WWE will likely never have true competition again in terms of being the top wrestling promotion in the world, but there are competitors out there when it comes to certain aspects of the industry. All In selling out behind the leadership of Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks proved that some wrestlers could be better off without WWE. Cody leaving has made him a top name in the industry doing historic things and drawing fans into big shows. Ring of Honor and New Japan working together to sell out WWE’s former home venue of Madison Square Garden sent another message to the wrestling industry. Promotions no longer must bow down to Vince McMahon. ROH/NJPW not only sold out MSG, but they managed to do it while running head to head with NXT TakeOver during WrestleMania 35 weekend.
One major impact from the level of competition becoming a great viable option for wrestlers doing poorly in WWE is the fact that the company will not release wrestlers as easily. Cody, Jack Swagger and CJ Parker each received their request upon release from WWE with relative ease due to the company not believing it would make a major difference. All three wrestlers have been better off, but Cody helped create a shift in the independent circuit by providing the blueprint on how to thrive without WWE. Now it is unlikely anyone will get a release and certain wrestlers just remain on the roster, so they don’t become free agents. We will look at twenty wrestlers on the WWE roster today that Vince would fire if not for the competition being viable today.
20 Dolph Ziggler
The main reason Dolph Ziggler is even still on the WWE roster today is the company not wanting him to wrestle for another promotion. Ziggler has been considered an underutilized talent for many years as Vince McMahon clearly does not believe he can be a true main event star in the world title picture.
WWE reportedly signed Ziggler to a big contract extension solely to prevent him from having similar success to Cody Rhodes and helping the competition grow. Ziggler’s Intercontinental Championship is viewed as a pity gift by WWE to keep him happy for a few months before dropping it to a bigger name and returning to irrelevance.
19 The Revival
The Revival had a tremendous run in NXT as the top tag team for about a year. Classic matches with American Alpha and DIY helped the combination of Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson develop a great reputation when joining the Raw main roster.
Both men suffering injuries set them back a great deal, and they’ve never been able to recover. Vince McMahon reportedly has zero love for The Revival as performers. If he doesn’t think they can become relevant pieces to the tag division, they have no hope. However, McMahon will never release The Revival with promotions like Ring of Honor, New Japan and Impact Wrestling having great tag divisions.
18 Apollo Crews
It is easy to forget that Apollo Crews was once a top prospect for NXT after getting signed as a free agent. A great run on the independent circuit added a lot of hype to Crews when joining NXT. Unfortunately, he didn’t spend enough time developing a character or personality before getting called up quickly to the main roster.
Crews barely has a role on WWE television today as a part of a secondary tag team with Titus O’Neil in Titus Worldwide. McMahon clearly gave up on Crews after a weak singles push during his first few months on the main roster. Crews would likely be let go already if not for every promotion lining up to add him once released.
The booking of WWE television will often show you how Vince McMahon feels about a talent. Bayley joined the main roster with incredible potential following a tremendous run in NXT. The character of Bayley was a rare case of a great female underdog character in WWE connecting with the fan base.
Instead of rolling with this, WWE made a few huge mistakes with the Bayley character like having her win the Raw Women’s Championship with no adversity. Bayley’s title reign ended as she was buried by Alexa Bliss in multiple matches. She has yet to return to any relevance in WWE over the past year. McMahon not being fan of Bayley could see her axed if not for the other promotions looking to add more big names.
16 The Ascension
A common trend for many names on the list is that they were successful in NXT but failed on the main roster. The Ascension is a great case of that as they had a tremendous run in developmental. Konnor and Viktor were arguably the best NXT Tag Team Champions, but they’ve done nothing of note on the main roster.
Most fans would struggle to remember if they are on Raw or Smackdown these days (Raw), and there’s no hope in sight as they rarely get any television time. Vince McMahon is reported to have disliked The Ascension from their first few months on the main roster. Viktor and Konnor are lucky the competition has Vince no longer releasing talents as easily.
