There once was a time when working in the WWE was the be-all and end-all for just about any aspiring wrestler. After the events of the Monday Night War saw World Wrestling Entertainment’s biggest competitors, WCW and ECW, bought out by the sports entertainment superpower, the WWE wasn’t just sitting atop the mountain anymore, it was the mountain. Performing for a sold out WWE crowd was the ultimate sign that you had made it in the industry. However, being the only game in town meant that wrestlers also had very few options when it came to performing outside of the WWE. You either killed yourself on the independent circuit for considerably less money or you wrestled internationally.
That was at least, until recently. With promotions like Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Global Force Wrestling and Lucha Underground, gaining prominence, being released from the WWE isn’t the death knell for a wrestler’s career it once was. In fact, some wrestlers are doing better than ever since leaving behind the house that Vince McMahon built. With so many competing promotions signing up top wrestling talent, it’s not just an exciting time to be a wrestling fan, it’s also not a bad time to be a professional wrestler either.
However, for every Cody Rhodes or Trent Barreta success story, there are just as many wrestlers who have failed to capitalize on their momentum since being handed their WWE pink slip. This list will look back on several wrestlers who were recently released from the WWE. Some found success, others, not so much.
15 Thriving - Cody Rhodes
There is perhaps no post-WWE Cinderella story as gratifying and inspiring than that of Cody Rhodes. During his time in the WWE, Rhodes was always seen as a performer with the potential to be great, especially when given exciting material like his time with The Legacy. However, he was just as often wasted by the promotion. By the time his contract was up, Rhodes was sporting facepaint and calling himself “Stardust” while feuding with the likes of Arrow star Stephen Amell. Since leaving however, Rhodes has really capitalized on the potential everyone already knew he had, putting on world class matches for promotions like Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and New Japan Pro-Wrestling and perhaps best of all, winning the Ring of Honor World Championship at their Best In The World pay-per-view.
14 Doing Terribly - Damien Sandow
Think of Damien Sandow’s story as the opposite of Cody Rhodes. Much like Rhodes, Sandow was always seen as a star with much more talent to offer the WWE than he was allowed to showcase. He regularly received raucous reactions from fans despite never being given a championship push and while he spent much of his career stuck in tag team’s with the likes of The Miz and Cody Rhodes, the WWE universe was still shocked when he was unceremoniously released from his contract in 2016.
Sandow later moved on to Impact Wrestling (now Global Force Wrestling) and while it seemed like he was finally going to be used to the best of his abilities, winning his debut match in the Impact Grand Championship Tournament, he soon found himself stuck in yet another series of underwhelming gimmicks, playing a Liberace-inspired character named Aron Rex. In April of 2017, Sandow announced he was no longer affiliated with Impact Wrestling.
13 Thriving - Evan Bourne
While many wrestlers make their names in the WWE, Evan Bourne had already built quite the career for himself on the independent circuit prior to signing with the company, wrestling under the name Matt Sydal. The high flyer was known for his supreme athleticism and death-defying leaps, so a major singles push should have been a no brainer. However, Bourne could never escape the shadow of larger personalities within the company and the highlight of his WWE career ended up being a run with Kofi Kingston as Tag Team Champions. After breaking his foot in a car accident in 2012, Bourne was removed from television and never returned, being released from the WWE in 2014.
Since then, Bourne has returned to wrestling under the name Matt Sydal and has rediscovered his love for the business in the process, regularly wrestling acclaimed matches in promotions like PWG, Evolve, Ring Of Honor and New Japan, where he won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship twice. He’s currently signed to Global Force Wrestling.
12 Doing Terribly - Cameron
To be fair, Cameron was never exactly destined for wrestling greatness. Perhaps her greatest contribution to wrestling being her answer to the question, “What is your all-time favorite wrestling match?” The erstwhile Funkadactyl was introduced to audiences on the 2011 season of Tough Enough, where she was the first person eliminated from the competition. Still, she was signed to a contract and debuted as one half of the dancing duo, The Funkadactyls in 2012. Cameron however, was far more active in episodes of the reality show, Total Divas than she was in the ring and was released by the WWE in 2016. Cameron has been largely absent from the spotlight since her release.
In May of 2017, the former WWE Diva caused controversy when a video of her was posted to TMZ, saying that she prefers not to date within her race.
11 Thriving - John Morrison
As the old saying goes, “A star, is a star, is a star.” When John Morrison debuted in the WWE, under the name Johnny Nitro, it was clear that he had a bright future ahead of him with the company. From his charisma, to his extreme athletic ability to his model good looks and hair that seems like it’s perpetually blowing in the wind, he was perhaps the most complete package the company had ever seen. Which is why it’s so perplexing he never made it to main event status during his time with the promotion. Since leaving in 2011, Morrison has become one of the most popular stars of the lucha wrestling series, Lucha Underground, in which he wrestles under the name Johnny Mundo.
He also appeared in an episode of the Netflix series, GLOW about the '80s women’s wrestling league, Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling.
