At the time of this writing, CM Punk is celebrating his fourth wedding anniversary with AJ Lee. If what he told Colt Cabana in November 2014 on the Art of Wrestling podcast is 100 percent on the level, then it's also been four years since Punk was given the pink slip by WWE. There have been tons of wrestlers whom WWE has released since then, both from the main roster and the developmental ranks, but as far as then-active wrestlers go, we still talk about Punk's release more often than we talk about the other "future endeavors" from the past four years.
This list, however, isn't exclusively about the onetime Straight Edge Savior who says he is "done, done, done" with professional wrestling. We're going to be looking at a total of 30 wrestlers (Punk included) who were released over the past four years (June 2014 to June 2018), and taking a look at what they're currently up to. We've included a lot of the "usual suspects," but we've also included a few names you might have forgotten were released by the WWE during the timeframe in question. This is by no means a complete list, but to make things a bit easier, we've limited our list to those who were active WWE or NXT wrestlers when they were cut – in other words, no Hulk Hogan, no Billy Gunn, no Josh Mathews or Justin Roberts. We've also chosen to exclude retirements while under WWE contract, e.g. those of the aforementioned AJ Lee, Brie Bella, Mark Henry, etc.
Having said all that, here's a quick update on 30 wrestlers whom WWE had recently fired or released.
30 CM Punk (2014)
There's no need, really, to talk you through CM Punk's past as a wrestler, how he was allegedly released on his wedding day (as explained above), or what's transpired in the last few weeks, but since we're required to do so, here goes – he was "1-1" last week, having beaten WWE doctor Chris Amann's defamation lawsuit, yet gotten humiliated a second straight time in the octagon at UFC 225.
So are we going to see Punk make his rumored wrestling return at All In? Don't rule it out completely. He may have said that he's completely finished with pro wrestling, but who knows?
29 The Great Khali (2014)
It was a mistake on the WWE’s part to give The Great Khali a massive push right out of the gate. That said, he had long descended to lower mid-card comedy status when his WWE contract expired in November 2014. Months later, he was back in his native India, having opened his own promotion/wrestling school, Continental Wrestling Entertainment.
Though he's been critical of his booking in the WWE, Khali made two recent one-off returns to the company, first at Battleground 2017 to help Jinder Mahal retain the WWE Championship, then at this year’s Greatest Royal Rumble.
28 Brodus Clay (2014)
He was supposed to be a ferocious monster heel, but instead, WWE transformed Brodus Clay into the dancing Funkasaurus. By the time he'd had it in storyline with pleasing audiences, nobody cared anymore, and Clay mostly vanished from television in the half-year or so before his June 2014 release.
Just three months after leaving WWE, Clay joined the then-TNA and was renamed Tyrus, and while he never won any titles, he was, at least, used properly when he was EC3's heavy. Tyrus left Impact Wrestling in April 2018, and by the looks of it, might be due to retire soon at 45-years-old.
27 Evan Bourne (2014)
Bourne's star was on the rise in 2011, as he and Kofi Kingston formed Air Boom, winning the WWE Tag Team Championships in August of that year. Unfortunately, bad luck would soon strike Bourne, in the form of wellness suspensions, and a car accident that took him out of action for a year, with creative having nothing for him until WWE remembered he still had a job, and released him in June 2014.
Free from the WWE, Bourne reverted to his previous ring name of Matt Sydal, competing in various promotions (PWG, ROH, NJPW), but mainly getting a good upper mid-card/main event push on Impact Wrestling.
26 Ricardo Rodriguez (2014)
He's mostly known as Alberto Del Rio's personal ring announcer, but Ricardo Rodriguez did spend some time in the ring in the WWE, mainly competing in developmental, but also appearing as the predictably named masked jobber El Local. After splitting with Del Rio and failing to get over alongside Rob Van Dam, Rodriguez was released by the WWE in July 2014.
Interestingly, Rodriguez worked alongside fellow 2014 release The Great Khali as a trainer at his wrestling school in India, but announced his retirement as an active wrestler just last year, aged only 31 at that time.
25 Camacho (2014)
Camacho was a second-generation wrestler, but you wouldn't have known it due to his kayfabe Mexican background in WWE – he was actually Tongan-American, and the son of former WWE and WCW star Haku, aka Meng. Unlike his father, Camacho (who also went by another non-Tongan name, Donny Marlow) didn’t make it past the lower mid-card, and was part of WWE’s June 2014 mass releases.
Much like fellow WWE alumni Trent Barreta, Davey Boy Smith Jr., and Lance Archer, Camacho enjoyed greater success in New Japan, where he’s been known as Bullet Club member Tanga Loa since March 2016.
