposite is true in many cases as well. A lot of wrestlers believe that once their WWE career is over that the rest of their wrestling career is just about cashing as many paychecks as possible. These wrestlers are just interested in milking their WWE fame for all it is worth and not creating a new name for themselves in their post-WWE career.
From the very best to the worst, we'll feature an array of wrestlers in this article. Without further ado, here are ten wrestlers ruining their legacies on the indies and ten that continue to thrive. Enjoy!
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20 Justin Credible - Ruining
Justin Credible has been having a rough go as of late. Not long after finishing up treatment at a WWE sponsored rehab center last year, Credible was recorded at an indie event looking and sounding extremely intoxicated. He also got on the microphone and went on a long rant as fans became increasingly aware of his inebriated state.
Credible started with WWE in the early 1990s as the Portuguese Man of War, Aldo Montoya, and consistently found work in wrestling for decades after. Now as he gets older, however, it appears Justin Credible is having difficulty dealing with the conclusion of his in-ring career. In the most recent update to his story, Credible has announced he plans to take up Diamond Dallas Page’s offer for help.
19 Colt Cabana - Succeeding
Colt Cabana is one of the few wrestlers whose fame from the independent scene completely eclipses what he achieved while in WWE. Cabana was with the promotion from 2007 to 2009, though he rarely cracked the main roster.
WWE kept Cabana in their developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, for most of his time with the company. He did wrestle as Scotty Goldman on SmackDown a few times in 2008 but was generally used as an enhancement talent. A few years after his release in 2009, there were rumors WWE was looking at him as a potential commentator but nothing came of that either. Then in 2014, WWE filed a lawsuit against Colt and CM Punk as a result of Punk’s appearance on Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast.
Nowadays, along with keeping a full-schedule on the indies, Cabana also works as a color commentator for Ring of Honor.
18 Ryback - Ruining
Ryback was once one of the hottest acts in all of pro wrestling. His undefeated streak in 2012 had many feeling as though he was a can’t miss prospect. Turns out, he not a future World Champion and just another big time dud.
What has hurt Ryback’s legacy more than anything else has been his persistent burials of other wrestlers on his podcast. Ryback is brutal in his evaluation of talent on the indies and talent in WWE on his podcast. Many have been turned off by the Big Guy’s negativity.
Ryback still wrestles on the independents but the bigger promotions tend to avoid him. While Ryback has plenty of appeal to WWE fans, fans of independent wrestling don’t see him as someone worth paying for. Unless WWE comes calling again, there is little reason to believe Ryback’s career will ever be as relevant as it once was.
17 Tommy Dreamer - Succeeding
For the last five years, Tommy Dreamer has been running his own House of Hardcore promotion. Despite not being a part of the WWE, Dreamer is living out his dream and creating an interesting wrestling product in the process. This seems to be the happiest he has been since ECW closed down in 2001. In addition, Dreamer admitted to making more money now on the indies than he was originally offered by the WWE recently.
His promotion House of Hardcore is a throwback similar to ECW but with toned down violence, less scantily clad women and a generally more respectable feel to it. It's a fun wrestling show and 2018 might be a pivotal year for Dreamer's HOH. Now broadcasting regular live events on Twitch, more wrestling fans are being exposed to Dreamer's promotion than ever before. That is both good for Dreamer and the wrestling business.
16 Jack Swagger - Ruining
Donald Jacob Hager Jr., aka Jack Swagger, might be ruining his career on the independent circuit, although it's not altogether clear how much he cares. Hager appears to be concentrating on a new venture into mixed martial arts.
Hager was a two-sport athlete in college at the University of Oklahoma, where he was eventually scouted by Jim Ross to come to the WWE. He was a talented wrestler who eventually switched to the sport full-time in his senior year. His background in grappling is what helped him score him a contract with Bellator MMA. He is currently awaiting word on his first fight with the organization.
When Swagger left WWE earlier this year, fans were surprised he wasn't making much of an effort to get into NJPW, ROH, or other promotions. Turns out, pro wrestling is not where he wants to focus his efforts during his post-WWE career. Though, he is still taking on active indie bookings for lower level wrestling promotions alongside his wife who plays the role of his manager.
15 Juice Robinson - Succeeding
The sports entertainer formerly known as CJ Parker is now in NJPW and known by the name of Juice Robinson. The 28-year-old was in NXT from 2012 to 2015 but would request his release from the promotion in order to take his career to Japan. Robinson wanted to resurface his value that seemed to have eluded him during his NXT stint. It seems to be working out just find for Juice as a major babyface in New Japan, even defeating Kenny Omega at one point.
After being saddled with a terrible gimmick in NXT, Robinson got over huge with the Japanese crowd and quickly rose above young lion status. In particular, female fans in the country have really taken a liking to him. If he chooses to, Robinson could find himself back in WWE some day and most likely with a different gimmick than he had previously.
