WWE is clearly the top pro wrestling promotion in the world and it’s not even close as they’ve dominated the market since buying WCW, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only place one can work. With WWE only having so many spots for wrestlers, let alone those that are utilized every week, it leads to frequent releases by the company. In the last few years, we’ve also seen an influx of talent requesting to walk away from WWE. After the launch of the WWE Network, it was speculated that the pay was decreased for most of the roster for the first few growing years as the company transitions away from traditional PPV.
Thanks to the Network being a cheaper cost and wrestlers making less money, it’s become easier to walk away and look for work elsewhere on the market. While there is no real threat to WWE, a lot of promotions are thriving all around the world and making use of the new talent available. New Japan Pro Wrestling is seeing its most financially successful run in quite some time as the second biggest promotion in the world. Mexico’s AAA and its American project Lucha Underground have been doing well this year. Ring of Honor is doing some of its better business and continues to grow in America. Smaller independents like PWG and Evolve offer appealing places to work.
As there are many more options, a lot of former WWE wrestlers are actually making more money now. Some have used their branding in the WWE as an established star to get them new endeavors and a big pay day every time they work. Some were never pushed in WWE and used this as an opportunity to make a name for themselves, becoming stars in new places. As booming as wrestling may be on the open market, some free agents just don’t like the hustle of finding their own bookings in smaller crowds and just give it up. We’re going to find out where they all are now as we look at 25 stars that have left WWE in the last few years and what they’re currently doing.
25 CJ Parker
Most known for being one of the more memorable enhancement talents in NXT, CJ Parker requested his own release citing he wanted to travel the wrestling world and a build a name for himself before hopefully returning to WWE. Parker saw Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Neville and Hideo Itami become the big stars in NXT so he set out to follow their steps. Unfortunately just a few months later, Parker has decided to retire. Aside from CZW and a few smaller indie promotions, none of the more well-known companies (NJPW, TNA, ROH, Lucha Underground, PWG, Evolve, etc) wanted to take a chance on him.
24 Kassius Ohno
One of the biggest indie stars to sign with WWE, Chris Hero was renamed Kassius Ohno for developmental but was never really featured on NXT like his pre-WWE tag team partner Cesaro. Rumors circulated that Triple H disliked Ohno for putting on weight and not being in proper shape for a WWE wrestler. Ohno was released before ever making his WWE TV debut and returned to the indies back with his old moniker of Chris Hero. Still putting on great matches, selling lots of merchandise and traveling the world, Hero has been in the conversation for 2015 Wrestler of the Year with standout performances in PWG and Evolve.
23 Briley Pierce
Brother of WWE star Dolph Ziggler, Briley Pierce aka Ryan Nemeth was signed to a developmental deal but things didn’t pan as well as it did for his sibling. Nemeth was released by WWE in 2013 and doesn’t seem to be too interested in continuing his wrestling career as he doesn’t work on the indies regularly. What Nemeth does work in more frequently is improv comedy as he’s been spotted performing at local comedy clubs. Nemeth was also one of the wrestlers outspoken about former WWE developmental trainer Bill DeMott abusing power and bullying the wrestlers which eventually led to DeMott getting released from WWE.
22 Justin Roberts
As the prototypical male ring announcer WWE looks for and a lifelong diehard fan, many expected Justin Roberts to be a WWE employee for life, similar to Howard Finkel, but the company decided to part ways in 2014. Citing not wanting to renew his contract, WWE no longer wanted Roberts services and he didn’t take it well. Roberts was seen on a House of Hardcore indie wrestling show where he insulted WWE as a corporate company that kills passion. The fans at the event responded by booing him. Roberts is currently taking announcing gigs in and out of the wrestling business as well as writing an autobiography.
