With the recent subject of a brand extension gaining traction with the WWE Universe, so many old names are being linked to a return. The likes of Rey Mysterio, Goldberg, Jeff Hardy and Kurt Angle are all being linked to the WWE serving as a veteran platform for either Raw or SmackDown. With this being said, you can’t help but to think why these guys were either released or left the WWE in the first place.
In this article, we will take a stroll down memory lane and recall why these 15 former WWE stars left the company. Some were not resigned, while others left because of various reasons which included failure to gain creative control or just needing time off, only to see their employer turn the other cheek when a return came into question. For whatever reason, things just didn’t end up working out. We will now highlight these situations. Here are 15 released WWE Stars: Why did they leave? Let us know which Superstar you agreed should have been released and which ones the company should have held on to. Enjoy!
15) John Morrison
Morrison was a tough loss for the WWE, as his ring work was a breath of fresh air; however, his gimmick lacked a certain “it” factor which failed to put him over as a prominent star for the company. Throughout his WWE run Morrison claimed four Tag Team Championships, three Intercontinental Titles and an ECW World Championship. In addition to this, he is regarded as the best wrestler ever produced by Tough Enough.
Ultimately, creative control was a big factor of John leaving the WWE. On Stone Cold’s Podcast, Morrison discussed that he wanted more freedom for his character, and this was a huge term pertaining to signing a new deal. In addition, Morrison wanted to be “the guy” and it was evident that was not going to happen with the WWE. With this in mind, Morrison left the company and became “the guy” with Lucha Underground. He admits that he is open to a WWE return, but right now his heart and dedication is with the groundbreaking Lucha Underground.
14) Eric Bischoff
Eric Bischoff’s WWE debut is still regarded as one of the most shocking in the 2000s, and perhaps in WWE history. The WCW mastermind made an unlikely debut on RAW as the General Manager of the brand. His run was quite memorable and he is still being regarded as one of the best GMs of the brand split. With so many former GMs returning as of late, you can’t help but to wonder if Bischoff will return into the mix as well in some manner.
His previous run as GM was reduced to strictly an on-screen role. Much to everyone’s surprise Eric was extremely professional and managed to mend several fences with wrestlers like Ric Flair and Big Show, to name a few. Bischoff’s run lasted from 2002 till December of 2005, where he was thrown into a garbage truck by Vince McMahon. After a brief return to the WWE during an Anniversary Special, Eric parted ways with the company as creatively his run had simply come to an end. He would go on to stay in the wrestling business in an attempt to salvage TNA, alongside Hulk Hogan. As you probably already know, he failed.
13) Rob Van Dam
Despite the fact that he managed to have some great success on a WWE stage, Van Dam has endured a rocky relationship with the WWE throughout the years. Rob had little to no relationship with Vince, and according to many former wrestlers this is what hurt Van Dam and held him back from being a top star. The former ECW wrestler was very reserved and marched to the beat of his own drum.
His run with the company spanned six years, from 2001 during the Invasion angle till his final days during a brief return in 2007 during a Raw Anniversary show. Ultimately, Van Dam decided to part ways because of the WWE schedule being to rigorous, a factor we’ve seen so many former Superstars leave because of. Rob claimed he was burnt out and needed a lighter travel load. He would resume his career working for TNA and eventually would make a brief return to the WWE before once again leaving in the end of August during 2014. With a lighter schedule because of a brand split and the WWE apparently calling up old veteran talents, Van Dam can possibly once again return in some capacity.
12) Scott Hall
His contributions in the wrestling business are extremely underrated, as Hall paved the way for future wrestlers to have guaranteed contracts, a variable which is very significant to Superstars of today. In addition to this, Hall created a tremendous legacy for himself in and out of the WWE, becoming one of the most recognizable faces in WCW history.
After the dust settled from a failed WCW Invasion angle, it was time for the big boys to return home. After a six year hiatus from the company, Hall and his fellow nWo mates returned to the WWE in February of 2002 at the No Way Out PPV. His impact was immediate, feuding with the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin. The two would battle it out at WrestleMania X-8, Austin’s second to last WrestleMania match. His return was very brief, coming to an end in May following a WWE live event in the United Kingdom, Insurrextion. According to rumors, the WWE was worried about Hall, seeing his condition during the UK tour. He was released shortly after and would proceed to sign with TNA.
