Over the years we have seen so many wrestlers come and go through the WWE. For a large majority of them, wrestling for the largest professional wrestling company in the world is the greatest time in their careers, with many finishing their careers as a WWE superstar.
With the WWE having a great creative team, sometimes it is hard to rival the success a wrestler can have outside of the company. Throughout each era, there have been companies that compete with the WWE for ratings, and some wrestlers jump ship, thinking they can become a bigger name somewhere else, whether it be for the higher independent scene, or a competing company such as WCW or TNA.
There are certain situations where it worked, such as Christian moving to TNA to find much greater success as a singles competitor than he ever did in his first run with the WWE. Some were not so lucky.
Regardless of how they left the WWE, whether it be via walking away or being released, it was always interesting to see where the careers of some of our favourites ended up in different promotions.
This list shows 10 wrestlers who furthered their careers when they moved on from the WWE, and 10 who couldn't reach the same level of success anywhere else. You will notice that some of the entries, mostly those who have fared better since leaving, have made a return to the WWE. The focus of this list is on the time they were not signed as a WWE superstar.
20 Better: Matt Morgan
Matt Morgan had humble beginnings in the WWE. From being a member of Team Lesnar to having a gimmick that saw him as a big man with a stutter, defending his speech impediment whenever he got the chance. His run on Smackdown lasted two years, off and on, spending time at Ohio Valley Wrestling in between gimmicks creative needed him to fill on the main roster. He was released from the WWE in July 2005.
On August 9, 2007, Morgan made his debut on TNA Impact! alongside Jim Cornette. He was quickly revealed as Cornette's "bodyguard." This gimmick quickly led to Morgan being relieved of his duties to Cornette and becoming a full-time wrestler. He aligned himself with Christian Cage and became a fan favourite, going back to a moniker he used in OVW, "the Blueprint."
With a tenure lasting until 2013, Morgan went on to have memorable feuds with Abyss and the Main Event Mafia, leading to to capturing the tag team titles on two occasions, once with Hernandez and the other with Crimson. It was clear that he went on to have a better career after parting ways with the WWE. Morgan is currently a commissioner of the city of Longwood, Florida.
19 Worse: Gangrel
The WWE's resident vampire, Gangrel made us cringe and cowl with his stable the Brood. First with Edge and Christian by his side, then the Hardy Boyz as the New Brood. Whenever the lights went out with the Brood around the ring, you knew that someone was going to be doused in blood. It was never a pretty sight.
He never won a championship while working for the WWE, but he did manage to gain our attention. Following his release in 2001, he turned to the independent circuit and continues to make appearances and wrestle to this day.
Trying to keep his vampire gimmick alive, Gangrel has never reached the same level of success that he did in the WWE. He may have obtained some championships in while in the independent circuit, the 49-year-old is hardly front-page news in the wrestling world. He's been listed as one of the wrestlers who should hang up their boots, but it doesn't seem his ready to do that just yet.
18 Better: Raven
After creating his character of Raven in ECW, Scott Levy had great success with it there, as well as in WCW before bringing it to the WWE. His previous characters in WWE had gone unnoticed by creative, so this was his time to shine.
He had quickly made his way into the Hardcore division, holding the division's title a total of 27 times. He was involved in the Invasion story-line in 2001, being managed by Terri Runnels and destroying Perry Saturn's love, "Moppy," the mop. He was not seen much on WWE programming until after WWE defeated WCW/ECW in the "Winner Take All" Survivor Series, when Rave was drafted to Raw, taking the Hardcore title with him. His final match in the WWE was a Royal Rumble Qualifying match against Jeff Hardy in January 2003.
Levy debuted in TNA in 2003, two days after his release from the WWE on January 22. He made a huge impact in TNA from the moment he signed with the company. Building many stables and having great feuds led to him being part of main story-lines for the majority of his tenure with the company. His career reached new heights, winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship once and the King of the Mountain in 2005.
17 Worse: Vader
It should no longer be Vader time. Big Van Vader, born Leon White, made a huge splash in WCW and WWE in the 1990s. When he debuted in WWE at the 1996 Royal Rumble, it was clear that he was on a path of destruction. Vader wanted to plow through anyone in his way and didn't care what rules he broke.
