When you’re a young kid, looking at the TV screen at the likes of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, dreaming about one day making it big in the world of wrestling, the one promotion you want to join is WWE. That must have been the case for a lot of these guys and girls; they must have had WWE in their sights when they started out – as every wrestler does. Standing in the same arenas as some of their legendary predecessors, they must have thought, 'now I’ve made it, and the glory, the riches, the success are all coming my way.' But it doesn’t always pan out like that. Very few make it big in WWE; it takes years of hard slogging, living out of a suitcase, time spent away from loved ones – not to mention plenty of politicking – to reach the top. That doesn’t deter wrestlers from embarking on a career with WWE, but a lot of people fall by the wayside and can end up broke and desolate.
Some people say that money isn’t everything, but it’s damn sure a big part of life. For a lot of wrestlers, wrestling with WWE hasn’t brought the fame and fortune they had in mind. The individuals on this list aren’t dirt poor by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that they would do better elsewhere. These are 15 wrestlers of the current crop of WWE stars who need to say farewell to the WWE and embark on a career wrestling on the independent circuit; they’d probably have lot more success.
15 Bo Dallas
Bo Dallas has served his time in the WWE, done his best, but now needs to go elsewhere. Once upon a time, he created a bit of a buzz in the promotion with his Bo-lieve, feel-good gimmick, but this has kind of died down of late and Dallas has just become stale – he’s not really bringing anything to the promotion to entice fans, besides squashing some jobbers.
Dallas has never been a megastar on the main roster. He’s always been a mid-carder, a solid performer, who showed a great deal of promise as he spent six years with WWE’s developmental territories before getting a gig on the main roster. The promotion has invested plenty of time in Dallas, but one NXT Championship is all he’s got to show for it.
Dallas has spent his entire eight-year career with WWE – he’s never wrestled on the indies, but should certainly give it a go. He’d be perfectly suited as a cruiserweight, part of a tag team on the independent circuit. Over time, the money would start to stack up too.
Since joining the WWE in 2011, Cesaro has had an up and down relationship with management. He's always been in upper mid-card talent, but has never broken through to the upper echelon of the main event scene. The WWE seems downright against making the former United States Champion a big deal in the company, as even the seal of approval from John Cena wasn't enough to get Cesaro over.
The truth is now with the European independent scene at an all time high, and Cesaro's ability to speak five different languages, the Swiss-born star could easily make more money than he currently does for the WWE. The only saving grace that the WWE would have is merchandise sales, and as of right now unless they put out a tear-away suit with Cesaro's name on it, he doesn't have any high sellers in the WWE Shop. With his previous indie experience this seems like a no-brainer for an underutilized talent.
13 Rosa Mendes
After competing in the Diva Search in 2006, Rosa impressed and gained a developmental contract with WWE and then rose to fame as Beth Phoenix's intern – a period which saw her gradually being introduced in a bigger role. But a decade after her debut, she’s got nothing to show for it.
Rosa Mendes is certainly one of the hottest women around, as you’d probably all agree, but was trying to rise through the ranks of the divas’ wrestling scene when there were some other notable names that were still reigning supreme.
She’s still with the company, currently as a correspondent, after giving birth earlier this year, but she might want to step away from WWE. Other promotions may see value in her as a valet. If she announces that she’s leaving WWE, there’ll be plenty of promotions chomping at the bit to get Rosa on board. She’ll also be able to spend more time with her little one and family – it’d be hard to do that on the road with WWE.
12 Baron Corbin
This guy’s a bit of a Roman Reign lookalike, but there’s only room for one Roman Reigns in WWE – the actual Roman Reigns who’s been billed to be the next superstar and is being pushed to the top. Meanwhile, Corbin’s career is going nowhere.
Corbin’s only been in the industry for four years, after making the transition to the ring from the football field, has spent the vast majority of this time with NXT, where he won zilch, and was called up to the main roster for WrestleMania. Still a rookie in wrestling terms, you’d think this would signal that Corbin’s career is on the rise, but he’s far from reaching the pinnacle of his success, which probably won’t happen with WWE.
