WWE currently dominates the pro wrestling industry and is the company every wrestler aspires to work for. It offers the most money, the biggest spotlight and is the company most wrestlers grew up watching as fans. Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to get hired based on the odds of how many people want to make it in the business and it’s even harder to keep the job once employed. Over the last couple of years, the industry has become a little healthier as other options for wrestlers have begun to open up. New Japan and Mexico’s AAA are two very large foreign promotions for wrestlers hoping to travel the world. Ring of Honor has grown. Lucha Underground was created. The independent wrestling scene has been seeing larger crowds.
Wrestlers released by WWE have a chance to continue making a living doing what they love if they grind hard enough to keep their bookings filled. While there are other options, the majority of wrestlers still want to return to WWE. It’s just the safest and biggest option. The prospect of a wrestler coming back after a release is not unheard of. As recently as the Hell in a Cell PPV, Alberto Del Rio made a surprise return and it was a big moment. His stock is higher than it was at any point during the last few years of his prior run in WWE because he’s fresh and has raised his stock by being away for a little while.
The success of NXT has also made for a new dynamic in the WWE. The once small developmental brand is growing and touring with fans buying tickets to see the rising stars of the company. WWE also has a lot of content to fill with three hours of Raw, two hours of SmackdDwn and smaller shows like Main Event and Superstars. With so much time to display wrestling, the company should be looking for as many new or returning talents as possible to keep things fresh. Adding familiar faces with something left to contribute can keep fans on their toes and add to the product. We’re going to look at twenty wrestlers that WWE has recently released over the last six years and should be looking at bringing back.
Don’t laugh. While JTG was primarily used as a jobber during the last few years of his WWE career, he was also in Cryme Tyme. The memorable tag team achieved some success in WWE and could add to the depth of the current WWE tag team division in a return with Shad. Even if he was still only used as an enhancement talent, the crowd has become more aware of him since his release. JTG could potentially become a cult favorite and mid-card success story if the writing team went about using him in a smart way. Whether returning with the Cryme Tyme tag team or just being a singles jobber, JTG could provide value in WWE.
19 Mickie James
With the extra emphasis on the Divas division making it more valued than ever, it would benefit WWE to bring in a former popular female wrestling star. Trish Stratus and Lita are no longer active competitors, so they would have to look towards the next tier of names. Mickie James would probably be the most respected realistic option. James was very successful during her time in WWE and still wrestles on the independent wrestling scene. Despite recently giving birth to a child with wrestler Magnus, James is in great shape and could give dream matches with the current Divas to help add more credibility to the division.
18 Curt Hawkins
Similar to JTG, Curt Hawkins could be used in the tag team division. Hawkins has shown the ability to perform very well in a tag team atmosphere. The most success he achieved in the WWE was in a team with Zack Ryder. Following his WWE release, Hawkins has teamed with Trevor Lee during the TNA vs. GFW shows and once again looked good in the ring. A reunion with Ryder could benefit both of their careers and give the tag team division more depth. When you think back to the best WWE tag team days, there were several decent teams, so bolstering the division with a few more would be wise.
17 Chris Hero
Working under the name of Kassius Ohno in NXT, Chris Hero came to WWE with his tag team partner Cesaro. Due to his overall look and weight gain, Hero was unable to succeed in WWE and was released before going back to the indies. Hero has been spectacular in the past year, wrestling incredible matches for PWG, Evolve, NOAH and other promotions. NXT is in a stage where most of its better talent should be on the main roster by next April and they’ll need more talent if they’re going to continue touring. The performance center projects won't be able to progress to a point where they'll be able to meet the expectations of NXT fans by that time. Hero should be one of the independent wrestlers signed to a “Rhyno deal” where he appears once in a while to help add talent.
16 Chris Masters
Chris Masters worked very hard to improve at the end of his WWE run but was never given another opportunity to showcase it on television. Global Force Wrestling is looking to make Masters one of the faces of its promotion, but WWE could easily steal him away if they desired. Masters is still in his prime at the age of 32 and, depending on how his ceiling is viewed, Masters can be a consistent and credible former WWE act to add to NXT or he can return to the midcard and have matches with new opponents.