After just a few years in WWE with a successful tenure including a Divas Championship reign, Kaitlyn decided to leave WWE on her own terms in 2014 stating she wanted to spend more time with her now husband and work more in fitness. She currently works on a few fitness and bodybuilding related projects but most noteworthy, she launched her own fitness clothing company named Celestial Bodiez. To describe it in the most honest way possible, Kaitlyn basically tweets pictures in tight pants and skimpy outfits and hopes it sways people into purchasing the clothing. No word yet on how this tactic works for sales but it does help her social media numbers.
20 Ted DiBiase Jr.
Once primed for greatness with a world of potential and an impressive pedigree as the son of “The Million Dollar Man,” Ted DiBiase Jr. decided to let his contract expire in 2013. Following his WWE departure, DiBiase only worked a few independent wrestling shows for House of Hardcore and FWE. Currently, DiBiase is retired from the wrestling world and works an executive for a college textbook e-commerce website known as College Garage Sale. It’s crazy that only a few years ago the hot rumor was that DiBiase could have been the man to end The Undertaker’s undefeated Wrestlemania streak and today he sells college textbooks.
19 Matt Striker
After a successful transition from wrestler to commentator in WWE and making a name for himself, Matt Striker was released by WWE and went back into the other corners of the wrestling world. Striker has started wrestling again occasionally in local independent wrestling companies on the East coast. Most importantly, Striker found a way to continue his announcing career as he scored a job as the lead commentator for Lucha Underground, a very popular cult hit show on El Rey. Striker also expanded his territory announcing big events for NJPW and AAA as they looked to carry a broadcast in English.
18 Ezekiel Jackson
Talk about a rough day at the office... @sdaivari "even #God said #vengeance is mine" see ya soon #boss www.rycklon.com #bigryck #luchaunderground #aesthetics #monstar #powerlifting #powerlifter #bodybuilding #bodybuilder #meast #aesthetics #guyanese #guyana #fitness #allnattybro #trainharderthanme #freakofnature #geneticfreak #CertifiedFreakOfNature
As one of the most recently failed “body guys” that WWE pushed due to their physique that managed to flop, Ezekiel Jackson was released in 2014. A few months later, Big Zeke made his TNA debut as one of Dixie Carter’s heel enforcers along with Gene Snitzky but his run there only lasted three weeks before disappearing off television. When Lucha Underground was formed, Jackson was one of the first names signed to appear and became an early fixture on the program with the new name of Big Ryck. Lasting the entire first season, he’s likely hoping the show continues next year as his other options are limited.
17 Yoshi Tatsu
Yoshi Tatsu was a project of WWE’s in hopes of building a successful Japanese wrestler to help their global brand and appeal in Japan but it never worked out for Yoshi as he was always portrayed a comedic jobber. After a release, Tatsu started working a few indie shows before returning to Japan, most notably scoring a big match vs. AJ Styles in NJPW. In a turn of bad luck, Yoshi suffered a very serious neck injury taking AJ’s finisher The Styles Clash, leading to many online debates if the move should be banned. Yoshi is still recovering and training at Team Vision Gym in Orlando but is expected to make a return to the ring soon.
16 Josh Mathews
Despite being a long tenured non-wrestler as an announcer after he lost in the original season of Tough Enough and decided to change career paths, Josh Mathews was released by WWE and it didn’t take long for him to find work. A few days after his release, TNA hired Mathews to an office job in Nashville and when his non-complete clause ended, Mathews became the new lead announcer for Impact. Mathews has had his fair share of controversy taking shots at Jim Ross on Twitter and having his relationship with former partner Taz fall apart. Still, Mathews has his job, a podcast about men’s fashion and is dating TNA Knockout Madison Rayne. Not bad.
From the original elimination show concept of NXT to being underutilized shortly after, Maxine was one of the biggest missed opportunities of WWE as she was released before she was ever given a fair chance. The late Dusty Rhodes was very high on Maxine’s potential when working with her in developmental and his intuition was on the money. Maxine was hired by Lucha Underground to play a manager and was superb becoming one of the faces they built the brand around. In fact, the first season ended with the titles all going to masked wrestlers who didn’t speak but connected with the crowd through her excellent promos now known as Catrina.
