No one likes getting fired, but it's happened to a lot of us. And it feels a little better to see that it can happen to the best. These superstars have all gotten pink slips from the WWE at some point over the years. Some might have already returned and some still might come back in the future. People get fired from WWE for behavior violations, wellness violations, to cut costs, and sometimes when creative just doesn't have anything for them. Sometimes it's for combinations of all of the above.
Also, this list is restricted to only legitimate firings. Vince McMahon made an awesome catchphrase in the 90s out of his throaty "YOU'RE FIRED!" and The Authority to this day has done angles where people get fired and return a few weeks later. Retirement matches also don't count, especially when the wrestler in question stays around as an alumni. There could be an entire separate ranking of the best on-camera firings, but this list is more about the guys that just quietly disappear.
The WWE has made the weeks after WrestleMania a sort of "firing season," hiding groups of cuts in the afterglow of the biggest and most successful show of the year. These mass cuts haven't been as ubiquitous in the past few years, but the locker room's got to be just a little on edge about being "future endeavor"ed. Last year, the group of cuts came in early June and totaled 11 WWE on-air personalities, from Teddy Long to a referee. Even JTG, a 7-year WWE veteran, and frequent subject of people saying "he's still employed?" wasn't immune. It remains to be seen who will be let go this year and if they could end up on a future version of this list. For now, these are the best WWE superstars to get fired.
15 Mike Knox
Knox joined WWE as a promising young wrestler with a unique look for a big man. He had a decently entertaining feud with CM Punk in the ECW Brand before moving up to Raw and SmackDown. His highest profile match was a World Title Elimination Chamber match at No Way Out in 2009. But after that, the WWE clearly had no idea what to do with him, using him as a warm body for battle royals until his release in 2010. Like many on this list, he wasn't unemployed long. Knox is showing off his charisma in TNA as the leader of a dark circus stable.
14 Drew McIntyre
It wasn't so long ago that Drew was personally picked by Vince McMahon as a "chosen one," both on-camera and off. He won the Intercontinental Title, Tag Titles, and participated in the Money in the Bank and Elimination Chamber matches less than a year after his debut. But as fast as his star rose, it fell when the tall UK import became part of the comedy jobber group of Three Man Band. After a losing streak and dissolving that group, he would be given his pink slip in June 2014. The talented big man hasn't gone long without work - he's wracking up championships in the indies and has recently become a major player in TNA after signing there.
13 Shelton Benjamin
Shelton Benjamin set the WWE on fire as part of Team Angle, having constant Match of the Year candidates with partner Charlie Haas for the Tag Titles. Even after splitting solo, Benjamin was a walking highlight reel in Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank matches.
Why couldn't WWE make a ton of money off this talent? A disastrous "Momma's Boy" gimmick in 2006 likely killed his chances. Despite getting repackaged in ECW as the "Gold Standard," Benjamin was released in 2010 after one more Money in the Bank loss for the road.
Carlito had a short, but promising career in WWE in the mid-2000s. He was cutting great promos and had a great heel gimmick that reminded many people of Rowdy Roddy Piper. His early success and wrestling family background made some compare him to The Rock.
It's not clear whether backstage politics, wellness policy violations, or some combination of the two derailed his career. In 2007, Carlito asked for his release after feeling like he was hitting the glass ceiling. He was talked into staying, but the writing was on the wall. In 2010, the WWE announced his release following refusal to enter rehab for wellness violations.
11 Mr. Kennedy
Kennedy was another extremely charismatic wrestler of the mid-2000s that was let go by the WWE in 2009 after a rocky career. Kennedy spun gold from a lame gimmick where he insisted on doing his own ring announcing. However, his in-ring abilities never would measure up to the charisma. An injury prevented him from cashing in his Money in the Bank to become world champion. When Kennedy wasn't injured himself, he was hurting other WWE stars. The final blow was almost hurting and angering WWE golden boy Randy Orton. He was then released in 2009.TNA wasted little time signing him and making him their World Champion, where he's still wrestling today.
Also known as Montel Vontavious Porter, this was another charismatic superstar that couldn't break through the glass ceiling despite his talent. MVP had a great gimmick as a pro-football styled free agent and plenty of momentum as a long-running United States Champion.
Despite a couple of world title shots and Money in the Bank showings, MVP never would break through and would become disgruntled backstage. His attitude led him to get buried in a losing streak for the better part of 2008. Both sides denied any unhappiness, but his mutual release in 2010 was a surprise to no one. MVP would find international success in New Japan Pro Wrestling as well as in TNA as a title contender.
9 Daniel Bryan
The leader of the YES movement came very close to having his career cut short before he would ever main event WrestleMania or win a world title. Bryan was actually released as a 2010 NXT Rookie after he choked out Justin Roberts with a tie on TV. This was too much violence for several of the WWE's family-friendly sponsors.
