The dream of every wrestler entering the professional wrestling world is to make it to WWE. We all hear the interview of talents saying their goal is to main event WrestleMania. The sad truth is not everyone can achieve that and most likely won’t be able to find success in WWE. There are only so many spots on the roster and such a large field of competitors fighting for them. WWE also has a fair share of flaws associated with their structure. The best talent doesn’t always get a fair chance to succeed in the juggernaut of WWE and will have to find their spot elsewhere in pro wrestling.
Most wrestlers are afraid of losing their jobs in WWE due to the lack of consistent work out there. There’s no WCW to compete and offer massive contracts to talents unhappy with their careers in WWE. While there’s a lack of stability today, there’s still a great chance to reinvent a career and see it thrive elsewhere. Many wrestlers have found their greatest success in other promotions after leaving WWE. It has been going on for years, especially during the ECW era of the late 90s. We’ll look at the history of wrestlers to improve their standing following a split from the biggest wrestling promotion. These are fifteen of the best wrestlers who became much better after leaving WWE.
15. Ethan Carter III
WWE never knew what they had with Derrick Bateman until he became Ethan Carter III in TNA. EC3 is arguably the biggest star in Impact Wrestling today and one of the few reasons fans still tune into the program. The signs of potential were shown in small spurts on WWE television during the original NXT competition as the on-screen protégé of Daniel Bryan. Bateman was a spectacular comedic character but was never given any direction.
The decision to release him was expected and he used it as motivation to completely reinvent himself. TNA signed him to portray the new EC3 heel character and it instantly connected with fans. Carter dominated TNA for two years facing everyone to come in and out of the company. The work being put out by EC3 following his release has made him among the most compelling performers in the industry. WWE could use him today with the brand split but that may just ruin the magic he’s created after leaving the company that snubbed him.
14. Shane Douglas
The debacle of Dean Douglas was one of the biggest disappointments of the 90s in pro wrestling. Shane Douglas always showed great potential and could have been a successful mid-carder but the silly gimmick of the dean ruined him. No one could buy into the hokey character of the educated Douglas rubbing his intelligence in the faces of the fans. The experiment failed instantly and Douglas departed the company faster than anyone could have imagined.
Paul Heyman signed Shane Douglas right after the release and he evolved into one of the best heels in the business. Douglas used his genuine frustration with WWE and others in the wrestling business to channel it into bringing an intensity and edge to his act. The Franchise held the ECW World Championship longer than anyone else in company history. Douglas found his niche due to leaving WWE and improved by finding the confidence to rebel against the machine.
13. Taryn Terrell
Taryn Terrell had the looks of a major star with just about every physical asset a women’s wrestler could ask for. Between the bombshell good looks and the athleticism, she easily could have been a star for WWE in the right situation. The use of Terrell in WWE under the name of Tiffany was primarily as an authority figure as the General Manager for the ECW brand. They never put enough time into her improvement as a wrestler and released her when she didn’t appear ring ready.
TNA made a big acquisition signing Taryn Terrell as a referee for the Knockouts division but she made her impact in her transition into a full-time wrestler. Terrell had a couple of classic matches against Gail Kim in what many believe to be the greatest Knockouts matches in TNA history. The work of Taryn delivered to a point where she was a deserving face of the division. Terrell improved into a great wrestler after failing in the WWE.
12. Chris Hero
Many of the top independent wrestling stars signed to WWE in the past decade and became big stars. CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens stand out among the most successful to make the big jump. Chris Hero appeared to be next as one of the best overall wrestlers in the world when he was signed to NXT. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to team with his former partner Cesaro as the Kings of Wrestling and Hero was lost in the shuffle.
The hot rumor is Triple H never liked Hero’s look of having a larger stomach than typically found in WWE. After getting released, Hero has completely reinvented his past legacy and is better than ever. No one is churning out as many outstanding matches on a consistent basis as Hero these days. WWE missed out on a potential NXT main event performer but the rest of the wrestling world has benefited from it. Hero has become second to none and has only improved since losing out on his dream job.
11. Lex Luger
Every longtime wrestling fan has a strong opinion on Lex Luger with most leaning towards the negative side. The physical specimen relied on his strength and look to become a successful name in pro wrestling. It worked to Luger’s advantage as he received more opportunities than deserved in both WWE and WCW. Vince McMahon originally signed Luger away from WCW with the intent to make him the next big superstar.
