The WWE may offer the largest stage and platform in the world for professional wrestlers to perform on, but that certainly doesn't mean it's the best option for all wrestlers. WWE may have been the be-all and end-all of Sports Entertainment once upon a time, but the Indies have never been more bustling. Many misused, under-utilized or simply unhappy former WWE wrestlers have been making names for themselves and thriving outside the company on the Indies. Performers like CJ Parker, Cody Rhodes, John Morrison, and Trent Barreta among many others. As you can clearly tell by viewing those names, none of them have been gone from WWE for too long a time. The same story cannot be said for former WWE wrestlers from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s.
Many of those wrestlers cannot even fill a room anymore, let alone a stadium full of eager fans. Usually, guys have to make their mark on the Indies rather quickly after departing WWE while they still have some name value left. Otherwise they often fall into complete irrelevancy performing at small Indie venues or 'bingo halls'. However, not all ex-WWE stars are able to continue their momentum on the Indies, as many recently released WWE Superstars such as Adam Rose, Ryback, Damien Sandow and Jack Swagger have all failed to stay relevant, and they are all wrestling smaller shows with half empty crowds. Today, we'll be looking at 8 former WWE wrestlers still filling stadiums, and 8 who can't even fill a room. The sad reality is that they have no drawing power left.
16 Filling Stadiums: John Morrison
John Morrison played an integral part in the WWE's mid-card scene during much of the Ruthless Aggression Era. Morrison had the look, the talent, and the connection with the WWE Universe which definitely made him a standout performer. Although John Morrison had a pretty successful career in WWE before leaving on his own terms in 2011, Vince McMahon never fully pulled the trigger on Morrison, as he could've easily been a main event star.
Since leaving WWE, John Morrison has been very successful elsewhere in Lucha Underground, AAA, Impact Wrestling and of course, on the Indies.
John's undoubtedly one of the top Independent wrestlers in the world today, and he has no problem filling stadiums across the globe. Apparently, Vince had wanted to bring back Morrison to WWE a while back, but I'd argue it's safe to say McMahon has missed the boat on John.
15 Can't Fill A Room: The Rock 'N' Roll Express
The Rock 'n' Roll Express (Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton) seem to think that they're an 'express' train that will keep on going forever. Despite being well beyond their peaks at 59 and 61 years old respectively, The Rock 'n' Roll Express continue to wrestle the Indies on a regular basis. The WWE may have inducted the once talented duo into their Hall Of Fame, but that hasn't slowed Gibson and Morton down in the slightest, as they've recently won the Viral Pro Wrestling Tag Team Championships.
If you have no idea what promotion I'm referring to, then you would be like most of us. Long over are the days of The Rock 'n' Roll Express performing centre stage for promotions like WWE and WCW, they instead wrestle at small Indie venues with half empty crowds - or as some like to say, in bingo halls or gymnasiums.
14 Filling Stadiums: CM Punk
As much as we can laugh at CM Punk for being a complete joke in the UFC, we cannot argue that Punk is still a big draw who has no problem selling out stadiums. CM Punk has been gone from the WWE since the beginning of 2014, and while other wrestlers such as Ryback, Wade Barrett and Jack Swagger have completely fallen off the map since departing WWE, Punk still feels as relevant as he did four years ago.
With the loss to Mickey Gall in CM Punk's rear-view mirror, he's now looking forward to his next challenge in the octagon.
Some rumours suggest a Punk versus Floyd Mayweather UFC bout could potentially happen in the future, and if so, that will bring CM Punk even more relevance and a huge paycheque to boot - even if he loses. Regardless, Punk's going to continue to draw in fans whenever he competes inside the octagon.
13 Can't Fill A Room: Scott Steiner
Although Scott Steiner mainly performs in half-empty Indie shows, Scott still manages to pull in a handsome salary each year for his countless small time appearances. Scott Steiner definitely ranks among the biggest flops in WWE history. His run with the company was extremely short-lived thus pushing him pretty well completely out of the spotlight. Yes, Steiner's had a few stints with Impact Wrestling, but for the most part, he's been grinding on the Indies.
Scott's definitely not the star he used to be, and fans often notice the venues Steiner performs in are far from being 'packed'.
It's clear wrestling's the only thing Scott knows how to do hence why he's still wrestling full-time at 55 years old, unlike his brother Ric who got into real estate a number of years back to preserve his health.
