WWE has seen wrestlers come and go, and sometimes come back again. Some have never returned, but on the other hand, the names of some that were once released will surprise you. Sometimes it was because of budgetary reasons, sometimes a failed push, or just because they didn’t fit into the plans the company had for them. With the recent brand extension, a number of past employees have been brought back to help bolster the line-up, such as Jinder Mahal, Curt Hawkins, and (in the coming months) Shelton Benjamin.
The question is, why were those on the list released? Were egos simply too big that they hurt their chances of achieving success, or was it simply a case where “this place isn’t big enough” for the two of them? Regardless of the reasons, it seems a wrestler is considered of little to no value if those that are employing them are simply looking to go in a different direction. Here are the 15 Highest Profile Releases in WWE history.
15. Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle was a major player for the WWE. He had memorable matches and feuds with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Chris Benoit, Steve Austin and The Rock. Each time out, regardless of whom it was with and whether he won or lost, he was an integral part of every match’s success. But with increased competition comes increased demand on one’s body, and, despite how much Angle tried to maintain his own health, a number of factors prevented him from doing so. Whether because of his refusal to take time off because of pain, or the use of pain relief medication and a suspected addiction to it, WWE cut ties with the former Olympic gold medalist in 2006. He still had outstanding matches against some of the best in the world, including Samoa Joe and AJ Styles. But Angle has never returned to the WWE after departing ten years ago.
14. Cody Rhodes
He has been introduced recently as the star that left them in the dust, but ultimately Cody Rhodes is a passionate wrestler that left WWE with so much still to achieve. From his time in the developmental system in Ohio Valley Wrestling to capturing the Intercontinental and tag team championships on multiple occasions, Rhodes demonstrated he was capable of achieving things perhaps even his father and brother never could. After years on the roster and several character changes, he underwent a complete transformation into the character Stardust. The character was reminiscent of his brother Dustin’s Goldust character, with a twist. However, Rhodes felt the character had run its course and wanted to return to his old self. But after countless promises of that happening, it never materialized. The result was, he asked for and received his release this past year. There is still so much left for the son of the American Dream to accomplish.
13. Eddie Guerrero
Guerrero was one of the most successful Latino wrestlers the WWE has ever had in its roster. After leaving WCW, he was immediately thrust into major angles and storylines with WWE. He was Latino Heat, showing the world that he was someone with depth and personality. However, not all of Guerrero’s time was positive. At one point in his life he was going through a very dark period. He was developing an addiction to pain medication after a car accident, and was sent to rehab by WWE because of it. In the fall of 2001, he was arrested for DUI and was released by the WWE because of the charges that followed. After he returned to the WWE in 2002, and up until his tragic death in 2005, Guerrero was able to learn from his previous mistakes and made this run a huge success.
He would remind us that we would never forget his name, and after roughly twenty years off and on with WWE, forgetting Goldust is nearly impossible. His career with the company, including a short period under the name Dustin Rhodes, is comprised of six different occasions. He has been an Intercontinental champion, tag team champion and hardcore champion. His character has also gone through many different changes from its initial conception. During each one of his runs with the company, there never appeared to be bad blood, which is presumably why he continually returns. He was once released for not appearing at an event. When his brother Cody left the company, many speculated that he may follow suit, but that isn’t the case. As it stands, he is currently a bit player that helps fill a void lower on the card.
11. Bobby Lashley
One of the most successful talents in TNA wrestling is their former champion, Bobby Lashley. The multi-dimensional athlete has not only seen success in TNA, but in the world of Mixed Martial Arts. But before his time in TNA, he was beginning to earn a name for himself in WWE. His massive physique and agility really made him stand out in the ring. He rose to prominence during his early development in Ohio Valley Wrestling, and soon became an important part of WWE. One of his most successful runs in the company was as the ECW World Heavyweight Champion. After all the success he had achieved, one would think there would be some allowances given in the event that something happened. But after being written out of storylines for six months to recuperate from surgery to address injuries suffered in the ring, he was released from his contract in 2008.
10. Drew McIntyre
He was touted as being “the chosen one,” and for the early part of his career, Drew McIntyre was just that. He was elevated along with other talent such as Cody Rhodes, Matt Hardy, Kofi Kingston, and Dolph Ziggler to contend for the Intercontinental championship. These young guys were on the cusp of breaking through and becoming perennial main event guys, and this was a huge step to set them up in that direction. McIntyre was among the best in the midcard, and his talent was impossible to ignore. However, as time passed, it seemed as though the push that McIntyre was receiving fizzled out and he was slowly being relegated to enhancement talent. This was no more evident than his placement in 3MB. If losing to Hornswoggle isn’t a sign of things to come, we aren’t sure what is. McIntryre is now with TNA as a key performer for the company.
9. Scott Hall
Many wrestling fans know that for all of his success, and the impressive feuds that he was a part of, Hall had his demons. It has been well documented that Hall, along with Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, XPac, and Triple H would never shy away from a good time, and lived by the work hard, play hard mantra. But your body can only sustain so much before your performance is affected. During his time in WWE as Razor Ramon, that never seemed to be the case. But when he returned to WWE, his addictions had gotten the better of him. Eventually, his issues led to his release from the company.
