The roster of World Wrestling Entertainment includes a number of changes every year. Superstars are always being brought in as a way to freshen up the WWE main roster. It’s necessary in an effort to try and keep the fans interested in the prospects of certain talents being rumored to return or debut for the company.
NXT has also featured a number of great future stars with the eventual call-ups of names like Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe and even Bobby Roode. This can lead to changes that require some WWE Superstars to be let go from the company. When newcomers like AJ Styles & Karl Anderson arrived, and Luke Gallows returned, there was an excess of talent.
The WWE usually releases superstars around the same time every year, although in recent years, it feels like it happens a little more sporadically. Whether for a lack of direction or frustration with how they are booked, some superstars request their release from the WWE. Then there are others who are not living up to expectations becoming of a WWE superstar and are let go after a time period of mediocrity.
Other reasons for a WWE Superstar being released ranges from retiring after an injury to having personal issues that the WWE doesn’t want to be associated with. For these reasons and more, the following are the top 15 WWE Superstars who have been released in the last five years. This article also looks at what they are doing after leaving the WWE.
One thing to note before continuing is that there are a number of great WWE Superstars who were released at one point during this time. But superstars like Chris Jericho, Goldust and the Bella Twins would return and still have a place on the current WWE roster. Wrestlers who chose not to re-sign with WWE (i.e. Ted DiBiase, Jr.) are also not on this list.
15 Eve Torres
Eve Torres was certainly not one of the best Divas in WWE history. But she was able to flourish during a period where there was a noticeable lack of female talent from 2008 until 2013, when she had requested her release from the WWE. This was after superstars like Lita, Trish Stratus and Mickie James had left the WWE and long before the current WWE Women's Revolution. Torres still held the WWE Divas Championship on three separate occasions.
Since leaving the WWE, Torres has become more involved as an instructor for a women’s self-defense program. Torres also married Rener Gracie about a year after leaving the WWE. She’s now a mother to a son, Raeven. She is still involved with the Gracie Women Empowered Self-Defense program.
Kia Stevens may have had the worst luck when she finally earned her chance at being on the WWE main roster. After years of winning women’s championships for several major independent promotions around the world as Awesome Kong, Stevens would debut in the WWE as Kharma in 2010. She was brought onto WWE television as a monster who seemed determined to annihilate “the pretty ones.”
But shortly after her WWE debut, it was discovered that Stevens was pregnant with her first child. Unfortunately, there was a miscarriage and it certainly had an emotional impact on Kharma. One highlight for Stevens before her release was being one of the Royal Rumble entrants in 2012. Since she was granted her release from WWE in 2012, she returned to working on the independent circuit and for promotions like TNA and Shimmer.
13 Solomon Crowe
Sami Callihan is certainly a different kind of wrestler. Known for his ultra violent wrestling experience, Callihan still earned a development contract to the WWE in 2012. However, it seemed that the WWE was taking their time in helping him get into a new character under the name Solomon Crowe. He competed in several dark matches for the NXT brand and even debuted a hacker gimmick in a live event attack of Kalisto.
More than two years after signing with the WWE, Crowe debuted on NXT television with an attack on CJ Parker. However, Crowe was barely used after that and was eventually released in 2015. Since his departure, Callihan has returned to the independent circuit with plenty of success. He’s also competed in Lucha Underground as Jeremiah Crane.
12 Drew McInytre
After years of being one of the best wrestlers in the United Kingdom, Drew Galloway had an opportunity with the WWE that started in Ohio Valley Wrestling in 2006. After a few more years in Florida Championship Wrestling, he debuted on WWE television in 2009 as “The Chosen One” Drew McIntyre. This led to winning the WWE Intercontinental Championship almost immediately upon his debut.
However, McIntyre would fall down the card and would end his WWE run as part of a comedy trio with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal – 3MB. Since leaving, he’s become a big star on the independent circuit both in the United Kingdom and the United States. He’s also won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship and the Impact Grand Championship since coming to TNA Wrestling in 2015.
