Ever since the fall of WCW in the early 2000s, WWE has been the biggest and, for the most part, only game in town, and for that reason, they always have the biggest and best wrestling superstars from around the world. Unfortunately for these performers, sometimes the life long dream of working for WWE quickly turns into a nightmare,. Whether it be requesting your release or being let go, a lot of them move on from the company. However, their post-WWE life couldn’t be more different.
Some performers go on to success in other areas of entertainment, some go on to have fantastic careers on the indies wrestling for the likes of New Japan, Ring of Honor or others, and some fall off the map completely, and today we are here to analyze these differences.
So sit back and read along as we look at 10 wrestlers who have been released from WWE since 2010 and failed outside of the company, and 10 who have gone on to success in one way or another.
20 Succeeded – Tenille Dashwood
A lot is being made of the Women’s Evolution in WWE, and arguments are being made for who started that. However, you can’t go past the amazing duo of Paige and Emma, who started the Women's Evolution down in NXT. Unfortunately, the bookers on RAW and SmackDown didn’t think as highly of Emma, and despite her character reinvention and great promise, she was released surprisingly in 2017. Since that point, she’s switched to using her real name, having gone on to wrestle in several great promotions, as well as being a key member of the Women of Honor Division in ROH. It’s clear that she’s got a great future ahead of her now that she’s being valued.
19 Failed – Darren Young
Darren Young had quite a long and successful career with WWE, and even if he never rose to the main event level, he won several championships along the way. He was quietly released a few years ago, and despite his obvious talent and name recognition, he never made it with a big company outside of WWE. However, he has remained active in the wrestling business. He’s wrestled for Chikara and other smaller promotions, and he’s no doubt still a good hand. However, Fred Rosser (his real name) just isn’t a main event level wrestler that you’ll be hearing much about in the future.
18 Succeeded – Neville
Neville was a fast-rising star in WWE, and it was clear that he could have been a key member of RAW or SmackDown,. However, after being forced into the Cruiserweight Division, he left the company. That came as a result of being asked to lose to Enzo Amore, and although he’s only been back on the independent scene a number of weeks under his old ring name of PAC, it’s clear that he’s going to be the megastar he should have been in WWE. Just recently, a match was announced for Rev Pro with Will Ospreay, and it sold out the show almost immediately. As he begins to work for more promotions in a high profile nature, he’s going to become the most valuable commodity on the indies.
17 Failed – Eva Marie
Eva Marie was a perfect example of WWE still choosing some women based on their looks, rather than their talent, but the finally realized that Marie isn’t the star they wanted, as they released her in 2017. Most performers would choose to stay in the business in some capacity, but Marie had no talent and seemingly no interest in wrestling, and it looks like she’s gone away from the business completely. Sure, she’s made enough money from WWE to not see this as a necessity any longer, but still, for someone pushed so hard by WWE, you would have expected her to take advantage of her name.
16 Succeeded – Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett should have been a big star in WWE, as the former Nexus leader had everything it takes to be a main event heel in the company. Instead, they chose their old stars over breeding a new superstar. He struggled for years after that, despite getting over with several gimmicks, as the company wasn’t interested in pushing him after his time passed. However, he’s still making a good living in wrestling. It’s clear that he doesn’t want to get back in the ring. However, he has since played the General Manager role in several promotions such as Defiant and World of Sport, and for someone to make a living without taking any bumps, that’s a great thing.
15 Failed – Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger was quite a talented wrestler during his time with WWE and was a good hand in the mid-card, but they pushed him way too fast, way too quick, and that resulted in him looking like quite a disappointment. But with his experience and legit background, many people expected him to land on his feet on the indies. While he’s had some good matches with high profile promotions, he just isn’t consistently good. Swagger’s peak came when he won the World Championship, and with all the talent currently on the indies, it’s safe to say that he should focus on mixed martial arts, as he's set to make his debut in Bellator's heavyweight division in January.
14 Succeeded – Austin Aries
When Austin Aries came to WWE, many predicted that he would be a star, even a potential World Champion, but just like Neville, he was held down in the Cruiserweight Division and ended up asking for his release, thinking he deserved better. Since leaving, he has done nothing but collect championships from all around the world, including Impact World Championship. Sure, ‘The Belt Collector’ may have just lost his final belt, but considering how he was treated in WWE, this is already a major step up for The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.
13 Failed – Big Cass
We’ll get to Big Cass’ partner later on in this piece, but despite all his talents as a big man, it appears that Cass himself isn’t doing so well since his release from WWE either. He has recently begun appearing at small-time indie shows, but unfortunately, it appears that he is out of shape, and without a mouthpiece like Enzo Amore by his side, the ceiling for Cass is very low. It’s odd that he was released from the company, as he had plenty of talent and charisma as a solo star. However, over the next few months, we are likely going to see that Cass himself never quite had it, just like WWE expected.
12 Succeeded – Davey Boy Smith Jr.
Despite his lineage in the wrestling business, Davey Boy Smith Jr. never quite got over in WWE the way people expected, and despite his success alongside Tyson Kidd and Natalya, he was released alone. Smith didn’t let this get him down, and he took his talents to Japan alongside another former WWE wrestler in the form of Lance Archer, and they became known as the Killer Elite Squad. The two have now taken New Japan Pro Wrestling by storm, and it’s clear from this that maybe WWE isn’t always spot on when it comes to evaluating top talent.