With high-profile feuds with Yokozuna, Undertaker, and Kane, it was a shame to see how quickly the WWE tossed Vader aside, being booked in matches against jobber less than a year after his feud with Kane. Jim Cornette has been quoted saying that the reason Vader's run in the WWE wasn't successful was because of the way he was booked.
Following his departure of the WWE, he made his way through Japanese promotions as well as the independent circuit in North America. He may have been able to capture championships while on the indies, but with his health fading, it is a worry that he continues to wrestle.
16 Better: Gail Kim
Gail Kim turned a lot of heads when she won the WWE Women's Championship in her debut match on June 30, 2002, immediately becoming a fan favourite. After highlighting pay-per-views for the next two years with the likes of Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria, and Molly Holly, she was released on November 3, 2004 as a result of budget cuts.
Kim debuted in TNA (now Impact Wrestling) in September 2005 as a valet for America's Most Wanted, Chris Harris and James Storm, and aligning herself with Jeff Jarrett. It took her just over a year, but women's matches became more and more popular in early 2007, with Kim at the helm. She was the inaugural Knockouts Champion, capturing the title in a ten-women gauntlet match on October 14, 2007's Bound For Glory pay-per-view.
Kim went on to hold the Knockouts title seven times, and held the Knockouts tag team titles once with Madison Rayne. She made history in TNA once again, being the first woman to be inducted in the TNA Hall of Fame in 2016. Kim currently serves as a producer for Impact Wrestling.
15 Worse: Hurricane Helms
Who doesn't love superheroes? Clearly, WWE creative saw that superheroes were a huge hit with the younger generation when they gave Shane Helms the "okay" for his gimmick of the Hurricane.
The Hurricane was a fan favourite and adding Rosey, the S.H.I.T. (Super Hero In Training) as a tag team partner, earned them huge pops from the fans. Helms, as the Hurricane, held the European and Hardcore titles each once, the Cruiserweight title twice and the World Tag Team Championships twice; once with Rosey and once with Kane. His feud with the Rock gave the crowd a lot of laughs and helped heightened his career. His tenure with the WWE ended in 2010, after a short stint on the ECW brand.
Following his departure, Helms went on the independent circuit for five years before receiving a tryout for TNA in March of 2015. He didn't make his on-screen debut until October of that year, but that was solely to congratulate X-Division Champion Tigre Uno. He wasn't seen again on TNA television until the following February, where he slowly began to form his stable, The Helms Dynasty. He was seen throughout the December 15, 2006 episode of Impact, which was was "Total Nonstop Deletion." On June 19, 2017, Helms announced he was leaving Impact Wrestling.
From being a fan favourite every week, to showing up on television maybe once every two months, we could see the career of Helms go downhill in life after WWE. Hopefully, for his sake, something will come from his surprise entrant at the 2018 Royal Rumble.
14 Better: Jeff Jarrett
Some may disagree with this, but just think about it. Jeff Jarrett began his wrestling career in the WWE as a country music "star" and had mild success, continuing into the Attitude Era, when he was defeated by Chyna, allowing her to become the first ever female intercontinental champion.
When he left the WWE for WCW, he brought the guitar back into his gimmick, but instead of playing it, he solely used it as a weapon. He became an even bigger name in WCW, but it wasn't until the WWE bought WCW that Jarrett's career truly began to reach new heights.
He co-founded Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, better known as TNA, and billed himself as the top star and stayed in the world title picture for the opening years of the company. With Jarrett at the helm of the company, TNA grew and was on competing levels with WWE, much like WCW was. To say that Jarrett's career in the wrestling business got better after he left the WWE is a slight understatement.
The respect he's received for what he's done has allowed the unthinkable to happen. Jarrett is being inducted as part of 2018 class of the WWE Hall of Fame. That speaks volumes all on its own.
13 Worse: Brian Christopher
When it came to flamboyant and bright tag teams in the late 1990's, there was no one better than Too Cool. With Scotty 2 Hotty being the master of the Worm, Grand Master Sexay was the one who danced his way into our hearts.