The story of Rusev’s career has seen him get fewer opportunities than most fans wish due to Vince McMahon not liking him. This goes back to when McMahon tried to split up Lana and Rusev on television due to not believing Rusev deserved someone like Lana.
It took Rusev a few years to get any momentum whatsoever thanks to the luck of Rusev Day becoming a popular chant. WWE is giving him more television time these days, but he clearly isn’t being portrayed as a true main event talent. McMahon’s dislike of Rusev would see him released if not for every promotion lining up to sign him as a free agent.
14 Tye Dillinger
“The Perfect Ten” Tye Dillinger had a strong following in NXT. While many fans just loved the idea of chanting the number “ten” over and over, a lot of them genuinely liked him and wanted to see him elevated into a bigger spotlight.
Dillinger received the break of his career when getting called up to Smackdown. Unfortunately, he has not been used in any relevant feuds and is usually an occasional television presence used to put others over. Dillinger’s current story is randomly being a close friend of R-Truth in backstage segments. WWE would have given up on him already if he wasn’t a commodity that other promotions would want.
13 Sasha Banks
Another very talented wrestler to feel the wrath of Vince McMahon throughout their main roster run is Sasha Banks. The incredible work of Banks in NXT with all-time great women’s matches and an outstanding character made fans want to see her become the face of the women’s revolution that came to the main roster.
McMahon’s reported dislike for Sasha saw her fall behind Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss and a few others in the pecking order. Banks currently does not have a match planned for Summerslam, and WWE keeps changing their mind on what to do with her and Bayley. It is obvious that Sasha is no longer a valued part of the division due to McMahon not believing in her as a top draw.
If not for his value on the potential free agent market, Vince McMahon would have likely fired Cesaro multiple times by now. Fans and wrestlers have wondered for years why Cesaro has never received a legitimate push in the main event picture. McMahon’s appearance on the Steve Austin podcast saw him specifically bury Cesaro as one of the wrestlers not grabbing for the brass ring.
Cesaro became a tag team fixture as part of The Bar with Sheamus as his partner. Both guys did good work together, but they have rarely received any storylines since WrestleMania. McMahon would be itching to release Cesaro, but he would become a top star for any other promotion he joined once outside of WWE.
11 Mike Kanellis
Mike Kanellis is another forgotten wrestler on WWE’s main roster following a great career before signing with the company. As a duo with his wife Maria Kanellis, both wrestlers achieved a lot of success in Ring of Honor, New Japan and Impact Wrestling before getting signed straight to the main roster.
A few variables ended Mike’s initial push and took him off television. Mike needed some need to clean up his life following an addiction to prescription pills, and Maria has been off television due to her pregnancy with the couple’s first child. Many people are shocked Mike is still on the roster given he hasn’t had a television angle in a long time. Competition is the main reason WWE may not let him go any time soon.
10 Karl Anderson
The talented Karl Anderson was one of the most impressive members of the Bullet Club in New Japan. An argument can be made that Anderson did so well there that the company adding more North American talent to expand is part of his impact. WWE signed Anderson away from NJPW along with his tag team partner Luke Gallows.
Both guys have struggled to find any success and have been considered among the biggest busts in recent memory. Gallows is reportedly viewed with more interest by Vince McMahon due to his size. Anderson could be on the chopping block if he wasn’t already a proven success in other promotions.
9 Aiden English
The Vaudevillains was one WWE act that Vince McMahon despised according to the rumor mill. Aiden English and Simon Gotch achieved success in NXT as one of the top tag teams before getting called up to the main roster. McMahon instantly shut down their push due to disliking their gimmick and overall work in the ring.
Gotch was the one to initially get fired due to having backstage heat as English getting another chance. Most past eras in WWE would see McMahon release English already, but the free agent market helping the competition lately likely earned him the extra opportunity.
8 The IIconics
Billie Kay and Peyton Royce already look like huge flops on the main roster after getting called up in April. Fans loved the tag team of The Iiconics in NXT due to their entertaining promos and good matches in the ring. The huge difference in the ovation on their first night and in recent weeks shows how far they’ve fallen.
