When you think of professional wrestling, there's always one thing that stands out above the rest — WWE. They're a global brand. They have their own on-demand network. They work with a number of charities for different causes. And they're the most successful wrestling company in history.
At one time, the WWE was the end all, be all. But in recent years, the independent scene has been more prevalent than ever and its emergence has changed the way the WWE is run. Heck, just look at who some of their top stars are today.
Wrestlers like Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks would rather work for a number of smaller promotions than giving it all up for the WWE. The same can be said for Cody Rhodes, who left the Connecticut-based company because he wanted to reignite his love for professional wrestling. And he has done so.
With so many smaller promotions scanning across the globe, more young wrestlers have places to build their brand while former WWE stars try to reinvent their careers.
But when it comes to the latter category, things don't always work out as planned. Let's take a look at eight former WWE stars who are failing on the independent scene and seven who are succeeding.
15 Failing: Jack Swagger
14 Succeeding: Trent Barreta
A lot of people may not remember Trent Barreta in the WWE, as he was one-half of the Dude Busters that worked on both the SmackDown and ECW brands throughout the late 2000s. After being released in 2013, the future looked dim for the former superstar — but fortunately for Barreta, he took his talents to the next level. He started out rebounding his stock as a standout member of the PWG roster. From there, he’s been splitting his time with New Japan and Ring of Honor and has continued to rise up the ranks.
13 Failing: Yoshi Tatsu
12 Succeeding: Jeff Hardy
When it comes to the conversation of the most beloved WWE superstars of all time, it’s hard to deny that Jeff Hardy has a spot on the list. Whether it was during his tag-team run with Matt Hardy as The Hardy Boyz, his infamous ladder match with The Undertaker, or his final feud with CM Punk, Hardy was cheered as loud as anyone. When he first hit the independents, he was a rare unsuccessful member of the ROH roster and dealt with personal demons during his original runs with TNA.
11 Failing: Adam Rose
The WWE could’ve had a money character after Adam Rose’s real life hardships were showcased on ESPN’s feature on NXT. Instead, however, the creative team decided to continue on with his party gimmick, one that was fun in developmental but died a slow death on the main roster. His unsuccessful run in the WWE continued as a member of The Social Outcasts, and Rose was released after a dispute with the company over his suspension. Unfortunately, he’s yet to do much of anything on the independent circuit, despite claiming that he would prove the WWE wrong for releasing him.
10 Succeeding: John Morrison
When John Morrison was still with the WWE, many believed he was on the cusp to stardom. Starting out as a tag-team competitor with Joey Mercury as MNM and with The Miz on ECW and SmackDown, he was always recognized as a standout performer. From there, he had a successful single’s run as an upper mid card talent, as he was constantly in the Intercontinental and United States Championship pictures. Unfortunately, however, he could never break through he glass ceiling and opted to leave for the independent scene.
9 Failing: Chris Masters
Many believe that Chris Masters got the raw end of the deal when he was a part of the WWE. An incredibly inexperienced wrestler with a great look, he was pushed to a prime spot in the main roster but was eventually exposed. When the company forced Masters to change his physique, almost all of his luster was taken away from him and he was released soon thereafter. Because he wanted to continue his dream of being a professional wrestler, he took his talents to the independent circuit. Unfortunately, however, things haven’t worked out as well as he hoped. Masters hasn’t been featured in any big promotions and has been largely relegated to the lower levels on the indies.
8 Succeeding: Bobby Lashley
7 Failing: Alberto Del Rio
When Alberto Del Rio ended his first stint with the WWE, he was one of the hottest acts on the independent circuit. Wrestling as Alberto El Patron, he worked with top companies like Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground and was considered one of the most well-recognized talents that wasn’t a part of the WWE. But Del Rio returned to the biggest wrestling company in the world — once again, he wasn’t happy, and once again, he quit. But this time, Del Rio isn’t as hot of a commodity as he once was.
6 Succeeding: Drew McIntyre
When Vince McMahon himself hand picks you, announces you as the future, and gives you the gimmick of the Chosen One, it’s hard to fail. Unfortunately, however, McMahon and the creative team soured on Drew McIntyre at some point; despite winning the Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships, it wasn’t before long that he was relegated to comedy and enhancement duties and was released. McIntrye returned to the indie scene as Drew Galloway and excelled with top companies like Impact Wrestling, PWG, ICW, and Evolve, amongst others, as he’s become champion at nearly every stop.
5 Failing: Brandi Rhodes
4 Succeeding: Cody Rhodes
His wife may be floundering on the independents but that couldn’t be further from the truth for Cody Rhodes. Everyone knows his story by now — Rhodes was first brought in as a second generation star and found decent success; but once he was put into the role of Stardust, his love for the WWE began to fade and he asked for his release. But by the looks of things, Rhodes is having the time of his life as he’s wrestling for nearly every promotion known to man. In the last year, he’s been featured on Impact Wrestling, Evolve, PWG, What Culture Pro Wrestling, and most importantly, Ring of Honor and New Japan.
3 Failing: Damien Sandow
Like many mentioned before him, Damien Sandow never appeared to get a fair shake with the WWE. He was given a ton of gimmicks but always hit them out of the park with fan support growing each and every week. Unfortunately for him, the WWE didn’t see much value outside of comedic relief for Sandow so they released him in the summer of 2016. After appearing on the independent circuit for a short while, Sandow inked a deal with Impact Wrestling and became Aron Rex and captured the Grand Slam Championship soon after his debut.
2 Succeeding: Matt Hardy
Throughout his time with the WWE, Matt Hardy was always compared to and overshadowed by his brother Jeff — no matter if they were teaming or not. That trend continued when they were both in Impact Wrestling, as it seemed like the elder Hardy would always been considered the secondary figure. Hardy, however, did a complete 180 on his character and has turned him into arguably the most popular wrestler in the world. Now known as Broken Matt, he’s taken on the role of a crazy and comedic wrestler that is from a different universe.
1 Failing: Ryback
Ryback was always a upper-tier talent when with the WWE. Although he was never able to capture the elusive WWE World Heavyweight Championship, he was a frequent member of the Intercontinental Championship scene and, for a majority of his career, was featured in strong storylines. Ryback, however, thought he was much more valuable than the WWE believed and the two sides agreed to part ways. Unfortunately for The Big Guy, there aren’t many independent promotions that want his services. Since he left the WWE, he’s been featured in both WrestlePro and Revolution Pro Wrestling — not the bottom of the barrel, but certainly not on par with New Japan, Ring of Honor, PWG, or Evolve.
Now known more for his controversial remarks on his podcast than his in-ring work, it doesn’t look like Ryback will be the wrestling star he thinks he can be.
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