Every sport has their main league or promotion that is considered the best of the best. In professional wrestling, it’s a little bit of a unique situation. For decades, wrestling in the United States was divided into territories until the World Wide Wrestling Federation decided to become a national promotion. It has since evolved into the sports-entertainment giant known best as World Wrestling Entertainment.
There have been rivals since then, with their biggest threat coming from World Championship Wrestling during the Monday Night Wars in the 1990s. Since then, it would look as if the WWE would be the king of professional wrestling and everyone would want to wrestle for them. However, the overall global landscape of the industry has changed with millions of fans watching promotions in other countries (i.e. New Japan Pro Wrestling) and many wrestlers being able to work for themselves through the independent circuit.
There have been recent reports regarding how a mixture of former employees and major stars on the independent circuit have rejected a variety of WWE contracts. Additionally, many of the top names in wrestling have turned down initial offers to work for WWE before making a big name for themselves that would eventually come to the sports entertainment giant.
Sometimes it’s a matter of feeling comfortable with the income outside of WWE. For others, it’s a matter of avoiding a deal that some have equated to selling one’s soul. Regardless of the reasons, here are the top 15 wrestlers who have turned down contracts to compete in WWE.
Montel Vontavious Porter was an interesting character that found success in WWE as someone who came in mocking the over-confident athlete. He was a pretty good heel on the mid-card level and having held the United States Championship and the WWE Tag Team Championship with Matt Hardy. Since his departure from the WWE in 2010, he found success in New Japan Pro Wrestling as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion.
The WWE was interested in signing the former WWE superstar after he was done working with TNA Wrestling and Lucha Underground. But MVP would decline the contract offer with reports claiming that the pay was a little lower than he probably would have liked. According to Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio, the WWE didn’t seem to want MVP that badly and wanted to acquire him only to help get younger superstars over. It’s hard to blame MVP if he feels he’s doing fine working independently from WWE.
14 Tommy Dreamer
Once considered the heart and soul of Extreme Championship Wrestling, Tommy Dreamer had a bit of a cult-following when he was competing on WWE television in the early 2000s. He held the WWE Hardcore Championship a few times and would usually compete on the lower-card up until the WWE gave him the ECW Championship on their ECW brand of television. Dreamer hasn’t been seen much by the WWE Universe in recent years as he has focused primarily on his House of Hardcore independent wrestling promotion, but the WWE wanted to bring him back on a full-time schedule.
Dreamer declined the option because doing so would mean having to shut down the House of Hardcore. He did comment recently that he would be open to the idea of doing a few shows here and there. Dreamer doesn’t seem to be all-in on the idea of working 200 or more shows per year, but there is still a possibility of a special event appearance once in a while.
Carlito is one of the only WWE superstars to defeat John Cena during their debut match on the WWE main roster (the other is Kevin Owens in 2015). Having come from a very talented Colon family from Puerto Rico, Carlito would begin his WWE career with a surprising win over Cena for the United States Championship back in 2004. For about six years, Carlito would find success as one of the best mid-card talents in the company that wasn’t quite able to break the glass ceiling into the main event picture before being released from the company in 2010.
However, the 37-year-old veteran was recently contacted by the WWE to make a return around this time last year. But Carlito would decline the option with the indication that he would have said yes if he felt he was being compensated fairly. Some fans are imaging him spitting apple in the face of WWE officials saying the offer wasn’t cool. Reports came out that the WWE was hoping to pair Carlito with his brother Primo and his cousin Epico after a failed run as Los Matadores.
The WWE looks to be seeking some new talents for the WWE’s new Cruiserweight Division that will be exclusive to the Raw brand. While they have a number of prospects who have participated in the inaugural Cruiserweight Classic tournament, the WWE might have their sights set on additional talents that include international superstar Angelico. Despite being scouted at an independent show and offered a contract behind the scenes, Angelico would decline the option and revealed his decision during a podcast late last year.
