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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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