Regardless of the increasing popularity of promotions like New Japan and Ring of Honor, the WWE is still king when it comes to wrestling. Kids grow up dreaming of headlining WrestleMania - not wrestling in a 3,000-seat arena. The state of the industry might change in the future, but for the foreseeable future, regardless of the growth of the independent scene, most wrestlers still want to be in WWE. Now, there's only so many main event spots in the company and there does exist exciting and profitable opportunities for main-event caliber wrestlers outside of the WWE. Look no further than the likes of Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, the latter of which primarily make their living on merchandise.
However, you can see why several former WWE superstars might want to get their jobs back after a couple years of working on the independent scene. It's certainly not as worthwhile for older wrestlers, despite the fact they can ask for larger booking fees. Eight of the following wrestlers almost certainly have asked Vince McMahon for their job back recently, while the other seven seem more than content to continue working as an independent wrestler - or completely staying away from wrestling altogether.
The best part about WWE is when something so unexpected happens almost naturally and becomes a part of a story. That was the case with James Ellsworth, a longtime independent wrestler who developed somewhat of a cult following after his squash match against Braun Strowman in 2016 and was subsequently placed at the center of the AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose feud for the WWE World Championship. Ellsworth managed to stick around for more than a year, eventually becoming the valet for Carmella before being released in November 2017.
Since his release, Ellsworth has appeared on multiple wrestling podcasts, including the Steve Austin Show, and spoke glowingly about his time in WWE and how he wished he was able to do even more during his memorable run.
Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case; instead, he has taken to capitalizing on his new-found name recognition by wrestling a series of intergender matches for independent promotions and billing himself as the World Intergender Champion. He also recently appeared on the One Night Only Impact Wrestling event Cali Combat, where he defeated Kal Jack via a low blow followed by some sweet No Chin Music. It's unclear at this point whether he will continue working with Impact. He's been in contact with lots of WWE stars most recently, including Carmella who he texts regularly and The Miz among other names. We wouldn't be shocked if mentioned to either of those names to put in a good word backstage.
Austin Aries was an indie darling before finally agreeing to join WWE in 2016. He had competed and won championships in Ring of Honor, TNA, and Dragon Gate USA, but joined NXT in January 2016 and eventually made his main roster debut on 205 Live competing with the Cruiserweights. Perhaps he expected a more significant role on the main roster given his impressive pedigree but, aside from a brief feud with Neville, he didn't really amount to much in the short period of time he spent on 205 Live.
He doesn't seem to hold any ill will toward WWE, and instead blames himself for his lack of success.
"The truth is, I got let go because I probably deserved to be," he said during a lengthy promo at House of Hardcore 35. "They didn't find anything for me because they didn't want to find anything for me because I was f'n miserable. I competed at WrestleMania 33, and I'm telling you, leading up to what should have been the biggest moment of my life, I couldn't find an ounce of joy. That's when I realized, there was something wrong with me. In six months, I lost my job."
Some people are better served outside of WWE and Aries is definitely one of those as he now holds multiple championships across a number of different promotions.
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When Impact Wrestling releases a high-profile star, it causes a ripple effect that leads to rumors of whether or not said star will be joining WWE. That was the case with Bobby Lashley and the same held true with Alberto Del Rio, who was released by the company on April 17 after no-showing for the Lucha Underground vs. Impact Wrestling event the night prior in New Orleans. He subsequently announced he was returning to AAA, where he began his career in 2000, but that didn't stop people from wondering if he was returning to WWE. In fact, he helped spark those rumors himself just a few weeks ago when he received his United States citizenship. Obviously, he has no intentions of leaving his home in San Antonio, Texas.
Del Rio has even been quite open about his desire to return to WWE for one last run.
Out of respect to Paige, it seems unlikely the company would hire him, at least while she's still SmackDown General Manager. He could join Raw, but his past history with WWE, not to mention his recent behavior, suggests it's unlikely that we see the 40 year old superstar in the WWE any time soon.
