Making the WWE is often the culmination of a lifelong dream. In the past, wrestlers used to be prominently former athletes, specifically football players, who fell short of meeting career expectations in their respective sport. And while that still happens sometimes (see Roman Reigns, Mojo Rawley, and Titus O'Neil), there are more and more children growing up with aspirations of becoming a WWE Superstar and training from a young age to reach that goal - Finn Balor, A.J. Styles, and Kevin Owens to a lesser extent. It's a testament to how good the company has marketed itself, especially during the Attitude Era, when a lot of those stars were kids or teenagers and gravitated toward the business.
However, even the brightest young stars can see their careers stall when they reach the big time. Look at someone like Sami Zayn or Shinsuke Nakamura, both of whom looked poised for championship runs upon being promoted to the main roster but have ultimately been spinning their wheels. It's one thing to be a big draw in NXT, but it's a combination of booking and timing that makes a star in the WWE. When it doesn't work, the company often has no choice but to release said wrestler to give them a better opportunity elsewhere. Sometimes it can work out even better on the independent scene, while sometimes it's the end of the road. Here's what these 15 recently-released wrestlers are doing.
15 Summer Rae
One of the most recent releases by the WWE, Summer Rae is a 33 year old who debuted with the company's FCW development territory in 2011 after playing three years with the Chicago Bliss of the Lingerie Football League. The blonde-haired beauty made her official WWE debut in 2013 as the dancing partner of Fandango and later participated in less-than-memorable storylines as Rusev's on-screen girlfriend. She was released along with Emma and Darren Young on October 29, which shouldn't have been a surprise given she hadn't been on WWE TV in over a year.
If you blinked for a second longer than normal this past year, you might not have even noticed that Tajiri re-joined WWE, let alone the fact that he was subsequently released. He returned on June 13, 2016 as part of the WWE's Cruiserweight Classic tournament and was eventually beaten by Gran Metalik. He later participated in NXT and 205 Live shows, but suffered a knee injury in February 2017. He announced in April that he had left the company as, even though he had been cleared to return, the WWE had no plans to continue using him.
13 Darren Young
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A native of New Jersey, Darren Young has been with the WWE in some capacity for over 13 years, which is kind of hard to believe. He appeared in dark matches and on Sunday Night Heat and Velocity from 2005 to 2009, but became a main roster star in 2010 with The Nexus alongside fellow NXT rookies. Although he returned to NXT a year later, he later experienced success in the WWE as a Tag Team Champion along with Titus O'Neil. Although he hadn't been on TV in quite some time, he was competing in house shows as recent as October 21st. He was released a week later.
12 The Spirit Squad
The original Spirit Squad made its WWE TV debut back in 2006 and contained five promising young wrestlers, one of which later became Dolph Ziggler. In 2016, two of the former five members, Kenny and Mikey, returned to the WWE to participate in a storyline pitting The Miz against Ziggler. They were working with The Miz in an effort to help him beat Ziggler. They only lasted a little over one month with the company and were never heard from again.
11 Sawyer Fulton
Formerly part of the NXT faction SAniTY, Sawyer Fulton actually began working for the company back in 2012 as an enhancement talent along with Angelo Dawkins to rising tag teams such as Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, Enzo Amore and Big Cass, and The Hype Bros, among others. His run in NXT was a relative failure despite forming SAniTY as the highlight of his career was reaching the semi-finals of the Tag Team Classic in November 2016.
Ariane Andrew has been busier post-release than she was during her stint with the WWE as Cameron. She joined the company after competing in Tough Enough and participated in FCW for a year before joining with Naomi to form The Funkadactyls. The less-than-memorable tag tam had limited success and Cameron was even less successful as a singles star. She was primarily used as a manager and managed stars like Brodus Clay, R-Truth, and Xaiver Woods.