12 Filling Stadiums: Evan Bourne
Evan Bourne was one of the most exciting performers the WWE had to offer during the mid 2010s, and his acrobatic high flying style definitely got him over with fans. Unfortunately, the WWE Universe would have to say goodbye to Evan in 2014, as Bourne was shockingly released from his contract after being absent from television for a period of time.
Bourne's release was a blessing in disguise, as he's went on to succeed tremendously elsewhere - and yes, he's still filling stadiums. Evan Bourne now goes by the ring name Matt Sydal, and he's been successful on the Indies, in ROH, NJPW, and in Impact Wrestling where he's currently the X Division Champion. Evan has certainly proven that the WWE made the wrong call by releasing him, as he's without question a top Independent talent now.
11 Can't Fill A Room: Paul Orndorff
For those of you who've since forgotten, 'Mr Wonderful' Paul Orndorff is a former WWE wrestler remembered for feuding with many all-time greats throughout the 80s including Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper. The Hall Of Famer's been out of the spotlight for years now, but that hasn't stopped the 68 year old from continuing to wrestle despite his age and waning star power.
Showcased above is a photograph of Orndorff wrestling a match in May of last year in Manitoba, Canada. Although Orndorff was victorious in this match, it was definitely a sad sight to say the least. The room Paul was wrestling in was small enough, but the utter lack of fans in the audience truly tells the story. Paul Orndorff hasn't been wrestling consistently since the late 90s, and it's clear his fanbase has dwindled throughout the past 20 years hence why he's unable to even fill a room.
10 Filling Stadiums: The Great Khali
The Great Khali undoubtedly ranks among the three worst WWE World Champions of all time. That hasn't stopped The Punjabi Powerhouse from finding success outside the WWE once he was released in 2014. Perhaps American fans found little interesting about Khali aside from his size and height, but he was without question a huge Superstar in India. Some refer to The Great Khali as being India's Hulk Hogan.
When Khali departed WWE, he couldn't have been any lower on the food chain and most of his credibility was completely gone.
However since leaving, The Great Khali's continued to wrestle back home in India, and he has absolutely no trouble filling stadiums up to the brim. Great Khali is still very much a huge star in India, and aside from wrestling occasionally in front of thousands, Khali now runs his own wrestling school called CWE.
9 Can't Fill A Room: Brandi Rhodes
Brandi Rhodes has had a tough time trying to make it in the wrestling business outside WWE. She felt as though she was being held back in the WWE like Cody was, but I think Brandi's had a bit of a harsh realization that it's not quite as easy to be successful on the Indies as she may have thought.
Brandi appeared a few times in ROH, but for the most part, she's regularly performing at small Indie venues in front of small crowds.
Considering Brandi's still got a long way to go in the ring, it only makes sense that she's not drawing in many fans at this point. I doubt Brandi's ever going to take the Independent wrestling scene by storm, and she's probably already peaked. Brandi Rhodes recently joining a new television series titled 'WAGS Atlanta' reflects that she's feeling the same way.
8 Filling Stadiums: Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio proved with his recent one-off Royal Rumble appearance that he's still a huge draw - the views for his return on YouTube has generated well over 13 million hits. Rey may have left WWE in a pretty irrelevant spot, but Mysterio's made sure that he's found success outside the company. Since departing WWE in 2015, Rey's succeeded in AAA, Lucha Underground and on the Independent scene - he's also got himself into the best shape of his entire career.
Mysterio is still one of pro-wrestling's biggest draws, and he continues to fill stadiums across the globe. Many speculate Rey Mysterio will be signing a WWE deal in the near future, and this would be a huge prospect for the company if the rumours happen to be true. Yes, Rey may be 43 years old, but he's proven that he's got a lot left in the tank.
7 Can't Fill A Room: Gangrel
Gangrel is remembered by wrestling fans for portraying the leader of The Brood stable during the Attitude Era. Although Gangrel wasn't the greatest in-ring talent, he was still a pretty intriguing character. That's why he stuck around for three years in WWE despite being a low mid-card act.
It's not arguable that Gangrel has been out of the spotlight for years now, as he's been quietly wrestling the Indies since his WWE release in 2001.
However with each passing year, Gangrel seems to become more irrelevant in the business, and he's continuously performing at smaller and smaller Indie shows - sometimes in front of just a handful of people in gymnasiums or bingo halls. Gangrel proves that being a former 'WWE Superstar' can only take you so far outside the company.