15 Brodus Clay
Following his WWE release, Brodus Clay has been very successful at keeping an active schedule on the independent scene and having a role in TNA. Now dubbed Tyrus, the big man is finally being used as a monster heel in his role as the bodyguard to Ethan Carter III. It’s a simple formula that WWE didn’t follow when making him the dancing dinosaur. He’s a large human and one of the most intimidating wrestlers in the world. so why not make him one of the most fearsome heels? Tyrus is capable of having entertaining matches and has an underrated charisma that would be useful if he's booked well in WWE.
14 CJ Parker
Most known for his role as a humorous jobber on NXT television, CJ Parker requested his release to leave the company and grow more as a wrestler. Parker noticed world travelers like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor and Hideo Itami instantly become main event stars while he never progressed into anything more than an enhancement talent. Parker has been working on his craft with New Japan Pro Wrestling and has hinted at the goal being to build his brand up for an eventual WWE return, where he can be put in a position to have a bigger role in the company. Impressing in Japan, there’s no doubt WWE should keep an eye out and snatch Parker back up whenever he’s ready to return.
Maria Kanellis has been in Ring of Honor for the last four years as a manager working with her husband Mike Bennett. She’s improved dramatically as a performer growing from eye candy to an impressive promo and important part of the roster. A WWE return as a manager would show her in a new light and have her help whatever performer she’s working with. Maria still looks as amazing as ever, so her value would still be high for magazine shoots and the other press work that comes with being a WWE Diva. Whether returning with her husband or pairing with a new wrestler, Maria Kanellis should be a manager in WWE.
12 Shelton Benjamin
Many wrestling pundits called Shelton Benjamin the most underrated wrestler in WWE for years. Benjamin was an incredibly athletic talent and did things in the ring that left us in awe. After his tenure in WWE ended with his ceiling being the midcard titles, Benjamin tried his luck in ROH and NJPW. He was often criticized for not impressing unless working in front of Japan’s bigger crowds. Benjamin returning to WWE would bring his passion back and he could be featured in feuds for the newly relevant United States Championship or Intercontinental Championship.
11 Jim Ross
The greatest commentator in wrestling history has been in and out of the WWE for many years, but this time it looks like Jim Ross is officially done as an on-air contributor. Ross has been working on his live one-man shows and his podcast but there’s no doubt he’d love to return to WWE. Aside from Michael Cole, the company doesn’t have another respected play-by-play man, as Rich Brennan and Tom Phillips just don’t have a strong presence. Ross would be greatly appreciated in a role as the lead SmackDown announcer or even in a smaller spot hosting shows on the WWE Network. JR played a huge role in the product and fans have a soft spot for him, so utilizing him for nostalgia would be a good move.
During her time in WWE, Taryn Terrell was most remembered for playing ECW general manager Tiffany. It wasn’t until she went to TNA that she showcased her potential as an in-ring performer. Terrell had incredible matches with Gail Kim that were among the best in the company at the time. She’s also improved her character work and would be an asset to the WWE Divas division. Terrell has the prototypical look WWE has loved for years, she’s athletic and she now has the seasoning to compete at a high level. In her off time, Terrell has done stunt work for hit movies like Jurassic World and Get Hard, so she even has some ties to the entertainment industry that they can tie into press or character work.
9 Justin Gabriel
Many predicted Justin Gabriel to be the breakout star of the Nexus faction, but he never could develop a role that gave him television time after they split. Gabriel spent most of his time on the secondary shows like Main Event and Superstars before requesting his release. Wanting to live on his own terms and make a bigger impact in wrestling, he’s been working as PJ Black for Global Wrestling Force and indie wrestling promotions. He’s looked very impressive and has the perfect style that would work in NXT. If he gets a little more experience, WWE should bring him back to feud with some of the bigger stars in NXT.
WWE missed out big time when they cut bait with Maxine without ever trying to push her. As a part of the NXT competition, Maxine was overshadowed by AJ Lee, Naomi and Kaitlyn but her character work stood out more than the others. Lucha Underground scooped her up as Catrina and made an important part of their television show. She’s currently managing both champion acts that work under masks and don’t speak, allowing her acting skills and charisma to carry those stars in the story. She's demonstrated the "it" factor in Lucha Underground and WWE could benefit greatly from having someone with her skill set.