Thankfully for all involved, the release didn't stick, and Bryan came back after only a few months as a surprise competitor at SummerSlam. The master technical wrestler was very close to being another missed opportunity for the WWE.
8 Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy made his name in the WWE as one of the stars of the Tables, Ladders, and Chairs matches for the tag titles during the Attitude Era. Sadly, all of those high falls and swanton bombs had a price, and that price would be a crippling drug addiction that's followed Jeff for over a decade.
7 Curt Hennig
Mr. Perfect was the centerpiece and scapegoat of the infamous 2002 Plane Ride from Hell. The parts that got Hennig fired included a drunken verbal and physical attack on Brock Lesnar about his amateur wrestling credentials. The two would rumble on the plane, almost hitting an emergency door in the process.
Hennig had a great career in the 90s as Mr. Perfect, but his ego and addictions caused an inglorious end to his WWE career. The plane ride from hell would unfortunately cut his comeback short. Just weeks after his release Hennig would be found dead as a result of cocaine, steroids, and painkiller abuse.
6 Jeff Jarrett
When WWE bought WCW in 2001, there was a period of endless possibility when all of WCW's wrestlers were now WWE's wrestlers. Except for one. Vince McMahon very publicly fired Jeff Jarrett, then one of WCW's biggest stars, as retribution for him almost leaving as Intercontinental Champion years earlier.
Jarrett was mostly a joke country singer gimmick in the WWE, but in WCW he had reinvented himself as a legitimate main event talent. Double J would go on to star inTNA, and while it never seriously rivaled WWE, it was a landing ground for many unjustly fired WWE stars.
5 Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio was fired in August of 2014 for striking an employee backstage. In his words: "I got fired because I stand up for myself against a (expletive) racist (expletive)." This incident brought to light an ugly undercurrent of racism in the WWE, as Del Rio's manager/ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez had been let go by the WWE earlier. He had also spoken out about the uncomfortable working environment.
It was a sudden and shocking end to a five year WWE career including four world titles and victories in the Money in the Bank and Royal Rumble events. Del Rio has since starred in matches for ROH and Lucha Underground.
4 Scott Hall
Before his Hall of Fame induction in 2014, Scott Hall's reunion with the WWE was almost cut short in 2002. Hall was another casualty of the "Plane Ride From Hell" that got Curt Hennig fired. Ironically, he wasn't awake or acting up through most of the flight. But it was an easy time to release him for his general poor ring shape and personal issues surrounding a child custody dispute.
Even before his nWo years in WCW, Hall was an iconic WWE superstar as Razor Ramon in the 90s. He was a multiple-time Intercontinental champion, World Title contender, and his ladder matches with HBK are considered some of the best of all time.
3 Jim Ross
Good Ol' JR left the WWE in 2013 officially as a retirement, but it didn't take long for word to emerge that JR was fired for not sufficiently controlling Ric Flair's mouth at a public event. It's shocking enough that WWE would treat one of its best announcers of all time this way, but even worse that they tried to call it a "retirement."
JR was the voice of some of the most iconic moments of WWE history. His calls of Stone Cold's WWE Title runs are just as iconic as the Stone Cold Stunners themselves. Also, his call of Mankind being "broken in half" in the Hell in a Cell match has become famous in pro wrestling, as well as pop culture. Despite rarely, if ever, wrestling a match, Ross is one of the most legendary wrestling figures to be fired from the WWE.
2 CM Punk
Punk and the WWE's parting in 2014 had several twists and turns, until the truth came out in a podcast in November - the WWE fired Punk on his wedding day. That was only the tip of the iceberg and this article isn't "Top Screwed Up Things the WWE did to CM Punk" (but we could make that another article).
Punk left the WWE as one of the most decorated stars since the Attitude Era. From 2006-2013, Punk was a five-time World Champion (including a 430+ day reign), Triple Crown Winner, and two-time Money in the Bank winner. His Pipe Bomb promo will be replayed for years. And finally, his 2011 Money in the Bank WWE Title match with John Cena will go down as one of the greatest matches in WWE history. And he was unceremoniously fired, like so many others, due to egos and WWE chasing the almighty dollar.
1 Kurt Angle
The release of the Olympic Gold Medalist in 2006 was deemed by both parties as "mutual," but it was apparent that the WWE was cutting ties with Kurt Angle until he was able to recharge his body and address an addiction to painkillers. Mr. McMahon addressed the release on WWE.com: "Kurt has some issues he has to face, as we all do from time to time. We all have our demons, and as human beings, it is important for us to overcome them and become better human beings, athletes and business people."
Angle was a force to be reckoned with in the WWE from his debut in 1999. He won every title, becoming a Grand Slam champion by 2002. He would be a surefire WWE Hall of Famer if not for his demons and abrupt WWE exit.
Also hurting Angle's WWE future - after the "mutual" release that WWE thought would help him take some time off and heal his body, Angle would go on to be a main event player in rival TNA. He's won six World Titles there to match his six World Titles in the WWE, and has been inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame.