The professional wrestling industry is one that has seen major growths throughout its existence, but it has also seen its share of problems. One of the problems affecting the current state of professional wrestling is the fact that there is no serious competition for World Wrestling Entertainment, the premiere “sports entertainment” company in the world. Total Nonstop Action tries to compete with them, but don’t deliver the type of product that is seen each week on WWE television. Without competition, the product becomes stale, storylines begin to repeat themselves, and fans begin to tune out.
The lack of competition is what is hurting the business and making some competitors want to leave the sport altogether. Back when World Championship Wrestling was still in business, it was common to see wrestlers jump from one promotion to the other at a blink of the eye. At the time when business was great, whether they wanted to be a part of it or not, even Extreme Championship Wrestling was taking part in this talent exchange.
Through it all, whether it was a wrestler leaving one company to get more money like what is commonly seen in other sports, or simply to retire because they were tired with the constant travelling, there have been numerous jaw-dropping exits in WWE history. Some of these exits were predicted, while some came as a complete shock. Others were thought to be part of a storyline and some just made complete sense. Regardless of the reasoning or the belief behind each departure, fans were torn in half by their love for the brand and their love for the character.
What are the 15 most shocking WWE departures of all time?
15 Alundra Blayze
In the mid-1990s, Alundra Blayze was the top female wrestler in the world and not what would be called a typical “Diva” today. When the company decided to bring back the women’s division, it was Blayze that would win the belt and brought in a new era of women wrestling. She had many great feuds during her time with WWE, but she will mostly be remembered for what she did as a member of WCW. After being released from her contract while still being the women’s champion, Blayze, whose real name is Debra Miceli, showed up on Monday Night Nitro, and promptly threw the WWE title belt in the garbage. A lot has changed in the state of women’s wrestling since she threw the belt away, and depending on who is asked, not all of it has been good.
14 ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude
The infamous “Montreal Screw Job” didn’t only lead to Bret Hart’s exit from WWE, it also led to the exit of “Ravishing” Rick Rude. Rude was not a main event competitor anymore at that point, but he was with D-Generation X and was always a great sound bite. At the time of the 1997 Survivor Series when Shawn Michaels beat Bret Hart to win the WWE title, Rude was reportedly only being paid per appearance with WWE. He was also still appearing on ECW’s Hardcore TV during his time in WWE. In fact, when Rude went to WCW and appeared on Nitro for the first time, he also appeared on Monday Night Raw, which was taped the week before, that same night. Apparently, he left in part due to his anger about the screwjob involving Bret Hart.
13 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is one of the greatest competitors professional wrestling has ever seen. The 1996 Olympic Gold Medal winner came into the sport and immediately became one of the biggest and best heels in the company. Over the years, he has excelled as a heel and as a face, but in 2006, the “Wrestling Machine,” needed a break from wrestling. His health was failing him and WWE granted him his release. Months later, it was revealed that Angle had signed with TNA, which was his way of giving WWE and McMahon the middle finger. He is still one of TNAs biggest stars, but his relationship with WWE may never be the same.
12 Sgt. Slaughter
The only wrestler in the 1980s that can say he was bigger than Sgt. Slaughter was Hulk Hogan. Slaughter was involved with a huge feud with The Iron Sheik where he defended America and his career appeared to be on the rise from there. With Hogan at the top of the company, Slaughter felt as though he deserved to be on the same level. In 1984, he no-showed an event in Toronto hoping to get six weeks of vacation and was let go. It was revealed many years later that Slaughter was upset with WWE over their not allowing him to take part in the G.I. Joe action figure line.
11 The Ultimate Warrior
When it came to wrestlers who won over fans in a heartbeat, few could compare with the Ultimate Warrior. With his impressive physique, long hair, and face paint, Ultimate Warrior was easy to love. His rise in the wrestling business is something that made him think he was bigger than the sport. In WWE’s The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior movie, Vince McMahon explained that Warrior basically held SummerSlam hostage by demanding more money. For the fans and the sport, McMahon agreed to the demands, but following his match with Randy Savage, was suspended and not seen on WWE programming for some time.
10 Lex Luger
When WCW decided to compete head-to-head with WWE, they made big waves in the sport. On the debut edition of Monday Nitro, WCW was at the Mall of America where during the main event Luger came out to interrupt and the wrestling world was buzzing. They weren’t only buzzing because of the latest WCW-signee showing up, but everyone was shocked because eight days earlier, Luger wrestled at SummerSlam, and even the night before, took part in a match at a house show. Luger was wrestling in WWE without a contract and made McMahon regret every inch of that decision for some time.
9 CM Punk (2013)
In early 2013, CM Punk was being booked in what many fans would call terrible storylines. Instead of WWE promoting a match for WrestleMania pitting Punk against his long-time independent circuit opponent, Daniel Bryan, Punk was fed to the Wyatt family and choke-slammed through tables by Kane. The promotion had bigger plans for other “Superstars,” like the returning Batista, who was a part timer. Punk, felling he deserved better, decided he was going to leave and never come back following the Royal Rumble. WWE acknowledged his exit from the company and Punk has since told fans on Twitter that he would never wrestle again. Many fans thought this may have been part of a storyline, but too much time has passed for this to be true.