Obviously, Angelico would be a great addition as fans have seen what he can do on Lucha Underground. But the South African superstar is currently under contract with Lucha Underground and is a big draw for one of Mexico’s top promotions in Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion (AAA). While it seems to be a pass for now, there could be a chance down the road, but Angelico seems to be happy with his current employment situation.
11 Jack Evans
Not only was the WWE interested in bringing in Angelico, but the same reports were saying that Jack Evans was also being contacted. In fact, Angelico said in that 2015 podcast that the WWE was looking at possibly bringing him and Evans into the WWE as a tag team. Evans would also decline, likely because of the contractual obligations to Lucha Underground. But Evans is also one of those independent superstars who has made a living outside of WWE for such a long time.
Known for his acrobatic style that can make even some of the top cruiserweights of all time a little jealous, Evans has competed in Japan, Mexico and the United States through companies like Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerilla. Similar to the situation with Angelico, there is a chance Evans could always change his mind later and join the WWE sometime down the road. Time will tell.
10 Davey Richards
Ring of Honor has had a lot of great talents come from their promotion, including Davey Richards. While having formed a successful tag team with Eddie Edwards that is currently signed to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, Richards is likely someone that has attracted the attention of WWE scouts. In addition to the tag team being offered a tryout with WWE NXT back in 2013, Richards had previously been contacted by WWE back in 2009.
During a 2012 podcast with ROHCast, Richards commented that he rejected a contract with WWE because he didn’t want to go down to their development promotion at the time in Florida Championship Wrestling. Richards would explain that he didn’t feel it was right to take a roster spot down there if that isn’t where he wanted to be. He also said he was not a big fan of the road schedule the WWE had at the time.
9 Kenny Omega
New Japan Pro Wrestling has seen a huge rise in popularity over the past few years and despite the departure of stars like Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, there is still a pretty strong roster that includes current Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega. But the WWE also wanted to bring Omega to the company. The current IWGP Intercontinental Champion was reportedly offered a WWE contract not once, not twice, but three times in 2015.
A reporter for Enhuhito wrote that Omega declined the offers because he wanted a match with Kota Ibushi at the time. Omega remains in NJPW and will likely continue to be a rising star in the Land of the Rising Sun. At age 32, there’s always a chance that Omega could reconsider the offer in a few years. There is obviously some lingering interest with Omega and New Day member Xavier Woods having a social media feud of sorts that might be a hint that the two sides are still in touch.
8 The Young Bucks
It’s no secret that the Young Bucks might be one of the best tag teams in all of professional wrestling. They’ve won tag team gold in various promotions around the world, including Ring of Honor and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, on five separate occasions. There have been reports about the negative attitudes both Matt and Nick Jackson have shown during previous tryouts with WWE and TNA, which might explain their absence from those companies for a period of time.
But the WWE did invite the very popular tag team to come out for a tryout match back in 2014. While the two would have likely been a big boost to the WWE’s tag team division that was desperately needed, the brothers would politely decline. The reason is that they likely feel there is no need to work for WWE in an effort to make a good salary outside of WWE.
TNA has developed their share of superstars that never made the jump to the WWE. One of those names was Abyss, who one could say looked like a mashup of Kane and Mankind. But the one thing Abyss was able to do was be one of the toughest hardcore wrestlers that TNA had seen over the years. This included a barbed wire match with ECW veteran Sabu that was just one of many hardcore matches that wore his body down.
According to Abyss during a recent Reddit “Ask Me Anything” Q-and-A event, he explained that the WWE offered him a contract that would have included a match with the Undertaker in a WrestleMania match. While it would have been a lucrative opportunity for Abyss, he explained that he wanted to stay in TNA and remain loyal to the company in which he has been since the beginning of the promotion.
6 Scott Steiner
One of the former WCW World Heavyweight Champions didn’t quite have a successful run in the WWE in the early 2000s, but nonetheless, Scott Steiner is considered a legend in the industry, one that the WWE felt was worthy of a WWE legends contract. However, Big Poppa Pump apparently did not like the details of the legends contract that he claimed were pretty much illegal.
