Wrestling’s one seriously tough industry in which to get involved. When many stars get a contract with the biggest company in wrestling entertainment, they think they’ve hit the big time, and that their association with WWE will propel them into another stratosphere of success. For some that’s the case, and they go on to achieve legendary status with WWE. Take for example stars such as Triple H, The Rock and The Undertaker – stalwarts of WWE who will forever be associated with the world’s biggest wrestling promotion. For others, success had to be found the hard way, by wrestling around the world with various promotions after periods in WWE that didn’t live up to dreams and expectations.
Some did go on to have very successful careers, and in the case of a few – Goldberg, Sabu and DDP for example – went on to achieve legendary status, winning a plethora of titles championships and gaining a number of noteworthy accomplishments, despite flopping with Vince’s company.
It can happen; you make your name with one promotion, have lofty expectations going into the next, but things – for whatever reason – just don’t go according to plan.
These are 15 wrestlers who ruled the roost with other promotions and had successful careers despite failing when wrestling for WWE.
15 Trent Barreta
After starting off his career with New York Wrestling Connection at the still tender age of 17, Barreta must have thought that he had hit the big time when WWE came calling a few years later. He earned a contract the hard way – a contract with their developmental territory – by taking part in several try-out wrestling bouts. He must have impressed because off he went to Florida Championship Wrestling, where he spent the next two years. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t allowed to settle and was moved about a lot, never given a chance to prove himself on the main roster.
He gained a couple of Tag Team Championships at Florida Championship Wrestling, but he won his 13 other championships with other promotions. Barreta picked up four titles in New York before WWE, and is currently looking to build on his two Heavyweight Tag Team Championships in Japan. He’s now settled and seems to be resigned to life away from WWE – should have happened sooner as it could have resulted in even more success.
14 Low Ki
Low Ki, known as Kaval in WWE has been around for a long time, but unless you’re a TNA fan or keep an eye on what’s going on in the independent circuit, it’s unlikely you’re going to remember much about Low Ki.
He’s wrestled for the majority of his career under the name Low Ki, and has gained a reasonable amount of success with that name too. He’s won a hell of a lot during the course of his wrestling career, but his time with WWE was certainly a period he’d like to forget; it was a low-key existence to say the least. Vince just didn’t buy into his hard kicking, and somewhat intense style, and kicked him out the door within a year with the promotion. Not even winning NXT Season 2 could save him.
13 Bam Bam Bigelow
Big Bam Bam Bigelow had numerous stints with WWE, with each one less remarkable than the last. He was first signed to WWE when he was still essentially a rookie, and had only been wrestling for a year. That initial foray into life with the biggest wrestling promotion was short-lived and he left after a year to join the pro wrestling ranks in Japan. After making somewhat of a name for himself overseas, Vince wanted him back, and he returned for a three-year period in 1992 as a heel. God knows why because he didn’t give Bigelow any opportunities. As such, four years in WWE for big Bigelow and nothing to show for it, including no titles – except a Slammy Award, but he’d hardly wanted to display that on his mantelpiece.
12 Scott Steiner
For a guy who’s been around on the pro scene since 1986 and is still wrestling on the independent circuit, it’s remarkable to think that Steiner only spent five years with the world’s biggest wrestling promotion. He won a ton of titles with Jim Crockett Promotions and was beginning to make waves in the wrestling industry – along with his brother in the tag team division – so it’s little surprise Vince wanted the two contracted with his company. They came, they tried, they saw but they certainly didn’t conquer and left a couple of years later.
Steiner returned to WWE in 2002, bigger than ever before and captured the fans’ imagination with his hulking physique. But again, nothing happened, and he was released from his contract unceremoniously while he was injured. He did win two Tag Team Championships in WWE, but that pales in comparison to his other achievements in the wrestling industry; Scott Steiner’s a star name, but it’s no thanks to WWE.
