In recent years, the WWE roster has become the largest it has ever been thanks to the addition of NXT and 205 Live, which meant that an influx of talent is now being signed. But that also led to some personnel changes with many Superstars being released along the way. During the 2000s, it's been a yearly tradition for the WWE to release many Superstars - some of whom were expected to be on the way out while others came off as a surprise.
The trend continues in 2018 as WWE parted ways with several names, and while some may be off to a hot start away from the company - the rest have struggled for the most part with their bookings. Options certainly exit for today's professional wrestlers to be successful away from the WWE, but the larger companies aren't always chasing castoffs unless they truly have something to add to their programming. That puts these former WWE Superstars in a tough position as they begin accepting bookings from smaller scale promotions.
It is quite the adjustment since not only is there a major difference between the WWE payday and the independent scene, but also the notable change from large to small arenas. Unless these wrestlers happen to be constantly booked by companies such as ROH and NJPW, then it is very likely that they have to tour the world while competing for local promotions. With today's list, we look at 20 WWE castoffs fans didn't know are performing in smaller arenas:
20 Darren Young
Darren Young lasted seven years with the WWE prior to his release in 2017. He was on the receiving end of some minor pushes along the way, but all attempts to get him truly over with the fans fell short of expectations. Since leaving the WWE, Young has mostly gone under the radar barring a few appearances for smaller promotions in arenas containing far less capacity than he is used to. Although he is aiming to be a member of Ring of Honor in 2019, believing that it could be a turning point in his career as well as the appropriate next big step in his journey.
19 Simon Gotch
From 2013 to 2017, Simon Gotch was signed to a full-time contract to the WWE and there was some buzz around him early on. Gotch was successfully shining in the tag team division, picking up the NXT Tag Championships along the way. But his main roster stint wasn't nearly as memorable so his 2017 release didn't catch many fans by surprise. That only motivated Gotch to work harder in hopes of returning to the WWE at some point, and a successful podcast has kept him relevant with fans. But his run away from the company hasn't been exactly memorable thus far.
18 James Storm
James Storm's WWE run was very short lived to say the least. Fans had wanted to see him shine at the biggest stage in all wrestling, which is why there was buzz around Storm joining NXT in 2015. While both sides had interest in reaching an extension deal, they failed to come to an agreement as Storm went back to Impact Wrestling. Earlier this year, Storm officially left the company once again and he is now featuring some local promotions every now and then. Storm has hinted that the door may still be open for him to return to NXT, which would be interesting to see.
17 Tommy Dreamer
Tommy Dreamer may be getting up there age wise, but he is still as extreme as they come. He was among the many veterans to be released from the WWE around the same period, and while he could have moved on to a backstage role, Dreamer wasn't ready to call it a career just yet as he kept taking bookings as they came. As of 2018, the opportunities haven't dried up for Dreamer who is still receiving offers, albeit they are from smaller companies. But at least Tommy Dreamer still gets to carry the torch for ECW wherever he goes.
16 Val Venis
Having been away from the WWE since 2009, some fans may be surprised that Val Venis is still an active wrestler. He had spent the last few years of his WWE stint working as a jobber to younger Superstars, so it was no surprise that the company chose to part with him when they did. That didn't discourage Venis from carrying on as a wrestler, who opted to immediately hop back into the ring while accepting bookings from various promotions. With every passing year, Val Venis finds himself working for smaller promotions and he is mostly headlining local gymnasiums in recent times.
Gene Snitsky got a decent push in the mid 2000s as he engaged in a high profile feud with Kane. He was even once slated to team with Heidenreich to take on The Brothers of Destruction at WrestleMania. Once Snitsky's storyline with Kane ended, Snitsky was repackaged several times and became more of a comedic character than the relentless monster he had been. Following his release, Snitsky took some time away from the ring, but has recently gotten back into the business, recently headlining for Right Coast Pro Wrestling. He has said he plans to retire in the very near future.
14 Rich Swann
Once Rich Swann was released from the WWE, he opted to take some time off from professional wrestling before he gradually returned to the ring. He began competing for smaller promotions before inking a deal with Impact Wrestling. And of course that entitles him to continue accepting bookings elsewhere as long as there is no schedule conflict. Swann can now be seen wrestling at small arenas that differ plenty from his time with the WWE. But it's a part of being an independent wrestler as most cannot afford to be too picky with their bookings unless they happen to be a top name.
13 Austin Aries
Granted, Austin Aries has been working for both Impact Wrestling and Ring of Honor - which are among the biggest companies outside of the WWE - but he is also headlining small venues. Considering the difference between a WWE paycheck as opposed to other companies, independent wrestlers have to remain active for more than one promotion to make a worthwhile living, and that's exactly what Aries has done. He is currently making the most of the opportunities coming his way, as he takes on bookings regardless of the promotion and size of the arena since he will likely be doing this for the foreseeable future.
12 James Ellsworth
When James Ellsworth appeared in WWE back in 2016, it was supposed to be a one time match that eventually turned into a full-time deal for him. Once he left the company, he remained in high demand among promoters all over the country as Ellsworth was fresh off a hot run with the WWE. But recent controversies involving Ellsworth away from the ring have put him in a tough spot, as he has now been dropped by many of his bookings. Ellsworth is now only able to work for the smallest promotions around that can barely fit in a gymnasium.