Luger was supposed to become the new version of Hulk Hogan for WWE but it failed horribly as one of the biggest disasters in company history. WCW repaid the raiding by stealing Luger back away from WWE. The move ended up being beneficial to turn Luger’s career around proving he was a better fit in WCW. While many may question his work rate, you can’t argue Luger was a beloved face and one of the most popular heroes to combat the New World Order during the Monday Night Wars. Luger finally hit his peak and proved his potential after ending his horrible WWE tenure.
10. Matt Sydal
The WWE debut of Evan Bourne started the early stages of the change of culture in WWE. At just 5’8’’, he was one of the smaller members of the roster but received a respectable push as one of the most popular mid-carders in the company. The dazzling high-flying moves pulled off by Bourne were among the best ever done in WWE and the fan base fell in love with him until the final days of his tenure.
Multiple suspensions and injury issues ruined his WWE career and they eventually released him. Matt Sydal was at a crossroads as both a professional wrestler and a man. Everything worked out for him as he became inspired to take his career to the next level. Sydal has delivered a body of work superior to the majority of his peers in the business. The incredible matches have taken place in ROH, PWG, New Japan and many other promotions. Sydal has improved by becoming an elite in-ring performer travelling around the globe.
WWE has always been criticized with not knowing how to find or showcase credible female talent and the story of Catrina works against them. Under the name of Maxine, she had the special “it factor” of a stunning look and inherent charisma that showed within her presence. Dusty Rhodes went on record saying she was one of the best stars of either gender to come through WWE developmental but the powers that be never saw it.
The potential of Maxine was never realized and she was rarely featured on television. WWE released her after a long stint of being off television and Lucha Underground rushed to sign her for their launch of their brand. The relatively new wrestling promotion delivers an episodic television show more akin to soap operas and intricate storytelling rather than the typical WWE show. It allowed her to show her acting chops as the mysterious character of Catrina. Lucha Underground is thriving thanks to Catrina being allowed to take her game to another level that she never could reach during her WWE tenure.
8. Colt Cabana
The comedic work of Colt Cabana makes him an endearing and likeable performer that fans want to root for. Cabana made a name on the independent wrestling scene as a top name in Ring of Honor. WWE eventually signed him to a developmental contract but had no idea what to do with him. The name change to Scotty Goldman did him no favors and put his back against the wall before debuting.
Most wrestlers debut with a push or a string of wins but it was the opposite for Goldman. His matches all resulted in losses and little to no presence on television. That would spell instant failure for any performer and Cabana was released shortly after being sent back to the independent wrestling scene. Cabana found new avenues of success, namely creating the first successful weekly wrestling podcast interviewing guests each week. The in-ring work of Cabana improved as well into becoming one of the biggest names in wrestling outside of the WWE.
7. Justin Credible
The wrestling career of Justin Credible was a tale of two completely different stories. WWE employed him in the early 90s to play the masked Aldo Montoya character. No one liked it and he looked like a kid made his mask with underwear and a pair of a scissors. The gimmick also prevented him from showing his skills as a wrestler and his value hit rock bottom. Aside from becoming a friend of The Kliq, nothing good happened during his early WWE career.
Paul Heyman once again struck gold finding another diamond in the rough that WWE dropped the ball with. The signing and transition into the more edgy Justin Credible resurrected his career after the Aldo Montoya flop. Credible just wanted to beat his opponent up and rack up as many wins as possible while rubbing it in the faces of the fans. The ECW reign showed such improvement that WWE called him back to hire him once again under his new moniker with no mask needed.
6. Gail Kim
Another example of a performer finding motivation from WWE failing to utilize them well is Gail Kim. Wrestlers perform at their best when placed in an environment where the promoter exhibits confidence in them. Gail never received that benefit and was used as a secondary member of the women’s division. WWE never appreciated Kim and her tremendous skills never could be displayed on a consistent basis in either of her stints there.