11 Kenny Omega
A lot of you have probably heard the name but aren’t aware that Omega once wrestled in WWE. He’s still wrestling, currently contracted with New Japan Pro Wrestling, but once upon a time, very early into his career, Omega was signed by WWE and was sent off to one of their developmental territories. He was four years into his career at that point and had begun winning titles with Premier Championship Wrestling, but that all stopped during his one and only year with WWE.
He’ll probably look back today and see it as a learning experience, as he’s since made it big in Japan and has become a much-loved figure in that part of the world. It doesn’t seem as if there’s any animosity between Omega and WWE because it’s all worked out for Omega in the end. He’s said that he’s received offers from WWE to return to them, but has turned down their advances. He’s happy doing what he’s doing and standing on his own two feet without having to put up with any of Vince’s nonsense.
10 Matt Sydal
Sydal had a pretty long stint with WWE – 2007-2014 – but without much success. It’s amazing that he stayed with the company for such a long period of time; it’s astonishing to think that WWE kept him on when he’d failed two wellness tests, and that Sydal himself didn’t terminate his contract due to lack of opportunities. Instead, he stuck it out and started wrestling with the company’s developmental territories before climbing the ranks and becoming part of the main roster. One Tag Team Championship – with Kofi Kingston – is all he’s got to show for that seven-year period. It was probably a blessing in disguise when WWE released him from his contract, as he’s since gone on to have a substantial amount of success with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
This UK-based wrestler must have thought that he hit the jackpot when he got the call to go over to WWE in 2010, but what transpired must have left him bitterly disappointed. Thomas Raymond Latimer, aka Bram, got into wrestling on a whim after seeing footage of the WrestleMania VIII event. He started out wrestling with no training, but got plenty of gigs with the small promotions in the UK, and then WWE showed some interest and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Bram made the trip over to the states and began wrestling with WWE’s developmental territories, but two years into his contract after achieving absolutely nothing with the company, he was released. Since then he’s tasted reasonable success on the independent circuit. At least WWE gave Bram that route onto the U.S. wrestling scene.
8 Colt Cabana
At the age of 36, Cabana’s still relatively young as far a pro wrestlers go, but he’s already packed more into his career than most wrestlers achieve in a lifetime.
His worldly ways and dynamite personality have meant that wherever he goes, doors open for him; WWE opened the door for him in 2007, but his time with Vince’s company was anything but a success – probably the only major flop of his career. But credit to Cabana because he didn’t let that period get him down and certainly didn’t let it hold him back as he went on to achieve success after success with other promotions, in the ring and out.
His podcast proved to be a major hit, and his fans got to see him in a different light. Cabana’s funny, charismatic, successful and is influential in the world of wrestling. It wouldn’t be surprising if WWE tried to get him back in the future.
7 Matt Morgan
Morgan won a title or two with pretty much every promotion apart from WWE. His initial introduction into the world of wrestling after his NBA career was all but over was as a contestant on Tough Enough. He failed to earn a contract but showed enough promise for WWE to sign him up to one of their developmental territories. His stint with Ohio Valley Wrestling was somewhat successful, but then it was time to wrestle with the big boys on SmackDown. What should have propelled him to greater heights actually marked the beginning of the end for Morgan. WWE’s loss was the independent scene’s gain, as well as Morgan’s, as he started winning titles. He is now easing back on wrestling to spend more time with his family.
This guy achieved legendary status in ECW before signing a one-year contract with WWE. He flourished under Paul Heyman. He was the go-to guy – the man Heyman looked to to portray that extreme style of wrestling that was synonymous with his company at the time. Everything about Sabu was extreme – he took the meaning of hardcore to another level. Surprisingly he still wasn’t one of the most popular of guys in ECW, but love him or hate him, fans couldn’t help but watch him because they knew it was going to be entertaining with Sabu around. He therefore got plenty of airtime with ECW and this translated into titles, and lots of them.
His one-year stint with WWE wasn’t deserving for a man of Sabu’s stature. He didn’t win a thing, and wasn’t given opportunities, cast aside like many of the other ECW Originals.
