There was once a time when World Wrestling Entertainment was the place to be if you were a professional wrestler looking to earn a decent living and be a superstar on television. With WWE winning the Monday Night War and purchasing WCW back in 2001, one would assume that being released from WWE would mean the end of one’s pursuits of being on television.
That’s why there was a lot of attention when TNA Wrestling would occasionally sign former WWE Superstars to their roster. Over the years, they had some major acquisitions that led to them being given main event pushes that might not have been possible in the WWE. With the ever evolving world of professional wrestling, it has become clear that being in WWE doesn’t always mean you have found success in professional wrestling.
Sometimes, many wrestlers have made the transition from WWE to TNA and benefited from the change. Cody Rhodes, who is expected to debut soon for TNA, is just another example of that, but he’s not the first, nor will he likely be the last, as the WWE seems to be bringing in those who have flourished in TNA.
The following are the top 15 wrestlers who left WWE and found success working in TNA Wrestling.
15 Taryn Terrell
Taryn Terrell was one of the numerous women who signed up for the WWE Diva Search. Many were models who were interested in the big six-figure contract that came with winning the competition. While she didn’t win in 2007, she was offered a developmental contract and reported to Florida Championship Wrestling. She struggled in her time as the general manager of ECW before being eventually released in 2010.
A few years later, she was able to make her debut in TNA Wrestling as a referee. Eventually, she would go through a transition into a full-time wrestler who would have a pretty decent feud with Gail Kim before winning the TNA Knockouts Championship. Her improvements were noticed as Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked her 10th among all female wrestlers in the PWI Female 50 last year. It was unfortunate that she would eventually leave TNA in what she would call a “personal decision.”
Frankie Kazarian is known as one of the better superstars who had plenty of success in TNA Wrestling before coming to the WWE in 2005. There was some excitement about how the former TNA X Division Champion and pioneer would fare as part of the WWE roster, but he was rarely seen beyond some dark matches and episodes of Velocity. During an interview on Talk is Jericho, Kazarian would talk about how he kept trying to get booked for shows while under WWE contract.
However, his run in TNA from 2012 to 2014 showed a very entertaining team with Christopher Daniels to form Bad Influence. They were definitely one of the best duos in professional wrestling and billed themselves “The World Tag Team Champions of the World.” Overall, Kazarian had five reigns as X Division Champion and three TNA World Tag Team Championships. However, he and Daniels have brought their tag team craft to Ring of Honor and the independent circuit.
13 Ethan Carter III
Well before he had a historic undefeated streak in TNA Wrestling, Ethan Carter III was once a developmental talent in WWE’s system. He was first signed to WWE in 2006 and spent a few years in Florida Championship Wrestling before being selected to participate in the fourth season of the NXT show. Daniel Bryan was a perfect fit as his coach/mentor with the two having some very entertaining segments.
It’s worth noting that there are some fans who thought Derrick Bateman showed a lot of potential when he was in WWE, but he was never able to find a consistent spot on the WWE roster was sent back to developmental and the new NXT brand. He would leave the WWE in 2013 and was repackaged as EC3 in TNA. He was able to find success with a streak of wins that continued until 2015. He also won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship twice.
12 Gail Kim
Gail Kim is someone who has jumped from WWE to TNA on two different occasions. Both times, one could say that Kim was underutilized under WWE, which was extremely noticeable in 2011 when she was barely seen on WWE television. However, Kim has been one of the more consistent athletes in the ring for TNA. She’s been able to use a mixture of technical submissions and strikes to go along with a bit of a high-flying style that made her a fan favorite.
She was also known as a decent manager for America’s Most Wanted (James Storm and Chris Harris). Overall, she has won the TNA Women’s Knockout Championship five times, as well as the Knockouts Tag Team Championship once. She even had a hair vs. hair ladder match with Roxxi Laveaux during her first stint with TNA in 2008. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise when TNA added her name to their Hall of Fame earlier this year.
