If you are a pro wrestler, WWE is the mecca. It is the largest and most successful wrestling organization in the world. For wrestlers who wish to show the world their talents, and how good they are at their craft, there is no bigger stage than WWE.
With that being said however, WWE isn't always the best place for a wrestler to be in, as everything starts and stops with Vince McMahon. If he doesn't like, or doesn't like your character, you are finished, no matter how popular or talented you are.
From 2002 onwards however, the amount of non-WWE options for wrestlers has been slim. With both ECW and WCW folding, the options for wrestlers outside of Vince McMahon's empire were few and far between. TNA has been around, but at no point have they been as strong of a #2 promotion as WCW was. Ring of Honor has been around as well, but for the most part is still a feeder system to larger organizations.
As a result of the lack of options some wrestlers who have been released from their WWE contact have come to view it as the end of their wrestling career. After all, there is no way their careers could improve after leaving WWE, right?
Some wrestlers have improved their standing in the wrestling world after having left the WWE however, as difficult as that can be. Nowadays we are starting to see more options available internationally for wrestlers, which has even caused some WWE wrestlers to ask for their release.
In this article we take a look at 15 wrestlers who are particularly glad they left WWE when they did, as their career improved after leaving the WWE.
15 Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes doesn't regret letting go of "Stardust" and moving onto the indy scene, where he has been treated like wrestling royalty since he arrived.
The son of the son of a plumber, Cody has already wrestled in the Tokyo Dome for New Japan Pro Wrestling, at the Battle of Los Angeles for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and he's appeared for Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling.
Cody wanted to prove that he could be a top star, and not a mid-card comedy act, and it's fair to say he has shown that during his brief time on the independent scene. Now the question is whether his success will lead to an eventual WWE return. Did Cody just want to show Vince McMahon what he can do before eventually returning? Or does Cody want to create his legacy outside of WWE? Either way, he's off to a good start, and must be glad he decided to take the plunge.
14 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle will be going into the WWE Hall of Fame this year, 11 years after leaving the company. The 48-year old Angle left the WWE in 2006, citing amongst other reasons, a growing addiction to pain-killers. In interviews he has given since leaving the company, Angle has stated he began to grow addicted to painkillers due to a neck injury he sustained just months before the 1996 Olympics.
He sustained another neck injury in 2003, and his addiction to painkillers grew worse. Angle left WWE in 2006, and one of the reasons he cited was the gruelling schedule WWE wrestlers were required to work at the time. When Impact Wrestling was able to offer him a lighter schedule which would allow his body to heal, and allow him time to deal with his addiction, it was too good to pass up. Angle has credited Dixie Carter with saving his life.
Angle spent a decade in TNA, and was the focal point of the company for most of those years.
13 Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio has left WWE twice, and he is better off for having done so. The first time Del Rio was fired was after a backstage incident in which Del Rio allegedly slapped someone who worked backstage. Many have reported that someone backstage made a racially charged joke and Del Rio responded by slapping the joker in the face. WWE fired Del Rio as a result.
Del Rio then changed his name to "Alberto El Patron" and showed up in AAA Lucha Libre in Mexico, where he received a hero's welcome. He would also wrestle briefly in Ring of Honor. WWE brought him back however, and proceeded to pair him with Zeb Colter and then in the League of Nations. Del Rio then left the company again, and seemingly has taken Paige with him.
He recently signed with Impact Wrestling, where he is playing a major role with the company. Sure beats being in the League of Nations!
12 CJ Parker/Juice Robinson
You might remember 27-year old Juice Robinson as CJ Parker in NXT. He was the hippie with dreadlocks. In 2015, Robinson may have noticed he was saddled with a gimmick which was never going to go anywhere. He had became a mid-card comedy act in NXT, so he came to NXT head trainer with a request. NXT's head trainer just so happens to be Matt Bloom, who had a great run as Giant Bernard in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Robinson figured, if NXT can't find anything better for him to do then why not go to Japan? Bloom helped arrange for Parker to sign with New Japan Pro Wrestling to develop his skills.
