There is a lot of turnover in the World Wrestling Entertainment over the years. That’s to be expected with the pressures of keeping fans interested with new, fresh talent while maintaining veterans who are established in the company. Over the years, the WWE has made cost-cutting decisions that have let some extremely talented wrestlers leave to go on and work in other places.
In a lot of cases, the departures can be viewed as the right decision. There are some wrestlers some WWE officials thought would be the next big main event star. Unfortunately, those can be few and far between. For every John Cena, there are about 10 cases similar to Ezekiel Jackson and Ryback.
In addition to that, there are wrestlers who the WWE should not have let go. It was a matter of the creative staff not putting them in the right direction, or that they were let go despite having all of the talent in the world. However, there are many wrestlers who have all of the talent but were rightfully released.
It’s one thing when you just aren’t cut out for the WWE mold. It’s another when you have been stuck in a gimmick you have hated for a long period of time. Or when you have personal issues that can become a liability to the WWE. And then there are those who would be better off doing their own thing without the WWE machine holding them back.
The following is a mix of wrestlers the WWE was right to release and seven who should have stayed with the company.
15 RIGHT – Ryback
There are a number of fans who are not big fans of The Big Guy’s work in the wrestling ring. However, part of his reasons for leaving the WWE was not getting the kind of pay he would like from the WWE. He also wasn’t getting a consistent push after his initial rise to stardom after the Ryback character debuted in 2012. But his history in the WWE goes back to competing in Tough Enough in 2004. Overall, he spent the better part of eight years in the WWE developmental system.
After putting so many years into Ryan Reeves, the WWE probably felt that they had given him enough opportunities to become a main event star. Now working independent of any major wrestling promotion, he seems to be doing fine with paid bookings. Add in the supplement line that he’s also launched, his WWE release looks like the right move for both sides.
14 WRONG – Evan Bourne
A number of great WWE superstars have ties to independent wrestling company Ring of Honor. The list of successful alumni includes Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), CM Punk and Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan). Matt Sydal had a chance to be that kind of superstar when he joined WWE as Evan Bourne. He had some exciting matches with a variety of wrestlers and could have been a successful mid-card champion.
Bourne was just unfortunate for having a number of injuries near the later years of his WWE stint. He missed time due to a shoulder injury in 2010 and then suffered a severely broken foot in 2012. However, Bourne also did fail two drug tests as violations of the WWE Wellness Policy. Bourne should have been a cornerstone in a new Cruiserweight Division.
13 RIGHT – Ezekiel Jackson
It feels like the WWE wanted to give one last big middle finger to the ECW legacy by having him win the last ECW Championship before the brand was closed in 2010. He was certainly an impressive powerhouse who looked like he had basketballs implanted into his shoulders. But he was never quite the memorable wrestler in terms of quality matches. Jackson was never able to make a positive impact as a heel or a face.
Still, he won the Intercontinental Championship in 2011 – which further cemented the fact the title is no longer as prestigious as it was in the 1980s and 1990s. His stock continued to fall after an upper body injury kept him off television for about a year. Thankfully, Jackson was released from the WWE and was unable to stay on television long for promotions like TNA Wrestling and Lucha Underground.
12 WRONG – Ricardo Rodriguez
Ricardo Rodriguez was a bit of a surprise to be seen as one of many who were cut in 2014. He was extremely talented as a personal ring announcer for Alberto Del Rio. But while Rodriguez enjoyed being part of WWE for about four years, he admitted on social media that he missed being an active wrestler. While known best for his Spanish announcing, Rodriguez is actually a very talented wrestler.
He rarely competed outside of a masked gimmick named El Local. While some fans may not have known it by looking at him, Rodriguez was able to do a lot in an aerial offense. It’s actually a shame he wasn’t able to be in the tag team with Kalisto in a main roster call-up. The team would have done a lot better than the version of the Lucha Dragons that included Kalisto and Sin Cara.