11 Derrick Bateman
Derrick Bateman was a highlight of the third season of NXT; back when the WWE decided to have a show that felt like a reality-television competition to earn a WWE main roster contract. He had entertaining segments that included a double-date involving the Bella Twins and Daniel Bryan. But Bateman was never officially able to make it to the WWE main roster after about five years in the WWE developmental system.
After being released from the WWE in 2013, he would later debut in TNA Wrestling as Ethan Carter III. Through this gimmick, ECIII has shown that he was deserving of the time on television. He’s been a big heel for TNA Wrestling with five-star matches involving the likes of Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy; winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championships twice.
10 Evan Bourne
Matt Sydal has been one of the best high-flying wrestlers who has amazed independent wrestling fans from 2000 to 2007. He’s been a big star for Ring of Honor, Dragon Gate in Japan and several Midwest promotions like IWA-Mid South. In 2007, he would be offered a developmental contract with WWE and would find himself on the main roster in 2008 as part of the ECW brand.
As Evan Bourne, his popularity rose as he would win the WWE Tag Team Championship with Kofi Kingston. But a 2012 car accident led to a year-long absence after trying to repair his foot that broke in four places. Bourne would be released from WWE in 2014. Since then, he’s been billed as “Reborn” Matt Sydal. While he could be a great addition to the WWE’s Cruiserweight Division, he’ll likely remain on the independent circuit.
9 Damien Sandow
Damien Sandow had more than one stint in the WWE. He was originally with the WWE from 2002 until 2007 as Idol Stevens. But it didn’t last long as he would be released to work on the independent circuit. But a return to Florida Championship Wrestling in 2010 was the spark that led to the Intellectual Savior of the Masses in Damien Sandow. It worked as the crowd loved the snotty heel who portrayed himself as someone better than everyone else.
Sandow’s status fell after winning Money in the Bank in 2013. Sandow then succumbed to adopting a comedy gimmick impersonating others and becoming a stunt double for The Miz. Despite becoming extremely popular, he was never elevated in the WWE before being released in 2016. Since then, he’s gone to TNA Wrestling as Aron Rex. Now, Rex has become a flamboyant character similar to Adrian Adonis.
8 Beth Phoenix
Beth Phoenix might have been one of the best female wrestlers to compete in the WWE during the PG Era after the likes of Lita and Trish Stratus retired. After debuting in 2006, she would become the Glamazon in 2007 and quickly became one of the most dominant female WWE Superstars in recent history. This led to her winning the WWE Women’s Championship three different times.
Despite a comedy gimmick where she was dating Santino Marella, Phoenix would win the WWE Divas Championship one time before she would leave the WWE for personal reasons. Since her departure from the WWE, Phoenix married Adam “Edge” Copeland and the two have two children together. After years of being a fearsome WWE Superstar, she has embraced the role of loving mother.
7 Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett was someone who deserved to win the first season of NXT in 2010. He showed the right combination of in-ring abilities and natural charisma. Barrett was the perfect leader of The Nexus faction that would run dominant in the WWE for a few years. But Barrett was someone who was always given championships at the mid-card level. Barrett would win the WWE Intercontinental Championship five times and even won the King of the Ring tournament in 2015.
But injuries always hurt his momentum at the worst possible times. It was last May where Barrett was released by the WWE. He would later note that it was a mutual parting a month before his contract was set to expire. Since then, he’s been involved in the world of acting; he hasn't been taking any independent wrestling bookings.
6 Santino Marella
After a few years of working in Ohio Valley Wrestling, Santino Marella had one of the most memorable debuts in the Ruthless Aggression era. Marella was “selected randomly” from the crowd in Milan, Italy, to challenge Umaga for the WWE Intercontinental Championship in 2007. With the help of Bobby Lashley, Marella would win in what was called the Milan Miracle. Marella spent most of his time as a comedy act, most memorably teaming with Vladimir Kozlov and cross-dressing as “Santina Marella” to win Miss WrestleMania at WrestleMania XXV.
