There’s no crystal ball to predict a wrestler’s future. We can make educated guesses based on potential and what we’ve seen so far. Moreover, a company like WWE has its plans and its proclivities. Roman Reigns may not have been the face of the company from day one, but for his heritage and look he was never going to be a job guy either.
For all of WWE’s intentions and for all of our guess work, there are those times when a talent slips from WWE’s fingers—be it getting released, or consciously deciding on his or her own to walk—and it winds up looking like a huge mistake that WWE let them go. Maybe that talent blossomed working for other promotions, or maybe he or she actually became a threat to company in some way. Regardless, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that it was a mistake for WWE not to better cater to them when they had the chance.
Mistakes are inevitable, though, when running a company the size of WWE. For as much money and resources as WWE had there’s not roster space, let alone TV time for everyone. As such, we can already see coming the next crop of talents likely to be on the chopping block when WWE makes further releases.
This article takes a look at ten wrestlers whom we have to assume WWE looks back in retrospect to regret losing to other promotions, as well as ten talents the company might let go next.
20 Lost: Cody Rhodes
WWE didn’t want to release Cody Rhodes. After he saw his career plateau in the Stardust role, though, and was denied in his pitch to play the Cody Rhodes character simultaneously, across brands, he sought to better his fortunes elsewhere. Rhodes not only became one of the hottest acts on the independent circuit, but broke out in a featured role with The Bullet Club for Ring of Honor and New Japan.
Cody went on to team with The Young Bucks in promoting All In, an independent event of unparalleled scope—selling out a major arena and drawing a substantial PPV audience.
Cody and company probably aren’t and won’t become meaningful competition to WWE, but WWE surely regrets letting things get this far, and would rather have Rhodes working for them, or at least not working against them.
19 May Be Next: Apollo Crews
Apollo Crews is a remarkable athlete—a powerhouse with startling agility. It was reasonably understandable when he got an early call up from NXT as he already had the tools to, at least theoretically, thrive on the main roster.
Unfortunately, when it comes to WWE coming up with meaningful creative for Crews, and Crews distinguishing himself in terms of his personality, things seem to have hit a dead end. With the right angle and opportunity, there’s still potential for Crews to succeed. However, the guy has now spent over two years on the main roster with next to nothing to show for it. WWE may be looking to cut ties sooner than later.
18 Lost: Brian Cage
Brian Cage was a part of WWE’s developmental system for a time, but never escaped the middle of the pack there, and never got a shot on the main roster. It’s surprising to think of now when he’s a skilled in ring worker, perfectly reasonable promo man, and exactly the sort of jacked physical specimen WWE stereotypically goes for.
Cage has starred for Lucha Underground and more recently Impact Wrestling. From interviews, it sounds as though he was put off by his experience the WWE system, and even if they are trying to get him back, he’s not returning their calls anymore.
17 May Be Next: Tye Dillinger
Tye Dillinger spent a very long time in NXT and reportedly respected by his colleagues and trainers as a polished, finished product well over a year before he got called up to the main roster. The only thing that seemed to be holding him back from the promotion was that he didn’t have the look or move set to necessarily make him stand out on a national stage.
As fun as his “Ten!” chant was, it also wasn’t clear if that gimmick would work with a more mainstream fan base.
Accordingly, Dillinger has struggled to make any headway since moving up to SmackDown. While he has performed well enough in the ring to hold onto his job as a lower card guy, there’s little sign of him moving up, and WWE may end up cutting its losses with him.
16 Lost: Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega has risen up in recent years to be widely regarded as one of the best professional wrestlers in the world. Particularly for his efforts with New Japan Pro Wrestling, he has distinguished himself as a remarkable in ring performer, besides being a good promo man and character actor. His accomplishments were pronounced enough to earn him the number one spot on Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s PWI 500 this fall.
Omega spent some time in WWE’s developmental system where he was generally overlooked and under appreciated. Word is that WWE has made big money offers to him in an effort to get him back. Rest assured, the powers that be at the company wish they hadn’t let him go in the first place.
15 May Be Next: Jonathan Coachman
When Jonathan Coachman returned from ESPN to WWE, it seemed like a fine move for everyone involved. Coach came home to the company he’d built his name with while WWE benefited from the credibility of an ESPN broadcaster joining their team—and better yet one who actually knew wrestling.
Unfortunately, Coachman quickly became an embarrassment on color commentary, miscalling moves, misidentifying wrestlers, and more generally tripping over his calls. The occasional blunder is to be expected, but as weeks mounted up, Coach was totally exposed as out of his element. It was a relief when WWE replaced him at the Raw broadcast table with Renee Young, and convenient that WWE could cover for his failure by focusing more on Young’s promotion as WWE’s first full-time female color commentator.