11 RIGHT – Chris Masters
During the Ruthless Aggression of the WWE, there were a number of wrestlers who were pushed for their looks. Most of the time, they were muscular and were booked to be extremely strong against most of the WWE roster. Chris Masters was a perfect example of someone brought into the WWE with an impressive physique. His Master Lock Challenge was part of his big push after his 2005 debut.
But Masters actually lost momentum after spending time away dealing with a painkiller addiction. He also came back looking much slimmer than before; leading to jokes on WWE television about losing muscle mass in such a short amount of time – hinting at possible steroid use. He would eventually violate the WWE Wellness Policy before he was released in 2007. Masters, like many strong wrestlers they pushed, fell short of their expectations.
10 WRONG – Derrick Bateman
The WWE certainly has a lot of talent between their main roster and their developmental system. In 2009, Michael Hutter joined Florida Championship Wrestling under the name Derrick Bateman. He would also be an entertaining addition to the NXT show in 2010 with his NXT coach Daniel Bryan. Unfortunately, nothing was ever done with Bateman, or anyone from that season really. Instead, he was wasted in the NXT Redemption series before going back to developmental.
His release in 2013 gave him the opportunity to go work for TNA under the name Ethan Carter III. A new name, new character and a new lease in wrestling, he showed his true potential as a wrestler in the main event picture. The WWE never got a chance to see this potential in Bateman as he never got the actual opportunity to show what he could do with the right kind of booking.
9 RIGHT – Colt Cabana
There was a certain level of excitement when Colt Cabana was joining the WWE in 2007. He spent several years on the independent circuit as one of the most entertaining characters on the wrestling scene for Ring of Honor and several overseas promotions. Unfortunately, the WWE creative staff really didn’t seem to know what to do with someone like Cabana. He was barely used in matches and the Good as Goldman show on WWE.com only lasted about a month.
Since leaving, Cabana is one of the few independent wrestlers who has found a way to make a good income without having to rely on the WWE machine. Between his merchandise sales, continuous schedule around the world and his successful “The Art of Wrestling” podcast, Cabana doesn’t need to earn a WWE paycheck with barely anything for him to do.
8 WRONG – Drew McIntyre
There are a number of wrestlers who first came into the WWE during the later parts of the Ruthless Aggression era and were unable to meet the expectations placed on them. In the case of Drew McIntyre, the former “Chosen One” was never given the proper direction by the creative staff after his 2009 debut. Other than an immediate Intercontinental Championship reign, there wasn’t a lot done to help him get over as a major threat on the main roster.
Not long after being hand-picked by Vince McMahon as a chosen one and “future world champion,” he would finish his WWE run on a team with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal in 3MB. But after going back to wrestle in the United Kingdom and for TNA, McInytre was able to show the true charisma he never had a chance to show in the WWE.
7 RIGHT – Luke Gallows
Luke Gallows was the big man in CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society from 2009 to 2010. It was a much better gimmick than the Imposter Kane he wrestled with in 2006 and the Festus character he had from 2007 to 2009. While he had a better character, Gallows wasn’t really standing out much in terms of quality. It was actually a blessing in disguise for him to be released from the WWE in 2010. In fact, he would comment publically that he never saw it as a bad thing.
Being able to go work in Japan and be a member of the Bullet Club gave Gallows a chance to grow as a professional wrestler. His success teaming with Karl Anderson led to the WWE taking notice how his evolution and also a second chance to work in the WWE. Since then, Gallows has been able to win the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship with Anderson.
6 WRONG – Shelton Benjamin
There may have come a time when there was no stopping Shelton Benjamin as one of the best mid-card members of the WWE roster. He was a three-time Intercontinental Champion and one-time United States Champion. He was also one of the most athletically gifted superstars with becoming a human highlight reel in ladder matches and cage matches. Unfortunately, the “Gold Standard” was stopped by a WWE release in 2010.