A Tough Enough finalist in 2005, Ryback spent nearly four years working in WWE's developmental system before joining WWE with The Nexus in 2010. Through the course of his six-year career on the main roster, Ryback was a one-time Intercontinental Champion and had multiple WWE World Championship opportunities. He was even ranked the No. 13 wrestler in the world on the PWI 500 in 2013, although some would say that wasn't warranted. Since being released in 2016, he has competed in Revolution Pro Wrestling and Combat Zone Wrestling, among others, but hasn't worked full-time anywhere.
Part of that could be a hesitance on the part of bookers who might buy into the notion that Ryback is an unsafe worker, as many wrestlers, including Dolph Ziggler and CM Punk, have claimed. He's also busy with other endeavors, which has taken his mind away from the potential for a WWE return:
"I still have a little ways to go, but still, like I said, never say never, but it is just not in my radar right now," he said on his Conversation with the Big Guy podcast in March. "I have not had any discussions; not from my end or their end. It is just not even in my mind right now. Not to say years from now it won't be, I just don't know. I am focused on growing my brand and my business right now."
Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP) is in a similar position as Ryback in that he could see himself returning to the WWE one day, but he envisions that day happening a lot sooner. The 44 year old Miami, Florida native began competing in Deep South Wrestling in 2002 and was a fixture on the main roster by 2006. By the time he left in 2010, he was a two-time United States Champion and one-time WWE Tag Team Champion, which he won with former rival Matt Hardy. Since then, he has regularly competed for House of Hardcore and briefly worked for Lucha Underground before being fired for interviewing roster members for his podcast.
He appeared on RAW 25 in January, but has since made it clear he'd like to return in a full-time role.
While we can't confirm if he has actually contacted McMahon or anyone else in the company about a return, he did send out a tweet following Bobby Lashley's return earlier this year, noting;
"I could be persuaded to return. IF ... @wwe is interested in such a dynamic. IF..." He also recently replied "Intriguing" to a fan on Twitter who suggested WWE should turn Lashley heel and hire MVP as his mouthpiece.
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As dumb and simple as it was, it was always fun to see Mr. Kennedy announce himself into the ring with his long, drawn-out "Kennnnnnedddyyy" that he would often repeat. He had a natural presence both on the mic and in the ring and was viewed as a superstar early in his career by Paul Heyman. Within one year of debuting on the main roster from OVW, he had become the United States Champion and his star continued to rise as he eventually became Mr. Money in the Bank after winning the ladder match at WrestleMania 23. However, weeks later he lost the briefcase in a match against Edge and suffered an injury that caused him to miss several months and ultimately hinder his progression. He was released in 2009, reportedly at the request of Randy Orton and John Cena.
He went on to have success in TNA as a two-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, but it's clear he would have more name recognition if he had stayed in WWE. According to himself, a return seems incredibly unlikely:
"I don't know," he said, when asked about a possible return. "I mean, I never tried to be... I understand that I was a little abrasive. And when I say, 'a little abrasive,' I'm being nice to myself, but I was a little abrasive at times and I said some things that looking back, I wish I wouldn't have said. And so, with that being said, I don't know that."
Nowhere has Jack Swagger confirmed he asked for his job back, but all signs indicate the former World Heavyweight Champion would welcome a return to WWE in a heartbeat. In fact, it's probably safe to suggest that he, at the very least, reached out to some people about that possibility. He appeared to be on the back-end of his WWE career in 2017, when he asked for his release from the company and was ultimately granted it on March 13, 2017, so what has changed within the past year? The 36 year old signed with Bellator in 2017, but has yet to make his MMA debut and, in a strange twist, recently signed with Major League Wrestling (MLW), which is led by former WWE writer Court Bauer.
In an interview to promote his first MLW appearance, Swagger discussed his relationship with WWE and at least seemed to hint at the possibility of him returning one day:
"It's tough, but you just move forward and keep doing what you know how to do and work hard and be a good person. And the rest will take care of itself. If my fans want to see me back in the WWE, you know, never say never, but we got a big agenda ahead of us for 2018 that we're pretty excited about." If the Bellator career flames out, you can expect he'll be pushing even harder for his job back.
