The WWE is usually described as the pinnacle of a wrestler's career. Once they reach the WWE, their careers aren't supposed to get much better. Yet oftentimes, the WWE screws up with its talent, and these frustrated talents go on to achieve things that the WWE would never let them do. Like all other businesses, the WWE has many plans for its talent, yet there are plenty of times when fans think that certain talent is only being held back by the WWE.
While many on the WWE roster are independent contractors, it's hard for many talents to pursue engagements outside of the WWE. If these engagements bring additional attention to the WWE brand (such as the E! Network's Total Divas, for example), the company may more likely let talent pursue those opportunities. Other times, WWE talents have been fired for pursuing outside endeavors and find happiness in areas outside of the WWE, whether it is inside or outside of wrestling.
Yet not all wrestlers leave WWE and find happiness. Some have destroyed their lives after their WWE careers wrapped up, even when they once had it all. Some wrestlers have gone from having million-dollar salaries to having their reputations ruined for their post-WWE behavior. Many wrestlers struggle to pursue any kind of career after wrestling, but not many wrestlers truly hit desperation and a rock-bottom lifestyle. In the worst cases, wrestlers are given a Rock Bottom that The Rock couldn't even top.
Here are 10 wrestlers who truly thrived after leaving the company, and 10 others who really just fell off.
20 THRIVED: Matt Sydal
Matt Sydal's WWE run was nowhere near as memorable as it could have been. Wrestling as Evan Bourne, many felt that Sydal could have been the WWE's next biggest star. He didn't spend much time in developmental and was almost immediately promoted to the WWE's main roster. After holding the company's Tag Team Championship with Kofi Kingston, bad luck would hit him. He would receive two suspensions from the company for violating its Wellness Policy and be injured in a car accident in 2012. Sydal wasn't featured on television for more than two years before being released from his contract in 2014.
But Sydal has found success again on the indies. He is currently wrestling as Matt Sydal again in Impact Wrestling/Global Force Wrestling, where he made a name for himself earlier in his career. Last year, however, he had a five-star match as ranked by Dave Meltzer, something he never accomplished in WWE.
19 ROCK BOTTOM: Sable
In the Attitude Era, no female was nearly as relevant as Sable. Her crowd reactions were louder than anyone else's on the roster except for Stone Cold Steve Austin's. When she left the WWE in 1999 after alleging unsafe working conditions and sexual misconduct, many felt that she would continue to be a star outside of the company. Although she made many guest appearances on television and posed for Playboy for a second time, her star dimmed out within less than a year after her initial departure. Sable didn't hit rock bottom like many other wrestlers. She wasn't known to be a drug user or to be irresponsible with her money. However, Sable has said in interviews that she's a very family-orientated person, and that may be where her priorities lie.
So, in this case, Sable's fame running out isn't necessarily the result of a bad thing. But we can't say that for everyone else, here.
18 THRIVED: Maria Kanellis
When Maria was let go from the WWE in 2010, she was known as one of the company's two most popular Divas alongside Mickie James. When she wanted to pursue a music career on the side, the WWE wasn't necessarily thrilled. Despite being in a television program with Matt Hardy at the time, the company decided to let her go. While Maria would make an occasional indie wrestling appearance, her wrestling career seemed to be non-existent until she made her Ring of Honor debut with Mike Bennett. Portraying a heel for the first time in her wrestling career, Maria became an indie starlet that she never got to become in the WWE. She also improved significantly inside the ring, despite not wrestling nearly as often. While most Diva Search contestants leave the business after leaving the WWE, Maria chose to stay around and truly find herself as a performer.
17 ROCK BOTTOM: Perry Saturn
Perry Saturn was respected by many for his wrestling abilities in WCW. However, when he came to WWE, he wasn't taken nearly as seriously as a performer. Case in point: his most memorable run for the largest wrestling company in the world was when he was best friends with a mop named Moppy. It was cringeworthy to watch such an acclaimed performer be reduced to a terrible parody act. After leaving the WWE, Saturn would struggle with drug use. At one point, he was homeless.
While he's regained some stability in his life, he is currently dealing with a serious brain injury that doesn't allow him to work. A GoFundMe campaign was launched to help the 90s wrestler pay for his medical bills, but it hasn't reached 40 percent of its goal.
16 THRIVED: EC3
It's weird thinking that Ethan Carter III was in the WWE at one point. Often seen on WWE's NXT Redemption, it often felt like EC3, wrestling as Derrick Bateman, was just there. Despite being paired with Daniel Bryan on the fourth season of the show. EC3 didn't connect with the crowd the way that he does now. Obviously, EC3 is not just wrestling for Global Force Wrestling, but he is also a two-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion.
He's also been ranked as the 20th greatest singles wrestler in the entire world by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Had EC3 stayed in the WWE, he probably wouldn't have been able to showcase his talents like he has been able to elsewhere. So in this case, it's a huge success story, post WWE.