14 Adam Rose - Ruining
We were told the "Adam Rose Express" was a nonstop party that would never end. Well, it ended after the performer behind the character was charged with domestic assault in 2016. WWE has a strict zero-tolerance policy when it comes to such charges.
Rose was on suspension from the promotion for failing a Wellness Policy test when a domestic dispute at home resulted in the police charging him. WWE released him afterward.
Rose then decided to make things even worse for himself while on the independent circuit. Somehow, he thought it would be a good idea to print up his mug shot and put it on a T-shirt to sell to fans. There was a public backlash against him for this as it was seen as attempting to profit from a domestic assault charge. It appears as though his indie career is slowly coming to an end as he plans on transitioning out of the business.
13 Matt Sydal - Succeeding
Matthew Joseph Korklan performed as Evan Bourne in WWE but has been wrestling under the name Matt Sydal since leaving the company in 2014.
Sydal has become one of the hottest acts on the indies and wrestled for Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling. He was also in New Japan Pro Wrestling for awhile until a marijuana charge saw him spend some time in a Japanese prison. NJPW won't bring him back following such an incident.
He's spent the last three years in Ring of Honor having great matches and most recently made his return to Impact Wrestling as well. He's been a regular with PWG, which is not something you can do unless you are a top-tier technical wrestler. It's doubtful Sydal would want to go back to WWE considering how much respect he gets outside of the major company.
12 Hornswoggle - Ruining
The performer who was formally cast as Vince McMahon's illegitimate son, has been on the independent wrestling circuit since 2016. Needless to say, his career has not gone the way you would expect it to if he were actually a McMahon.
Now 31 years of age and wrestling by the name Swoggle, the former Hornswoggle has wrestled with Impact Wrestling but has failed to do much of interest since leaving WWE's larger spotlight. It seems as though WWE really wanted to push him but fan response wasn't what it needed to be. They put him in big storylines including as the Raw General Manager, a member of the newly formed DX, and he even won the Cruiserweight Championship. His final strike with the company would come after failing a Wellness Policy exam.
11 Trent Barreta - Succeeding
In 2010, a young Trent Barreta was one half of the tag-team, The Dude Busters in WWE. The team didn't fare very well. His teammate, Caylen Croft, was released from his contract 11 months after putting the team together, but Beretta would stay with the promotion all the way until 2013, mainly being used as enhancement talent. His non-WWE career has been much more successful.
Almost immediately, Baretta became a popular performer on the independent circuit. In particular, his performances in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla really increased his stock value as an indie talent. In 2015, his career took a further step when he began teaming with Rocky Romero in Roppongi Vice. The team went their separate ways last summer, leading to Baretta moving up to the heavyweight division. He was even given a title shot against Kenny Omega for the IWGP United States Championship among his most notable recent matches.
10 Virgil - Ruining
The former bodyguard for the "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase has not done himself any favors on the independent wrestling scene. Virgil's frequent appearances at conventions with no lineup to greet him have become something of a joke online. Full websites have been dedicated to Virgil looking lonely.
It seems Virgil has had a rather tumultuous relationship with convention promoters and autograph signing organizers in the past as well. According to Ted DiBiase, Virgil has a habit of calling conventions looking to get both himself and DiBiase booked. The only problem is that DiBiase had no idea this was happening. Then, just Virgil would show up at the convention and claim DiBiase couldn't make it. Thankfully, he has stopped pulling such antics.
9 Ethan Carter III - Succeeding
By the time you're reading this, Ethan Carter III could be back in WWE. His pending re-signing with the company is a testament to how well he has done since WWE gave up on him in 2013. EC3 was under contract for four years to WWE but during that time was never able to show them he was someone worth investing in. In the four years since his original stint in WWE ended, he has done nothing but show he can be a main event player in any promotion. That is exactly why WWE appears interested in bringing him back.
EC3 hit the indies soon after he was released in 2013 and was picked up by TNA Wrestling not long after that. Although being booked as a relative of Dixie Carter could have been a death gimmick, he pulled it off beautifully.
8 Carlito - Ruining
Carlito is a big star in Puerto Rico and is most likely earning a good living working for his father. It just seems as though he could have been a far bigger star had he returned to WWE at some point. He also could have improved his own drawing power if he had ever decided to take much of a chance on the independent circuit.
He has wrestled for Tommy Dreamer's House of Hardcore and a few other indies but for the most part, Carlito seems content to just be a draw in Puerto Rico. That might be great for fans in Puerto Rico but for the rest of us, it feels like we've missed out on what could've been a far greater career. Known as a lazy worker, Carlito hasn't done much to enhance his reputation since leaving the WWE.
Now at 38 years old, it doesn't seem as though Carlito is going to change his career trajectory anytime soon.
7 John Morrison - Succeeding
The sheer amount of names this wrestler goes by serves as evidence at how successful he has been. Hennigan only performed sparingly on the independent scene after he left WWE in 2012. His independent performances were limited to a few shows every once in awhile as he attempted to make inroads in Hollywood. Over the last couple of years, however, he has become one of the more sought after non-WWE performers there is.