24 Justin Gabriel (2015)
The high-flying Gabriel floundered after The Nexus disbanded, and was barely used on TV before his career got a bit of a jumpstart as Adam Rose's Bunny. But since that wasn't what Gabriel had in mind for his career, he quit the WWE in January 2015 and embarked on a substantial run in the independent scene.
Despite a gruesome BASE jumping accident in 2017, Gabriel, who is now known as the "Darewolf," PJ Black, remains active in the Indies, competing for Lucha Underground and the NWA, where he recently fought to a time-limit draw against NWA World Champion Nick Aldis.
23 CJ Parker (2015)
Parker was, for the most part, a designated jobber on NXT television, though he did get a slight push as a self-righteous, villainous "eco-warrior," which was, at the very least, better than his original hippie gimmick. But with success being hard to come by, Parker asked for his release, which he got early in April 2015.
After a brief spell in CZW as "CJP," Parker went back to his original ring name of Juice Robinson, and has since been one of New Japan's most promising young gaijin, or non-Japanese wrestlers.
22 Solomon Crowe (2015)
Despite being a recognizable name to indie fans as Sami Callihan, the former CZW star didn't enjoy the same success as colleague Jon Moxley did in WWE as Dean Ambrose. As Solomon Crowe, he was given a hacker gimmick that was too out there for most fans to relate to, and he was gone without fanfare by November 2015 after two disappointing years in NXT.
Callihan then returned to CZW before leaving earlier this year, but is most visible now as part of both Impact Wrestling and Lucha Underground's roster, using his usual ring name in the former company, and Jeremiah Crane in the latter.
21 Brad Maddox (2015)
He wasn't much of an authority figure, wasn't much of a referee, and wasn't much of a wrestler. But Brad Maddox managed to stick around in WWE or its developmental territories for seven years, with an ill-timed profanity being responsible for his release in November 2015.
Not long after his release, Maddox announced that he was open for independent bookings under the ring name "Mad Braddox" – a spoonerism of his WWE ring name. Nothing appears to have come out of that, and he's since gone dark on social media after his apparent participation in Paige's leaked private videos from last year.
20 Bull Dempsey (2016)
Usually, big guys get pushed like supermen in Vince McMahon’s land of big, sweaty men, but guys like the doughier-looking Bull Dempsey got comedy pushes and gimmicks, like the “Bull-Fit” gimmick he used in his final months on NXT TV.
Dempsey announced in February 2016 that he had been released by WWE after almost three years in the developmental system, and has since worked the indies under the name Bull James — a mix of his old NXT name and his real first name. He appears to be enjoying quite a bit of success these days in Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore promotion.
19 Santino Marella (2016)
Technically, neck issues had already ended Santino's wrestling career a few years back, so it wasn't much of a shock that he was included in the spring 2016 "Future Endeavors class." At that point, he only made occasional appearances for the WWE in his usual comedic roles, but since his WWE release, he's been focusing on more serious passions, including his Battle Arts Academy training facility, his analyst work for Canada's Sportsnet, and his work behind the scenes at Impact Wrestling, which includes his recently launched Twitch show, Behind the Lights.
18 Wade Barrett (2016)
Although many were hoping that Barrett would become the first British wrestler to win a world championship in the WWE, all he got was a smattering of inconsequential mid-card title reigns, a good gimmick ("Bad News Barrett") that was wasted, and membership in the ultimate go-nowhere stable, the League of Nations.
While Barrett focused on his acting career for the first year after his May 2016 release, he spent the last year enjoying his grand return to the business as the on-air general manager of Defiant Wrestling under his real name, Stu Bennett, until he relinquished his post in April of this year.
17 Hornswoggle (2016)
Hornswoggle is probably the most successful little person in WWE history, having made his infamous debut as Vince McMahon (and later Finlay’s) illegitimate son in storyline. He played a host of comedy roles in the next seven years or so, frequently turning face or heel as needed, and memorably losing a “WeeLC” match against Los Matadores’ mascot, El Torito in 2014.
Hornswoggle was released by WWE as part of its 2016 spring clean, and has bounced around quite a bit since then. He did, however, make a one-off WWE return at the Greatest Royal Rumble, lasting exactly a minute before Tony Nese eliminated him.
16 Alex Riley (2016)
Despite showing a lot of promise in the second season of NXT's game show iteration, Riley never quite lived up to it after his on-air partnership with The Miz met its brutal end. Rumors suggest that A-Ry had gotten on John Cena's bad side, hence his subsequent burial and lack of a defining, successful role until his release in May of 2016.
