Being successful in WWE is one of the most difficult things to accomplish for pro wrestlers. The promotion’s considered the be-all and end-all of the entire wrestling business. If you make it there, you’ll make big money and enjoy a world-class life — at least that’s the image that’s been drilled into the minds of wrestlers and fans alike for a long time.
The truth is, a WWE career is very much a gamble from the first day. A wrestler might get signed with WWE and be promised so much fame and glory only for things to turn out differently. Case in point: Alberto Del Rio’s second run was an overwhelming disappointment. He was promised a major push but was put into a failure of a stable and was involved in forgetful rivalries instead.
Once a wrestler leaves WWE, things tend to go one of two ways. For some, their wrestling careers actually improve after working for Vince McMahon, as they’ve developed the skills and fame needed to draw in crowds while working for a different promotion.
For others, the change from WWE to something else is a downgrade, and some of them end up struggling so much to adapt to their post-WWE lives that things become too difficult for them to adapt properly.
Here, we’ll look at ten wrestlers whose careers and lives hit rock bottom after working for WWE and six wrestlers whose careers actually improved after parting ways with the largest sports entertainment promotion in the world.
Hit Rock Bottom
16. Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka
One of the most popular and influential wrestlers of all time, the Superfly has had a post-WWE career mired in challenges. Back in 1983, he was implicated in the death of his then-girlfriend Nancy Argentino. Though he was found not guilty at the time, those events came back to haunt him thirty years later.
The case was reopened in 2015, and Snuka had to go through the court process all over again. However, this time, it was cut short due to his own illnesses. Snuka was diagnosed with stomach cancer around the same time and was also found to be unfit for trial due to suffering from dementia, a condition that was believed to have stemmed from injuries he suffered from wrestling.
During his final days, Snuka’s name was added to the list of people involved in a class action lawsuit against WWE, which only distanced him from WWE even further. Sadly, all of this proved to be too much for the Superfly as he passed away on January 15th, 2017 at the age of 73.
15. Damien Sandow
Damien Sandow had spent years looking for a gimmick that worked while he was in WWE. His first major gimmick, that of an intellectual with a sense of superiority, worked very well for a while. But WWE managed to mess up his main-event push, and he didn’t do much for over a year.
It wasn’t until he became The Miz’s stunt double that he managed to get really popular with the audience. Sadly, WWE messed this up as well and didn’t give Sandow or this feud the attention it deserved. Ultimately, all of this led Sandow to leave WWE in mid-2016, and soon, Sandow found himself in TNA.
Alas, he couldn’t capture anything resembling the popularity he had while in WWE. His new look, name, and gimmick (he wrestled under the name Aaron Rex) were so out of left field that the audience rejected him wholeheartedly. As of April 2017, Sandow/Rex is no longer wrestling for TNA Impact and is believed to be done with wrestling altogether.
14. Perry Saturn
Once one of the four ‘Radicalz’ that jumped from WCW to WWE in early 2000, Perry Saturn’s post-WWE life was one of struggle and tragedy. In 2004, Saturn intervened to save a woman from being raped by two men and was shot in the neck in the process.
After this, Saturn became addicted to methamphetamine and spent several years homeless and out of the public view. After failing to attend the funerals of several friends and his trainer, Killer Kowalski, he, too, was presumed dead. However, Saturn resurfaced in 2010.
Since then, he has made several attempts to reclaim control over his life, but his body still causes him trouble. He revealed in 2016 that he’s dealing with a ‘traumatic brain injury’ and is one of many people named in a class action lawsuit against WWE over their controversial response to various wrestlers’ injuries.
13. ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams
‘Dr. Death’ was one of the true legends of wrestling during the 1990s. An outstanding brawler with legendary toughness, Williams was one of the biggest wrestlers in Japan at the time. Some of his matches in All Japan Pro Wrestling are considered to be among the best matches of the decade, and by the time he left Japan, he had a reputation for being a true legend in wrestling.
But all of that fell apart in WWE when he got demolished in the Brawl For All tournament. This abysmal shootfighting tournament tarnished ‘Dr. Death’s reputation as a genuine tough guy, and his wrestling career never recovered. He spent some time in WCW and wrestled on the independent scene for a few years afterward before a cancer diagnosis prevented him from wrestling any further.
12. The Iron Sheik
Sheik’s story is one of both tragedy and redemption. He was one of the biggest heels of the 1980s and was instrumental in launching the Hulkamania phenomenon. Sadly, his own personal demons got the best of him. He was arrested for possession of drugs in a vehicle, which was bad enough in itself.