15 ROCK BOTTOM: Virgil
Most wrestling fans have likely seen a meme on Facebook with Virgil at conventions, but with no fans wanting his signature. Virgil's character, the infamous body guard to The Million Dollar Man, Ted Dibiase, is one of the worst characters in the history of the WWE, and after being released, he went to WCW. Eventually, Virgil realized that wrestling wasn't right for him, left the business and became a math teacher. But he would most notably hit his lowest of lows in 2015, when he made a GoFundMe campaign to make himself a millionaire. The campaign has been around for more than two years, and Virgil has yet to make $2,000. Seriously. What on Earth got inside this man's mind, we may never know.
14 THRIVED: Taryn Terrell
The WWE has brought in plenty of Diva Search contestants over the years, but very few took on to wrestling as quickly as Taryn Terrell. The Internet Wrestling Community felt that Terrell, wrestling as Tiffany in the WWE, had everything the WWE wanted in a future star. She was a natural athlete, she had a fantastic look and she knew how to connect with fans. After being suspended by the company due to an alleged fight with her husband at the time (Drew McIntyre), she never returned to television and was released.
A couple of years later, she made her debut for Impact Wrestling as the referee for its Knockouts division. She would later go on to become Knockouts Champion herself and have a classic feud with Gail Kim that produced some of the best matches in the division's history.
13 ROCK BOTTOM: Nicole Bass
After a short stint in ECW, Nicole Bass made her WWE debut in 1999 during WrestleMania XV as Sable's bodyguard. Bass had the look and natural stage presence to have a feud with Chyna, who was becoming the WWE's most popular female alongside Sable. However, this feud would never come to fruition, and she would only be with the WWE for a matter of months. After her time with the WWE came to a close, she would face a wide range of health issues that stemmed from her steroid use.
For someone that initially became famous due to her time on The Howard Stern Show, not many opportunities came to her after her career ended. Sadly, Bass passed away earlier this year at the age of 52.
12 THRIVED: Cody Rhodes
Although he cannot use the Rhodes name outside of the WWE, Cody has nonetheless turned his career around since leaving the organization. Stuck in the Stardust gimmick, it was obvious that creative had Cody stuck in the brother of his older brother, Goldust. Cody was frustrated with where his career was heading and wanted to find success on his own. Needless to say, he has become one of the hottest stars on the independent circuit today and is the current Ring of Honor Heavyweight Champion. People in the WWE have most definitely taken notice of what the company has lost, most notably Daniel Bryan. Bryan stated that next year, Rhodes may need to watch out for a potential challenger for the title. Oh, how interesting that would be...
11 ROCK BOTTOM: Alberto Del Rio
Sure, Alberto Del Rio's return to the WWE wasn't the most exciting thing ever, and he's finding success on the independent scene. Good for him. However, what's not good for him is the amount of negative press he has received over the past year in regards to his relationship with Paige. Recently, a leaked phone call documenting an altercation between Paige and Del Rio showed Paige implying that she wanted to get away from him. Del Rio wasn't arrested, but he was investigated by police for a domestic abuse incident and suspended by Global Force Wrestling as a result, despite being the company's champion.
Paige could also be facing battery charges stemming from the incident.
Del Rio has also recorded multiple livestreams where he bashes the company with Paige visibly uncomfortable. It's only a matter of time before his starpower really heads down.
10 THRIVED: Gail Kim
Often regarded as one of the best women's wrestlers of all time, Gail Kim never received the respect that she deserved during her WWE tenure. This is ironic, because when she made her debut in 2003, she won the Women's Championship on her first night. She would be criminally misused before being released in 2004. She would show up in TNA the following year and prove to be a catalyst for the company to start its Knockouts Division. She led the division, became its first champion in 2007 and helped revolutionize women's wrestling with her feud against Awesome Kong. The feud, which often drew the highest ratings on any TNA program at the time, is cited by many as the feud which made many fans take women's wrestling seriously in the western world. This was almost 10 years before the so-called Divas Revolution, mind you.
It's a shame that Gail, who returned to WWE in 2009, was treated in a similar way when she returned to the company for a tw0-year period. She would return back to Impact, where she would continue to break barriers for women's wrestling.
9 ROCK BOTTOM: Sunny
While Sunny is also considered to be a pioneer for women in professional wrestling, her career didn't bloom after her WWE run. Once the most downloaded women on the Internet, Sunny may now be the most infamous. She's struggled with addiction at multiple points of her life, and the WWE has helped pay for her rehabilitation multiple times, too. They did say that they would no longer pay for her treatment, although Sunny has said they still do. She's been arrested numerous times in week-long periods. Recently, she fell on her head, busting it open and had to go to the emergency room under emergency circumstances. Sunny Days are clearly not in the near future for the first Diva of WWE.