Once Scotty and Sexay brought in Rikishi to their stable, the trio was a huge crowd favourite. Their dance routines after their matches was a highlight each week on Raw. Sexay, born Brian Lawler, the son of Jerry "the King" Lawler, always found himself in trouble outside of the ring. He was first released after smuggling drugs across the border into Canada in 2001.
He would continue to wrestle on the independent circuit, but didn't curb his substance and alcohol abuse for many years, being arrested several times between 2004 and 2009. Nothing has been mentioned of him wrestling since 2011 aside from two appearances on WWE Raw. One was during his father's feud with Michael Cole in 2011 and the last appearance in professional wrestling Lawler has made was on the "Old School" episode of Raw on January 5, 2014.
12 Better: Bubba Ray Dudley
The Dudley Boys are arguably the most decorated tag team in professional wrestling. After they left their first stint in the WWE, they made their way to TNA, which allowed them to add more tag titles to their resume, but also saw great solo runs from both D-Von and Bubbla Ray.
With a name changed when he arrived it TNA, Bubba Ray became Brother Ray, then Bully Ray, and we saw his career reach heights on the solo front that he would never attain in the WWE. With high-profiled feuds with Abyss, Mr. Anderson and his story-line with Hulk Hogan, Ray was becoming a household name in his own right. He added two reigns as TNA World Heavyweight Championship, a feat that the WWE would never let him achieve.
Team 3D, TNA's name for the Dudley Boys, were inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame in 2014. Everything that Ray, along with his brother D-Von, had done in TNA, and the other promotions they had gone on to capture tag team championships in, totaling 34 over the span of their career, allowed them to come back to the WWE in 2015 to a huge ovation, earning them their induction into the WWE's Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2018.
11 Worse: Rikishi
Rikishi, born Solofa Fatu Jr., was in the WWE for seven years, using different gimmcks before his career really took off. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of a "Stink Face."
Being a member of Too Cool, we got our first glimpse of Rikishi and he immediately became a fan-favourite baby-face. His alliance with Grand Master Sexay and Scotty 2 Hotty may have helped his career sky-rocket, it was his story-lines with the Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin that cemented him as a household name. The Undertaker choke-slamming Fatu off of the top of the Hell in the Cell at 2001's Unforgiven is a highlight that is still talked about today.
Fatu is a member of the legendary Anoa'i family, and as a Samoan, it is looked at as disrespectful to ask him to lost weight in order to further his career. Sadly, led to his release in 2005.
Since leaving the WWE, Fatu began wrestling on the indies, which he still does to this day. He stays mostly in the Southern California region, and has not reached anywhere near the same success as he did in the WWE. His sons, the Usos, are keeping his name alive in the WWE, being mentioned during their matches. That seems to be the only mainstream attention he gets since he last competed in a WWE ring.
10 Better: Bobby Lasley
There is no other wrestler, to my knowledge, that can say that are TNA World Heavyweight, X-Division, and King of the Mountain Champion at the same time, other than Bobby Lashley. All of this happened after his time with the WWE, where he is rumored to soon be returning to.
Lashley left a great impact on the WWE. He held the ECW World Championship twice, the United States Championship once, and represented current President of the United States Donald Trump in the Battle of the Billionaires at WrestleMania 23 in 2007. Lashley was released from the WWE on February 4, 2008, following six-months of rehabbing an injury.
Lashley had moved on to the independent scene, but also started a career in Mixed Martial Arts in 2008, currently holding a 15-2 win-loss record. His career climbed to the highest it has been, proving that he had a better wrestling career after leaving the WWE, in TNA where he had held every title in the company and stayed in the main event, world title picture for almost 3 years until he left the company on January 14, 2018.
If he does make a return to the WWE, it will be on a high note and hopefully, it doesn't make his career suffer after everything he had accomplished in TNA.
9 Worse: Mr. Perfect
He was the image of perfection, and in his eyes, there was no one better than him. He was "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig.
Though it was his second stint in the WWE, Hennig started off his Mr. Perfect persona with a undefeated streak that lasted almost two years. Not even Hulk Hogan, who in the late 1980's was at the height of "Hulkamania," couldn't defeat him in that time. Shortly after his streak was broken, Hennig set his sights on the Intercontinental Championship, which he held twice.