TNA saved Kim’s career by making her the centerpiece of the newly created Knockouts division in 2006. No one could match her heart or will to compete at a high level and fans fell in love with her during a heated rivalry with the larger Awesome Kong. Gail left TNA for another opportunity in WWE hoping her improved resume would show them how good she is. WWE flopped once again and she was forced to head back to TNA for another run. History repeated itself and Kim became much better instantly both times in TNA.
5. Kevin Nash
The biggest change in the pro wrestling business during the 90s featured Scott Hall and Kevin Nash leaving WWE for WCW to form the New World Order. Nash achieved main event success in WWE as a WWE Champion under the persona of Diesel. The title reign flopped horribly and he was going to be relegated to the mid-card. Nash saw the writing on the wall and decided to join WCW on a larger contract.
The success of the New World Order helped Nash’s stock more than anyone else. Nash showcased charisma on a higher level than anything shown in WWE. After a long tenure in the heel version of the nWo, Nash became the leader of the face faction of the nWo Wolfpac. Fans were able to appreciate Nash’s promos as a face and it led to multiple WCW World Championship reigns. Nash had a long career in the wrestling industry but his greatest success came when he left WWE for a chance to become a better performer in WCW.
4. Trent Barreta
It would be perfectly understandable if you forgot Trent Barreta had a career in WWE. The talented in-ring competitor never received a big push and was typically an enhancement talent. Barreta was lost in the shuffle and could not get the opportunity to build up his name value. WWE released him unceremoniously leaving his future up in the air. Trent pulled off the impossible by using a few bookings to completely change the perception of him from just a guy into a top talent.
The body of work put out by Barreta in PWG and EVOLVE led to him getting a spot in New Japan and ROH. Trent has matured into an elite talent as one of the best wrestlers in the world today. Most of his primary work is in the Roppongi Vice tag team with Rocky Romero. All wrestlers getting released by WWE should look to Barreta as the best example of improving and becoming a far better performer that what was expected.
3. Drew Galloway
The career of Drew Galloway should have led to far more success in WWE but it just never happened. Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon all saw potential in him at a young age and introduced him on television with a huge push as “The Chosen One” Drew McIntyre. Between the large size, great look and athleticism, everyone predicted him being a future world champion but it never came to fruition.
WWE never reinvented his character or gave him another push after the initial failure. The surprising release gave Drew the motivation to show the wrestling world just how much he had to contribute. Galloway has improved dramatically into one of the most compelling performers in the industry. TNA lucked out signing Galloway into becoming one of the main event stars and a former world champion. Galloway is also allowed to work all over the world for respected promotions like EVOLVE, PWG and ICW as an absolute star outside of the WWE bubble.
2. Maria Kanellis
One of the most impressive stories of a performer improving greatly outside of WWE has to be Maria Kanellis. After a long tenure of consistent television time, Maria was shockingly fired and appeared to be in her final days in the wrestling business. Kanellis appeared at the random independent wrestling show but found success in Ring of Honor working with her real life significant other Mike Bennett. Portraying a heel character for the first in her career worked out perfectly for Maria to reinvent her brand.
The time in ROH opened the eyes of wrestling world seeing Kanellis improve from just another example of WWE eye candy into one of the most charismatic managers in the industry. Maria became one of the biggest American stars to work for New Japan before signing a fat contract with TNA. While TNA is often criticized for a lack of originality, Kanellis has helped turn the show around as a great promo and overall character. Maria’s drive helped her completely change the legacy of her time in pro wrestling.
1. Alberto Del Rio
The best example of a wrestler excelling after leaving WWE is actually a talent currently employed by the company. Alberto Del Rio achieved a great deal of success in WWE winning multiple world titles but he was almost always a bore. Years of irrelevancy killed the momentum of ADR into becoming a performer no one wanted to watch. The controversial moment of Del Rio slapping a backstage employee for making racist comments and getting fired for it forced him out of WWE.
Del Rio changed his reputations during his time on the independent wrestling scene with outstanding matches in ROH, AAA, Lucha Underground and many other promotions. We got to see his passion for wrestling again and he actually became one of the most exciting performers to watch. The work of Del Rio proved he is among the best in the world when at his best. Del Rio returning to WWE at the end of 2015 instantly lost all of the excitement behind him and he’s once again an irrelevant bore. We can only hope he ditches WWE to find his way back into being great again.