8 THRIVED: Drew McIntyre
Drew McIntyre had a bright future ahead of himself during his first time in WWE, where he once won the Intercontinental Championship. However, something went wrong with booking his character, and he was booked in 3MB alongside Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal. McIntyre and Mahal would be released around the same time, and both went to the independent scene.
McIntyre would sign with Impact Wrestling and win the company's World Championship. After a two-year stint with the company, McIntyre was respected as one of the best in the business. WWE would also take notice, and he would return to the company, becoming one of the main faces of its NXT brand. Hopefully when he's called up to the main roster, he's not lost in the shuffle again.
7 ROCK BOTTOM: Dynamite Kid
One of the most influential in-ring performers of all-time, Dynamite Kid's career was tragically cut short due to an injury. His health issues would continue for a long period of time following his in-ring career. He lost the use of his left leg and moves around through a wheelchair. He also suffers from heart problems and was listed as a plaintiff in class action lawsuit brought against WWE regarding concussion-related injuries. The most heartbreaking part about Dynamite Kid's situation is that he cannot take care of himself. His wife tends to all of his needs. While it's a kind gesture on her part, it is sad to see anyone, especially someone who contributed so much to wrestling, struggle so much after sacrificing their body for what they love.
6 THRIVED: AJ Lee
When AJ Lee left the WWE in 2015, many felt they wouldn't see her in the public eye again. Leaving the business after a series of injuries, AJ Lee decided to focus her efforts on advocacy work and writing her memoir. Her memoir, Crazy Is My Superpower, described various topics of her life in the most candid of ways, most notably her mental health. Not only as AJ Lee been able to create discussions on important issues, but she has also been able to remain relevant and maintain a continuously growing brand years after her wrestling time is up. Her book also became a New York Times Bestseller, proving that she doesn't need the wrestling ring (or the WWE) for people to remember her name.
5 ROCK BOTTOM: Kamala
Kamala's time in the WWE wasn't terrible, unlike his gimmick. Nonetheless, he was still memorable and many fans can identify who he is by his look alone. After leaving the WWE, he would occasionally work independent dates while driving trucks to get by. In recent years, his health would take a turn for the worse.
By 2012, he had lost both of his legs due to complications from diabetes. Multiple campaigns have been launched to help Kamala pay for his medical bills. Kamala's income comes from disability payments these days, a large difference from what he was likely making as a WWE Superstar. Unlike some on this list whose choices caused their downfall, Kamala has simply been a victim of poor health. We certainly wish him the best.
4 THRIVED: Steve Austin
At Steve Austin's peak, he was a cultural phenomenon. While some faces of professional wrestling have come and gone from the public eye, Steve Austin has always made sure to stay relevant in some way. Perhaps his occasional WWE appearances help with that, but he's also made appearances in many movies and television shows over the years.
Austin has also served as a host for multiple reality television shows both inside and outside the WWE, including Tough Enough, Redneck Island and Steve Austin's Broken Skull Challenge. More than 10 years after ending his in-ring career, it's hard to deny that Steve Austin has stayed relevant. Fans still hold his opinion in high regard and he has managed to keep his fans entertained, despite making very few appearances with WWE.
3 ROCK BOTTOM: Jake Roberts
Jake Roberts was recently inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and has surely turned his life around since moving in with Diamond Dallas Page. However, after his time with WWE ended in the late 1990s, his battle with drugs and alcohol only escalated in severity. He also gained an increased amount of weight while struggling with addiction, struggling to do many basic tasks without running short of breath. Luckily, DDP and his yoga program helped him return his life around and place him in good faith with many in the business, including the WWE.
While Roberts may have successfully conquered addiction right now, there were times where many were wondering if Roberts would make it out the next day alive. We're happy The Snake is alive and well.
2 THRIVED: The Rock
One of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, it's impossible to deny that The Rock has become a Hollywood icon since leaving the company. The Rock can easily make eight figures per film while making occasional wrestling appearances on the side, and he has made appearances in billion-dollar grossing films. His personal life has also been relatively clean of scandals while he has amassed his brand.
In 2016, Time Magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. The Rock has even contemplated the idea of running for president and if there's any former wrestler in the world who could do it, it's him.
While plenty of wrestlers have attempted to make the jump to acting from wrestling, no one has been able to do it as successfully as The Rock.
1 ROCK BOTTOM: Hulk Hogan
Oh, brother. This is a sad tale. Hulk Hogan was appearing on WWE programming for years after his last match with the company. However, once a series of racist statements that he made leaked, he was let go from the company, despite serving as a judge on WWE Tough Enough at the time. Hogan's name hasn't popped much inside or outside of wrestling since, except for in a Gawker lawsuit.
While Hogan won the lawsuit, it's hard to admit that his career isn't forever tarnished due to the leak. In this day and age, does anyone want to work with someone who says racial slurs, regardless of whether or not they apologize? Not really. While WWE may welcome Hogan back eventually, Hogan's definitely hit some low points in recent years.