11) Scott Steiner
His return was actually met with loads of excitement by the MSG crowd during the Survivor Series in 2002. Like the nWo, Steiner was preserved following the Invasion, and he waited for the dust to settle before making his debut with the company. His return would provide some serious excitement, though things would later unravel rather quickly when Steiner was rushed into the main event scene. Putting on lackluster matches against Triple H at both the Royal Rumble and No Way Out, it was rather apparent that Steiner wasn’t the same guy as he was with WCW. His in-ring abilities took a huge hit and he seemed just a step slower than his counterparts. Steiner was relegated to the mid-card and later quietly released by the WWE while recovering from an injury in 2004, which kept him on the sidelines for a couple of months.
In August of that very year, the company released Steiner from his contract. He would quickly join the indie scene and later sign a deal to play Jeff Jarrett’s bodyguard with TNA Wrestling.
10) Chavo Guerrero
WWE fans were very surprised to learn that Chavo was the one who had actually asked for the release. After a run that spanned over a decade, Guerrero asked the WWE to be released. With several gimmick changes which included the infamous Kerwin White run, it was clear Chavo was never going to be more than a lower-card player. With this in mind, he left the company finding success with TNA and Lucha Underground as a prominent player in comparison to his role with the WWE throughout the years. One of his biggest accomplishments included a two time title run with the Gift of the Gods Championship with the Lucha Underground brand.
Although he never broke the main event scene on the WWE platform, he still did enjoy some noteworthy performances which included two Tag Team Title runs with his uncle Eddie, and a four time Cruiserweight Champion runs. The highlight of his WWE career was winning the ECW Championship and becoming a major player for the brand.
9) Ethan Carter III
It seems like every article that discusses a wrestler that got away features this guy one way or another. Looking at his success as “the guy” with TNA, you can’t help but to think what the WWE was thinking when they released him during his NXT days.
With a plethora of new young talent, ECIII got lost in the mix. Known to the NXT Universe as Derrick Bateman, he made his debut on the final season of NXT alongside his mentor, Daniel Bryan. The company tried to repackage his gimmick several times but in May of 2013 following a non-titled bout against Big E, the future star was surprisingly released from his contract.
What he managed to do since is quite remarkable. Carter went from a no name released WWE wrestler to one of TNA’s greatest creations in recent memory. Ethan became a big name player and eventually the face of the company capturing the World Championship twice. At the age of 33 and NXT bringing so many names from around the world, you’ve got to believe Carter becoming a part of the WWE is a certainty in the near future.
Her departure from the WWE ranks was rather downplayed as the former Diva announced her retirement last summer. Her run, which started off as ordinary, actually shaped into quite the career. Layla made history becoming the final Women’s Champion and would later usher in a Divas Championship. She also made the history books for another reason becoming the first ever Diva Search contestant to win a Women’s Championship, quite the accomplishment for the 39 year old UK native. Her best work would come as a heel alongside another WWE alumni, Michelle McCool.
After she began to fade away from the WWE scene, Layla would have her last match against a new star on the rise by the name of Paige. Following her loss, the former Divas Champion would announce her immediate retirement. Since leaving the company, Layla has rejoined her passion for dancing, among other things. She also tied the knot in Glendale, Arizona, this past November.
7) Santino Marella
The Italian’s run with the WWE was noteworthy and worthwhile, as he served a tremendous purpose in the lower-card providing some comedic relief to the WWE program each week. All jokes aside, however, his run was rather impressive raking in several accomplishments and career highlights, which included a two time Intercontinental Championship reign, A United States Championship and a brief Tag Team Title run with Vladimir Kozlov. The highly coveted Wrestling Observer Newsletter awarded the Italian with the best gimmick award two years in a row, for 2007 and 2008.
His final years with the company saw Santino as more of a spokesperson for the brand as he was a great ambassador and public speaker for the company. He was relegated to this role after experiencing a third neck injury which forced him to retire from in-ring competition. Just recently on May 6th, 2016, the company decided to part ways with Marella and seven others due to budget cuts.
6) James Storm
Wrestling enthusiasts went nuts after James Storm made his unlikely WWE NXT debut, shocking the internet and crowd at hand. What happened next was quite puzzling to say the least. The 39 year old veteran was gone after just two matches which took place in late October and early December (both wins). Storm surprisingly decided to end his run and not sign a permanent deal with the developmental brand; he instead renewed a deal with TNA Wrestling. The situation was much more bizarre when it was announced that Bobby Roode was joining NXT, making the Beer Money reunion a huge possibility in front of an NXT crowd. Instead, he left the company after only two matches which puzzled many of us.