7 Trent Barreta
One of the better success stories of a wrestler departing WWE and reaching great success outside of the company belongs to Trent Barreta. If you blink, you may have missed all of his appearances on WWE television. Fresh off his WWE release, Barreta started to make a name for himself in PWG and Evolve Wrestling. He became one of the best wrestlers on the indie scene and was brought into NJPW for a role in the tag division alongside Rocky Romero. Whether you want to slot him in NXT or on the main roster, Trent is one of the top talents outside of WWE and there should be a spot on the roster for him.
6 The Hardy Boyz
The return of The Dudley Boyz to WWE has brought about the speculation that The Hardy Boyz will be back at some point soon. Jeff Hardy left the company on his own terms and Matt Hardy was let go. Since their departures, Jeff has been a top mainstay in TNA. Matt has been all over the indies and currently holds a prominent role in TNA as well. The rumors are that their contracts will be up very soon and WWE should definitely make a play for them. WWE’s tag team division has the potential to be the best it’s been since 2001 and a TLC Match between the Hardys, Dudleys and New Day would be terrific.
5 Evan Bourne
Matt Sydal was one of the first independent wrestling stars to achieve success in WWE as Evan Bourne. He made a good name for himself before injuries and suspensions ended his time with the company. Since getting released by WWE, Sydal has only improved and has been one of the best wrestlers in 2015. Sydal is found most frequently in ROH and has recently made his debut in NJPW. WWE should throw a lot of money at Sydal to return and put him on the main roster right away. He’s currently in a zone that very few can reach and has never been a better performer. Sydal could reach new heights if given a fair second chance in the WWE.
4 Rey Mysterio
After seeing the return of Alberto Del Rio, WWE definitely wants to add more talent to appeal to its Hispanic audience. That brings us to Rey Mysterio. The future Hall of Famer requested his release at the beginning of the year and has been working as a top act in Mexico's AAA once again. Wrestling’s biggest little man is a legend in any promotion and WWE should offer him a contract to work a schedule similar to The Undertaker or Chris Jericho. Mysterio appearing in four or five big matches per year and giving us dream matches with new opponents would be great. Despite injuries and age catching up to him, Mysterio can still perform at a high level but can no longer work the hectic WWE schedule.
3 3.Gail Kim
As touched on a couple of times in this article, the Divas division is finally being treated with respect. Gail Kim is one of the greatest female wrestlers of all time despite having two runs in WWE completely flop. The company didn’t respect her athletic ability and pushed her to the side for the women that looked more like models. With the “revolution” started by the NXT talent coming up, Kim would be the perfect centerpiece to add to the mix. Gail would have classics with Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Charlotte and even Nikki Bella. She’s shown rightful displeasure about her time in WWE, so it’s not probable but if WWE could agree to terms with Kim, the signing would make for great results.
2 Derrick Bateman
History has shown that TNA signing former WWE talent turns out to be a mistake for the most part. The majority of released WWE names coming to TNA wouldn't be impressive and hurt the company more than help them. The one person to go against this is Ethan Carter III. Formerly known as Derrick Bateman in WWE, the young star had a few comedic moments but was never pushed. He’s become the best thing in TNA by a mile, basically carrying the company. If EC3 becomes a free agent any time soon, WWE needs to sprint to his doorsteps and offer him a contact. Carter has shown us all just how great he can be as an overall performer and he would achieve much more success in the current WWE climate.
1 Drew McIntyre
How did WWE fail so badly with someone this good? Performing as Drew McIntyre in WWE, he was pushed instantly in his WWE career as the “chosen one” of Vince McMahon on SmackDown. The crowd didn’t take to him and once his push failed, he was never given another chance in WWE until his release. Using his real name, Drew Galloway has been on absolute tear this year following his departure from WWE. Galloway has done great work in TNA, Evolve and various independent promotions all over the world. He’s truly shown what it means to work on one’s craft and continuously improve. Still very young and hungry, Galloway has the look, the talent and the passion to become a main event player in WWE. With the seasoning, he’s now ready for the push he was given too early.