It appears as if Riley's quietly retired from wrestling, and is now trying to make his name as an actor. He appeared on the first season of Netflix's GLOW series in 2017, ironically playing the role of an almost John Cena-esque wrestler called Steel Horse.
15 Cody Rhodes (2016)
Rhodes left the job security of the WWE (and the Stardust gimmick he loathed) in May 2016, and has since proven to be the ultimate example of someone who reached the pinnacle of his career far away from the confines of WWE. However, most fans know that Cody's Bullet Club membership and success in both ROH and NJPW is merely the tip of the iceberg these days.
In case you forgot, Cody and the Young Bucks' All In indie supershow sold out in 30 minutes, and it's bound to be a treat for everyone in attendance at the Sears Centre Arena on September 1.
14 Adam Rose (2016)
It didn't take long for Adam Rose to go from entertaining to irrelevant, as the South African wrestler once known as Leo Kruger was never in serious contention for any kind of title in two years on WWE's main roster. A Wellness Policy violation and domestic violence arrest led to his indefinite suspension, and eventual release on May 23, 2016.
After leaving WWE, Rose tweaked his ring name to Aldo Rose, then to KRUGAR, all while shaving off his long hair and promising that 2017 would be his final year in wrestling. So far, he appears to have made good on that promise.
13 Ryback (2016)
Frustrated by a lack of creative direction and pay issues, Ryback sat out most of 2016 before his contract expired in August of that year, and since then, the Big Guy has been a very busy man. While many see his podcast as a series of tired retellings of the same bitter stories about his time in the WWE, and take note of his lackluster indie career thus far, Ryback appears to have made good as an entrepreneur. His "Feed Me More" brand sells various nutritional products, and surprise, surprise, even low-calorie whiskey and beer.
12 Alberto Del Rio (2016)
In September 2016, Alberto Del Rio asked for his release from WWE after months of frustration with creative, a Wellness Policy violation, and a highly controversial relationship with Paige. After leaving WWE, Del Rio switched to the ring name Alberto El Patron, and wrestled both in his native Mexico and in Impact Wrestling, where he continued cultivating a reputation as a talented, yet unreliable veteran who was often prone to no-showing events.
Ultimately, Impact had enough of Del Rio/El Patron's antics and fired him in April after yet another no-show. He's scheduled to appear in AAA's TripleMania XXVI event in August.
11 Sara Lee (2016)
Indeed, there seems to be something about winning Tough Enough that makes one less likely to enjoy success in the WWE than some of the runners-up. That too applies to Season 6's female winner, Sara Lee, who was released late in 2016 after failing to make an impression in NXT. It was initially thought that WWE fired her because she got pregnant, but later reports suggested that she was canned because she just wasn't improving enough.
While Lee took some time off to take care of her daughter with NXT's Wesley Blake, it appears she's still trying to make a name for herself in the independent circuit.
10 Jack Swagger (2017)
Despite multiple titles in the WWE, including one World Heavyweight Championship, Jack Swagger was almost invisible from the 2016 brand draft onward. It was only in March 2017 when most fans remembered he was still employed by the WWE, as that was when he appeared on MMA legend Chael Sonnen's podcast and said he had requested his release from the company.
Now using his real name, Jake Hager, the former All-American American has wrestled for independent promotions in the U.S., U.K., and Australia since last year, and is also looking forward to kicking off his MMA career as part of Bellator's heavyweight division.
9 Austin Aries (2017)
Austin Aries' example should be a cautionary tale to WWE when it comes to booking big names from the indies and/or top competitors like Impact, ROH, NJPW, etc. Despite having held main event titles in the first two of the aforementioned promotions, Aries was booked as a cruiserweight, and while he put on some great matches, he never won the Cruiserweight Championship, got lost in the creative shuffle, and was gone from WWE in July 2017.
Fortunately, all has worked out well for A Double, who is now on his third reign as Impact World Champion, and racking up multiple independent titles as the self-proclaimed "Belt Collector."
8 HoHo Lun (2017)
Lun was one of the more entertaining and promising discoveries from the Cruiserweight Classic, despite only lasting till the second round, where he was defeated by Noam Dar. He then briefly joined the 205 Live roster, then made a few appearances on NXT before asking for his release in August 2017, so that he could return to Hong Kong and care for his sick mother.
Following his WWE release, Lun returned to wrestling in the Asian independent scene, including appearances in mainland China, as well as for the Manila Wrestling Federation (MWF) in the Philippines.