6 Filling Stadiums: Alberto Del Rio
As much as fans can hate on Alberto Del Rio for being a controversial ex-WWE star, at the same time, they simply cannot deny the fact that he's continued to be successful outside the biggest company in Sports Entertainment. Del Rio's unquestionably one of the top Independent wrestling talents in the world right now, and he's currently enjoying a solid run with Impact Wrestling and on the Indies.
Alberto is definitely a talented wrestler, and his talent has proven to be enough to keep fans interested in Del Rio despite finding himself regularly mired in controversy. I think Alberto's split with Paige has been good for both performers, as most fans can agree that they were a toxic duo. It'll be interesting to see if Del Rio makes good on his word of returning to WWE in 2019 - we'll see if 'time heals all wounds' like Alberto claims.
5 Can't Fill A Room: Tito Santana
Tito Santana was arguably one of the best mid-card talents the WWE had to offer during the 80s, and he was certainly a solid Intercontinental Champion. However, Tito's peak in the wrestling business has long ended, but that hasn't slowed the WWE Hall Of Famer from continuing to wrestle part-time in small Indie promotions.
Showcased above is a recent photograph of Santana wrestling a match in front of an almost completely empty gymnasium - a sad sight.
That said, it's good to hear that Tito doesn't fully live off his wrestling appearances, as he's now a middle school Spanish teacher and basketball coach. Tito Santana should probably retire from wrestling now, as he's doing nothing but tarnishing his legacy at such small wrestling events.
4 Filling Stadiums: Chris Jericho
One of the least shocking entries on this list of a former WWE wrestler still filling stadiums is none other than Chris Jericho. Considering Jericho's been heavily involved with WWE over the past five years, he still has a lot of fans left who follow him religiously. Chris' now performing in NJPW, and though New Japan isn't as big of a promotion as WWE, it still offers a huge (and lively) crowd for Jericho to perform in front of.
Chris Jericho will be filling stadiums wherever he goes, as he's undoubtedly one of the best wrestlers in the world. He is talented between the ropes, great on the mic, and has an undeniable 'Superstar' presence. At this stage of his career, Jericho's doing what he feels is fun and interesting, and it's clear his interest in WWE has diminished over the past few years.
3 Can't Fill A Room: Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Hacksaw Jim Duggan definitely ranks among the most popular WWE mid-carders of all time. Throughout the years, whenever Jim Duggan has returned to the WWE, a loud pop from the fans ensues. However, like many of the WWE's 80s and 90s talents who remain unwilling to give up their profession, Jim Duggan continues to wrestle on a full-time basis on the Indies.
Although some fans have interest in seeing Duggan performing at his age, most would rather not witness Duggan tarnish his legacy at 64 years old.
Most of the crowds Jim performs in front of are half empty, and most event buildings are comparable to the size of a school classroom. I still don't understand why the WWE doesn't offer contracts to past Superstars like Jim Duggan as coaches for their Performance Center, as Jim has decades of experience that he could offer the next generation of talent.
2 Filling Stadiums: Cody Rhodes
Arguably the former WWE wrestler whose been the most successful outside the biggest stage of Sports Entertainment is Cody Rhodes. In WWE, Cody was being held back to the extreme with his Stardust gimmick, and its no wonder why he decided to leave the company when he did. He was reaching the peak years of his career and was doing nothing but ruining his fathers legacy.
Cody's since become a staple in NJPW, ROH and on the Independent wrestling scene, and he's undoubtedly one of the top wrestling talents not signed to WWE. It's an absolute shame how the WWE decided to utilize Cody towards the end of his run, as most fans can agree he could've easily been a top star had he been booked as such. However, Rhodes has since proven that he's certainly a top-tier star, and if he ever decides to return to WWE, expect to see Cody vying for the WWE or Universal Title.
1 Can't Fill A Room: Marty Jannetty
The career paths of The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Mary Jannetty) undoubtedly went in completely different directions. After spending years atop Sports Entertainment, Shawn Michaels is currently enjoying retirement from wrestling all while perusing an acting career in Hollywood and starring in his own outdoors television show, where as his former tag partner Marty Jannetty is still wrestling on the Indies barely scraping by.
Now it's clear Shawn was always going to be the star to come out of The Rockers, but few ever expected Jannetty to become such an afterthought in the business. After an unsuccessful singles run in WWE, Marty's been wrestling the Independent scene ever since without much success. Now a days, you'll often find Marty wrestling at small Indie venues (more like rooms) in front of dismal near-empty crowds.