Since the return of the brand split last summer, lower and mid-card WWE Superstars have finally been given some sort of platform on which to prove themselves. Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan have described their brand – SmackDown Live – as “the land of opportunity”, a description which has been supported by several performers rocketing through the ranks to become main event level Superstars. Take, for example, Jinder Mahal. The Maharaja spent the majority of his WWE career working as an enhancement talent before being moved to SmackDown Live during the post-WrestleMania 33 Superstar Shake-Up. Today he is the number one contender for the WWE Championship.
Yes, it looks like all competitors in WWE are finally being given a fair shot before being either moved to the main event or cast aside. However, it hasn’t always been that way. Since taking control of WWE in the early 1980s, company CEO Vince McMahon has displayed a worrying penchant for enthusiastically hiring wrestlers only to quickly tire of them. Those wrestlers then spend their remaining years in WWE floundering on the lower end of the card until they are released by the company or become so frustrated with their position that they ask to be let go.
Here are 15 such talents squandered by Vince McMahon and what they’re up to now.
15. Marc Mero
In the mid-1990s, Marc Mero was one of the most promising stars in professional wrestling. Competing as Johnny B. Badd in WCW, he seemed bound for the main event and that much talked about “Sting money”. However, Mero left WCW in 1996 and was quickly snapped up by Vince McMahon, who was convinced he had the next big star on his hands. While Mero had a brief run as WWF Intercontinental Champion, the majority of his time working for Vince McMahon was spent feuding with his real-life wife, Sable, who drew all attention away from her husband with her golden hair, full lips, and latex catsuits. Mr. and Mrs. Mero left the company in 1999. Sable would return four years later, Mero would not.
Marc Mero retired from the ring in 2006 and opened the Marc Mero Body Slam Training Institute, which he operated out of Florida. As of 2007, he has been visiting high schools across the United States, speaking to students about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, which he experienced first hand.
14. The Patriot
Competing as The Patriot – a masked lover of the United States of America – Del Wilkes Wilkes exhibited phenomenal talent inside the ring and remarkable dedication to his gimmick, and Vince McMahon wanted him bad because of it. The Patriot eventually began appearing in WWE in 1997, first feuding with Bret “The Hitman” Hart, who had been saying some pretty disparaging things about America. However, The Patriot was booked weak and the fans found it hard to get behind him, even with all of his stars and stripes. Wilkes was sidelined by an injury towards the end of 1997 and was released a couple of months later after an underwhelming run.
Like many wrestlers of his time, Wilkes developed a reliance on drugs and alcohol while on the road. His substance abuse issues worsened after he left WWE and he found himself behind bars in 2002 for drug-related offenses. Fortunately, this stint in jail proved to be just what Wilkes needed to get his life on track. In 2007, he quit drugs altogether and scored a job as a car salesman at Dick Smith Nissan.
13. Derrick Bateman
Derrick Bateman was first introduced to the WWE Universe on the fourth season of NXT (back when it used to be a wacky game show). Bateman’s run on the show was marred by shenanigans and an embarrassing romantic storyline involving fellow NXT star Maxine. He began to come into his own following NXT’s transition into a traditional wrestling brand and fans were just starting to get behind him when he was released from his contract on May 17th, 2013.
Later that year, the former Derrick Bateman inked a deal with Impact Wrestling And began appearing as Ethan Carter III. As the spoiled nephew of Dixie Carter, EC3 embarked on an undefeated streak and even managed to capture the Impact Wrestling World Heavyweight Championship. Carter remains one of Impact Wrestling’s biggest stars, proving that Vince McMahon really missed the mark regarding his money drawing abilities.
12. Charlie Haas
Charlie Haas made his WWE main roster debut in 2002, teaming with Shelton Benjamin as part of Team Angle. Haas and Benjamin were incredible singles competitors but worked even better as a unit and they would compete together until being separated by the 2004 Draft Lottery.
Haas had all the potential to make it as a major singles star in WWE, but Vince McMahon just didn’t pull the trigger. Instead, the lasting memory we have of Haas’ singles career is him dressing up as more successful WWE Superstars and pandering to the crowd.
After leaving WWE in 2010, Haas signed a deal with Ring of Honor, where he reunited with Shelton Benjamin and put on some of the best matches of his career. Three years later, after his ROH contract was up, Haas announced that he would be retiring from the wrestling business. Today, he resides in Texas, where he works for a medical supplies company. He spends his free time with his wife – former WWE Diva Jackie Gayda – and their four children.