Now on the independent circuit, Sabu will always be remembered as one of the very best in his heyday with ECW. His time with Vince McMahon was just a little blip.
5 Buff Bagwell
Apparently Bagwell didn’t have a clue as to why he was fired from WWE after spending a matter of months with the company in 2001. Perhaps it had something to do with an interfering mom? It’s said his mom was continuously calling management, making requests, asking for this and that. That certainly didn’t help, but things weren’t really going anywhere for Bagwell in WWE before his mom started picking up the phone. His only noteworthy moment in WWE was when he faced Booker T for the WCW Championship when WCW was purchased by Vince. Aside from that, attitude problems and backstage altercations meant that he quickly fell out of favor with Vince, and no sooner had he joined, he was fired.
WWE aside, Bagwell’s wrestled for numerous promotions, filling his coffers and winning a load of championships along the way.
Things are decent between DDP and Vince now as they both have a tremendous amount of respect for one another - Vince for DDP’s yoga program and DDP for how wrestling’s been propelled to even greater heights under Vince’s leadership. However, at one point, things weren’t great between the two. Vince just didn’t give DDP the opportunities a man of his stature in the industry warranted. Giving DDP gimmicks like obsessively stalking The Undertaker’s wife, and then making a joke out his motivational speaking – the WWE surely kept DDP down and didn't allow him to be himself, something that had already gained him a huge fan following in the industry.
He won a couple of titles with WWE, but it was still a far from successful period for DDP. His pre-WWE days with WCW is where he tasted the majority of his success, but when Vince purchased WCW, things quickly took a turn for the worse.
3 Lex Luger
Luger had already made a name for himself well before Vince came calling. His imposing physique meant that awestruck fans couldn’t help but watch Luger in action, which they did for many years when he was winning titles with Jim Crockett Promotions and WCW, before he had his first interaction with Vince.
Vince – pretty jacked up himself – scouted Luger for one of his most ludicrous concoctions – his World Bodybuilding Federation. This was an epic failure and went out of business within the first year – should have been a warning sign for Luger.
Still, Luger joined WWE shortly after the WBF went under, and actually had – what many people would deem to be – a decent few years. He was voted the Most Popular Wrestler of the Year in 1993, and wrestled for every single title that was up for grabs in WWE at the time. He certainly can’t moan about lack of opportunities, but these opportunities didn’t translate into any form of success. He didn’t win anything, so for Luger, it probably wasn’t what he would deem to be a successful time with WWE.
It’s remarkable to think that Goldberg – still one of the most recognizable figures in the industry – only spent a year with WWE, and that was when he was nearing the end of his career. He had been wrestling for seven years before joining Vince’s company, and had already had a very successful time of it. His stomping ground was WCW, a promotion that paved out his path to greatness.
When he joined WWE in 2003, it was evident that there was some friction between Goldberg and Vince. Consequently, Goldberg wasn’t allowed to flourish; he won the World Heavyweight Championship, but that sole title pales in comparison to his achievements elsewhere, wrestling with other promotions in the industry.
At his peak, Goldberg "was as hot as anybody has ever been in the history of this business," as noted by Arn Anderson, but he certainly wasn’t referring to Goldberg’s time spent with WWE.
1 Shane Douglas
Douglas had two less than remarkable stints with WWE, both of which did nothing to enhance his standing in the industry and can be deemed to have been major flops. It’s unclear why Douglas was cast aside by Vince. In 1990, he left so that he could care for his father, but when he returned in 1995, he just wasn’t given a shot – puzzling since Vince seemed to like the Shane Douglas character first time around. Whether there were some issues that we don’t know about, or it was just a case of things not working out, Douglas’ short-lived WWE career was far from successful.
He won just one title – the Intercontinental Championship, for about 15 minutes. Looking at his résumé, it’s his achievements in ECW, WCW and on the independent scene that he’d want to discuss.