11 Failed – Damien Sandow
WWE has had a recent history of holding down incredibly talented performers due to them not being chosen, and Damien Sandow is a great example of that, as he got over when the company gave him absolutely nothing. He was released and finally given the chance to show what he could do. However, in limited appearances with Impact and smaller independent promotions, he showed flashes of charisma, but he couldn’t maintain great matches or keep the fans engaged. At the end of the day, it looks like WWE may have been right on him all along, as his post-WWE career flamed out quite quickly.
10 Succeeded – Bubba Ray Dudley
The Dudley Boyz are one of, if not the greatest tag team in WWE history. Their return in 2016 should have been great, but WWE failed to book them correctly, and they felt like just another boring nostalgia act. When they were granted their released, Bubba Ray went back to his former guise of Bully Ray in Ring of Honor, and that has brought with it great success. It's likely he isn’t going to be in the World Title picture anytime soon – he had that run in Impact Wrestling – but for a man of his experience and stature, his recent run with Ring of Honor has been absolutely fantastic, and it’s good to see him still succeeding away from WWE.
9 Failed – Adam Rose
Adam Rose is a prime example of a gimmick getting over in NXT, but failing upon arrival to the main roster. Given the talent and charisma that the man behind the character had, that’s quite disappointing. He was released to little fanfare and struggled to gain any traction on the independent scene, to the point where many fans have completely forgotten that Adam Rose ever existed. As of 2018, it looks like Rose has completely left the wrestling business, and considering how hard he was pushed early on in NXT (also counting his run as Leo Kruger) and even on the main roster, that’s a big surprise and a big disappointment.
8 Succeeded – Sami Callihan
Sami Callihan crafted a fantastic wrestling career before WWE, which is why many questioned his decision to sign with the company. A year later, he asked for his release, proving that WWE still can’t book wrestlers outside of the PG mold. He had a few appearances as Solomon Crowe, but that character never went anywhere, and now Sami is leading oVe in Impact and other places, quickly becoming one of the best heels in all of wrestling. He may not have all the titles to show for it, but Callahan is one of the best pro wrestlers in the world, and thankfully he took a chance on himself and left WWE to do that.
7 Failed – Carlito
Many people have been touted as future World Champions, only to fail to live up to the hype, and one glaring example of that is Carlito, who even has his lineage on his side, but he still failed to make any impact at all. He showed flashes of incredible athleticism and unique charisma. Word is that he was very lazy behind the scenes, that being what eventually cost him, and it may have hurt him outside of WWE too. He doesn’t work too often, and when he does, it’s for lesser known promotions. For someone who was once dubbed a future World Champion, Carlito has been a big disappointment.
6 Succeeded – Trent Barreta
Many people forget that Trent Barreta was actually in WWE, as it was for a very brief time, but he failed alongside Caylen Croft. However, he has since completely reinvented himself and is now a key member of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Whether it be as a member of Chaos or alongside his best friend Chuck Taylor, Trent is now one of the best workers in the world, and that’s a far cry from the underutilized wrestler that was in WWE back in 2012. Trent has yet to hit his peak in wrestling, but he’s still putting together a fantastic resume, so expect him to continue to get better as he proves that WWE isn’t the"‘be all, end all" of wrestling.
5 Failed – Ryback
Ryback looks like a classic main event talent in WWE, and he was pushed as such for quite a while, but they just never got fully behind him, and following some backstage controversy, he was let go, quite surprisingly. Since that point, The Big Guy hasn’t held back when discussing his former company, eager to prove that they got it wrong about him, but he’s yet to make any noise on the independent scene. He’s had some matches here and there, but Ryback is severely limited in the ring, and it looks like he isn’t going to have a career revival outside of the company he called home for over a decade.
4 Succeeded – CJ Parker/Juice Robinson
Many unique gimmicks get over quite well down in NXT, but CJ Parker is one that unfortunately never caught on. Before getting a real chance to shine, he was released from NXT. He was brought to New Japan as a young lion, and he developed through their system, transforming himself into quite a talent, but it’s his unmatched charisma that makes him a true superstar. Despite his successes, including winning the IWGP United States Championship, Juice has barely scratched the surface of his potential, as he could no doubt become a future World Champion.
3 Failed – CM Punk
Despite all the odds he faced in WWE, CM Punk went on to become one of the biggest stars the company has ever seen, but he was fed up with the way he was treated, and left following the Royal Rumble in 2014. Since that point, he hasn’t had anything to do with the wrestling business, but he moved on to his career in the UFC, and unfortunately for him, that didn’t work out too well. He is 0-2 in his two fights, and he looked awful in both of them. While he’s had other smaller successes on the side, this was his big post-WWE career, and it flopped mightily.
2 Succeeded – Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes had everything WWE look for in a top talent, but they never gave him the chance, and in 2016, he bet on himself and walked away from a very comfortable life with the world’s top wrestling company. Whether it be with New Japan, Ring of Honor or his own ventures alongside The Elite, Cody has succeeded in every way possible and is now one of the most influential professional wrestlers in the world. The rumors are swirling that Rhodes could either return to WWE or begin creating his own promotion, but whatever happens, leaving WWE was the best thing he could have ever done for his career.
1 Failed – Enzo Amore
Enzo Amore was one of the most popular stars to ever reach the main roster from NXT, but a combination of legal problems and constant backstage trouble spelled the end for his WWE career just as it was getting started. Since being released, Enzo has moved away from the wrestling business, looking to move into hip-hop, but after appearing at Survivor Series in the crowd, it’s clear that it isn’t going well. He did a gig that night and it was a massive failure. It's clear that WWE was the best chance Amore had to succeed in the public eye.