However, when news reports emerged showing Sheik riding with then-archrival ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, it was a crippling blow to wrestlers’ kayfabe, and Sheik’s WWE career was over. From then on, Sheik made only sporadic appearances on the wrestling circuit, sometimes wrestling in dingy bars in front of 50 people. Worse, he developed several addiction problems that caused him major problems in his family life.
More recently, however, things appeared to have turned around for the Iranian legend. He has become an infamous internet and social media personality due to the over-the-top and colorful language he uses to insult people.
He’s one of the most entertaining people online, which has helped him turn his life around and remain in the public spotlight. He appears to be in a much better position than he was in not too long ago, which is great news for fans of the legend.
The man once called the ‘Ugandan Giant’ has had a rough life after wrestling. He claims that his payoff from his match with the Undertaker at SummerSlam 1992 was only $13,000 while Undertaker received an estimated $500,000.
His life after WWE has been mired in difficulty for him, both personally and professionally. He has become a double amputee due to complications stemming from diabetes and high blood pressure, which have confined him to a wheelchair. He makes custom-made chairs to try and support himself but relies mostly on disability checks just to get by in life.
Unfortunately, WWE isn’t likely to lend him a helping hand anytime soon, as he’s one of many people named in a class action lawsuit against WWE over how it treated its employees and its response to various injuries.
10. The Ultimate Warrior
Once one of the biggest wrestling stars of the 1980s and 1990s, Warrior’s post-WCW life was a far cry from his days as a top star. For many years, Warrior maintained a very small presence online through his blog on which he wrote several controversial statements. He also put together a comic book that was also very unusual and made a lot of people raise their eyebrows.
Warrior didn’t wrestle another match until 2008 for Nu-Wrestling Federation, a promotion based out of Italy. For years, Warrior was something of a recluse, someone who wasn’t seen or heard from apart from his online presence.
Sadly, while his first appearance in a WWE ring in 2014 was praised at first, it was more depressing in retrospect, as Warrior died suddenly on April 8th, 2014. Some have since argued that his speech the night before was more skin to ‘Warrior saying his own eulogy.’
9. Scott Hall/Razor Ramon
Scott Hall was once considered one of the most popular wrestlers of the 1990s, one who played a significant role in wrestling history during the 1990s. But even then, Hall was also noted for having his own personal demons.
For years before, during, and after his WWE career, Hall suffered from problems due to alcohol and substance abuse. By 1998, while he was in WCW, his alcoholism was so out of control that WCW officials didn’t even try to stop him and instead turned it into an element of his gimmick, to widespread condemnation from wrestling fans.
These problems persisted long after he left WWE a second time in 2002. Over the years, Hall had been arrested several times and has appeared at several wrestling events intoxicated and, in some cases, completely unable to either wrestle or cut promos.
This entry shows exactly how tough it is for wrestlers to survive if they don’t succeed in the wrestling business. Mike Jones was a lifelong lower-card wrestler whose two main ring names, ‘Virgil’ and ‘Vincent’ were essentially mockeries of his former employers, Dusty Rhodes and Vince McMahon, respectively.
His in-ring career didn’t amount to much, yet Virgil still rides the coattails of his wrestling career to this day. Several photos have surfaced of Virgil sitting alone at various wrestling conventions and fairs, with the placard ‘Virgil: Wrestling Superstar’ written at the bottom.
The sad thing is, Virgil rarely, if ever, gets any attention at these events, which led to the online gag ‘Lonely Virgil’ becoming popular among wrestling fans. More recently, Virgil has been spotted busking in subway tunnels, trying to get fans to take photos with him and buy signed 8x10s.
At this point, however, one cannot be sure whether this is all some kind of scam to generate a quick buck on Virgil’s part, or if he really is so desperate for money to survive that he has to solicit people in the streets to take pictures with him.
It’s sad to say, but Chyna was quite possibly WWE’s saddest story of a former employee. The reasons behind her departure from WWE have been mired in controversy for years, and even mentioning her name on WWE programming is still considered taboo. Even her tribute video released shortly after her sudden death was unexpected because of the politics surrounding her relationships and post-WWE activities.
It was sad to see what had happened to Chyna after WWE. She had several personal problems, including substance abuse and appearing in an infamous adult video alongside X-Pac. Her public life after WWE was, in her own words, ‘spiraling out of control’ with many reports of her being intoxicated in public surfacing over the years.
This is a very unfortunate way for her to be remembered, especially considering her impact on pro wrestling during the Attitude Era.
Matt Bloom was the victim of constant gimmick repackaging during his WWE career. They were completely uncertain what to do with him, whether he was to be an unstoppable monster or a comedy gimmick. So after five years, Bloom was released from WWE in 2004 before going to Japan. It was there that he actually enjoyed much better success.