It was a wrong decision because the WWE really had something special in Benjamin in terms of an overall athlete. While he may not have been charismatic enough to win a world championship, he was certainly popular enough to help elevate the mid-card titles. His status in the WWE was also hurt due to poor booking – i.e. Mama Benjamin and demoting him to the ECW brand.
5 RIGHT – Alberto Del Rio
When Alberto Del Rio was released in 2014 after an altercation with a WWE employee, it was wrong considering that the employee in question was making racially insensitive jokes. Not that we’re saying Del Rio was in the right completely, but it certainly didn’t look good for the company. Del Rio would return to the WWE in 2015 as a surprise challenger for John Cena’s United States Championship.
But he would be released against in the fall of 2016 shortly after he tested positive for a testosterone replacement that Del Rio admitted to later. He was granted his release from the company and has since had a number of issues that question his state of mind and ability to make rational decisions. This includes him being stabbed by another after a minor car accident and also beating up his brother in an Austrian police station.
4 WRONG – Damien Sandow
If there was ever a wrestler who was handed lemons by the WWE creative team and turned it into amazing lemonade, Damien Sandow could have easily put Country Time out of business. Sandow was one of the most over villains in a long time during the Ruthless Aggression era. Sometimes, there’s no better heel than someone who brags about his intelligence and insults the fans with larger words that require a majority of people to use a thesaurus.
After losing a championship match after cashing in Money in the Bank, Sandow’s WWE status would spiral down with the WWE delegating him to being a stunt double for The Miz. But Sandow then turned it into one of the most popular gimmicks at the time because he did it perfectly. Unfortunately, the WWE didn’t know what to do after he turned on Miz at WrestleMania 31. He might be one of the positives left in TNA as Aron Rex.
3 RIGHT – Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle has dealt with a number of injuries during his professional and Olympic wrestling careers. The neck injuries have been the most talked about since he had a broken neck when he won a gold medal during the 1996 Summer Olympic in Atlanta, Ga. But Angle would also become one of the hardest working wrestling machines in the WWE until he was granted his release from the company in 2006 – shortly after he was moved to the ECW brand.
It sounds like the real reason for Angle wanting to leave was because he felt like he was a liability at the time. Angle admits to having an addiction to painkillers after two major neck injuries. He said he was going to get his life fixed before coming back to the WWE. It certainly took a while as Angle had a number of personal issues that included charges of driving under the influence and abuse. However wrestling with a lighter schedule undoubtedly helped Angle rest his body and ultimately helped him overcome his addiction problems.
2 WRONG – Wade Barrett
The WWE has been wrong in how they’ve handled some of their superstars. Wade Barrett was someone who showed everything that a WWE superstar should be. Great skills on the microphone, in the ring and a demeanor worthy of being a main event heel. The only reason he never won a world championship was that the WWE never quite pulled the trigger on putting the belt on him. Even when he was doing well as a villain as the leader of Nexus in 2010.
However, similar to other underutilized wrestlers who left the WWE, Barrett was able to take the crappy booking ideas the WWE gave him and turn them into television gold. Whether it was Bad News Barrett or King Barrett, he did very well and was rewarded five reigns as Intercontinental Champion. Unfortunately, Barrett suffered several poorly timed injuries and that was a factor in his eventual release last year.
1 RIGHT – Cody Rhodes
While many fans would feel that the WWE let a talented superstar leave the company, it’s actually better that Cody Rhodes was released in 2016. The fact does remain that he was able to get over with pretty much every character they gave him – from Dashing to Broken and even his Goldust rip-off gimmick in Stardust. The latter was a big part of why he didn’t want to be in the WWE. Rhodes wanted to be himself again and the WWE rejected him.
If the WWE couldn’t give him something that was worthy of a talented wrestler still in the prime of his career, then releasing him was the right decision. Since then, Rhodes has been able to find success competing throughout several major wrestling promotions with five-star matches everywhere. Being billed as “The American Nightmare,” he’s finally getting to do things his way and leave the Stardust character behind.