9 Santino Marella
Santino Marella surprised many when he was selected as a "fan" out of the crowd during a Raw taping in Italy and won the Intercontinental Championship in a match against Umaga thanks to interference from Bobby Lashley. The 43 year old eventually became a two-time Intercontinental Champion, one-time United States Champion, and one-time Tag Team Champion. He was nothing if not humorous and decent on the microphone, but suffered an injury that kept him out of action for an extended period in December 2015. He was released May 6, 2016.
8 Adam Rose
A native of South Africa, Adam Rose broke through as a mid-card draw in WWE in 2014 following WrestleMania XXX. The former NXT wrestler and two-time FCW Florida Heavyweight Champion had a following of "Rosebuds," which included The Bunny (a man dressed in an actual human-sized bunny costume - yes, that happened), who he eventually attacked in a heel turn.
7 Wade Barrett
A former OVW and FCW competitor, Wade Barrett earned his big break along with The Nexus in 2010. He lasted six years in the WWE, during which time he won the 2015 King of the Ring and became a five-time Intercontinental Champion, which is an impressive career to say the least. Technically, he wasn't released, but instead agreed with the company to let his contract expire when it did in June of 2016 - at least that's the way he puts it.
6 Alex Riley
A native of Virginia, Alex Riley was first signed to a development contract by the WWE in 2007, but didn't really gain much momentum until 2010, when he began being mentored by The Miz in NXT. The following year he began appearing sporadically on Raw to help The Miz during his matches, but was drafted to SmackDown in April, splitting up his alliance with The Miz - at least that was the plan. He continued to appear on Raw alongside The Miz until he eventually attacked him and turned face. He returned to NXT as a commentator in 2013, but got back in the ring in 2015. His last match with the company was against Shinsuke Nakamura; he was released on May 6, 2016.
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Emma was perhaps the most surprising release of the three recently-released Superstars. The Australian Diva had been regularly used on Raw in the month or two prior to her release and was developing some traction with her social media "trending" gimmick. She had even put on a decent match with Asuka at TLC and again the following night on Raw. Put simply, she actually had some in-ring talent and was seemingly in the peak of her career.
A former Tough Enough cast member in 2004, Ryback made his WWE debut with The Nexus in 2010 and later became one of the more prominent members of the group, earning multiple World Championship opportunities as well as winning the Intercontinental Championship. He also won five Slammy Awards, including Match of the Year in 2014 for Team Cena vs. Team Authority.
3 Simon Gotch
Seth Lesser had a decent run in WWE as Simon Gotch, one-half of The Vaudevillains alongside Aiden English. After three years of good work in NXT, the duo made their main roster debut in April of 2016, but Gotch was released one year later, leaving English relatively directionless. The pair didn't really amount to much in the WWE, but were one-time NXT Tag Team Champions.
2 Austin Aries
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In the category of severely under-utilized wrestlers we arrive at Austin Aries, who, in retrospect, had a great program with then-Cruiserweight Champion Neville. Unfortunately, 205 Live - and the Cruiserweight Division - received far less attention than it deserved and their storyline wasn't well received by fans. But that was mostly on the WWE, not either Neville or Aries, both of whom will likely never return to the WWE. For his part, Aries debuted in NXT back in January 2016 and made his main roster debut in March 2017. However, following the program with Neville, he was released from his contract.
1 Jack Swagger
Jake Hager made his WWE debut with the ECW brand as Jack Swagger and was quickly pushed to ECW Champion by defeating Matt Hardy. Throughout nearly nine years with the company, he also won the United States Championship and World Heavyweight Championship. He was officially released from his contract in March of 2017 after not competing on SmackDown Live since October of 2016 (although he did wrestle regularly in house shows).
After being granted his release, Swagger competed for a variety of independent promotions, including Federacion Universal De Lucha Libre, House of Hardcore, and Pro Wrestling Revolver. He most recently competed at a November 10th All Pro Wrestling Show and, three days later, on November 13, announced he had signed with Bellator to compete in its Heavyweight Division. His debut is anticipated for sometime in 2018.
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