Corbin’s in-ring personality is definitely stale and the fans are sick of it. He’s not bringing anything new to the WWE; he needs to learn about wrestling on the indies first before jumping into the deep end. Life on the indies could be a nice stepping stone onto something more lucrative.
11 Mojo Rawley
Here’s another guy, still a wrestling rookie, who’s transitioned from football to wrestling. In fact, Rawley’s career pretty much mirrors that of the previous guy on this list – Baron Corbin.
Rawley thought about becoming a pro wrestler during an 18-month injury lay off from football. During this time, he had the option of going back to the NFL or getting a job in finance, but for some unknown reason, he decided to get into wrestling – perhaps it was on a whim or just his love for the world of wrestling.
In hindsight, that decision may have been costly. After four years with NXT, he’s only just been called up to the main roster. As a member of The Hype Bros, he’s already irritated plenty of fans – they’re undoubtedly one of the worst tag teams around. He hasn’t shown he’s top-tier talent. Life on the indies will probably be more lucrative for Rawley in the long run. But I’m not sure it’s about money for Rawley; if it was he would have continued working in financial services. Wrestling may just be his latest fad.
10 Curtis Axel
Curtis Axel’s a big beefy guy. He’s got the name and the wrestling background that most wrestlers wish they had, but after nine years in WWE, he’s got pretty much nothing to show for it. A single Tag Team Championship and an Intercontinental Championship are his only accolades during this nine-year spell.
He doesn’t have the skills of his late father – Curt Hennig – but his family’s name could open doors for him on the indies. Should he choose to leave WWE, there’ll be plenty of promotions wanting Axel to grace their arenas; he could be a draw for independent promotions. Market and advertise Axel properly and he could be raking in the cash. Let’s see how it all pans out for Axel; one thing’s for sure, he’ll want to win more than an Intercontinental Title in the future.
9 Hideo Itami
Itami has been wrestling with NXT for a couple of years now and it seems as if his career’s stalled. He won plenty of singles titles and tag team championships with Pro Wrestling Noah, but after joining WWE, it pretty obvious he’s just there to make up the numbers – I can’t see Itami leaving NXT and gaining success on the main roster.
Going from plenty of championship success to zilch must be hard for an established pro to take. His dream was to take part in a WWE workout – he did one better and gained a contract with the promotion, but he and his bank balance would definitely be better suited to life on the indies.
Itami’s made a name for himself at Pro Wrestling Noah and he’s certainly not a novice; he could demand quite a hefty price for appearances on the indies.
8 Erick Rowan
Rowan is an utter beast of a man, a sheer man mountain, but as we’ve seen plenty of times before, being a mass monster doesn’t correlate to success in WWE. He may fit the bill – where his looks are concerned for being a domineering presence in the ring, but in terms of his accomplishments there’s nothing to mention.
Rowan’s been with WWE since 2011, but five years later and he’s only got one NXT Tag Team Championship to show for it. Despite his striking visual presence, he hasn’t really made headlines in the ring.
Rowan could certainly benefit – financially and otherwise – from a period on the independent circuit. He has a unique package – not many guys on the indies possess his size and on-screen presence – and so if he leaves WWE, he’ll no doubt get some great offers.
Rusev’s a big guy – that’s about all you can say about Rusev. The Russian crusher gimmick just didn’t work. He’s not that entertaining, doesn’t have the mic skills and his in-ring abilities are pretty dire.
His one notable accomplishment – one that he could use to get himself going on the indies – was his 146-day reign as United States Champion. During this time, he defeated John Cena – something that he should etch onto his résumé and keep there for life.
The best way to describe Rusev is that he’s a brute of a man. But again, this type of character is now getting pretty stale in WWE.
Rusev’s one guy who could certainly make more money on the indies. He’s reached his peak in WWE, and is now in no man’s land, but he’s still a recognizable figure and so his presence on the indies would bolster any roster – just maybe not the top promotions’.
6 Tyler Breeze
Tyler Breeze, his selfie gimmick and that whole fascination with all things tech is different, we’ll give him that. It has gained him quite a fan following – particularly among the younger audiences – but it’s certainly wearing a bit thin.
Just because something’s new doesn’t mean it’ll work – Tyler Breeze and the selfie gimmick is a prime example of that.