After being cast in the unique Lucha Underground show in 2014, his wrestling career received a boost. It was as if every wrestling company not named WWE was made aware of how great this guy is. After Lucha Underground, he ended up turning into one of the top performers on the indies and has now signed a new deal with Impact Wrestling. He's also engaged to Taya Valkyrie, which doesn't hurt anything either.
6 Austin Aries - Ruining
Matches and shows like last night’s are why I still love what I do. TV wrestling is great, but going out to the ring unencumbered, and able to create something organically that the fans can feel, believe, and be emotionally invested in is the magic of what we do. And being able to work together to create special and unique moments is only a positive for this business. I’d like to thank everyone who helped allow for this moment, including @wwe and @tripleh. One month in and 2018 has already been an amazing year for me professionally, and I really feel like the best is yet to come. #motivationmonday #grateful #prowrestling #destiny #wwe #impactwrestling #vgang
Austin Aries used to be one of the top talents on the independent wrestling scene. That was before he went to WWE however. Since his rather uneventful run with the company in 2016 and 2017, he has done little to show fans he's the same guy he was before.
There have also been a few instances of Aries coming off as a little arrogant. He cut a promo at Tommy Dreamer's House of Hardcore show on Twitch which came off as him sounding like he feels he is the absolute best wrestler in the world. Not that Aries isn't a great wrestler but he came off as quite arrogant and fans started to boo him. It seems as though his heart is still with the WWE and that's not helping his indie run.
Thankfully, he recently put on a tremendous match with Pete Dunne, though again, he thanked the WWE right after the match via his social media account.
5 Rey Mysterio - Succeeding
Rey Mysterio has done well for himself since leaving WWE in 2015. He wrestled in Mexico, Lucha Underground, and various independents across North America.
Mysterio had always said he wanted to finish his career in Mexico but there are signs he might have changed his mind about that. Rumors are he has been negotiating with Impact Wrestling on a major deal and a very lucrative one in terms of money.
The other possibility is that Mysterio ends up back in WWE. It's no secret the company has been searching for someone to reach that Lucha Libre audience in a way only Eddie Guerrero and Rey have managed to do previously. He would also boost the Cruiserweight division immensely.
4 Low-Ki - Ruining
Nobody seems to like Low-Ki. The 38-year-old is black-listed from New Japan Pro Wrestling for refusing to travel to certain cities. The company also wasn't impressed he insisted on wrestling in a full suit at one point.
Others have suggested that Low-Ki is unprofessional to work with. Kassius Ohno recently expressed such sentiment on Twitter. At the moment he doesn't appear to be wrestling for any of the top independent promotions in the United States.
At one time he was largely considered one of the top independent wrestlers in the world. He also helped pioneer the X-division in TNA Wrestling along with A.J. Styles and Jerry Lynn. Now, however, his reputation proceeds him a little and as a result, we don't get to see him in any major spotlight independently.
3 Sami Callihan - Succeeding
Sami Callihan was signed to WWE from 2012 to 2015. He got some television time in NXT while playing the role of a hacker gimmick but it seemed the writing was on the wall for him there. He was released in 2015 but many believe leaving the company is the best thing that could've happened to his career.
Since 2015, Callihan has wrestled for CZW, Progress, Lucha Underground, and most recently in New Japan Pro Wrestling. He teamed with Juice Robinson in the World Tag League and both wrestlers were over with live crowds. In all likelihood, Callihan is someone the promotion would like to have back.
Callihan also wrestled briefly in Impact Wrestling. His new found relationship with NJPW could lead to a return to Ring of Honor for him as well.
2 Alberto El Patron - Ruining
There is no active wrestler who has ruined their career more than Alberto El Patron in recent years.
Following his departure from WWE in 2016, Alberto has ruined his public image due to his frequent public spats with his ex-girlfriend, Paige. The public reacted poorly to the 40-year-old Alberto seemingly introducing the 25-year-old former Divas Champion to a life of illicit drug use. Things really came to ahead at an Orlando area airport where a dispute between the two required police intervention. During the argument, Alberto spoke to Paige and others in a very offensive manner.
Along with the troubled relationship, Del Rio also took numerous shots at the WWE (Triple H in particular), though he recently apologized for his words claiming he was brainwashed by Paige's family....
1 Cody - Succeeding
Even if Cody isn't your favorite performer, you have to admit he is done very well for himself outside of WWE.
Cody's success or failure will be determined, however, at his "All-In" event this coming September. Cody, along with his cohorts in the Bullet Club are planning to run an event in a 10,000 seat arena. It will be Cody's first time running an independent wrestling event and he is aiming to throw the biggest non-WWE show in quite awhile. He's an ambitious guy, you have to hand it to him there.
Cody has a chip on his shoulder and wants to create a non-WWE alternative that he can be a focal point of. He's thrived since leaving at it'll be interesting to see what he can do in the future.
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