If you try at first and you don’t succeed, don’t give up. That sentence is something we are used to hearing and for these 14 wrestlers, the fear of rejection, or the feeling of leaving a company, did not phase them or remotely stop them from pursuing their dreams and becoming something truly special, Perseverance was certainly the key for these 14 superstars. Overcoming obstacles is common amongst those who try and make it in the wrestling community. How you react to this type of adversity will ultimately determine who you are and what you’re truly made of. Whether it was being released by the company for being too violent, a failed tryout or leaving an established company for a necessary change, all these superstars ultimately believed they could still reach the top of the business, regardless of what had previously happened. Let’s now find out who these 14 former and current WWE superstars are. Enjoy this list.
14) Dean Ambrose: 2006 WWE Tryout
Despite being only 29 years old, Dean Ambrose has certainly worked his way around many wrestling independent scenes throughout his career. Ambrose wrestled for numerous wrestling independent promotions such as Heartland Wrestling Association, Insanity Pro Wrestling, Combat Zone Wrestling, Dragon Gate USA, ROH and made several other appearances for other wrestling promotions. In 2006, Ambrose was finally signed to a tryout deal with the WWE, and at the young age of 20, he got his first taste of action as a member of the WWE. Ambrose competed under the name of Jon Moxley. Ambrose teamed up with Brad Attitude, losing against MnM (Joey Mercury and John Morrison) on Velocity. Ambrose was later spotted as druid carrying a torch to the ring during the Undertaker’s entrance at the Royal Rumble. After his departure, Ambrose continued with indies, and April 4th 2011, Ambrose was officially signed to a developmental deal with the WWE. Later in 2012, Ambrose would make his debut at Survivor Series as a member of “The Shield”.
13) Scott Hall: Released by WCW in 1992
Before Scott Hall changed wrestling forever (alongside Hogan and Nash), he wrestled for WCW in 1991, under the name of “The Diamond Studd”. His gimmick was a cocky arrogant ladies man, similar to the character used by Rick Rude. Hall’s manager at the time was Diamond Dallas Page (believe it or not). After his big push and winning a string of matches, Hall’s character began to fade. In 1992 in attempt to revive his character, Hall changed his name to “Diamond Mine”. After finding out that there was no real plan for him, he left the company. In 1992, Hall would debut as “Razor Ramon” for the WWE. After a tremendous run under the Razor Ramon character, Hall would leave for WCW because of financial purposes. Hall would later return to WCW under his real name, alongside Kevin Nash. The Pair made their debut in May of 1996, and revolutionized the wrestling business forever.
12) Rob Van Dam: Released by WCW in 1993
At the young of 22, and despite his limited amount of experience, RVD made his debut under the name of “Robbie V” for World Championship Wrestling. Van Dam was dressed in a black karate suit, and his most notable match was against “Vinnie Vegas” (aka Kevin Nash) during a WCW TV Title tournament. After his short stay, Van Dam Wrestled for “All Japan Pro Wrestling” and “World Junior Heavyweight Championship”. In 1996, Van Dam would sign a deal with the promoter Paul Heyman, to be a part of Extreme Championship Wrestling. Van Dam would enjoy a tremendous career, and would later go on to capture the WWE Championship at “ECW One Night Stand”, in 2006.
11) Diamond Dallas Page: Failed tryout with WWE, released by WCW in 1992
Rejection certainly did not discourage Page from making it in the business. A positive attitude is what kept DDP going, and eventually making it to the top (something he still preaches today with his company, “DDP Yoga”). Page earned his first tryout with the WWE in 1990. He attempted to make it as a commentator (as you might imagine, that did not work out). He was instead used as a driver, driving “Rhythm and Blues” to the ring in a pink Cadillac at WrestleMania VI. After his failed tryout, Page went over to WCW as a manager for the “Freebirds”. Page never really found a groove, but finally caught some heat setting up a faction called “The Diamond Mine”, alongside Raven and Kevin Nash. The group was later broken up when Page tore his rotator cuff. DDP was released in 1992. Page would later return in 1994, with an improved character. Page got some help from Jake Roberts, who advised him regarding the psychological aspects of the business. DDP took the advice and returned as a single competitor alongside former wife, Kimberly. DDP would go on to enjoy a tremendous career capturing the World Title three times.
10) Lita: Released by ECW in 1999
In 1999, Lita was approached by a man named Paul Heyman. Heyman signed Lita to a deal with ECW, and she would later debut as Miss Congeniality, the on-screen girlfriend of Danny Doring. Dory Funk would end up playing a big part in Lita’s future. Funk invited Lita to join his wrestling school, “The Funkin’ Conservatory”. Lita joined the school alongside 23 other men. After graduating, Lita returned to ECW and in the meantime, Funk and his wife put together a video compilation of Lita’s work and sent it over to the WWE. The WWE liked what they saw and signed Lita in November 1999. Lita made her final appearance before her release with ECW October 23rd, 1999. She would later debut for the WWE as one of the Godfather’s “hoes”. Lita would later gain popularity by managing Essa Rios and later, the Hardy Boyz.
9) Edge: Released by WCW in 1996
Everyone’s got to start somewhere. After wrestling independently for a couple of years, Edge fought two matches during episodes of “WCW Pro”. Edge fought under the name of “Damon Striker”. He was destroyed quickly by Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan in his debut match. One month later, Edge would fight again on WCW Pro, losing to Meng. And one year after that, Edge would fill in for the WWE in a house show under the name of “Sexton Hardcastle”. He would later debut under the name Edge.