14 Regrets: DH Smith
DH Smith was a big deal when he first debuted in WWE, based in no small part on his family lineage as the son of Davey Boy Smith and nephew of Bret Hart. Unfortunately, WWE didn’t seem t know what to do with him and his star quickly fizzled.
He wound up peaking in his Hart Dynasty tag team with Tyson Kidd, but never had much of a singles run.
Smith hasn’t been a breakout star since leaving WWE, but his work in Japan in particular has demonstrated his commitment to his craft. Given his lineage and his raw talent, he’s someone WWE surely regrets not making more out of when they had the chance.
13 May Be Next: Titus O’Neil
Titus O’Neil is, by all accounts, a nice guy. Moreover, he’s got a great look and good charisma. Unfortunately, he’s just not a good wrestler.
WWE tried O’Neil in various roles over the years, and most recently he worked primarily as a manager for the lower card Titus Worldwide face stable. At this point, his size and stature turned into a detriment, as it was awkward for him to stand so much taller than guys he was managing like Apollo Crews and Akira Tozawa.
While O’Neil’s work as an ambassador for WWE has continued to justify his employment up to this point, his long term prospects with the company don’t look so hot.
12 Lost: Matt Morgan
WWE had Matt Morgan under contract during an era when it had a lot of big, jacked stars freshly minted on the main roster, including Luther Reigns and Nathan Jones, not to mention Brock Lesnar and John Cena, and more veteran big men like The Undertaker, Kane The Big Show, Test, and A-Train. In short, Morgan came across as largely a dime a dozen at that point, and WWE’s attempt to distinguish him with a stuttering gimmick was largely embarrassing.
Morgan would go on to Impact Wrestling, where he distinguished himself as one of far fewer big men, and a deceptively talented worker. Morgan probably never would have risen to the cream of the crop in WWE, but had WWE never let him go, he may be a rock solid monster veteran to lean on in the upper mid-card these days.
11 May Be Next: Curt Hawkins
WWE first really featured Curt Hawkins as half of the Edge Heads tag team with Zack Ryder. The team would never really exceed its position as The Rated R Superstar’s henchmen. While Ryder would get some opportunity to shine after he built a cult following for himself on the Internet, Hawkins has never been so fortunate.
His highest profile work was when his gimmick was having a losing streak—and WWE has even gone on to ignore that aspect of his character, and mostly leave him off TV.
At this point, Hawkins comes across as completely expendable on the WWE roster.
To be fair, he probably will do better for himself on the indies, where his WWE name recognition and sound fundamentals should earn him consistent work.
10 Lost: Gail Kim
In her first WWE tenure, Gail Kim got a reasonable push first as an underdog face, then as a heel submission specialist, capable of putting away larger opponents. She was abruptly released ,but would have another WWE run years later, but wasn’t featured much, and has publicly stated since that she went back to WWE for the money, not because she liked working there.
In between WWE tours, Kim did some of the finest work of her career for Impact Wrestling, particularly in playing a valiant face up against Awesome Kong as a monster heel. It’s work like that that would have fit from late 2015 onward nicely, and it seems as though one of the best female wrestlers of a generation got lost in the shuffle—her WWE legacy made negligible—on account of bad timing. WWE failed her and then let her go too soon.
9 May Be Next: Chad Gable
Chad Gable impressed NXT fans, as he and Jason Jordan made an amazing tag team. He has since made the most of every opportunity given to him on the main roster, including working through a series of tag team partners, and being cast as an underdog face singes performer. Despite his fan friendly, frenzied offense, he just couldn’t seem to get a foot hold on SmackDown, and has been even worse lost in the shuffle on Raw.
There’s still some hope Gable might find the right tag team combination, or might get to reinvent himself on 205 Live. There’s an equal chance, though, that the powers that will deem him a talented performer who just doesn’t fit the main roster landscape today.
8 Lost: Bubba Ray Dudley
Bubba Ray Dudley was a key part of WWE’s tag division in the Attitude Era and the years to follow, besides working a fun nostalgia run more recently. He got one brief shot as a singles performer, but WWE cut it short in favor of reuniting the Dudleys.
Dudley proved himself as a guy who could carry the ball in Impact Wrestling, where his faces singles act got over to a high degree, before it gave way to him playing a loud mouthed heel champion and leader of the Aces and Eights faction.
That was probably the finest work of his career, and it’s a shame he didn’t have a WWE-sized audience for it.
