WWE Superstars are thrust into the limelight without knowing what they are truly walking into and more often than not they either overstay their welcome or decide to call it quits after only a few years on top. Being at the top of WWE is much harder than many fans could ever imagine and only the incredibly strong willed can handle the stress of the job for a long period of time.
The life of a WWE Superstar at the top of the company is not a job for the faint of heart and a lot of the time these Superstars decide that they have had enough. Whether it’s the fame, the travelling or the fact that they finally have someone to go home to, these stars have all decided to walk from the company much before fans were ready to let them go.
Some Superstars overstay their welcome but the following list is made up of all the stars that could have easily remained at the top of their game and at the very top of WWE for much longer.
Former World Champions who decided to step down, former Divas Champions who decided it was time to walk away, and even a former ECW Champion who just shockingly departed the company without so much as a goodbye. All of these stars have their reasons but the WWE Universe would definitely accept them back in the company if the opportunity ever arose again.
15. Trish Stratus
The record-setting seven-time Women’s Champion will always be considered one of the greatest female wrestlers of the last generation. Trish was ahead of her time. She was a talented female wrestler in a time when women were there to be looked at and not to compete.
Along with her best friend Lita, Trish helped change the way the WWE Universe viewed the Women’s division and in turn she inspired a new class of female wrestlers. These women include Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Becky Lynch who were merely fans of the sport back when Trish Stratus was a part of the company. Trish had achieved everything she had left to do with the WWE and decided the perfect time to walk away was at Unforgiven in 2006 in her hometown of Toronto. Trish has returned to WWE as a guest many times, but it seems she would never return to the company full time.
Lita was another female wrestler who changed the landscape of Women’s wrestling but she did it in her own way. While Trish was busy winning Women’s Championships Lita was proving that a female wrestler had what it takes to hang with the men.
Lita proved time and time again that she was one of the toughest female wrestlers of any generation when she inserted herself into many of The Hardy’s TLC matches and always came off worse for wear. Lita was also attacked by Steve Austin numerous times with a steel chair and still she continued to get back up, she was a fighter and she was a trailblazer. Following Trish’s retirement in 2006, Lita lasted merely two months in the WWE without her best friend and made the decision to follow suit and retire at Survivor Series that same year.
13. Santino Marella
The Milan Miracle became one of the best comedy characters in WWE over the past few years after he was chosen out of the audience during WWE’s tour of Italy before entering the ring and defeating Umaga the same night to win the Intercontinental Championship.
He went on to align himself with the likes of Beth Phoenix, Maria, and Vladimir Kozlov over the next few years before he was handed the United States Championship in 2012. Marella suffered various injuries in the following years that lead to the decision for him to retire from the company in 2014. Marella returned to WWE to present at the Slammy Awards in 2015 but was officially released from the company in May 2016. It is thought that he could have remained with the company much longer than he did if he hadn’t suffered so many neck injuries.
12. Drew McIntyre
Drew McIntyre was once considered to be a Superstar that Vince McMahon personally signed himself after seeing him wrestle during a European Tour. McIntyre was destined for great things until WWE decided to put him in the 3MB group along with Jinder Mahal and Heath Slater.
McIntyre became a joke within WWE and it didn’t come as a big surprise when he was released from the company along with many other Superstars in 2014 as part of a house cleaning of the roster. McIntyre has since gone on to become the ICW and TNA World Champion over the last two years. Since Jinder Mahal has been resigned by WWE recently, there is no reason why WWE shouldn’t resign one of wrestling’s hottest prospects and bring back Drew McIntyre.
11. Elijah Burke
Elijah Burke was a member of The New Breed when ECW was rebooted back in 2006. He was also considered to be one of the stars of the future when ECW was finally canceled less than two years later. Elijah was supposed to have a bright future in WWE as his time in ECW showcased a star on the rise.
Elijah was the final person to wrestle Chris Benoit prior to his death in 2007. Hethen went on a singles run but failed to capture the ECW Championship. He was absent from WWE TV from May until November 2008 when it was finally announced that Burke had been released from the company. Burke has since gone on to make a splash in TNA where he is currently part of their commentary team after a successful run as a singles competitor on
Kaitlyn and AJ Lee were best friends. They came into WWE at the same time through the NXT format when it was used as a game show and was considered more of a joke than actual wrestling program. They then both debuted on the main roster together before Kaitlyn won the Divas Championship and AJ became her main challenger.
The duo had an incredible match at Payback in 2013, one of the longest Divas matches in almost a decade. Which is why it came as a huge shock when it was announced that Kaitlyn had decided to walk away from WWE. She had been out of the title picture for a while and discovered that WWE didn’t have any burning storylines for her at the time so she decided to ask for her release so that she could pursue other avenues. She has since set up her own clothing company called Celestial Bodies and it seems to be taking off quite well.
9. Bobby Lashley
Bobby Lashley debuted with WWE in 2005. That year he became United States Champion before WWE saw his real potential and pushed him towards the ECW World Championship when the brand was rebooted the following year. Lashley was considered by many to be the face of the new ECW.
Lashley attempted to capture the World Championship during his time with the company but was never given the opportunity to hold the prestigious belt. Lashley was also part of the famous ‘Battle of the Billionaires’ at WrestleMania 23 when he defeated Umaga to allow Donald Trump to shave Vince McMahon’s head. Lashley left WWE following a six-month injury in 2008. It was a shock considering how highly Lashley was thought of within the company, but he has since gone on to make a name for himself in MMA and TNA.
8. Stone Cold Steve Austin
One of the most famous wrestlers of all time, Stone Cold Steve Austin changed the face of WWE during the Attitude Era, but injuries caused throughout his time at the top of WWE forced him to retire from the company early.
