WWE: the Promised Land where every professional wrestler trains to end up and make a career for themselves, performing on the grandest stage in front of the biggest crowds imaginable. Well, for some, this dream can come true and quickly turn into a nightmare, as they can be saddled with a ridiculous gimmick, booked poorly or be fired before their talents can be showcased. If wrestling truly is the passion of this mishandled performer who has been let go or asked for release, there is only one way to rectify this injustice, and that is the independent wrestling circuit where a wrestler can impress to earn another shot with Vince, or make a comfortable living outside of the WWE.
This has been the case with many performers since the WWE won the Monday Night Wars, as Vince McMahon's booking has become even more questionable, and his "creative genius" now goes beyond bordering on madness into full-blown lunacy. Because Vince is the only game in town, he expects performers to do whatever they’re told, however embarrassing, and for many years before the takeoff of TNA, ROH and NJPW, that is what many felt inclined to do. However, in recent years, with the rise in popularity of indy wrestling, wrestlers are putting a greater worth on themselves to WWE, with many opting to decline the big money from Vinnie Mac in order to keep their freedom as performers, most notably Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks.
While the independent circuit does not always mean popularity, notoriety and success, the following 12 performers have opted to take their chances and increase their earning potential in a career that does not often have a long shelf life. While some - e.g. Muhammad Hassan - were not seen after their dreadful WWE runs, these wrestlers left WWE and found themselves in an improved position in the wrestling world as a result of doing so.
12 Brodus Clay
Brodus Clay had everything the WWE looked for in a star, and it looked like he was poised to become a monster upper mid card heel, until the ridiculous writing team again ignored the most obvious story or course of action with a superstar. Instead of having him dominate the competition, he became a dancing big guy, and was eventually let go after a failed partnership with Albert/Tensai/Matt Bloom (whichever one of the 100 gimmicks he was using at the time). He then went to TNA and became Tyrus and has been involved in major story lines and the main event with Matt Hardy and ECIII at separate times, showing sometimes TNA knows how to better utilize talent than WWE.
11 Gail Kim
One woman who would fit in perfectly with the women’s revolution of today is Gail Kim, but unfortunately in her time, wrestling was less of the focus in the women’s division, despite her obvious talent. This was around the time of the Diva’s search, where the true wrestling talent was featured in the TNA Knockouts division. While Kim had several title reigns in WWE, her true success came in TNA, where she had fantastic rivalries with the Beautiful People, Madison Rayne and best of all Awesome Kong. She will go down as one of the best Knockouts in the history of TNA.
10 Brian Kendrick
Brian Kendrick was used mainly as a comedy act but was also a successful tag team champion with Paul London, but found more freedom and success within TNA’s highly acclaimed X-Division. After the cruiserweight division folded in WWE, the X-Division was the most logical place for Kendrick to show off his in ring ability while still showing the personality that made him a cult favourite in WWE. He won several X-Division titles and had many show stealing matches in his time with the likes of Frankie Kazarian, Austin Aries and Chris Sabin.
9 D.H Smith
In WWE, Smith was part of the Hart Dynasty with Tyson Kidd and Natalya, and achieved moderate success in the tag team division, but his value has sky rocketed since heading east to Japan. Still primarily a tag team competitor, Smith has become a stand out performer as part of the Killer Elite Squad with Lance Archer, winning several tag team championships in NJPW and Pro Wrestling NOAH. While he did not posses the charisma necessary to make it as a huge star on his own, WWE must regret letting such a talented tag team performer go, especially considering the terrible shape of the tag team division shortly after his departure.
8 Chris Masters
“The Masterpiece” had quite possibly the most impressive physique in WWE history, and had all the potential in the world to become a consistent upper card competitor for years. Unfortunately, as WWE has a habit of doing, they pushed Masters while he was far too green, and this inexperience cost him as fans did not take to someone with his lacking in-ring ability. In the time he has been gone, the physical specimen that is Masters has not diminished, but the ability has improved off the charts, as he has become a viable main event talent in promotions such as GFW. Masters would easily be able to reclaim a mid card spot if he and his improved ability were to ever make their way back to WWE.
7 Sami Callihan
When Solomon Crowe debuted his hacker gimmick in NXT, it was met with mixed reactions, as many knew of his overall ability, but raised questions about how he would fit in the PG era of WWE. After a year stuck in developmental with very little TV time on the horizon, he was granted his release, and made an impactful return to the indy scene as his former persona Sami Callihan straight away. In this short time, Sami has already won several titles in many different promotions, including in his first performance after the WWE release, proving that even in the new and improved Triple H era of developmental, not all successful indy talents can survive in the ‘E.