Moreover, his work as a veteran for ROH now is largely successful, demonstrating that he could have still had value as a WWE performer now.
7 May Be Next: The Ascension
WWE pushed The Ascension hard in NXT as a dominant big man team in the mold of old pairings like L.O.D and Demolition. For as over as they got in developmental, the wheels quickly came off on the main roster. While Konnor and Viktor are tall, they’re not exactly imposing by main roster standards, nor are they polished workers. They quickly became a lower card team, en route to becoming sidekicks for The Fashion Police’s comedy act.
The Ascension now finds itself in the awkward spot of not being nearly as impressive of a monster team as The Authors of Pain, and not having the work rate nor the personality of a number of other less featured teams. They’re fine as cannon fodder for better featured pairs, but you have to wonder how long WWE will keep them on the payroll in that capacity.
6 Lost: Evan Bourne
Evan Bourne got over for his aerial prowess and polished ring work. Unfortunately, he was working at a time when WWE didn’t have a Cruiserweight division, and while his small size made him a likeable underdog, it also made it difficult to vie him as any kind of title contender. (Wellness Policy issues also cost him.)
205 Live has done nicely as a niche product since becoming WWE Network exclusive, and falling under Triple H’s booking domain. The division is missing a face standard bearer everyone can get behind, though, and Evan Bourne could have been an ideal veteran presence to fill that role for WWE now. Instead, he’s thriving on the indies and for Impact Wrestling.
5 May Be Next: The Colons
WWE put an earnest effort behind Carlito, in part for his charisma, in part for his wrestling potential, and in part as a legacy star—the son of Puerto Rican hero Carlos Colon. Be it his oft-rumored attitude issues, or never rising to the occasion the way management would have hoped, he never became quite the star his biggest supporters would have hoped for.
His brethren, cousins Primo and Epico, are undeniably talented. They’re mechanically sound, and skilled aerial artists.
Unfortunately, they haven't caught on in any gimmick assigned to them, and scarcely see TV time these days.
WWE may keep them around for name value and to pop his father’s fans, but we have to assume they’ll throw in the towel on this act before too much longer.
4 Lost: Austin Aries
Austin Aries is one of the best in ring talents of his generation, and skilled talker to boot. Unfortunately, he never quite his stride in WWE—neither in NXT, nor on 205 Live. Some of that may well have to do with being miscast as a face in the Cruiserweight division, but then, Neville was thriving so well in his lead heel role, it’s hard to blame WWE positioning Aries as such.
Now that Aries is back in Impact Wrestling, he’s again showing why WWE wanted him in the first place as a world class technician and wonderful jerk heel character. WWE can see what it missed out on in misusing him now, and there’s little doubt they’d like a do-over.
3 May Be Next: Hideo Itami
Hideo Itami looked like he might be the next big signing to NXT when he came in with the buzz that his signature moves and style had inspired no lesser stars than Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. Unfortunately, injuries, style clashes, and less than shining English language promo skills largely hamstrung his time in developmental.
Rather than becoming the breakout main roster some expected him to be, he has instead been relegated to 205 Live, where he looks to ride out his contract.
Itami’s pending depature is one that seems to be rooted in mutual agreement. Despite his talents, a big time WWE run just doesn’t seem to have been meant to be for him.
2 Lost: Brandi Rhodes
Brandi Rhodes had a relatively forgettable tenure with WWE, and may now be best remembered for having met her eventual husband Cody through the company. She’s gone on to not only be his real life spouse, but his on screen manager in a variety of other promotions.
While it may be petty, a part of WWE’s desire to bring back Brandi is as simple as her name. As Cody discussed on Chris Jericho’s podcast, WWE owns the rights to the Cody Rhodes names, which is why he generally goes by just Cody elsewhere. However, the company doesn’t own the name Brandi Rhodes, which allows Cody to market selected appearances under the billing, “Cody and Brandi Rhodes”—a loophole that has to stick in WWE’s craw.
1 May Be Next: The Singh Brothers
The Singh Brothers were in the right place at the right time when they were working in NXT, and WWE decided to push Jinder Mahal to the top of SmackDown with a WWE Championship reign. Despite having been shuffled down to developmental after the Cruiserweight Classic, the brothers’ ethnicity and small size made them optimal sidekicks for Mahal.
After a half year with the strap and limited progress for Mahal’s skills or WWE’s business, the experiment ended. Mahal will probably still have a job with WWE for some time, but as a mid-carder, it makes less and less sense for him to have an entourage dedicated to him. We can expect The Singh Brothers to disappear from WWE altogether in the months ahead.