Carlito made his WWE debut in 2004 and, although he enjoyed a near-immediate push and was a major part of the company for more than five years, he never won a World Championship. He was, however, a one-time Intercontinental and United States Champion as well as a two-time Tag Team Champion with his younger brother, Primo. He was released in 2010 due to a violation of the company's wellness policy and for refusing to attend a rehabilitation facility for an alleged pain-killer addiction. That was a big enough mistake to leave him off the WWE's radar for the foreseeable future. The 39 year old now wrestles for World Wrestling Council, where he is a 17-time Universal Heavyweight Champion.
He had apparently reached out to WWE shortly after his release and is still open to a return, but the feeling isn't mutual and, as a result, he hasn't reached out in a few years:
"We've had talks. I haven't spoken to them in a while, but it’s all about economics," he said in 2017. "For the right price, I'd love to come back, but it's got to be something that works for them and something that works for me." It's unlikely he ever does return given his history and the fact he has been openly critical of the WWE's handling of The Colons.
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You can't include John Morrison on the list of former WWE superstars who struggled to find work after being released. Since leaving the company in 2012, the "Tuesday Night Delight" has undergone an incredible amount of success in Lucha Underground and Lucha Libre AAA and joined Impact Wrestling, as Johnny Impact, in 2017. If that isn't enough, he has garnered acting roles in Shameless and Netflix's GLOW as well as action films like Dave Made a Maze, American Justice, and Boone: The Bounty Hunter, of which he was the creator and executive producer.
Despite all that, there's a possibility he could return to WWE in some capacity in the future given he's still only 38 years old.
The two parties have maintained a relationship, but haven't yet been able to agree to a contract:
"At the end of 2011, I left WWE and we both just decided to part ways. I just didn't re-sign my contracts, and since then it’s always been something that I've had a good relationship with them," he said in 2016. "We've had plenty of talks about going back; we just never ended up seeing eye-to-eye." All things considered, he's probably happy with the freedom he's granted in Impact to work on other projects, but never say never.
Although his character in the WWE might ooze charisma and confidence, don't ask Enzo Amore to have to you know what to ask for his job back in the WWE any time soon. The 31 year old New Jersey native as an incredibly popular babyface alongside Big Cass, but the team's split and his resulting heel turn made fans grow tired of his character and more aware of his lack of in-ring ability, especially when paired against talented Cruiserweights. He was fired abruptly in January due to assault allegations and, while no charges were filed, it was reported that WWE officials were more upset with the fact he was aware of the investigation and hid it from them. Add in the fact he had heat with about every member of the roster and it's a near guarantee we never see him in a WWE ring again.
In fact, Amore might as well have confirmed that himself in April. The two-time Cruiserweight Champion deleted all images from his Instagram account, save for a photo with two sneakers hanging from a telephone wire, which he captioned: "Thank-you, believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear. It's been real." Presumably, he's retiring from professional wrestling.
It's very likely that we could see Hulk Hogan on WWE programming in the near future and it would be largely as a result of his own efforts to get back into the good graces of the company. As big as Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock were during the Attitude Era, no superstar comes close to the cultural impact Hulk Hogan had, both in WWE during the 1980s and in WCW as part of nWo in the mid-90s. As you're probably aware, Hogan found himself largely ostracized from the wrestling community a few years ago as a result of a tape in which he says some pretty disparaging things. Yeah, it was his comments - not the tape itself - that hurt his chances of returning some day.
However, he has since been embarking on an apology tour and has been given approval by prominent black wrestlers like Mark Henry and Booker T.
Several outlets have since reported that Hogan going back to WWE is essentially a done deal and, while shooting down those rumors, he at least confirmed there was talks:
"Until you hit a home run, it's not a home run. All these things say it's imminent or rumors, that's like saying 'maybe, possibly, could be.' Until I'm back home with the WWE, I'm not home. Hopefully some day I can go back home and be with my family, the wrestlers and all the people I love. I just really, really hope it happens."