10 Doing Terribly - Simon Gotch
Simon Gotch is living proof that a good gimmick can only take you so far in wrestling. The former WWE superstar captured the attention of audiences when he formed the villianous tag team, The Vaudevillians with Aiden English, a pair of old-timey Vaudeville-era ne’er-do-wells, largely played for comedy. However, after graduating to the main roster in 2016, Gotch found himself largely absent from the tag team scene on SmackDown Live, mostly jobbing to more high profile teams like American Alpha and The Hype Bros. He wrestled his last match at WrestleMania 33, losing in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. However, it’s what happened backstage that night, that may have cost him, his job. Following speculation that Gotch had caused a scene backstage, the WWE announced they had released him, three days later.
In an interview with USA Today, Gotch admitted that an incident had taken place but said the story was blown out of proportion. He now hopes to wrestle in Japan but he’ll have his work cut out for him if he hopes to repair his reputation.
9 Thriving - AJ Lee
During her whirlwind career in the WWE, AJ Lee broke stereotypes and shattered glass ceilings, paving way for what would become a revolution for women in wrestling. Her unparalleled mic skills and authentic style made her a crowd favorite but in 2015, after just four short years on the main roster, Lee hung up her Chuck Taylors for good. Her early retirement meant that fans would never see the one-time longest reigning Divas Champion lock up with the likes of Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair but Lee (real name: AJ Mendez Brooks) has used her downtime to be a force for good.
She’s since released the New York Times Bestseller, Crazy Is My Superpower, detailing her battle with bipolar disorder and has become an outspoken activist for mental wellness, partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
8 Doing Terribly - Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger made headlines across the wrestling community when he announced on Chael Sonnen's Beyond the Fight podcast, that he had requested his release from the WWE. However, if you look back on his career, you probably wouldn't blame him. The former WWE World Heavyweight Champion, United States Champion and Money In The Bank winner showed a lot of promise early in his WWE run but was largely overlooked for bigger “stars.” By the time his career with the sports entertainment franchise had come to an end, the two-time world champion hadn’t been featured on television in almost four months. Swagger has since competed in a handful of independent bookings but has hardly experienced the glorious return to the independent scene many were likely expecting.
7 Thriving - Santino Marella
Join us Tuesday November 15, as #AftermathTV moves to its brand new day and a brand new time of 7:30pm.right before Smackdown Live on @sportsnet 360.. @jackieredmond @nugnahrgang and I welcome a new member to the Aftermath family, former WWE superstar Anthony Carelli aka Santino Marella. @themilanmiracle
Santino Marella hasn't wrestled a match in years due to neck issues, but he wasn't granted his official WWE release until 2016. As soon as Santino was released, it didn't take him long to find work. Santino has since landed a job as a co-host on the panel of Aftermath, a post-RAW/SmackDown show that airs in Canada on Sportsnet 360 every Monday and Tuesday. Santino is actually named Anthony Carelli, a native of Mississauga Ontario, so it made sense for him to find work close to home. On top of his TV gig, Santino is also the co-owner of Battle Arts Academy, a multi-use fitness facility that includes MMA training and pro wrestling training. Those lucky wrestling students may soon learn the secret to the Cobra!
6 Doing Terribly - Eva Marie
"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." #CSLewis 📖🍵 - Eyelashes: @nemfashion (Coming Soon ✨😍) - Eyes: @nicolconcilio X @shopvioletvoss palette - Concealer: @tartecosmetics "Shape tape in light medium" - Foundation: @tartecosmetics "Clay Stick in Tan Sand - Bronzer: @maccosmetics "Give Me sun" - Highlight: @jaclynhill X @beccacosmetics "Champagne pop" - Lip: @tartecosmetics "Life" - MUA/ Hair: BY ME 💃🏻😀✨😍
It really is a shame that Eva Marie’s WWE career came to an end just as the company was beginning to figure out what to do with her. A regular fixture on Total Divas, Ms. All Red Everything was best known for the nuclear heat she received from wrestling fans every time she stepped into the ring, eliciting reactions most seasoned heels could only dream of, thanks to her underwhelming wrestling abilities and vacant demeanour. In 2016, Marie was suspended for 30 days after violating the company’s wellness policy. A subsequent episode of Total Divas would reveal the suspension was due to medication that Marie says she had a prescription for.
However, she was never seen on WWE TV again and in 2017, it was announced that she would no longer be apart of Total Divas. In an interview with TooFab, Marie confirmed that she was focusing on her acting career. Her first film, the Nicholas Cage-starring thriller, Inconceivable, was released in the summer of 2017 to generally unfavorable reviews. The film currently holds a 17% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
5 Thriving - Rey Mysterio
It would have been easy for Rey Mysterio to hang up his boots and call it a day following his release in 2015. After a nearly 13-year career with the company in which he made his mark as a living legend and one of the most successful luchadores to ever step foot in a WWE ring, what else was there left to accomplish? Well apparently, plenty. Instead of sitting idly by, waiting for his inevitable induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, Mysterio returned to Mexico to wrestle just five days after his WWE release. He’s experienced a career resurgence since joining the cast of Lucha Underground where he regularly puts on celebrated matches with competitors like Chavo Guerrero Jr., Prince Puma and Joey Ryan.