14 Brodus Clay
The big man who was given the silliest dancing gimmick as the Funkasaurus, Brodus Clay has not been short of work after getting released by WWE. Clay is now known as Tyrus as he has a role in TNA playing the World Champion Ethan Carter III’s bodyguard. It’s the perfect role for Tyrus and helps add to the main event act of EC3. Tyrus still works many indie dates and has a very active schedule. Jeff Jarrett tried to add Tyrus to his Global Force shows but apparently, his TNA contract prevented it. Everyone wants some of the once dancing dinosaur.
13 Curt Hawkins
With mild success in WWE as a Tag Team Champion with Zack Ryder as the Major Brothers, Curt Hawkins' WWE career took a major down turn when the team ended. Hawkins worked primarily on shows like Superstars and Main Event and when he was on television, he was mostly jobbing. Hawkins was let go by WWE and jumped right into the indies last year. Hawkins worked for PWG in California against AJ Styles and began working all over the country shortly after. Today, Hawkins is a member of Global Force Wrestling, runs his own school and interviews other wrestlers for Highspots talk show projects.
12 Kelly Kelly
In a trend for most female performers in WWE, Kelly Kelly choose to leave the company in her prime as she wanted to expand her career in other fields while she was still young, considering age is vital for modeling. Kelly still models and is unofficially retired from wrestling as she just makes appearances signing autographs and taking photos with fans at conventions. NHL player Sheldon Souray would date and become engaged to Kelly which is now leading to her starring role in the reality show WAGS coming to E! television soon. The show will be about “Wives and Girlfriends" that are dating famous athletes.
11 Justin Gabriel
Between his role in the original NXT series and a member of the Nexus, Justin Gabiel always stood out as a very athletic future star with an aerial display that would catch your attention. Gabriel’s charisma was never his strong suit and ultimately it was why he never received a push in WWE outside of various lower tier tag teams. Gabriel quit WWE early this year citing he wanted to have more freedom in life and the chance to showcase his wrestling more. Going by PJ Black, he worked a few matches for Evolve during WrestleMania weekend and eventually signed with Global Force Wrestling as one of the faces of the company.
Originally one half of the tag team Cryme Tyme with Shad, JTG was an internet favorite for his humor involved with him holding a job in WWE for so long and never being one of the names released despite rarely being on television. Unfortunately for JTG, his time came to an end in 2014 as WWE finally realized he was still on the payroll. Since leaving the company, JTG wrestles sporadically and actually wrote his own book cleverly titled "Why did I write this DAMN Book." In the book, JTG ignores grammar as he tells some juicy stories but never gives the names behind them. One story was traced back to stating he oversold a move for CM Punk to piss him off and it worked.
9 Original Sin Cara
While the Sin Cara character is still alive and well in WWE, the original wrestler to play him was Mexican wrestling star Mistico. After a lackluster debut and becoming known as a punch line for his botches, WWE experimented with Hunico under the mask and eventually, he became Sin Cara as Mistico was let go. Since leaving WWE, Mistico went back to Mexico and instantly was treated like a superstar with main event matches on every show. Recently the Mexican promotion AAA ran their biggest show of the year with Mistico, now named Myzteziz, facing Rey Mysterio in the main event and having a huge heel turn to end the show.
8 Jim Ross
After being downgraded from an announcer to a scout and occasional host, Jim Ross was fired from WWE when hosting a WWE 2K video game panel where a drunken Ric Flair went off the rails and took over the show with silly comments and jokes. Ross was the scapegoat and his on again-off again relationship with Vince McMahon was back off. Since then, Ross runs his own live one-man shows where he tells stories and answers fan questions at event venues. PodcastOne also hired JR to host his own weekly podcast called “The Ross Report” which has been a success.