Hornswoggle exceeded all expectations with his WWE run as not many fans predicted that he would last as long as he did. Most believed that he was only brought on to play Finlay's sidekick for a brief period before the WWE moved on from him, but as it turned out, Hornswoggle was popular enough with fans to keep around. Fast forward to 2018 and things haven't changed very much as Hornswoggle is still in demand among fans, although he is now working much smaller venues than he is used to. But when you take into consideration his limits in the ring and the mic, that's not exactly a bad gig to have.
10 Chris Masters
Chris Masters was set to become a future WWE star if all plans had worked out, but he didn't quite reach those heights. In his second and final run with the company, Masters was determined to prove himself to management in hopes of retrieving his old spot back on the main roster. But once his surprising release was announced, Masters carried on with his journey on the indies where he is still receiving books to this day. He is unlikely to be featured by major promotions since Masters has been mainly scheduled for smaller events in the past few years.
9 Big Cass
Six months have passed by since Big Cass was last seen on WWE television, and he has recently returned to in-ring competition by accepting bookings from Big Time Wrestling. It's a small promotion that may have been too local to book a recent talent like Cass, but such is life for a WWE castoff who is struggling to find his way on the indies. Luckily for him, time is on his side to get it all together and return to the WWE in the future. But for now, there are some much needed improvements that need to be made, otherwise he risks becoming a wasted talent.
8 Scott Steiner
It's been 14 years since Scott Steiner was last seen on WWE programming as he never made his way back with both sides have no interest in rekindling their relationship. For the majority of his stint away from the company, Steiner had been employed by TNA where he played a major role as a main eventer competitor and later on a tag team wrestler. As Steiner edges closer towards retirement, he has slowed down his appearances in the past year although he is still active on the independent circuit, choosing to headline smaller events around the world - regardless of the venue.
Carlito is another name on this list who should be doing much better now. Unless you happen to be a huge fan of his, then it is likely that you haven't kept up with Carlito's whereabouts since his WWE exit. As someone who always valued his time and schedule flexibility, Carlito chose to take his career into a completely different direction as he mostly keeps away from larger promotions. He has rejected offer from WWE and TNA in the past few years, continuing to wrestle at smaller events. Given that he is still in demand, that will be good enough for Carlito to continue his journey.
6 Mr. Kennedy
After Mr. Kennedy's release in 2009, many fans expected him to reach his full potential outside of the WWE. He had been groomed to be the company's next breakout star although a main event push was always delayed for various reasons. TNA did employ Kennedy as a full time wrestler for several years afterwards, but he didn't come close to making the same impact that he had in the WWE. These days, Kennedy is running his own wrestling school although he hasn't hung up the boots just yet, as he continues to perform for smaller promotions from time to time.
5 Kenny Dykstra
Many believed that Kenny Dykstra would never get another look from the WWE following his sour exit in 2008, but a storyline featuring Dolph Ziggler brought him back into the mix, even if for a brief period. Dykstra showed that he still had it inside the ring, which is no surprise since he is only 32 years old, but what may catch fans' attention is that he has only been able to draw very small crowds. He never broke out as a singles star with his most successful run coming as a member of The Spirit Squad, which explains as to why the aftermath of his WWE run hasn't been as impressive.
4 Hardcore Holly
Most wrestlers can only wish to have a decade run with the WWE as Hardcore Holly did. In his final years with the company, it became clear that Holly wasn't going to last too long since he was far removed from his best days, and fans were no longer giving him any reaction. His release from the WWE didn't signify the end of his wrestling journey as he kept competing on the independent circuit. Given that he has been away from the company for a while, as well as his age, it doesn't come across as a surprise that Holly is now only getting booked for small arenas.
It's been just two years since Ryback was released from the WWE, so most fans would assume that he is doing well for himself right now. While he is still generating interests from promoters around the country, Ryback has been headlining smaller arenas for the most part. He has yet to sign a contract with any company since leaving the WWE, which means he prefers having a flexible schedule with selective dates to choose from. There will still be opportunities for him to appear for bigger promotions if the two sides can come to an agreement on a reasonable deal.
As one of the most accomplished mid-card wrestlers from the mid to late 2000s, most fans would expect MVP to be doing much better away from the WWE. Since his run with NJPW and TNA, MVP has been away from the limelight with his appearances taking place at local arenas. Some rumors had linked him back with a potential return to the WWE in previous years, but nothing came out of that with the exception of one brief appearance during a segment on Raw. MVP will likely be able to be booked for smaller promotions for many more years to come.
1 Jack Swagger
In all fairness to Jack Swagger, he has been working for Lucha Underground in recent times, and was recently scheduled for his debut match on Bellator - so he is certainly making moves these days. But Swagger still finds himself headlining small arenas around the country as he is still accepting bookings to this day. With his commitment to Bellator, it makes sense that he has opted to work for local promotions instead of signing contracts with established companies. Now that he is having his most successful run since his WWE departure, Swagger may soon be able to book bigger venues.