4 Doing Terribly - Brad Maddox
While Brad Maddox never experienced the illustrious singles careers, some people on this list have achieved, there was a time when he was a central character in the storylines of Monday Night Raw. Introduced to fans as a referee with an axe to grind, Maddox quickly utilized his social climbing tactics to ascend to the position of Raw General Manager where he regularly found himself caught in the middle of some of the show’s biggest storylines. However, after directing some choice words at WWE fans while in-character during a non-televised match, he was abruptly released from the company. Maddox returned to the independent circuit but has achieved little of note, his personal life overshadowing his professional one after private videos were leaked online in 2017, featuring him and other wrestlers signed to the WWE at the time.
3 Thriving - Kaitlyn
Today marks @Celestialbodiez 3rd birthday. It's extremely significant this year, not only because it's a huge milestone for a small business but also because this year has been extremely challenging for me personally and for this company. I'm currently going through a tough divorce and every aspect of my life has changed. When the concept of Celestial Bodiez was conceived, I left my career in WWE to start a new chapter in my life. I got married, I launched this business and had big dreams. It's really scary to leave a career and completely start over. I've always lived with a do or die mentality. Make it happen because you believe so much in something. Just fucking DO IT and figure it out along the way. Celestial Bodiez is my baby. I continuously learn every day from my mistakes. "How do I continue to grow? What am I good at? What are my weaknesses? What's the next step?" 2.5 years after it's birth, in the beginning of 2017, I looked at my life, and the way this company was moving forward and I wasn't happy. I didn't like the person I had become. I didn't feel fulfilled. I decided to change it all. I filed for divorce and basically had to start over. It was a struggle. I lost employees, finances, comfortability and was forced to find a way. Luckily, I had some amazing people in my life to help me rebuild... and now almost half a year later, moving myself, my company and gaining a new mind set, I was able to get my shit together and move forward. My team and I have rebranded Celestial Bodiez and gotten back to the foundation on which it was built. The belief that it will succeed no matter what. Do or die. The idea that we can empower woman by making them feel sexy and confident no matter the stage of life they are in and most importantly, it has become my vision once again. It's once again a labor of love. Thanks to every person that has supported me and Celestial Bodiez. Thanks to @amandaotero_ @itschrisstacks @kristinalicarifit and to all my new ambassadors. #scrunchsquad #happybirthday #celestialbodiez #3 #smallbusiness
It’s hard not to see the parallels between Kaitlyn and another celebrated former women’s champion, Trish Stratus. Much like Stratus, Kaitlyn entered the company as a successful fitness model, quickly rising the ranks to become a serious in-ring competitor. During her time with the company, Kaitlyn embarked on several memorable feuds but none more-so than her battle with real-life best friend AJ Lee, similar to another Team Bestie? Kaitlyn announced her retirement from wrestling in 2014, competing in her final match against AJ Lee on an episode of Main Event.
Also like Trish, Kaitlyn has turned to the world of fitness for success in her post WWE career, continuing to model and launching a line of fitness clothing. It’s nice to see Kaitlyn living by the motto, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Earlier this year, Kaitlyn announced she was splitting from her husband P.J. Braun, but the breakup was amicable and she's still focused on her business.
2 Doing Terribly - Alberto Del Rio
What’s there to say about Alberto Del Rio that hasn’t already been said? Del Rio is another example of a wrestler who was positioned as a top competitor within the WWE, but was never able to break out as a main event star. He was first released from the company in 2014 after getting into an altercation with an employee. However a year later, Del Rio made a surprise return but his struggles with the company remained. In 2016, Del Rio exercised an opt-out clause in his contract and left the WWE, unhappy with his position in the promotion. He’s had some better luck outside the WWE, finding success in Lucha Underground and Global Force Wrestling, where he is currently signed, but his tumultuous personal life and on-again/off-again relationship with WWE Superstar, Paige, has overshadowed any accomplishments he’s achieved in the ring.
In July of 2017, Del Rio was suspended by Global Force Wrestling, despite holding the championship, following an alleged domestic dispute. While Del Rio was cleared of any charges, Paige has since been charged with battery and Del Rio can't seem to stay out of the news, and not in a good way.
1 Thriving - Trent Barreta
If you’re having trouble remembering Trent Barreta’s time in the WWE, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Despite being a part of the company for four years, Barreta was never given anything worthy of his talents. A solid worker, he was often tasked with putting over other performers and was released without having ever been given a major storyline, so when it came time to make his return to the indies, he had his work cut out for him. Thankfully, Barreta has more than risen to the occasion, building a name for himself by performing world class matches for promotions like Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Ring of Honor.
Barreta has also formed one of the most exciting tag teams in wrestling today, partnering with Rocky Romero and performing under the name RPG Vice. Since their union in 2015, they’ve won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship four times in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Barreta currently has plans to compete as a singles star in the heavyweight division and shows no signs of slowing down.