He had spent time in rivalries with Ric Flair, Randy Savage and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Though he had to sit at the commentators table while he was recovering from injuries, Hennig still stuck his nose in the business of wrestlers, which sparked a return to the ring each time. He was never far from the spotlight, regardless of if he was competing in the ring or commentating alongside Vince McMahon or Jim Ross.
After leaving the WWE, Hennig moved onto WCW in mid-1997. The story-lines he was in, seemed to be recycled from the WWE and though they involved high-profiled talent, Hennig was never really in the main-event picture during his tenure with the company. He did manage to capture the United States championship, but other than being on the "B-team" of the nWo and small feuds with the Horsemen, his career never reached the heights he soared to in the WWE.
8 Better: ECIII
Some of you may remember Derrick Bateman from the fourth and fifth seasons of NXT, but it wasn't until Michael Hutter moved on to work for TNA in 2013 that everyone really took notice of this up and coming superstar.
Hutter debuted in TNA as the "spoiled nephew" of the company's then-president Dixie Carter, using the name Ethan Carter III. This gimmick gave him the push his career was dying for. We saw matches and rivalries against the likes of Sting, Kurt Angle, Matt Hardy, Bully Ray and James Storm.
Hutter had held multiple championships during his four-and-a-half year stint with the company. This included two reigns as TNA World Heavyweight Championship, and one run as Impact Grand Champion.
Though recently made a return to the WWE at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia on January 27, 2018, if it wasn't for the great success he had in TNA, he may not have had the confidence to return to the company that tossed him aside all those years ago.
7 Worse: Ryback
Ryback's fall in his career was one of his own doing. The sad thing is, he could still be working for the WWE today if he didn't put himself in hot water with the powers that be.
We first saw Ryback Reeves, using his birth name of Ryan Reeves on the fourth season of Tough Enough. He was one of the last ones to be voted off of the final eight contestants. After suffering an injury, he signed a developmental deal with the WWE.
He was next seen on the first season of NXT, back when it was a reality show, using the name Skip Sheffield. Following the dissolving of the Nexus, Reeves returned under the name he currently uses, Ryback.
After headlining several pay-per-views and being in feuds with the likes of CM Punk and Chris Jericho. He held the intercontinental championship once during his tenure before his controversial departure from the WWE.
He ranted about staying home from a show he was booked on due to not receiving equal pay as the main-event superstars on the roster and leaked his departure from the company three days before WWE tweeted the official statement that the the company has parted ways with Reeves.
Since leaving the WWE, Reeves has only been booked in a handful of matches on the independent circuit, seemingly putting a bad taste in the mouth of many promoters with his rant regarding equal pay.
6 Better: Cody Rhodes
This entry hits right in the feels. Had the powers that be in the WWE been a little more considerate to Cody Rhodes, he could still be working for the company today. With him wanting to drop the Stardust gimmick, which was slowly fading at the time, and let him go back to his previous gimmick in honor of his late father, WWE's creative department didn't see it as the right move for Rhodes. That being said, the fans would've appreciated it, as it would keep the American Dream alive each week in the WWE today.
When Rhodes left the WWE, he blazed through many independent promotions before turning into the American Nightmare we see today in Ring of Honor and New Japan. His career reached new levels when it was revealed that he would face Kurt Angle at What Culture Pro Wrestling's True Legacy iPPV in the summer of 2016. Since then, Rhodes has been in high-profiled matches and rivalries in each promotion he's worked in.
With ROH and NJPW having a deal where wrestlers can compete in both promotions, this gives Rhodes international exposure on a regular basis. He is a member of the Bullet Club and is a former ROH World Champion, making him the first member of the Rhodes family to win a world title in 31 years. Wherever he is, Dusty sure is looking down with a smile at his youngest child.
5 Worse: Alberto Del Rio
This entry may seem slightly tricky, as Alberto Del Rio, born Jose Alberto Rodriguez, had two stints in the WWE, and continued wrestling in between the two tenures. For this list, the focus is on his career since his most recent departure from the WWE.
As a former WWE, World Heavyweight and United States Champion throughout his two tenures with WWE, he has allowed his personal demons and anger allow his career to go a slight downhill slope.