11. Mauro Ranallo
Mauro Ranallo made his debut as SmackDown’s lead announcer in January of 2016 and quickly established himself as the best commentator WWE had seen (or heard) since Good Ol’ JR. It was refreshing to hear somebody actually discuss what was going on in the ring rather than relentlessly plugging various pieces of WWE merchandise. Mauro and WWE enjoyed a blissful relationship until earlier this year when Vince McMahon began to tire of his announcing style. After constant criticism from WWE officials and way-too-hurtful hazing from broadcast colleague JBL, Ranallo vanished from WWE television this past March.
Today, Ranallo remains under WWE contract, though he has confirmed that neither he nor Vince McMahon intends to attempt a renewal of that contract once it expires in August. Since he last appeared on SmackDown Live, Ranallo has been kept busy by a series of big league announcing jobs, including a gig as lead announcer for the Anthony Joshua/Wladimir Klitschko bout, which emanated from Wembley Arena before an audience of 90,000 strong.
10. Damien Sandow
Few performers in the history of WWE have had the ability to make every character they are given work. Damien Sandow was one of them.
Sandow – real name Aaron Haddad – had a remarkable ability to take the ball and run with it, getting both himself and his opponents over regardless of the circumstances. His Intellectual Savior of the Masses gimmick fit him like a glove, and he even managed to turn his seemingly doomed role as The Miz’s stunt double into the hottest pro wrestling gimmick of 2015. But none of this was enough to convince Vince McMahon that Sandow was a main event level talent and he was released from his WWE contract in 2016.
After leaving WWE, Haddad began appearing in Impact Wrestling as Aron Rex, where he became the first ever Impact Grand Champion. His stint with Impact Wrestling was short-lived and he left the company in early 2017. Since then, Haddad has been focusing on his acting career, taking classes in everything from improv comedy to Shakespearean theatrics. Although he has not ruled out a return to the ring, Haddad has said that it would be counterproductive at this time.
9. Gail Kim
Gail Kim is widely regarded as one of the finest female wrestlers of all time. With jaw-dropping in-ring talent and equally jaw-dropping good looks, Kim could have become one of the most successful female athletes in history had she come along just a few years later. Instead, she wound up spending both of her stints in WWE surrounded by supermodels who were hired only because they were nice to look at. Many of the women Kim was stuck with had no wrestling acumen and she was forced to carry them through doomed five-minute matches at both television tapings and live events. Fed up with the way Vince McMahon was handling the WWE Divas division, she left the company for good in 2011 and headed for Impact Wrestling.
Kim remained under contract with Impact Wrestling for six years, and in 2016 was inducted into the Impact Wrestling Hall of Fame. In 2012, she married celebrity chef Robert Irvine, whom she met on the set of Dinner: Impossible. Although Kim is currently a free agent, she has made it clear that she plans to return to Impact Wrestling as soon as she takes care of some nagging injuries.
8. Cody Rhodes
The son of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, Cody Rhodes seemed destined for great things in WWE. As a singles competitor, he captured the WWE Intercontinental Championship and as a tag team star captured the WWE Tag Team Championships alongside his real-life half-brother, Goldust. It was during his pairing with Goldust that Rhodes introduced the Stardust character, and it was all downhill from there. Fans quickly grew tired of Stardust and longed for Cody Rhodes to return, but that never happened. Despite Rhodes himself lobbying for the Stardust character to be abandoned, Vince McMahon refused to drop it, and so Cody was left with little choice but to request his release from WWE in May of 2016.
Since leaving WWE, Rhodes has completely reinvented himself. Competing as “The American Nightmare” Cody, he has appeared in Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. He has put on clinic after clinic with the likes of Mike Bennett and Kurt Angle, and in December of 2016 was announced as the newest member of the famed and feared Bullet Club.
7. René Duprée
When René Duprée won the WWE World Tag Team Championships alongside Sylvain Grenier, he was just 19 years of age, which made him the first teenager to win a championship in WWE. Over the next couple of years, Duprée would exhibit phenomenal in-ring talent but was unable to convince Vince McMahon that he was main event material. In 2005, he was sent back to WWE’s developmental territory, OVW, and was eventually released from his contract in 2007.
After leaving WWE, Duprée set about establishing himself as a serious competitor on the independent scene, which he has done successfully. Although he has not had any major runs in Impact Wrestling or Ring of Honor, he has enjoyed a couple of stints with All Japan Pro Wrestling. He has been a vocal critic of WWE since the day he left the company, meaning he is unlikely to be welcomed back, despite being just 33 years old.
6. Chris Kanyon
Shortly after being hired by WWE in 2001, Chris Kanyon accepted something that he had been struggling with all of his life: he was homosexual. Having an openly gay wrestler on his roster meant Vince McMahon had an opportunity to show the world that somebody’s sexuality did not impact what they could or couldn’t do inside a wrestling ring. However, rather than booking Kanyon as a believable competitor, McMahon dressed him up as a woman and forced him to sing Boy George songs, setting back the wrestling business three decades in the process.