The Iiconics are now only ever showcased on Smackdown when used to put over the bigger stars like Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Asuka. Rumors are circulating that McMahon is already sick of them. Luckily, they will avoid the chopping block due to WWE needing more female talent and the free agent market being hotter than ever for women’s wrestlers.
The biggest instance of Vince McMahon holding back on firing wrestlers is the case of Neville. A move to 205 Live as the face of the show saw Neville’s schedule and pay dwindle due to the cruiserweights not appearing on all live events like the main roster stats.
This led to Neville requesting his release from the company when realizing he would be stuck making less money on 205 Live than on the independent circuit. McMahon refused to grant this wish and sent Neville home. Following a move back to the United Kingdom, Neville is out of the public spotlight waiting the end of his contract to work for the competition.
6 Chad Gable
Chad Gable is considered one of the most underrated talents in WWE today. Both Gable and Jason Jordan looked incredible together during their tag team run as American Alpha in NXT. A short run as a duo on the main roster ended when WWE wanted Jordan to become a singles star involved in a storyline with Kurt Angle.
Gable has suffered since then with no real stories coming his way. We occasionally see him on television putting over others, but there’s zero momentum going for him. Vince McMahon reportedly is not a fan of Gable due to his smaller size. You better believe Gable would be getting huge opportunities on the independent circuit which is why WWE won’t release him.
5 Tyler Breeze
Another former NXT wrestler to get on the bad side of Vince McMahon is Tyler Breeze. The heel male model character of Breeze made him a successful performer having great matches against Sami Zayn, Finn Balor and Neville.
Breeze received heat backstage months into his main roster run for leaving a show early without McMahon knowing about it. Since then, he has done nothing of note aside from comedic backstage skits with Fandango as The Fashion Police. Fandango getting injured would have ended Breeze’s run in many past eras, but luckily, he is not someone WWE would want working for the competition.
4 Zack Ryder
Zack Ryder has been on the WWE roster for over a decade now. While he has had some great moments like defeating Dolph Ziggler to win the United States Championship or winning the Intercontinental Championship in front of 100,000 fans at WrestleMania 32, WWE generally does nothing with him.
Ryder spends most of the year wrestling on shows like Main Event or having dark matches no one outside of the live crowd will ever see. Vince McMahon specifically doesn’t see anything special in him aside from getting a surprise underdog win every few years. Ryder having close ties to Cody Rhodes and other successful wrestlers in other promotions will likely prevent WWE from releasing him any time soon.
3 Primo and Epico
The tag team of Primo and Epico have been given quite a few chances to get over on WWE television over the past few years. Various gimmick changes to Los Matadors and the Shining Stars each ended in disappointment as fans refused to care about them.
Both men have been off television for a long time due to both suffering major injuries over the past year. Vince McMahon would likely released them a long time ago, but Primo and Epico each have in-ring talent that would get them chances in other promotions. WWE probably will give them another chance instead of allowing them to become free agents when cleared to compete.
2 Curt Hawkins
WWE started to sign more free agents a couple of years ago thanks to the brand split needing two unique main rosters for Raw and Smackdown. Curt Hawkins was one of the former employees to jump at taking a deal since WWE has always been his dream job.
The company still didn’t view Hawkins as a relevant player and decided to turn him into an enhancement talent. Hawkins is appreciated online for having a comedic losing streak, but it doesn’t factor in too much on WWE television as he barely gets any television time. This is a clear example of someone being on the roster due to wanting less names on the free agent market.
1 Tamina Snuka
An injury has kept Tamina Snuka on the shelf for quite some time now. Even before the injury, Tamina struggled to receive television time. Unlike some of the other top names in the women’s division, she failed to get noteworthy reactions from the crowd and had zero momentum.
A combination of two things makes Tamina very lucky to keep her roster spot. Firstly, WWE needs a lot of women on the roster for the women’s division movement fan and such projects like Evolution. More importantly, Tamina would likely receive an offer to join Impact Wrestling or Lucha Underground if let go.