Bloom, wrestling as Giant Bernard, was booked as a legitimate threat in NJPW for many years. He was pushed as a monster ‘gaijin’ heel that ran roughshod over NJPW’s roster. This major push culminated in 2 New Japan Cup wins, a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and the longest-ever reign as IWGP Tag Team Champion, alongside current WWE star Karl Anderson.
It was in NJPW that the former Albert was treated as a major threat due to his size and intimidating look. The Japanese bookers knew how to take someone like him and treat him like a serious threat instead of mocking him with garbage dancing gimmicks and constant renaming.
5. Ken Kennedy/Anderson
The man now known as Mr. Anderson was meant to accomplish big things in WWE. Pushed as undefeated on SmackDown from his main roster debut and given Mr. McMahon’s middle name as his last name, Kennedy was supposed to become Mr. McMahon’s illegitimate child and eventually, World Champion. But for several reasons, these plans never came true, and Kennedy was released in 2009.
From there, Ken Anderson made his way to TNA, where he enjoyed more success. He won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship on two occasions, proving to the world that he was indeed a world-title-caliber wrestler. He remained at the top level in TNA for several years until his departure from that promotion in 2016.
4. Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega never appeared in an actual WWE ring, but was signed to Deep South Wrestling, which was once one of WWE’s developmental territories. Omega struggled when wrestling with this company and has since criticized the staff he was forced to work with.
The reason for this criticism was because the coaches at DSW, especially Jody Hamilton and Bill DeMott, didn’t understand Omega and felt like he wouldn’t be a good fit for WWE.
Fast forward ten years, and Kenny Omega is now one of the biggest wrestling stars in the world. He has embraced his role as the leader of both the Bullet Club and the Elite, and has been a stellar performer for years now. Despite several moments that might’ve damaged the legitimacy of pro wrestling (including Omega’s infamous match with a nine-year-old girl), Kenny Omega draws enormous crowds and gets explosive reactions wherever he goes.
Since his departure, WWE has expressed interest in signing Omega, but The Cleaner has declined every single one of those attempts. Omega wasn’t very happy in a WWE developmental territory, and leaving for greener pastures was the best thing Omega could’ve done.
3. Cody Rhodes/Runnels
The son of the American Dream was given a terrible gimmick in Stardust during his final years with WWE. The gimmick was far too reminiscent of Goldust, which had, by that point, long run its course.
The truth was that Cody was a much better wrestler than WWE gave him credit for, but the power-brokers in that company insisted that he continue with the gimmick, despite the man himself being tired of it. So instead of going along with their requests, Cody left WWE in mid-2016.
Since then, Cody has worked with several promotions around the world and has managed to do the one thing he couldn’t do in WWE: wrestle in the main event for world titles. He has already wrestled in much higher-profile matches for other promotions, such as NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom, PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles, and ROH’s Final Battle.
Based on this booking, it’s obvious that several promotions consider him a main-event-level wrestler, which could lead to an actual world title run in the near future. This would vindicate Rhodes in a big way and prove to his former employer that they were misusing him while he was performing under a ridiculous gimmick.
2. Bubba Ray Dudley/Bully Ray
In WWE, Bubba Ray Dudley was a tag team wrestler through and through. Despite being an excellent speaker and ideal heel, WWE never took advantage of these traits of his. Instead, he was forever relegated to tag team matches and lower-card feuds when he wasn’t teaming with his famous ‘brother.’
When Bubba made his way to TNA, he was in the same boat initially. However, after years of tag team wrestling, TNA decided to give him a much-needed character makeover. This led to Bubba becoming Bully Ray, a gimmick that allowed him to prove he was a main-event caliber wrestler.
His promos, storylines, and matches during this period were some of his best, and his abilities didn’t go unnoticed. Bully Ray ended up winning the TNA World Championship twice, which was a testament to how well he could perform at the main-event level.
1. Gail Kim
Gail Kim was one of the most poorly used women in WWE history. She’s always had incredible skill as a wrestler, yet she was rarely given opportunities to show this while in WWE. In fact, her second run with WWE went so poorly that she eliminated herself from a battle royal within seconds and left the company under bad terms.
This was due to the powers-that-be in the company wanting to take the then-Divas Division in a different direction, and Kim wasn’t the kind of athlete they were looking for.
After leaving WWE, Kim found immense success in TNA. Over the years, Kim has won the TNA Knockout’s Championship six times, their Knockout’s Tag Team Titles once, has won several women’s tournaments, and is the first and thus far only woman to be inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame.
Outside of these accomplishments, Kim is widely regarded as one of the greatest women’s wrestlers of all time and was voted the #1 best women’s wrestler by Pro Wrestling Illustrated in 2012. It’s highly unlikely that she’d have won this latter award had she remained in WWE.