Kanyon left WWE in 2004, but his suffering didn’t end there. Still struggling to find his place in the atmosphere of toxic masculinity that ruled pro wrestling at the time, he began to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, which got him into trouble with the law on more than one occasion. On the 2nd of April, 2010, after years of suffering, Kanyon took his own life in his New York apartment. His autobiography was posthumously released in November of 2011.
Karlee Perez spent three years in WWE, mostly competing in the company’s various developmental programs. After spending some time down in Florida Championship Wrestling, she participated in the third season of NXT under the name Maxine. Although Perez wasn’t any great talent inside the ring, she did have impeccable promo skills and was quite gifted when it came to crafting a character. According to Perez, the jet black hair and revealing leather outfits she sported for most of her time in WWE were her ideas, though company officials forced her to drop the gimmick when they decided the look was more suited to Aksana. Perez left WWE under acrimonious circumstances in 2012.
Although she initially declared no interest in continuing in the wrestling business after she left WWE, Perez eventually signed with Lucha Underground, where she began appearing as Catrina, the leather-clad valet of Mil Muertes. Since her Lucha Underground debut, Perez has become a mainstay of the promotion and is slotted to make her in-ring debut at the impending Ultima Lucha Tres.
4. Paul London
Paul London competed in WWE from 2003 to 2008. Most people will remember him for his tag team partnership with Brian Kendrick, alongside whom he captured the WWE Tag Team Championships. However, London was a talented singles competitor and was just beginning to convince fans that he could hang with the top stars when he was taken off television by Vince McMahon, who was uncertain of his talents. McMahon later released London and he has had no dealings with WWE since.
In the months and years that followed his WWE release, Paul London established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the independent scene. Without the limitations of the WWE corporate machine, he was able to do and say what he wanted, resulting in countless breathtaking performances in promotions such as Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and Dragon Gate USA. Today, London is as active as ever and can be seen on Lucha Underground, where he leads a loyal faction of psychedelic drug fanatics.
3. Matt Morgan
Weighing in at 330 pounds and standing at seven feet tall, Matt Morgan had the size that traditionally ensures one a gets a main event push in WWE. He also had the in-ring ability necessary to put on consistently interesting matches. Unfortunately, Vince McMahon chose to turn Morgan into a comedy act, sticking the former OVW Heavyweight Champion with the gimmick of a stammering doofus. For a time, Morgan served as the bodyguard of Carlito on SmackDown but was he released after Carlito was drafted to Raw in 2005.
After leaving WWE, Morgan spent a period of time wrestling in Japan before returning to American soil and signing with Impact Wrestling, where he would remain until 2013. In 2014, Morgan announced his retirement from the wrestling business in order to work a normal job and spend more time with his wife and child. Despite this, he has continued to make sporadic appearances for independent wrestling organizations and in April of 2017 returned to Impact Wrestling to align himself with announcer Jeremy Borash.
2. Mr. Kennedy
Back in 2006, WWE had few hotter heels than Mr. Kennedy. The hard-hitting loudmouth made a name for himself by defeating former world champions such as The Undertaker and Batista. Kennedy looked set to receive a world championship of his own when he won the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania 23, but he was forced to drop the briefcase to Edge due to injury. This was the beginning of the end for Ken Anderson in WWE. While fans remained enthusiastic about him, Vince McMahon had lost all interest in the bleached blonde Superstar by the time he returned from injury. Further injuries sustained by Kennedy didn’t help matters, nor did his personal issues with Randy Orton, and he was released from his WWE contract in 2009.
After his time in WWE came to an end, Kennedy, like so many former WWE stars before him, made the decision to join Impact Wrestling. There, he captured the Impact Wrestling World Heavyweight Championship. Kennedy – who took to using the name Mr. Anderson – remained with Impact Wrestling until March of 2016, when the company released him for failing a drug test.
1. Drew McIntyre
Dubbed “The Chosen One”, Drew McIntyre seemed bound for world titles and WrestleMania main events. However, Vince McMahon tired of McIntyre shortly after introducing him to the WWE Universe and the Scotsman was stuck in the comedy jobber faction 3MB before being released from the company in the summer of 2014.
After leaving WWE, McIntyre set about mending his reputation as a serious wrestler. Competing under his real name – Drew Galloway – he appeared for ICW, Evolve, and AAA, among other international wrestling organizations. From 2015 to 2017, he was a franchise star on Impact Wrestling, holding the promotion’s world heavyweight championship on one occasion.
Galloway’s story has a happy ending, as he found his way back to WWE earlier this year. Though he returned to his Drew McIntyre name, he seems to be more or less starting from scratch. Appearing on the company’s NXT brand, he is granted the ring time necessary to remind everybody why he was, and may well still be The Chosen One.