6 Chris Hero
What a fall from grace in the eyes of management for Chris Hero, and his newly dubbed gimmick of Kassius Ohno. From a man who could put on a classic match with anyone he wrestled, to the possible third member of the Shield in CM Punk's eyes, to a release due to injury and weight troubles. This left many fans disappointed that we wouldn’t ever witness a Hero main roster run and an eventual rematch with CM Punk, but again he has been tearing up the indies in the 3 years since his departure. With his career coming to an end, Hero has adapted his style and continues to be one of the biggest draws on the independent circuit.
5 Luke Gallows
Perhaps the man with one of the most ridiculous gimmicks in recent WWE memory, Gallows was made to play Festus, a horribly offensive character, in a brief Smackdown run. After his time in the Straight Edge Society, Gallows was released and made his way to Japan after a few years in TNA, where he impressively reinvented himself in the eyes of fans and WWE management. From TNA to the Bullet Club, Gallows has solidified himself as one of the premiere big men in wrestling, showing a diverse character as well as an impressive in ring move set, which made the jump back to WWE an ideal move. With an opportunity alongside Karl Anderson to become a huge part of WWE programming in the near future, he is an example to all who have been released about how to react, reinvent yourself and come back to the WWE.
4 Alberto El Patron
Similar to Luke Gallows, when El Patron left the WWE in 2013 as Alberto Del Rio, he began to again become the mega star he was in Mexico years ago, competing in AAA and Lucha Underground, winning several championships and earning back his reputation as one of the best in the world, which had diminished in his time with WWE. After much hype surrounding his initial debut, he was a flop as a generic, bland WWE babyface and was then fired for slapping a WWE employee who was blatantly racist towards him. Despite a hot return in late 2015, Del Rio is again stuck in the mid card, showing WWE’s inability to properly use good talent, as he was arguably the biggest star in the wrestling world during his first run after WWE. Here’s hoping management lets him be himself so he can become the mega star in WWE he deserves to be.
3 Colt Cabana
In his infamous pipe bomb speech and the subsequent white hot run of 2011, CM Punk often mentioned Colt Cabana (his best friend) and how out of touch WWE is for letting such a talent go, and in recent years, this sentiment has remained increasingly true, as Cabana is one of the hottest stars in wrestling. Wrestling in WWE as Scotty Goldman, Colt was never seen as anything more that an enhancement/comedy talent, yet since his departure he has proven to every promotion in the world that he is the master of the comedy act, and can put substance behind that act, becoming one of the biggest independent draws ever. If his popularity and ability is ever in doubt, the Young Bucks often cite Cabana’s business acumen and innovation as a wrestler outside of the ring as an inspiration, showing that he is popular and beloved worldwide, which WWE missed out on, as he would have been both a top tier performer and a massive merchandise mover for the company.
2 Drew Galloway
If you believed that Drew McIntyre was destined to be a world champion in WWE, you were not alone; being dubbed the ‘Chosen One’ by the boss upon debut, it is tragic what happened the years following. He was on track as the Intercontinental Champion, until management decided to place him in the jobber group 3MB, and eventually released him, much to the shock and dismay of a majority of the WWE Universe. Since leaving, he has become a world champion in TNA, dominated the entire indy scene, and completely reinvented the European wrestling scene, alongside promising young stars such as Will Ospreay, Grado, Zack Sabre Jr and Marty Scrull. WWE will certainly regret the release, due to the major star Galloway has become, and also because of the scathing promo he was involved in at the latest EVOLVE wrestling show.
1 Ethan Carter III
Speaking of that promo, it was cut by the biggest waste of talent in WWE history, the man who would become the new face of TNA, Ethan Carter III, formerly known as Derick Bateman in NXT. He has the look, the personality, the ability to play both heel and face, and the in ring talent, which makes it all the more perplexing as to how WWE could release him after just a short stint on the main roster. Competing in the game show version of NXT, Bateman was typically used as a comedy character, but has since shown his versatility, which will no doubt make WWE decision makers scratch their head, as they could have had a bonafied main event heel on their hands, if not for the release. Time will tell whether the young Carter will ever return to WWE due to issues with the way he was handled, but if it ever happened, there is one thing that's for sure, he will never be treated poorly again (you know, if WWE was a rational company), and would no doubt ascend to the top of the ranks, alongside stars like Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, which would create many new, fresh matchups for fans to salivate over.