8. Jim Ross
The WWE Hall of Famer was and is considered one of the greatest announcers in wrestling history. With the WWE, Ross called legendary matches and was even a part of different storylines as well, whether that was having his best friend Steve Austin beat him down or being forced to join Mr. McMahon’s “kiss my ass” club. Ross’ career with the company saw him take on a number of different roles, including being Vice-President of Talent Relations for many years. Jim Ross was released after a press event that took place during the weekend of SummerSlam 2013. Ric Flair appeared at the event and was clearly under the influence, acting inappropriately. Ross, the MC of the event, was blamed for not keeping Flair under control.
7. Mr. Perfect
When Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig, stepped into the ring, he didn’t just achieve, he excelled. During his time in WWE, he captured the Intercontinental championship and had incredible matches against the likes of Ric Flair and Bret Hart. His in-ring career with the company was disrupted when he suffered a back injury that kept him out of action for some time. Eventually, he left and joined WCW, and was part of the NWO. His time there wasn’t as successful, as it just didn’t quite seem like the right fit. He left WCW and returned to WWE. However, his time with the company this time around would be even shorter. In what has often been called the “plane ride from hell,” while drunk and belligerent, he provoked Brock Lesnar into having a wrestling match. In the end, it didn’t end well for Mr. Perfect as he released once the plane landed.
6. Alberto Del Rio
This second generation star began in WWE’s developmental system until he was brought to the main roster. Once there, Del Rio was pushed quickly until he eventually was main eventing and capturing championships. His feuds with the likes of John Cena, Rey Mysterio, and Dolph Ziggler were really successful. They showed passion, energy, and quality every time out. But for all of his success, however, he was faced with unpleasant issues. One such issue was one of the social media staff members who made statements that provoked Del Rio, statements that were either slanderous or racial in nature. Del Rio eventually had enough and snapped, striking the person. But standing up for himself simply led to his release. Although he returned to the company, his failed push led to him requesting, and being granted, a release once again this past summer.
5. Rey Mysterio
Who was that jumping from out of the sky? The answer to that ever popular question was Rey Mysterio. He was the little big man that could make giants look silly, and cruiserweights look outclassed. Regardless of who he feuded with, fans were treated to terrific storytelling and excellent matches. Whether it was against the likes of Chavo Guerrero, Eddie Guerrero, Randy Orton, or Kurt Angle, Mysterio could match up against the best and come out looking even better. However, after numerous knee operations and a growing youth movement, it was clear WWE was going in a different direction, and the writing was on the wall for Rey. In the winter of 2015, he was released from his contract.
4. Jeff Hardy and Matt Hardy
This example is a rather interesting one. While together, Matt and Jeff Hardy captured several tag team championships. When separated, they also captured several individual titles such as the Intercontinental, European, and WWE championship. They had some of the best individual feuds against the likes of Edge, Rob Van Dam and CM Punk. Both Hardy Boyz had very successful careers in WWE, but for all of their success in the ring, there were a number of troubles that followed them outside the ring. Whether it was fighting substance abuse, backstage politics, or professional strife, both Hardys were just as recognized for having issues as they were for their career successes. Both were released from WWE on more than one occasion and given multiple opportunities to return, but sometimes it may just not be the right fit for all involved. The brothers have found refuge with TNA, which they currently call home.
3. CM Punk
He called himself “The Best in the World.” Whether it was on the microphone or in the ring, CM Punk was highly regarded before his time in WWE and while there. A former WWE heavyweight champion, he faced some of the biggest names in the business, such as John Cena, Triple H, Daniel Bryan, The Rock, and The Undertaker. However, after walking out on the company in 2014, CM Punk was in professional wrestling limbo. His walk-out led to him being on sabbatical until June 2014. That summer WWE released their former champion, sending him his release papers on the day of his wedding. It was the worst timed releases for anyone.
2. Daniel Bryan
The current general manager of SmackDown Live and former WWE world heavyweight, Intercontinental and tag team champion, Daniel Bryan is among the most celebrated stars the company has had this century. The leader of the Yes movement was beloved because of what he represented, and his level of competition. His standout feuds and matches are too numerous to mention because, despite his size, he was always going to put on a great match regardless of whom it was against. However, before he broke out and became the huge star that everyone knows, Bryan was previously released from his WWE contract. The reason for the release was an incident during a RAW segment; Bryan and the Nexus attacked the wrestlers in the ring, and staff on the floor. Bryan went a little far and choked out ring announcer Justin Roberts with his tie. What was deemed to be excessive violence led to Bryan’s termination.
1. Hulk Hogan
He represented an entire generation of wrestling for fans. He was able to have everyone say their prayers, eat their vitamins, and train their bodies. Hogan came to prominence at a time when American pride was at its pinnacle, and battled opponents that spit in the face of the United States. Over the years, he defeated some of the biggest names in the business. However, what fans didn’t invest in was the racial slurs uttered by Hogan in a recording that had leaked to the public. It didn’t reflect the corporate image that WWE had worked so hard to create, and so he was no longer going to be welcomed into the company’s fold as it would be a public relations nightmare. It resulted in the biggest talent release to have occurred over the years.