Generally speaking, a wrestler has to have enjoyed his time in WWE and wanted to stay even longer to warrant him or her wanting to come back. In the case of Cody Rhodes, the exact opposite is true. An obvious in-ring talent, he felt he was being grossly misused, particularly through the Stardust character, and decided to take a bet on himself and requested his release from WWE in May 2016. It was a huge leap of faith given the security and money he was making in WWE, but he had wanted to blaze his own trail and take more creative liberties in the direction of his professional career.
Since leaving, he has only become one of the most prominent wrestlers outside the WWE and has certainly increased in popularity, while also becoming the face of Ring of Honor.
He's also successfully organized the All-In event, which will be attended by 10,000 people in September (recently sold out in 30 minutes). He was recently asked about the possibility of returning to WWE by a fan on Twitter and seemed pretty definitive in his response:
"Unlikely. They have a huge place in my heart. They raised me. But my music is my music and I play it how I want, I am literally incapable of taking direction." That's an awful characteristic to have in the business world, but it's working wonders for Rhodes.
Bobby Lashley is another wrestler on this list who clearly campaigned for his job back after going to TNA to improve his in-ring ability. He was released from WWE in 2008 and later went on to become a four-time TNA/Impact World Heavyweight Champion and one-time TNA King of the Mountain Champion. Yet, despite all his success in the company, he didn't hesitate to share his desire to get back into the WWE when he was interviewed on podcasts.
"I mean, I don't mind the questions," he first said in 2017 when asked how he feels about people always asking when he would come back to WWE. "I don't mind it all. I'll talk about WWE." His interest in the company and willingness to promote the fact he was hoping for a return peaked in late 2017 when he appeared as a guest on the Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast and, while still working for TNA, all but said it was his goal to get back to the WWE and face Brock Lesnar, who he said was his dream opponent. He also added he still has a good relationship with Triple H and Shane McMahon, which is not exactly what you want to hear if you're TNA. Obviously, Lashley's wish was granted as he was let go by TNA in January, which freed him up to sign with WWE. Hopefully his sisters are happy!
Fans can chant his name at every single WWE show ever but it seems highly unlikely we'll ever see CM Punk make his much-anticipated return to the company. He left on unceremonious terms in 2014 after walking out and subsequently getting fired on his wedding day in June. He had a litany of issues with the company, including his handling by WWE Dr. Chris Amann, who he claims mistreated for a back injury and concussion. In fact, the two sides were unable to settle and the case is now going to be tried in court on May 21, just over two weeks before his second UFC fight at UFC 225.
Even if things go against Punk in both the lawsuit and his UFC fight, it's highly unlikely he'll ever be desperate enough to return to WWE.
His rumored appearance at September's All-In show should only further that point. The event is being held in Illinois near Punk's hometown of Chicago and, while he hasn't officially been booked, it's expected he'll at least make an appearance. It should also be noted that he's 39 years old so, in addition to being hard-headed in his defiance of WWE, he likely doesn't have much time left in his in-ring career.
Asking for your job back usually doesn't work if you were let go seven years prior, but things work differently in the wrestling industry. Shelton Benjamin was an established mid-card worker during the height of his first run with WWE, but was released in 2010, following which he spent seven years on the independent circuit and competed in Ring of Honor and New Japan. He returned to WWE in August 2017 with more in-ring experience and was teamed with Chad Gable in a tag team that, while it didn't last long, provided some awe-inspiring in-ring moments.
Given how they have used him since coming back, it's hard to imagine Benjamin was highly sought after for a return by WWE. Sure, he has name recognition, but he has hardly been featured in any program of substance. It's likely that back in 2016 Benjamin, coming off a stint in Pro Wrestling NOAH, asked to return to WWE. By all accounts, his wish was granted as a vignette for his return was played on the July 26 episode of SmackDown that year, but his return was delayed multiple times due to a torn rotator cuff. At 42 years old, he's probably happy enough with guaranteed pay and health coverage.