11 Bobby Lashley
Bobby Lashley was definitely a great athlete that the WWE brought in after his time with the U.S. Army and athlete under their World Class Athlete Program. He would come to the WWE in 2004 and was placed in an undefeated streak as a powerhouse. His time in the WWE included wins for the United States championship, as well as defeating The Big Show for the ECW Championship in 2006 and a feud with Umaga at WrestleMania 23.
His first stint in TNA from 2009 to 2010 was short so that he would focus on a career in mixed martial arts, but since his return to TNA in 2014, he’s become one of the top main event superstars with three reigns as the TNA World Heavyweight Champion. His current contract with TNA has allowed him to also continue MMA, where he has also done well with a 14-2 record.
10 Mickie James
After years of competing on the independent circuit, Mickie James brought something different to the WWE women’s division with the stalker story line involving Trish Stratus. That would lead to her being one of the most decorated women’s wrestlers in WWE’s Ruthless Aggression Era. However, her final days with the company were marred with the “Piggy James” story line with Michelle McCool and Layla El. Since 2010, James became one of the bigger stars in TNA’s Knockouts Division.
James would win the TNA Knockout Championship three different times and had some great matches that wouldn’t have been possible in the WWE. Fans can still recall her Six Sides of Steel matches with Tara (another former WWE superstar) and Madison Rayne that included some memorable spots. She’s had a very successful career overall. James might be enjoying motherhood and a passion for country music, but she certainly left an impression on women’s wrestling.
9 Drew Galloway
Since 2003, Drew Galloway has made himself one of the best professional wrestlers to come from the United Kingdom. The Scottish-born wrestler toured Europe for several years before he was signed to WWE in 2006. He would be developed over the years in Ohio Valley Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling before he was brought to the main roster as “The Chosen One” in 2009. This change included being introduced by Vince McMahon as a future world champion.
After some time as the Intercontinental Champion, he would then be moved between RAW and SmackDown and would eventually struggle to find television time before forming 3MB with Jinder Mahal and Heath Slater. He did leave the WWE in 2014 and returned to the independents and eventually came to TNA in 2015. Since then, he’s been able to find a consistent direction on television that allowed him to reach the main event spotlight as a former TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
8 Rob Van Dam
Putting Rob Van Dam on this list is not claiming that he was terrible in the WWE. He was actually one of the top talents on the WWE’s mid-card shortly after the shutdown of both Extreme Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling. Known for being one of the faces of ECW, RVD won a lot of titles, including six reigns as the Intercontinental Champion. He would eventually win the WWE Championship at ECW One Night Stand in 2006.
However, he would be arrested for drug possession and would be forced to drop both WWE and ECW titles. Eventually, he decided to part ways with WWE and would come to TNA. He would win both the X Division and TNA World Heavyweight Championship, continuing to show that he was deserving of being in the main event spotlight. He probably would have stayed with the company if it wasn’t for issues involving a new contract, which he talked about in an interview on Talk is Jericho.
7 Ron “R-Truth” Killings
A lot of the younger wrestling fans may not realize how extensive the overall career of R-Truth really is. While he has developed a reputation of a comedic character in recent years, he debuted as “K-Kwik” and won the WWE Hardcore Championship a couple of times. He also had a tag team with Road Dogg Jesse James in the later years of the Attitude Era. In 2001, he was let go from his contract and would go to the independent circuit.
As Ron “The Truth” Killings, he was one of the early members of the TNA Wrestling roster – back when the promotion had weekly pay-per-views held in Nashville, Tenn. Within the first few months, Killings would win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, which made him the first recognized African-American wrestler to win the title. He would win the title one more time, but was able to win tag team gold with different talents until he returned to WWE in 2008.
6 Bobby Roode
This one might be a bit of a stretch considering that Bobby Roode was never officially signed with the WWE before his current contract brought him to the NXT brand. However, he was often seen in several dark matches and a few on Heat and Velocity from 1998 to 2004 under WWE. They were usually considered tryout matches where he tried to land that first contract with the biggest company in North America.
