It’s safe to say that one of Vince McMahon’s favorite phrases is, “never say never.”
Throughout is time in charge of World Wrestling Entertainment, McMahon has burned a ton of bridges, only to rebuild them years down the road. Bret Hart was public enemy number one for years but eventually returned the company. The WWE created a DVD bashing the Ultimate Warrior and he, too, showed up on television. Although it was posthumously, the Macho Man Randy Savage earned Hall of Fame honors despite various rumors involving his departure.
Whether it’s rebuilding their stock on the independent scene or being a veteran presence, there are certainly a number of stars — who left the WWE on both good and bad terms — that can easily be brought back to television at some point in time.
But at the same time, some stars have been doomed ever since they decided to part ways with the WWE — and with Triple H gaining more power by the day, some of these individuals will continue to be blackballed.
Who would be on the list to return? Who won’t? Let’s take a look as the top 8 recently released wrestlers who will return to WWE and 7 who won’t.
15 Return: Eva Marie
Let’s start off by saying this — Eva Marie has yet to be officially released from the WWE. But by all accounts, All Red Everything won’t be anywhere near Raw or SmackDown Live. Despite getting considerable television time once drafted to the Blue Brand, Eva Marie ran into some trouble as she received a 30-day suspension due to a violation of the Wellness Policy. Once removed from television, she not only removed all mentions of being a WWE Superstar but it was also recently announced that she won’t be reprising her role on Total Divas.
She may be gone now, but it’s hard to imagine Eva Marie being gone forever. Compared to the rest of the extraordinary female talent on the roster, she was nothing special — she did, however, make strides as an in-ring worker and it’s hard to deny the presence she had every time she stepped in front of a live audience. Fans will probably see Eva Marie in a number of movies in the near future but it shouldn’t shock anyone if she steps back into the ring at some point down the road.
14 Won’t Return: Simon Gotch
Unfortunately for Simon Gotch, it was hard to imagine him ever latching on as a single’s wrestler. Fortunately, however, his stint in NXT was a huge positive after he joined forces with Aiden English. Known as The Vaudevillians, the duo won the support of the fanbase over with their theatrical entrance and old school tendencies, one that was capped off once they captured the NXT Tag Team Championships at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn.
Those were the good days. But once The Vaudevillians made their way to the main roster, everything turn south. Sure, Gotch and English received a moderate push early on in their WWE run, but after a while, they were relegated to enhancement talents for other tag teams. Couple little support from the creative team with a reportedly bad backstage attitude and Gotch was released from his contract. Now that English has moved on as a solo act, it’s hard to imagine Gotch making a triumphant return to bring back The Vaudevillians.
13 Return: Justin Gabriel
When Nexus took the WWE by storm, there were clear stars in the group. Wade Barrett, who was the leader, was obviously pegged for success as he had the size and look that the WWE loves. Then there was Daniel Bryan, who was never positioned to become the star that he did but also had the backing of the hardcore wrestling fanbase due to his time spent on the indies. And then there was Justin Gabriel, the resident high-flyer of the Nexus.
While many believed he was destined to become a solid upper mid-card act, the company soured on Gabriel, which resulted in him quitting. He then took his talents to the independent scene, where he’s become a household name on Lucha Underground. With WWE’s newfound effort to highlight cruiserweight talents on 205 Live, Gabriel is the perfect wrestler to re-sign and bring back into the fold.
12 Won’t Return: Damien Sandow
It’s not easy for wrestlers to win over the crowd, especially a WWE audience that tends to get bored at the drop of a hat. But no matter the gimmick he was utilizing — whether it was as one-half of the Rhodes Scholars, Mr. Money in the Bank, or as the stunt double for The Miz — Damien Sandow garnered a reaction every time he was on screen.
Despite pleads for a push, the WWE creative team never gave Sandow a chance to showcase what he could do — and as it turns out, that may have been for the better. Once he signed with Impact Wrestling, Sandow — who went by Aron Rex — failed to get over as a regular wrestler, eventually having to resort to using a Liberace-like gimmick. While Sandow is a great character, he doesn’t have the wrestling skills that are expected in today’s WWE. Because of that, it’s unlikely Sandow gets another chance with the company.
11 Return: CJ Parker
Sometimes wrestling for the WWE doesn’t work out as planned: case in point, CJ Parker. Despite being a part of the WWE developmental system before it became widely popular, he was lowered on the depth chart each time a top wrestler from the independent scene was signed to a contract. Because of this, Parker requested his release and decided to take his talents elsewhere.
And it’s now safe to say that was the best decision for his career. Now working as Juice Robinson in New Japan Pro Wrestling, he’s been one of the fastest rising stars in the second biggest wrestling company in the world. He’s tangled it up with some of the best New Japan has to offer, as he’s even competed for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the WWE comes crawling back to Parker — but the biggest question would be if he wants to return.
10 Won’t Return: Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger was always viewed as a wrestler high on Vince McMahon’s list of potential main eventers. From his days in WWE’s ECW up until he captured the Money in the Bank briefcase, the former amateur wrestler was given considerable pushes and chances to showcase his abilities each week. Hell, Swagger even went on to become World Heavyweight Champion while coining the infamous “We The People” phrase and hand gesture.
But somewhere along the line, poor booking and getting lost in the shuffle hindered Swagger’s growth, which relegated him to enhancement talent. There seemed to be newfound optimism when he switched to SmackDown Live, but that also failed for the All-American American. Swagger had a strong run throughout his WWE career but by the way he finished up with the company, it’s hard to see them looking to re-sign him down the road.
9 Return: Wade Barrett
One phrase can sum up the duration of Wade Barrett’s WWE career — bad luck. When he was the leader of The Nexus, he was primed to be a WWE Champion but John Cena’s burial of the group put that on the shelf. After coming up with impressive gimmicks like Bad News Barrett and King Barrett, injuries halted a majority of his pushes.