Breeze has been with WWE for six years now. During this time, he’s won a couple of championships with what was then known as Florida Championship Wrestling, but since he’s been promoted to the main roster, he’s won nada.
Like we’ve said, there have been a few who are enamored by Tyler Breeze and have taken to the selfie gimmick. If he takes this onto the indies, a few loyal fans would no doubt follow him there and more people would probably take to his character than they did in WWE. Love him or hate him, he is a recognizable figure and would make more money if he tried to make waves on the independent circuit.
5 Alicia Fox
Alicia has been with WWE for her entire wrestling career, and was thrust into the deep end straight onto the main roster. She started off slowly, but a couple of years later rose to fame when she won the WWE Divas Championship. He victory was notable at the time – and still is – as she was the only African American woman to have won the title. After winning the Divas Championship, you’d have expected Alicia to have gone on to bigger and better things. But that’s been her only title to date and she’s spent the next six years just doing the rounds, making up the numbers.
Alicia has the title win under her belt, but her career has stalled of late. She needs to revive her dying career on the independent circuit; she’s a recognizable face and so if she joined with the right promotion and it’ll almost definitely give her bank balance a boost.
4 Darren Young
Darren Young has already had a stint on the independent circuit. It’s where he gained experience wrestling as a teenager and first made a name for himself and what caused WWE to come knocking on the door.
In 2005, Young began making appearances for WWE, and five years later made his debut on NXT and came into the limelight when he was mentored by CM Punk. He’s been with WWE ever since, but has been back and forth, gaining experience on the main roster, then going back to NXT. It’s as if WWE doesn't know what to do with him. They must like him, otherwise they’d have cut him loose, but he should seriously consider going back to the independent circuit. His WWE career is going nowhere, and injuries haven’t helped his progress either.
He’s had success on the independent circuit before, and now that he’s been shown to the masses in WWE, no doubt he’s gained a greater fan following and will achieve more success – and wealth – on the indies.
Natalya is another wrestler who spent a great deal of time finding her feet on the independent circuit before joining the WWE. She wrestled with a number of different promotions when starting out in the profession – including MatRats, Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling, Great Canadian Wrestling, and a stint abroad wrestling in the UK and in Japan – for a seven-year period before signing with Deep South Wrestling. She made her main roster debut a year later, and a couple of years after that, she won the Divas Championship. Her rise to the top was quick, but once you’re at the top, the only other way is down – that’s what happened to Natalya. Her career’s been in limbo for the last six years – she needs to revive it by going back to the indies.
Natalya is the first third-generation female wrestler on the planet, has received formal training and has won what was once the biggest title in women’s wrestling. She’ll be able to demand a decent price for her work on the indies.
Neville isn’t your conventional wrestler. Hailing from the UK, he's known for his high-flying style – “the man that gravity forgot.”
Prior to competing with WWE, Adrian gained significant experience wrestling on the independent circuit. He started out wrestling with small promotions, then branched out and wrestled elsewhere in Europe and had stints in Japan, before making his way over to the U.S. He wrestled for eight years before gaining a developmental contract with WWE. During his four-year spell with WWE to date, he’s won a few titles in NXT but has won zilch on the main roster.
You can’t help but think Neville’s a guy who’d be perfectly suited to life on the indies. He’s been there, done it and has been very successful too. He won’t have any shortage of offers and should fill his coffers while he’s still able to perform those aerial attacks that have made him so famous. They love that style in Japan, and he could even try and take on the Mexicans at their own game – he should go where he’s wanted.
1 Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn’s been around for quite a bit of time, but you WWE fans would’ve probably only have heard about him in the last few years.
Sami made his debut way back in 2002 but only joined WWE in 2013. He’s another one of these guys who wrestled with a ton of other promotions around the world before being picked up by WWE. He didn’t just walk into the ranks; he was put through his paces at NXT and a couple of years later, he graduated onto the main roster. He may have been a NXT superstar, but on the main roster, it seems like he's in limbo.
Look at his résumé and you’ll see that Zayn has won plenty with other promotions and on the independent circuit. He’s a reasonably entertaining in-ring performer and would be perfectly suited to life on the indies.