7 Evan Bourne
Following multiple failed drug tests leading to suspensions and then a very legnthy recovery for an injury, Evan Bourne was released from WWE and the potential of being the company’s top high flier ended. Following his release, Bourne has wrestled all over the world for Dragon Gate, PWG, Evolve and others with his main promotion being ROH as he’s one of the bigger stars to wrestle regularly there. Using his real name Matt Sydal, he’s claiming to being the happiest he’s ever been and contributes it to a visit of Peru where he tried the shamanistic therapy Ayahuasca that he believes changed his life and career for the better.
6 Drew McIntyre
Once dubbed “The Chosen One” on WWE television by Vince McMahon and with the backstage support of Shawn Michaels and Triple H, Drew McIntyre used to be viewed as a can’t miss prospect. The Scottish wrestler looks like an absolute star but after a failed original push, WWE never looked at McIntyre the same and his biggest push came as a comedic jobber in 3 Man Band. Following a release by WWE, McIntyre wrestled under his real name as Drew Galloway and became a huge star on the indies wrestling in many promotions including Evolve as the champion. Earlier this year, TNA signed Galloway and wants to make him a cornerstone for their future.
5 Trent Barreta
Rarely seen on WWE TV, Trent Barreta had a long stint in development and a short stint on the main roster before being released. With little name value due to limited minutes on WWE TV, Trent made a name for himself having stellar performances in PWG and Evolve. NJPW decided to try him out during a Best of the Super Juniors tournament and they eventually signed him to become a fixture in the tag team RPG Vice with Rocky Romero. Barreta now wrestles for NJPW, ROH, PWG and Evolve and is very successful for all of them as a true ultimate success story post-WWE.
4 Derrick Bateman
Derrick Bateman was hilarious on Season 4 of the old NXT competition show but spent most of his time in developmental. Bateman showed potential and developed a small fan base who appreciated his antics but he never was given a push or sustainable television time in WWE. So, when he was released, he relished the opportunity to make a name for himself. Debuting in TNA as Ethan Carter III, the former comedic act became well-rounded and has been undefeated for almost two years, including a recent win over Kurt Angle to become TNA World Champion. EC3 has been the best ex-WWE wrestler to debut in TNA and make a new identity for himself, as they have now build the company around him.
3 Alberto Del Rio
After a run as a multiple time World Champion and a perennial favorite of Vince McMahon, Alberto Del Rio was fired by WWE for slapping a social media employee that made offensive racial comments towards him. Since leaving WWE, Del Rio now wrestles as Alberto El Patron and has been a massive success story. Between his great matches in Lucha Underground, ROH and AAA as well as his various bookings all over the world, El Patron is getting his respect as a performer and is apparently making even more money now than he did in WWE on his own schedule.
2 Rey Mysterio
The legendary Rey Mysterio has been dealing with injuries for many years now as his age catches up to him and he was released from his WWE contract after a back and forth battle. After WWE finally let him free, Mysterio has made most of his appearances in AAA. In a very sad and unfortunate accident, Mexican wrestler Perro Aguayo Jr. died in the ring after taking a 619 move from Mysterio. Despite the traumatic experience, Mysterio wrestles mainly for AAA in Mexico but makes rare appearances on the indies as he recently teamed with Alberto El Patron to face the Young Bucks in a dream match at NEW. Mysterio makes great money and works on his own time which was why he wanted out.
1 CM Punk
Controversial superstar CM Punk walked out on WWE after the 2014 Royal Rumble citing frustration with his place in the company and his body breaking down. Then, Punk did a tell all podcast with best friend Colt Cabana, absolutely obliterating Triple H and many others in the company, including WWE doctor Chris Amman, which led to the doctor suing both Punk and Cabana for defamation. In more uplifting news for Punk post-WWE, he has achieved three of his dreams. Punk has married former wrestler AJ Lee, is writing comic books for Marvel and has decided to become a UFC fighter. No word yet on when he will make his UFC debut but CM Punk is certainly living life to the fullest after leaving WWE.
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