While having spent plenty of time working for WWE on a part-time basis, Roode made the decision to sign a full-time contract with TNA Wrestling in 2004 and became an integral member of Team Canada. For more than a decade, Roode would become one of the best homegrown talents for the TNA brand. In addition to winning the TNA World Tag Team Championship six times, he won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship twice and the King of the Mountain Championship once. He’s now one of the top TNA talents who finally got a chance to compete in WWE.
5 Bubba Ray Dudley
As a member of a tag team with D-Von Dudley, Bubba Ray Dudley would win multiple world tag team championships for virtually every major promotion you could think of. It all started in ECW and also included runs in WCW, WWE and TNA. He’s won tag team gold in other parts of the world, but he was never able to get beyond the mid-card as a singles competitor. The WWE did have him challenge Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship in 2002, but that was about it.
In 2010, he would make the shift into Bully Ray and become a heel against his former tag team partner. This led to him being able to advance to the main event picture in TNA as a key leader in the Aces and Eights. This led to him winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championship after defeating Jeff Hardy in 2013. He would win the title a second time before returning to WWE with D-Von last year.
4 Matt Hardy
Matt Hardy is the older sibling of the Hardy family, as he hasn’t quite had the same success outside of teaming with Brother Nero. Before leaving the WWE, he did accumulate plenty of championships and even the ECW Championship. His first run in TNA didn’t work out well, as he was released in 2011 due to a DWI arrest, but his most recent return to the company has yielded some of the best work he’s done for several years.
Turning into a heel and evolving into “Broken Matt Hardy” has provided some of the most creative and entertaining segments fans have seen in a while. “The Final Deletion” match with his younger brother received a lot of attention from fans. He and the recently broken Brother Nero are succeeding in not only getting fans' attention, but possibly helping boost TNA’s ratings and overall relevance. It will be interesting to see what happens and how the “broken” storyline continues moving forward.
Christian was one of the most underrated superstars of the Attitude Era. He and his long-time partner Edge were definitely a tag team dynasty with seven runs with the WWE World Tag Team Championship. Christian won plenty of gold since then with the European, Hardcore, Light Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles. He also won more tag team gold with Chris Jericho and Lance Storm, but Captain Charisma never received a main event push, which was likely the reason for his departure in 2005.
Between 2005 and 2008, Christian was able to receive the main event push that he never had during his first run in WWE. He won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship twice before TNA would create their own world title. Christian was able to have some of his best matches in TNA, although he would return to WWE and get the World Heavyweight Championship twice. Some argue he was able to show what he was truly capable of by making the jump to TNA.
2 Jeff Hardy
This is more of an example of someone who has been successful for multiple wrestling promotions. During his first run with the WWE through the Attitude Era and into 2003, Jeff Hardy had won virtually every possible championship – except for a world title. His first run with TNA did not yield any championships, but some memorable moments in feuds with guys like Jeff Jarrett and Abyss.
While he did return to WWE and win three world championships between 2006 and 2009, he would decide to make the jump to TNA once again. His time since then has been a roller coaster with issues involving drugs, but he has also won the TNA World Heavyweight Championships three times. He’s also seemingly received a chance to work with his brother on a different direction with their recently storyline, which has provided us the entertaining and memorable “Final Deletion” and “Delete or Decay” segments.
1 Kurt Angle
The former Olympic gold medalist was easily one of the better all-around athletes to have competed in a WWE ring. Since 2000, Angle had won every possible championship in WWE that also included six world heavyweight championships. However, he and the WWE decided to end their relationship in 2006. There were concerns about his overall health that led WWE to feel he was not going to be a main event factor moving forward.
Angle then took that as a challenge and had some good years in TNA Wrestling from 2006 to 2016. During that time, fans can recall five-star matches with the likes of Christian, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles. Once again, it wasn’t long until Angle had won every championship belt in TNA at the time. This included winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championship on six separate occasions. While his time in TNA seems to be over, he will likely be considered one of the most successful professional wrestlers in the last 15 years.