8) Mick Foley: Released from WWE in 1986 & Released by WCW in 1994
Despite his lack of physical presence, Foley managed to persist and eventually become a WWE Champion. His journey was certainly a long and bumpy one. In 1986, Foley was surprised to hear that the WWE was interested in using him for a couple of matches. Foley wrestled under the name of “Jack Foley”. He was used in a tag team match during the second episode of “WWE Superstars”. Foley not only lost the tag match against the “British Bulldogs”, but he also ended up nearly breaking his jaw after receiving a hard clothesline by the Dynamite Kid. Foley was later released by the WWE. A couple of years later, Foley would debut for WCW as “Cactus Jack”. After the co-promotion between ECW and WCW fell, Foley would leave WCW for ECW.
7) Kurt Angle: Left ECW in 1996
Convinced by Shane Douglas, Kurt Angle agreed to appear at the event “High Incident” for ECW. Angle gave an in-ring interview and provided some guest commentary during the event. During a segment which saw Raven “crucify” the Sandman by attaching him to a cross using barbwire, Angle was horrified by the scenes and proceeded to leave the building. Angle later notified Paul Heyman that he wanted nothing to do with his promotion and would sue the company if he was shown on television with ECW. Following the event, Angle worked a year as a sportscaster in Pittsburgh. In 1998, Angle was signed to an 8 year deal with the WWE.
6) Triple H: Released by WCW January 1995
After spending some time working indies on the East Coast, Levesque caught a huge break signing a one year deal with World Championship Wrestling. Levesque would debut under the name “Terror Risin”, picking up a victory in his debut match. His name was later changed to “Terra Ryzing” until 1994, when he used his real name Jean-Paul Levesque. Levesque used a French accent as a part of his gimmick, and would later join forces with Lord Steven Regal. The duo was short lived though, as Levesque later requested to be promoted as a singles wrestler. WCW turned Levesque down, prompting him to be released by WCW and joining WWE.
5) Daniel Bryan: Released from tryout & Released by WWE in 2010
Fear of rejection never stopped Daniel Bryan from achieving his dreams. Early on in his career, Bryan was given a tryout with the WWE, fighting on Velocity and Heat. His most notable match came against another future star at the time, by the name of John Cena. The two fought on Velocity in 2003. Bryan would later sign a deal with the WWE in 2009, making his debut as a part of “NXT”. On June 11th, 2010, Bryan’s run would sadly come to a shocking end, when the WWE released Bryan for being too violent after strangling a ring announcer with his own neck tie. Bryan later apologized for his actions, and his apology was later used as a storyline, as the NXT rookies claimed they kicked him out for showing remorse. After his release, Bryan returned to the Indy scene. On August 15th, 2010, Bryan returned to the WWE as the surprise 7th member of team WWE against “The Nexus”.
4) The Undertaker: Released by WCW in 1990
In 1989, Calaway was signed by World Championship Wrestling. The man we know as The Undertaker went by the name of Mean Mark Callous, a name given to him by Terry Funk. His gimmick was very dark, had a fondness for pet snakes and listened to Ozzy Osbourne. Calaway made his official debut January 3rd, 1990, replacing Sid Vicious in a tag team bout. Calaway fought his last match September 7th at a “WCW Worldwide” taping, where he was defeated. In October of 1990, Calaway signed a contract with the WWE.
3) Shawn Michaels: Released by WWE in 1987
In his tell all autobiography, Michaels discussed being released by the company for the first time in 1987. After being with the company for only 2 weeks, both “Rockers” were released after wrestlers claimed the duo tore up a bar (a claim that Michaels still denies to this day). After their release, the tag team headed back to the AWA, only to be contacted by the WWE once again a year later. On July 7th, 1988, the Rockers returned during a live event. Eventually Michaels would branch out on his own, turning into the “Heartbreak Kid”, a name suggested by the late great Curt Hennig. Michaels would go on to dominate the landscape of the WWE during the mid 90s with his new persona.
2) Hulk Hogan: Released From The WWE In The 80s
After gaining a tremendous amount of popularity (despite the displeasure from McMahon Sr), Hulk Hogan went against his boss’ wishes and appeared in a scene for Rocky III. Hogan then returned to wrestling with the “American Wrestling Association” owned by Verne Gagne, but Hogan’s heel run did not last, as he was too popular with the fans. Vince McMahon would ultimately purchase the company from his father in 1982. McMahon dreamed about national expansion, and he knew that doing so would require Hulk Hogan’s help (he would be the company’s main attraction). As such, Hogan made his official television return December 27th, 1983, defeating Bill Dixon.
1) Stone Cold Steve Austin: Released by WCW in 1995
In 1995, WCW lost one of their biggest gems for seemingly nothing. After leaving USWA in 1990, Austin signed a deal with WCW the next year. A couple of weeks after his debut, Austin beat Bobby Eaton, earning himself his first WCW World Television Championship on June 3rd, 1991. After bouncing around for a little bit, Austin was surprisingly fired by Eric Bischoff after suffering a triceps injury. Bischoff claimed there was no market for a wrestler like Austin. Bischoff also claimed Austin was extremely difficult to work with. With regards to his statements, Austin felt very bitter about his release and called Bischoff a “coward” for firing him through the phone.
Austin was later contacted by Paul Heyman, and although he could not wrestle, Austin used his promo time to develop his “Stone Cold” character. Austin used that time to also burry the WCW and mostly Eric Bischoff. After catching heat in ECW, Austin was later signed by the WWE, in large part thanks to Kevin Nash and Jim Ross. Austin made his debut in January of 1996, defeating Matt Hardy on RAW. Shortly after, the “3:16 Era” would revolutionize wrestling forever.