With Roode potentially joining the NXT ranks for the long haul and so many call-ups set to take place during the brand extension, you can expect a window to reopen linking Storm back to the WWE. At this point, a return seems likely, so stay tuned.
5) AJ Lee
Like her husband CM Punk, AJ Lee’s dismissal from the WWE was met with a lot of controversy. During 2015, it was evident that her reign was coming to an end, though it still shocked many when she announced her immediate retirement following WrestleMania 31. Five days after WrestleMania, the 29 year old announced her retirement from in-ring competition ending a rocky run between herself and the company.
Just weeks before, in February, Lee made headlines when she called out Stephanie via Twitter after the billion dollar princess acknowledge a Women’s Rights Tweet. Lee called her out claiming the WWE needed to shed some light on the fact that despite having the highest merchandise sales, that women’s wrestling gets no TV time along with limited wages in comparison to their male counterparts. Stephanie actually acknowledged the criticism and agreed. A year later, it seems like women’s wrestling is finally getting the proper chance to shine and many believe it is because of AJ’s comments.
4) Rey Mysterio
His contributions to the WWE program were immense; despite his small stature Rey Mysterio became one of the biggest draws of the 2000s. The master of the 6-1-9 was a true underdog story, as his run with the company saw him win every major Championship becoming the 21st Triple Crown in company history. He cemented his WWE legacy by capturing the World Heavyweight Championship twice, along with a WWE Title reign.
While out with a wrist injury, Mysterio wanted out of his WWE deal claiming he wanted to return home. Apparently, things got bumpy towards the end when Rey made a claim that the WWE extended his deal without asking for his permission. Mysterio did not report back, instead he showed up at an AAA event in Mexico. The WWE would later announce his release after a 13 year stint with the company. With a lighter travel schedule on the horizon, the WWE is encouraging former names to return home. According to several rumors, Mysterio is one of the biggest names of interest on the list. It’ll be interesting to see at what point Rey makes his WWE return; you’ve got to believe that point is sooner rather than later.
3) Kevin Nash
Unlike his nWo counterpart Scott Hall, Kevin Nash managed to prolong his WWE return which lasted until January of 2004, making his return almost two years long. If not for several injuries along the way, many believe that the WWE would have extended his contract. Though, his injury-prone ways caused the WWE to not renew his deal in January of 2004. Nash had his last run during the SummerSlam Elimination Chamber match. Kevin was the first to be eliminated. Following the match he’d leave having to undergo neck surgery, and this would be the last we’d see of Kevin as an active wrestler for the company.
He would return a couple more times making cameos at the Royal Rumble as a surprise entrant, and later with the nWo during a Sting vs. Triple H match at WrestleMania, which received a thunderous pop. His best days with the WWE’s product were in the 90s, as his run in the 2000s was average at best.
2) The Hardy Boyz
One of the most celebrated Tag Teams in WWE history, the Hardys were a massive draw for the WWE providing the company with some tremendous mid-card work during the early 2000s. The brothers won the Tag Titles six times cementing their legacy as one of the greatest teams to ever step foot in a WWE ring.
Like they say, all good things must come to an end. After a prominent rise to the upper-card scene, Jeff left the company for good in 2009 after a second run. His final work came against CM Punk. Hardy left for good after recovering from various issues which included two herniated disks.
Brother Matt, would stay a little longer parting ways in October of 2010. Things got bumpy for Matt after he was sent home by the WWE during a European tour. In typical Matt Hardy fashion, he took to YouTube discussing his displeasures with the WWE product and wanting a release. A couple of weeks later Matt got his wish as the WWE announced his release from the company. You can add both these wrestlers to a long list of names rumored to return during the brand split.
1) Kurt Angle
Regarded as the greatest former WWE star out of the company, Angle’s return seems to be heavily debated on a daily basis. Kurt made headlines recently claiming it’s not a question of “if” but more of “when”. According to reports, Kurt and Hunter met several weeks ago discussing the possibility of the former WWE star’s return. With a brand extension on the horizon, you can expect Angle’s return to be sooner rather than later, in an attempt to solidify a brand’s credibility. Who can forget his work on the SmackDown brand, which was truly a joy to watch.
With all this being said we tend to forget why Angle ever left. The decision to leave was apparently his decision, claiming the WWE did not want to give him time off in order to heal from various injuries. This caused Angle to quit the company and join TNA, a place he spent nearly a decade in. At the age of 47, I think we can all agree, his return is due!