In the fall of 2015, Robinson wrestled primarily in opening multi-person tag matches, but throughout 2016 rose to the status of mid-carder in the world's second largest wrestling organization. He even was 1/3 of the 6-man tag team champions. Just recently he advanced to the second round of the New Japan Cup, and has developed a bit of a cult following.
11 Dave Bautista
Dave Bautista left the WWE in 2010, in part because he wished to pursue a career in Hollywood. When comparing Bautista's success in Hollywood to The Rock's it doesn't quite measure up, but evaluated on its own merit he has done fairly well for himself.
While The Rock is often a main character in his movies, Bautista has made a career for himself in bit roles, usually in action movies. He made a big splash in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies however, with the sequel scheduled for release later in 2017. Bautista also has a role in the upcoming Blade Runner remake, and as "Drax the Destroyer" in the upcoming Avengers movies.
Bautista has carved out a niche for himself in Hollywood since he left WWE in 2010. It is doubtful he regrets his decision.
10 Rey Mysterio
42-year old Rey Mysterio Jr. began his wrestling career in 1989. The longevity of his career has done a number on his knees, and as such wrestling a full schedule is not something he is looking to do at this stage of his career.
While sidelined from action in 2014 it was rumoured that Mysterio wanted to be let out of his WWE contract so he could work a reduced schedule in Mexico. After some back and forth, Mysterio was finally allowed out of his contract in February of 2015. He immediately started with AAA Lucha Libre in Mexico, the same place he started his career.
Mysterio also signed with Lucha Underground, but not just with the wrestling promotion, Mysterio signed a "First Look" contract with the El Rey Network which the show airs on. The relationship with the network could lead to acting work for Rey once his in-ring career is over.
9 Drew Galloway
Mick Foley once mentioned in an interview that Drew Galloway asked him what he should do next after being released from WWE in 2014. At the time Galloway was still in his 20s, but had been saddled in the "3MB" group since 2012. After previously being an intercontinental champion, and someone Vince McMahon saw potential in, Galloway had seemingly hit the end of the line. He wasn't giving up however, which is why he asked Foley for advice.
He went back to wrestling on the independents in Europe, but with a more serious persona. He was eventually picked up by Impact Wrestling who liked what they saw. After a great stint with TNA, which included a world title run, Galloway left the company shortly after Anthem took over. He has gone back to Europe where he is one of the most sought after guys by local promoters.
8 Justin Credible
Peter Polaco, better known to wrestling fans as Justin Credible, requested his release from the WWE in 1997, just as the company was starting to heat up.
The problem was that Polaco had gotten saddled with a hopeless gimmick as Aldo Montoya (not to be confused with Montreal Canadiens backup goalie Al Montoya), the "Portuguese Man of War". Since he wasn't being booked often he asked for his release, but WWE would only grant it to him if he didn't go to work for WCW. Polaco went to ECW where his personality came out instantly in his new character of Justin Credible.
Credible would even win the ECW World Heavyweight Championship, and found himself back in the WWE, this time under the Justin Credible gimmick, in 2001.
Had he continued his WWE career from 1997 onwards, he may have never escaped being the Portuguese Man of War.
7 Ethan Carter III
It's hard to believe the WWE gave up on Ethan Carter III, but they did.
EC3 was part of the third and fifth seasons of NXT, when it was more reality show than developmental territory. Perhaps the reality show type feel to NXT at the time prevented EC3's natural charisma from coming out. His final match for WWE was a loss to Big E, who was NXT champion at the time. WWE released him in 2013.
He debuted in TNA and was immediately given the gimmick of being Dixie Carter's nephew, which is hopefully something that will be forgotten as time marches on.
He became a 2-time TNA World Champion and showed the wrestling community he was someone who could be inserted into the main event picture of any promotion. It looks as though he will continue to play a large role in the new Impact Wrestling moving forward.
6 CM Punk
It's been a rocky road for CM Punk these last couple of years, but there can be no doubt he is glad to be away from WWE. Punk has used the last couple of years as an opportunity to try new things, develop new skills and create a new life for himself outside the world of professional wrestling.