Marella was still a decorated superstar as a two-time WWE Intercontinental Champion, a WWE United States Champion and a WWE Tag Team Champion. He was forced to retire due to a neck injury in 2014; which led to his release in 2016. Outside of the WWE, he’s opened up and operated the Battle Arts Academy in 2013 for mixed martial arts and pro wrestling training.
5 Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes showed during his WWE career that he was able to work with just about any kind of gimmick the writers forced on him. Part of that could be due to the fact that he comes from a lineage of wrestling stardom that includes his father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and godfather Magnum T.A. Whether he was Dashing or Stardust from “The Fifth Dimension,” Rhodes made it work.
But he was tired of the Stardust gimmick and was granted his release from WWE in 2016. It was a big risk, but he’s made quite the name for himself away from WWE – even when only going by “Cody.” He’s worked for TNA Wrestling, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling under an independent contract. This allows him to wrestle for anyone he wants while not being exclusive to anyone. It’s worked well so far.
4 Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio has competed on major wrestling television since the 1990s with Extreme Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling. He was one of the best cruiserweights of a division that featured some of the best wrestling seen during the Monday Night Wars. But Mysterio was able to elevate himself into a main event star in WWE from 2002 until 2015 – including three WWE World Championships and just about every title in the WWE.
He would be released in 2015 after being out with injury since 2014. Since then, Mysterio has returned to working for AAA in Mexico while competing for various independent promotions around the world. Mysterio has also been part of the Lucha Underground show on El Rey Network. Considering his age, it would be hard to imagine Mysterio doing much with WWE beyond a surprise Royal Rumble appearance in future years.
The WWE has had a number of great wrestlers who might have been under-utilized through most of their respective careers. In the case of Christian, he was someone who was originally part of one of the greatest tag teams with Edge through wars with The Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz. Christian would win nine WWE Tag Team Championships with three different partners. He would go into a singles career as Captain Charisma – winning the ECW Championship, WWE Intercontinental Championship and more.
It wasn’t until 2011 when he would win his first World Heavyweight Championship. His time as a main event star didn’t last long. The injuries continued to pile up on Christian and he was forced to retire by the company. It wasn’t official until the WWE released him from his talent contract last May. Since then, he’s teamed with Edge for the Edge and Christian Show That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness and other WWE Network projects.
2 CM Punk
Not many wrestlers are able to transcend WWE and enter the world of mainstream pop culture. But with the Summer of Punk in 2011 run that featured the infamous “pipebomb” promo, he would become one of the longest reigning WWE Champions in modern history. But a variety of issues led to him quitting WWE within two months of WrestleMania XXX; which was supposed to see him feud with Triple H, again.
Punk would go on a shoot interview to talk about his issues, which has led to a WWE doctor seeking legal action. He would then decide to go for what many would call an impossible dream. Punk tried to go into the world of mixed martial arts and make his debut in UFC. Unfortunately, he lost within a few minutes to Mickey Gall by TKO. While his MMA future is up in the air, Punk still has a writing job with Marvel Comics.
1 Hulk Hogan
While his prime in the world of professional wrestling was during the 1980s and 1990s, he was very active for TNA Wrestling and then signed a Legends Contract with the WWE in 2014. Criticism aside for his recent years of working sub-par matches, Hogan is still one of the most decorated superstars with six world championships in WWE and then another six during his time in World Championship Wrestling.
But in July 2015, the WWE released him due to issues surrounding controversy from a leaked sex tape where Hogan used racial slurs about African-Americans. Hogan would then file a lawsuit against Gawker Media in regards to the release of the tape for $100 million. He would get that amount, plus more. But he has yet to be involved in references by WWE – either on television or on their website.