7 Eva Marie (2017)
TeamWork Makes The Dream Work❤️ - Surround yourself with people who take pride in achieving excellence! @Janettran @jonathan_coyle and myself hand selected each person on our @NemFashion team. We take pride in the brand we have built, we take pride in ourselves and we take pride in our work. Each member of our team embraces this credo, of pride and self respect. _____________________ In today’s culture it seems that taking pride in ones works is a fading echo from a bygone era and it is an absolute shame. However, Our team doesn’t believe in half measures or doing the bare minimum, they believe in giving their best day in and day out and the results speak for themselves. We have achieved incredible success as a company in a very short time and it’s all because of hard work, the pursuit of excellence, and taking pride in ones work. _____________________ To our entire team who absolutely outdid themselves this weekend, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. This brand would not be what it is without you. We deeply appreciate your hard work and pursuit of excellence! Teamwork Makes The Dream Work! _____________________ @bigphotobooths @withberry @toriavicvl @cadymendoza @dureen @melissaruiiz
It was pretty much a formality when WWE released Eva Marie on August 4, 2017, after more than a year of inactivity. She had removed all references to WWE from her social media, seemingly as if she wanted to say that modeling and acting was going to be the focus of her career going forward.
Indeed, that was the case for the woman often ranked as one of the worst in-ring workers in WWE history (if not the worst), as she also focuses on her fashion line, NEM Fashion, which she runs with the help of her husband, Jonathan Coyle.
6 Emma (2017)
The late 2017 mini-wave of releases was "all about Emma,” as hers was, by far, the most surprising of the bunch. Apparently, she wasn’t very popular with creative team members due to her frequent complaints on social media about her push (or lack thereof), but her strong performances against Asuka shortly before her release hinted that WWE might have had some plans for her. (Unfortunately, those plans were to give her the pink slip.)
Now working under her real name, Tenille Dashwood, the former Emma is making a great impression as part of Ring of Honor’s women’s division.
5 Bronson Matthews (2017)
Matthews became another example of how there seems to be a “curse” involving Tough Enough winners. The real-life Josh Bredl was the male winner of 2015’s sixth season of the reality-based WWE rookie search, but he immediately caught heat from colleagues after referring to Heath Slater’s old faction as the “Social Jobbers” on Twitter. He was hardly used from that time onward, and was reportedly released in November 2017 due to concussions.
It would seem as if Matthews has fallen off the radar in the months since then, but it won’t be surprising if he’s decided to walk away from wrestling for the sake of his health.
4 James Ellsworth (2017)
The chinless dude who said that “every man with two hands has a fighting chance” was surprisingly signed to a WWE contract late in 2016, and he spent most of the next one year as a comedy character. He was released in November 2017, not long after he controversially assisted Carmella in becoming the first Ms. Money in the Bank.
Ellsworth has since kept busy in the indies, capitalizing on his WWE fame and his punching-bag status among SmackDown Live’s females by billing himself the “Inter-Gender Champion” for GTS Wrestling.
3 Enzo Amore (2018)
By far the most controversial of this year’s releases, Enzo Amore was sacked in January 2018 for allegedly withholding assault accusations from a woman in Phoenix that went viral on the day before his firing. At that time, he was WWE’s Cruiserweight Champion, and had been involved in a number of backstage incidents that were already earning him nuclear heat from colleagues.
With Amore no longer being investigated for assault, he’s now embarked on a second career as a rapper, having released two videos, “Phoenix” and “Bury Me a G,” on WorldStarHipHop. Needless to say, Post Malone or Childish Gambino this guy isn’t.
2 Rich Swann (2018)
Like Enzo Amore, whom you can also find in this list, Swann also ended his WWE run with controversy, as he was initially slapped an indefinite suspension for a domestic violence incident that allegedly stemmed from his harsh criticism of his wife's last match. The charges were eventually dropped and Swann's suspension was lifted, but he still chose to walk away from the WWE in February of this year, and temporarily retire from wrestling.
Swann didn't stay retired for long, and he's just recently been announced as one of Impact Wrestling's top new signings.
1 Abbey Laith (2018)
Originally known in the independent scene as Kimber Lee, Laith was one of the names to watch in last year’s Mae Young Classic, where she made it to the quarterfinals and eventually lost to Mercedes Martinez. For her efforts, she was signed to a developmental contract and wrestled a few matches on NXT, but got cut in March of 2018 along with fellow MYC product Sage Beckett.
Laith immediately returned to the indies following her WWE release, and is now working a busy schedule and using her old ring name in Chikara, Shimmer, and other leading independent promotions.
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