Punk signed a lucrative multi-fight contract with the UFC, despite not being any good whatsoever at MMA. Already in his late 30s, few have much hope for Punk to one day become a decent pro fighter, but he has a new passion and he's following it. He's also been a regular on "Talking Dead", a fan talk show about the Walking Dead, and he's gotten into writing comic books as well.
His UFC debut didn't go well. He lost to Mickey Gall in just over two minutes. All the same, he doesn't sound like he regrets his choice to leave WWE.
5 Matt Hardy
Matt Hardy began working as a jobber on WWE television in 1994. Now, some 23 years later, Matt Hardy is more popular than he ever has been.
While in TNA, Hardy began experimenting with the "Broken" Matt Hardy gimmick, which would later involve his whole family. Even Matt's real life father-in-law, Señor Benjamin, became a part of the act. Hardy managed to create a lot of buzz around his act, despite opinion of the promotion being quite low. Fans began chanting "Delete!" at Monday Night Raw. Even while TNA fizzled, the Broken family just became more popular.
Recently Matt and Jeff Hardy signed with Ring of Honor, where they are continuing their bizarre yet well-received storyline. While ROH provides a great place for the Hardy family to apply their trade, many still wish for an eventual WWE return for the Hardy Boys.
4 Scott Hall
When Scott Hall left WWE for WCW in 1996, he was almost 40 and looking to work what he thought would be his last contract as a pro wrestler. He has stated in interviews he would give later that he felt much like he was retiring, and wasn't taking WCW that seriously at the time.
Things started to blow-up for WCW soon after Hall arrived however. The buzz that the Outsiders was getting was unlike anything WCW had experienced up until that point, including when they signed Hulk Hogan. Hall signed a lucrative contract with the promotion, and went on to be a key force in arguably the biggest storyline in wrestling history at the time. As the nWo exploded, so did Scott Hall's net worth.
Hall would end up going back to WWE later in his career, and would be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
3 Kevin Nash
Much like Scott Hall, Kevin Nash doesn't regret leaving the WWE. After all, the big money contract he signed with WCW was by far the biggest of his career (and it would get bigger before he left).
Nash was pushed as the top guy in WWE in the early 90s. With Hogan gone, Vince McMahon wanted to create a new generation of stars, only Nash (then going by Diesel) didn't click with the fans as much as WWE would have hoped. His world title run is generally considered to have been a flop. On the flip side, his run in WCW in the late 90s is one of the most monumental in the history of wrestling.
Not only would Nash be one of the three founding nWo members, he would also become the leader of the nWo Wolpac in 1998, and be the first person ever to defeat Goldberg.
2 Brock Lesnar
Tired of the hectic travel schedule, Brock Lesnar left the WWE in 2004, just two years after having debuted on television. By the time he would return 8 years later he would have established himself as one of the top PPV draws in the world.
At first Lesnar pursued a career in professional football, even taking part in a Minnesota Vikings training camp and preseason games. In interviews he would give later, Lesnar felt he was just too far behind the other players however, having not played organized football in college or professionally as the other players had. He wrestled for a bit in New Japan Pro Wrestling before deciding to go into MMA.
Lesnar would win the UFC heavyweight championship in just his fourth pro fight, and third with the UFC. He would become one of the biggest stars in the history of the company. In 2012 when Lesnar returned, his star power allowed him to sign a lucrative WWE contract which allowed for a part-time schedule.
1 The Rock
When The Rock left the WWE for Hollywood hardly anybody, even wrestling fans, knew who Dwayne Johnson was. By the time he would return to the company for his WrestleMania main events with John Cena however, the name Dwayne Johnson was synonymous with Hollywood success.
The 44-year old Johnson was still in his mid-30s when he started spending more time in Hollywood in 2002 (he would begin focussing on acting full-time in 2004). At the time, The Rock said he felt like he had accomplished all there was to do in the world of wrestling, and it is hard to argue with that. The Rock had become arguably the biggest star of his era, had headlined WrestleMania multiple times, and his popularity had begun to transcend wrestling. It was time to do something new.
The Rock has been tremendously successful in Hollywood. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he was People magazine's 2016 "Sexiest Man Alive", and his movies continue to be very successful. He also gets to come back to wrestling whenever he feels like it. Hollywood was a good choice for The Rock.
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