Steiner aired his rant against the contract in which he basically seemed mad about how the WWE let superstars like Rey Mysterio and CM Punk leave the company. Steiner’s opinion might not put a stop to fans buying WWE merchandise, but it did prevent him from being included as a special legendary character in any potential WWE video games. Steiner is not the only legend to turn down this type of contract with others rejecting the offer as well – including Bret Hart.
5 Nikita Koloff
Known during the 1980s as the “Russian Nightmare,” Nikita Koloff was an example of a traditional heel from the 1980s. Between his time spent with Jim Crockett’s WCW, the American Wrestling Association and Universal Wrestling Federations, Koloff would win the NWA National Heavyweight Championship, the U.S. Heavyweight Championship and various World Television Championships. Not a bad career for someone who was first scouted out of the United States Football League.
There was a time in the 1980s when Koloff was contacted by Vince McMahon and the WWE officials about headlining WrestleMania II against Hulk Hogan. It would have been a great feud that would have led to Koloff getting a big paycheck, but he admitted that loyalty and integrity to Jim Crockett at the time was more important than a large paycheck. After the rumored contract offer, Koloff would enjoy a memorable feud with Magnum T.A. that wrestling fans still reflect as being one of the best of the mid-1980s.
4 Chris Jericho
The Ayotollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla has been one of the biggest stars the WWE has had grace the roster since 1999, which included wins over The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin within the same night to become the first WWE Undisputed Champion. It might be a surprise to think that at one point, Jericho actually turned down an offer to work for the WWE back in 1996 – well before his time as the Cruiserweight Champion in WCW.
While taking questions on his popular podcast, Jericho explained that Jim Cornette called him him back in 1996 about the chance of being an enhancement talent that was given a gimmick. He declined the opportunity, which he later stated he thought might have led to him portraying the hockey-themed “Goon.” It turned out to be a smart move since he flourished in WCW as a standalone character, but he realized his true potential as Y2J when he made the jump during the Monday Night Wars.
3 AJ Styles
One of the biggest stars in TNA Wrestling history was possibly the most “phenomenal” professional wrestler of all time. AJ Styles and TNA were synonymous for more than 10 years until Styles felt that it was time for him to find new opportunities elsewhere around 2014, with many fans hoping this meant that the Phenomenal One was hopefully going to the WWE. But that debut didn’t happen right away as he chose to sign with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
During a 2014 interview with MLW Radio’s Talk’n Shop Podcast, Styles explained that he felt he made the right choice in going to Japan with the better promotion. He even said that the WWE was struggling with their network at the time. That did change in 2016 with his debut at the Royal Rumble, and fans are happy with the eventual outcome that included a WrestleMania match with Chris Jericho and a win over John Cena.
2 Kurt Angle
It might come as a surprise that Kurt Angle once said no to the WWE shortly after winning his Olympic gold medal in 1996, but it’s true, damn true. Before becoming one of the best performers in the WWE between 1999 and 2006, he was actually unsure about the transition from the amateur wrestling mat to the squared circle of professional wrestling. In fact, he and his manager essentially tore the contract offer to pieces with Angle making a move to sports broadcasting back in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA.
However, he would get an introduction to the world of wrestling with a one-time appearance in ECW in the fall of 1996 before he decided to give it a shot in the WWE a couple of years later. It turned out to be a good move, as he would essentially win every championship in WWE before doing the same thing in TNA Wrestling and other promotions.
There are certain superstars in professional wrestling that we always like to connect when we think about specific promotions. When fans think about WCW, Sting is usually either the first or second name on that list. The Icon spent several years after the closure of WCW with different promotions that weren’t run by the McMahons. While he finally said yes in 2014 with a surprise appearance at the Survivor Series main event, there were a number of times he declined working in WWE.
One of those instances came when he said no to making an appearance at WrestleMania XXVII. During an interview with the Daily Star in the United Kingdom, Sting explained that he rejected the offer for the same reason he has always had – he never trusted what would happen based on what happened to other former WCW superstars. Unfortunately, that’s sort of what happened when he had his WrestleMania debut in 2015 end with a loss to Triple H and then another loss to Seth Rollins a few months later in what turned out to be his last match, due to injuries.