Following his highly publicized relationship with WWE superstar Paige, Rodriguez has had a hard time re-claiming the success he once had. His domestic violence against then-girlfriend Paige caused Impact Wrestling to suspend him and strip him of his GFW World title. Though he has since returned to Impact Wrestling and still wrestles for several international promotions, his anger and no-showing on more than one occasion has put a dark cloud over his once WrestleMania main event-worthy career.
4 Better: Matt Hardy
Being one half of the high-risk tag team, the Hardy Boyz, Matt Hardy achieved great tag team success and minimal solo success while in the WWE. Though he has since returned to the company that put his name, or at least his last name, on the map, it was not before he shined as a solo star outside of the McMahon machine.
After debuting in TNA with his brother Jeff, Hardy had a chance to built a solid solo career for himself. With that chance, he solidified himself as a main event superstar. Debuting his "Broken" gimmick, Hardy showed a side of him we had never seen before. Throughout his last three year stint with TNA, he held the TNA World Heavyweight Championship on two separate occasions.
His "Broken" gimmick transcended into mainstream media and before he had debuted his "Woken" gimmick in the WWE, the chants of "DELETE!" could be heard throughout the arenas Hardy appeared in since his surprise return with younger brother Jeff at WrestleMania 33.
3 Worse: Damien Sandow
A talent who was vastly under-used in the WWE, Damien Sandow left an impression on the WWE universe and his release came as a shock to many.
As the Miz's stunt-double, Sandow, born Aaron Stevens, provided comic relief at a time when many story-lines had a more serious tone. It was a nice change that was widely accepted by the fans. However, Sandow never got the push that many feel he rightly deserved and following his release, he turned to TNA.
Debuting in TNA on August 16, 2016 under the name Aron Rex, Stevens had begun a feud with Drew Galloway, being named as the guest referee for his number one contenders match against Ethan Carter III. Stevens, as Rex, entered himself into the tournament to name the inaugural TNA Grand Impact Champion. He made it to the finals at Bound for Glory on October 2 and won the title. He lost it on December 1 and failed to reclaim it in his rematch the following week.
After a brief hiatus, Stevens returned to TNA. This time, his character was Liberace-inspired, with huge rings on each finger, lip gloss and a fur coat. This gimmick only lasted four months, as Stevens announced he was leaving TNA in April 2017. He left wrestling altogether to focus on acting. Clearly, Stevens was yet another victim of not being booked properly.
2 Better: Christian
Making an impact as a phenomenal tag team wrestler with his best friend Adam Copeland, known to the WWE Universe as Edge, Christian, born Jason Reso, achieved some solo success in his first run with the WWE before leaving the company for the first time in Novermber 2005. For his career to reach new levels that he had watched his best friend Edge reach, his move to TNA was very smart and worked amazingly in his favor.
Using a ring name he used prior to working for the WWE, Reso debuted in TNA on November 13, 2005 as Christian Cage. His sights were on the world title right from the start, and he captured the NWA World Heavyweight Championship just three months into his tenure with the company, defeating Jeff Jarrett on Februray 12, 2006. He would go on to win the title again and have feuds with the likes of Jeff Jarrett, Sting, Abyss, Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe. This career boost proved to fans what they had already known for years. Christian was a main event player and his time in TNA made way for him finally holding the World Heavyweight Championship after he made his return to the WWE in 2009.
1 Worse: Orlando Jordan
Once a member of JBL's Cabinet, Orlando Jordan saw his career take a nosedive when he left the WWE and signed with the rival company, TNA.
Jordan, who had some matches against main-event wrestlers such as John Cena and Chris Benoit, had managed to have one run as the United States champion. He defeated Cena, with the help of JBL, and shortly after WrestleMania 21, began a feud with Benoit over said title. His career looked promising, but it's hard to say what exactly led to his release in 2006.
After his debut on TNA's three-hour live edition of Impact! on Monday, January 4, 2010, Jordan debuted a gimmick that was turned down by WWE creative, a bisexual angle that showed him dressing in yellow police tape. Seeing how this angle played out, not landing any significant television time or title opportunities, it's possible that the fans weren't ready for it. Jordan was used sparingly on television until his release in July 2011.
Jordan currently wrestles on the independent circuit, but it seems his last gimmick on television may have damaged his chances of reaching any prominent success close to where was was in the WWE.