8 T7. Diesel
During his time in WWE, Diesel, whose real name is Kevin Nash, got started as the bodyguard to Shawn Michaels. He would eventually break away from that job to become the WWE Champion. He would go on to have many memorable feuds with The Undertaker and Michaels. When his contract was up with WWE, he signed a deal with WCW, who was suddenly giving any WWE wrestler looking to leave big money. At Madison Square Garden, Nash and the man he is tied with on this list, Razor Ramon, took part in one of the biggest “kayfabe” moments in wrestling history, hugging Michaels and Triple H after a cage match at a house show.
7 T7. Razor Ramon
Like Nash, Hall, whose real name is Scott Hall, was not the biggest star in WWE at the time of his departure, but he was a former WWE Intercontinental Champion and was a member of the Kliq. He competed in one of the greatest ladder matches of all time at WrestleMania X, beating Shawn Michaels to become the undisputed Intercontinental champion. When Hall and Nash left WWE, it didn’t come as a big surprise to the wrestling world, but the roles they had in WCW, helping Hulk Hogan become the greatest heel of all time will not ever be forgotten. Hall went on to have a stellar career in WCW as a member of the New World Order. In 2014, WWE showed there were no hard feelings about his departure, inducting him into the Hall of Fame.
In April 2011, Raw was held at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. It was mostly an uninteresting night of wrestling, but the one thing that happened of note was Edge’s sudden retirement from wrestling. It wasn’t the usual retirement speech that has been seen hundreds of times in professional wrestling. It was as legitimate as it came as the former 11-time world champion needed to retire for medical reasons. Years of wrestling around the world gave him a bad neck and his retirement left fans missing the “Rated-R Superstar.”
5 Brock Lesnar
He was supposed to be the “Next Big Thing.” He was supposed to be the man that took over as the No. 1 guy in WWE and be the best of all time. The only thing that kept that from happening for Brock Lesnar was the fact that he didn’t want it. He was a naturally gifted athlete that could do a lot of things inside the ring, but in 2004, Lesnar decided that he wanted to be a professional football player. In his final WWE match, he was set to face Goldberg at WrestleMania XX, in what was also Goldberg's final match in the promotion. What ensued was an embarrassing match that left WWE fans happy to see both men gone.
4 ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage
From 1993 to 1994, Randy Savage served as a color commentary for WWE pay per views and other televised programs. The former WWE Champion wrestled sporadically for the company and when his contract was up, the spokesman for Slim Jim’s decided to jump ship to WCW. At the time, WCW was loading up their roster to prepare for their battle with WWE and Savage immediately made an impact, re-igniting his feud with Ric Flair from their days in WWE. Savage’s departure from WWE was acknowledged on WWE television by McMahon, who seemed upset during the announcement. Years later, there were many rumors about Savage possibly having an affair with Stephanie McMahon, but nothing has ever been confirmed.
3 CM Punk (2011)
One of the greatest storylines in the history of professional wrestling came in 2011 when CM Punk was trying to become WWE Champion at Money in the Bank. After earning the title shot, Punk unleashed his “pipe bomb” on John Cena and the WWE Universe. He announced that his contract was to expire at the pay per view and he was going to leave WWE. He beat Cena for the title at the event and left, or so we thought. For weeks, he showed no allegiance to WWE and the promotion ran a tournament to decide the new WWE Champion. After Rey Mysterio won the tournament, Cena challenged him for the title and won the belt. It was then that Punk officially returned to WWE.
2 Bret Hart
For years, Bret Hart was the man for World Wrestling Entertainment. He was supposed to be a lifer in the company and they gave him a long-term contract that would make that happen, but then it all changed. In 1997, despite the contract, WWE owner Vince McMahon was allowing Hart to leave to join World Championship Wrestling. Hart was to be defending his WWE title against Shawn Michaels and it was pre-determined that Hart would not lose his title that night and instead, drop it at another show. McMahon didn’t want a repeat of the Blayze fiasco and the infamous “Montreal Screw Job” was born. At the orders of McMahon, referee Earl Hebner called for the bell and ended the match when Michaels had Hart’s own finishing maneuver on.
1 Stone Cold Steve Austin
The most shocking WWE departure of all time has to come from the man who helped bring WWE back in the ratings war with WCW, Stone Cold Steve Austin. When Austin arrived in WWE, it didn’t take long for him to go from being The Ringmaster to one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. He created a lasting catchphrase of Austin 3:16 and had great matches with some of the best in the world. In 2003, before a live edition of Raw, Stone Cold walked out on the promotion after learning that he was booked to lose to Brock Lesnar in a match that wasn’t advertised until a few hours before. After walking out, McMahon and Jim Ross both shared their displeasure for Austin on Raw, with Ross claiming that Austin was “taking his ball and going home.”