After a stint in the League of Nations with Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus, and Rusev, Barrett decided to not re-sign with the company and instead focus on his acting career. It’ll never be clear what the future had in store for Barrett, but even with the injuries, he was a consistent member of the Intercontinental Championship scene. Once Barrett decides that he wants to return to the wrestling world, the WWE could very well be interested in making that happen in their company.
8 Won’t Return: Ryback
Like others on this list, Ryback always had potential to be a main event player but never had the full support of the WWE creative team. Sure, he held the Intercontinental and United States Championships — two belts that are seen as one stepped below the WWE Championship — but it never appeared that The Big Guy was destined for a run with the top prize in his final months in the company.
Ryback may still have value, as he boasts the size that Vince McMahon loves and he’s also familiar with the WWE way of wrestling. But he’s also said a ton of questionable things on his podcast which could ruffle some feathers of the decision makers behind the scenes. Because of that alone, it wouldn’t be a shock if Ryback never steps foot in a WWE ring again.
7 Return: Brandi Rhodes
Although Brandi Rhodes was arguably the best ring announcer during her time with that position, she also never was thought of as an in-ring talent. Once her husband split from the WWE (we’ll get to him in a bit), she did too and went on to wrestle for Impact Wrestling, amongst other promotions.
But just because she probably won’t wrestle if she was to be re-signed by the WWE doesn’t mean she doesn’t have value to the company. She’s done a great job as a personal ring announcer for her husband and has also proved to be a quality manager as well. Rhodes could even reprise her role as ring announcer as she would be an upgrade over JoJo, too. Either way, it appears like she’ll go where her husband goes — which means she could very well return to the company.
6 Won’t Return: AJ Lee
To say AJ Lee was before her time is an understatement. As she was rising through the ranks as the top WWE Diva in the company, the booking committee preferred short matches with women who weren’t as skilled in the ring as others. Unfortunately, Lee would’ve fit in perfectly into the Diva’s Revolution, as she could’ve been a top heel who put on tremendous matches with the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Becky Lynch.
Lee, however, was ready to retire from the ring in 2015 due to her frustrations with her employer and the way they treated her husband, CM Punk. At this point in time, it’s fair to say neither Lee nor Punk will ever be seen on WWE television, which is sad because both would’ve been tremendous assets to the current WWE product.
5 Return: Cody Rhodes
Speaking of Brandi Rhodes, her husband Cody made a great decision in his own right, as he traded in a mid-card act to become one of the most highly sought after wrestlers on the independent circuit. While wrestling as “Dashing” Cody Rhodes or Stardust probably made him good money, the business runs in his blood, thus making Cody want to chase his dream outside of the WWE.
Currently wrestling for Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, PWG, and other various promotions, Rhodes — who is also a part of Bullet Club — has made his mark everywhere he has wrestled. Knowing full and well the talent he is, the WWE will eventually come crawling back as Rhodes has proven that he could be a top act while competing against the best talents all over the globe.
4 Won’t Return: Alberto Del Rio
When Alberto Del Rio first returned to the WWE back in October of 2015, many were surprised. After all, he was seen as one of Vince McMahon’s favorites — and with Triple H beginning to run the show, it was obvious Del Rio and others were put on the back burner for favorites of the Cerebral Assassin.
Del Rio may have beat John Cena for the United States Championship at a time when the belt was elevated to a high level but that was about the only noteworthy thing that came out of his second stint with the company. Once realizing that the League of Nations wasn’t going anywhere, the two sides mutually agreed to part ways. With the way Del Rio has been bashing a number of WWE personnel on social media — including Triple H — you can bet he’ll never be featured on WWE programming again.
3 Return: Rey Mysterio
When looking at original WCW stars that made their way to the WWE, there haven’t been many that have been more successful than Rey Mysterio. Due to his high-flying ability, creative wrestling gear, and all-around likability, the Lucha Libre star was a favorite throughout the duration of his time spent with the company. Unfortunately, however, injuries put a damper on the end of his WWE career and the two sides decided to part ways.
Since leaving, Mysterio has continued to star inside of the ring, both for Lucha Underground and in Mexico. And not only did the two sides part on decent terms, but Vince McMahon, Triple H, and the rest of the creative team has made a concerted effort in bringing back former stars to help fill out the rosters. Mysterio looks to be one who can fill in that type of role for the WWE.
2 Won’t Return: CM Punk
It was a relationship that was doomed from the start. Seen as one of the godfathers of the independent scene, CM Punk never possessed the look or move set that the WWE loved, as they only signed him due to hype. Despite efforts to feature him lower on the totem pole — whether he was WWE Champion or not — Punk was wildly over with the audience and was seen as the anti-hero as John Cena reigned supreme on the entire roster.
As it is known by now, Punk was miserable during his final months with the company and walked out after the Royal Rumble in 2014. Now under contract with UFC, Punk seems happy with his life after wrestling. While the old phrase of “never say never” is a favorite for McMahon, Punk may be the exception to the rule.
1 Return: Hulk Hogan
It’s been over a decade since the last time Hulk Hogan wrestled inside of a WWE ring but he was under contract on a Legends deal for the better half of three years. It was a smart move for the company, as it could be argued that Hogan is the greatest star in WWE history and has great name value no matter how old he was.
The WWE was using him often as early as 2014 but a combination of a sex tape and a racial slur used by Hogan on the sex tape made Vince McMahon cut all ties with Hogan. Because of that, he’s been noticeably absent for big events like WrestleMania. But now that the dust has settled on Hogan’s poor judgment, it’s safe to say he’ll return to the company and cut promos about running wild before you know it.