Austin always had problems with his knees but a neck injury that he suffered in his match with Owen Hart back in 1997 was one of the main reasons he was forced to retire so soon. He continued to wrestle up until 2002 against the advice of doctors but decided to call it a day in 2003 following his WrestleMania XIX match against The Rock. He has returned to the company for sporadic appearances since and many fans believed he would face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania in his hometown of Texas, but it is said that he can no longer wrestle without permanently injuring himself. He currently has a monthly podcast on the WWE Network.
7. John Morrison
Johnny Nitro was one of the most uniquely gifted wrestlers of the last generation. He had a real talent in the ring but was never given the opportunity to excel in WWE. Nitro teamed with his friend Joey Mercury as part of MNM for more than a year in 2005 and the duo eventually won the Tag Team Championship.
Following a successful title run, the duo split up and Nitro was renamed John Morrison, becoming one of the bigger stars on Monday Night Raw. Morrison and Melina were teamed together in WWE and they became a couple outside of the company as well, but following Melina’s release from the company, she became a problem for Morrison as he followed her out of the door in 2011. Morrison has since become a huge star in Lucha Underground but has stated many times that he would be open to a return to WWE in the future. The possibility of Morrison returning to WWE could become a reality soon enough thanks to the recent Brand Split.
The Animal Batista was one of the biggest stars in WWE following his World Championship win at WrestleMania 21 in 2005. His feud with Mark Henry became one of the biggest storylines at that time before he was forced out of action following a legitimate shoulder injury.
Batista was forced to relinquish the World Championship because of this injury but he managed to regain it 10 months later. He was a four-time World Champion and two-time WWE Champion during his time with the company before it came to an end in 2010 when he sensationally quit. Batista revealed in an interview that he didn’t like the direction the company was going in and would not return any time soon. Batista did return in 2014 and won the Royal Rumble for the chance to main event WrestleMania XXX. He then reunited with Randy Orton and Triple H to form Evolution but the trio lost all their matches against The Shield which lead Batista to walk away from the company again. He has since made the switch over to making movies instead.
John Bradshaw Layfield is a former WWE, United States, Hardcore, and European Champion with WWE but like many other Superstars of his day, JBL was forced to retire early due to years of physical abuse in the ring and a nagging back injury.
JBL is recognized as the 20th Triple Crown Champion in WWE and the 11th Grand Slam Champion, but in 2010 JBL announced that he had quit WWE following a back injury. He has since made many returns to WWE and was even given the job as a colour commentator on Monday Night Raw. JBL has since become famous as the heel commentator on the show until he was switched over to SmackDown Live during the 2016 WWE Draft. JBL attempted to enter the 2014 Royal Rumble but was eliminated before he could compete by Roman Reigns.
The Big Guy was one of WWE’s most underrated talents during the course of his career. Ryback only ever lifted the Intercontinental Championship and this was only because Daniel Bryan was forced to vacate the title after an injury.
CM Punk stated in an interview with Colt Cabana that Ryback was a dangerous worker and it seemed following this many fans and Superstars made up their minds about Ryback. Ryback showed improvements in the ring throughout 2016 but following his match with Kalisto at WWE’s Payback event it was announced that Ryback had been sent home from WWE because of a contract dispute. Ryback then went to Instagram to air his grievances before WWE announced his departure a few weeks later. Ryback still had a lot to accomplish with the company, but following his comments regarding payment levels of wrestlers, it is likely that WWE will never sign him again.
3. Rey Mysterio
The Master of the 619 became one of the biggest Superstars in WWE in the early 2000s when he became one of the first tru Lucha style stars to appear on the SmackDown roster. Mysterio became known as WWE’s ultimate underdog and this became official when he lifted the World Championship at WrestleMania 22 after defeating Kurt Angle and Randy Orton in a Triple Threat match.
Mysterio began to drift away from WWE’s main storylines following a recurring knee injury in early 2013. hE was finally allowed to leave WWE after a long absence in 2015 after 13 years with the company. Rey has since gone on to work for Lucha Underground where he is currently wrestling some of the best matches of his career. It is quite possible that Mysterio will return to WWE in the near future.
2. AJ Lee
The second longest reigning Divas Champion of all time burst onto the scene in WWE in an era that wasn’t ready for change. AJ Lee was all about kicking down glass ceilings and making a name for the women of the business. She changed the landscape during her short stint in WWE whether the company are ready to admit it or not.
She became a record-setting three-time Divas Champion and was the longest reigning Divas Champion of all time before Nikki Bella broke her record the following year. She did things her way and when she realised it was a lost cause, she packed up her Converse and continued down the road. She joined her husband CM Punk after he had left the company the previous year. Sadly, it was only after AJ left that the WWE finally began taking their Women’s wrestling division seriously.
1. CM Punk
Whenever WWE is in Chicago the fans go wild for the former WWE Champion in the hope that the Straight Edge Superstar will walk back through that curtain again. Sadly CM Punk had his own reasons for leaving the business. He was overcome by illness, exhaustion, and was fed up of trying to change a company that was hell bent on retaining an old format.
CM Punk did change WWE for the better as he became the longest reigning WWE Champion of the modern era and proved that you didn’t have to be a 300 pound wrestler to do it. He was talented in the ring and on the mic but that wasn’t enough. Punk had a drive that pushed him to be the best he was at everything and when he found out that he wasn’t main eventing WrestleMania XXX, he decided that he had had enough. His dream to main event the biggest event of the year was what kept him going and when he found out it wasn’t meant to be he sensationally quit the company and signed on to become a UFC fighter instead.
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