To prospective WWE superstars, reaching the biggest stage of pro-wrestling must seem like a dream come true. Many will spend years training, and more years still on the independent scene all in the hopes of being scouted by the WWE.
While other wrestling promotions might be able to offer more flexible schedules, more intriguing storylines, and in some cases even better pay, the WWE is most often the pro-wrestling company up-and-coming wrestlers watched growing up – the one they dreamed about competing in.
Sometimes, though, wrestlers will achieve their dream but things aren’t all they are cracked up to be once they get there. The travel schedule, the backstage politics, the wear and tear on their bodies, and time spent away from families have often proved just too much for some potential superstars. With increasing frequency wrestlers who dreamed their whole lives of making it to the WWE, they find themselves wanting to be anywhere but there once they arrive.
The wrestlers on this list all found themselves in a position where they asked to be released from their WWE contracts to pursue other interests. Or, they simply didn’t want to deal with the trials and tribulations that come from being a WWE Superstar:
15. Ashley Massaro
Ashley Massaro won the 2005 Raw Diva Search contest, and went on to have a decent few years in the WWE, before asking for her release in 2008.
Massaro would manage the team of Paul London and Brian Kendrick, a group that reminded many of the Hardy Boyz and Lita trio that had been so popular a few years prior. In 2007, while still working with the WWE, she was granted permission to take some time away from the company to film Survivor: China. She didn’t last long on the show, however, getting voted off in just the second episode.
She also posed for Playboy while in WWE, something that was quite popular for the women to do ever since Sable started the trend back in the Attitude era. Ashley would request and be granted her release after three years in the WWE, as her daughter was sick and she wanted more time to be there for her.
14. The Sandman
When the WWE re-launched the ECW brand in 2006, it wasn’t really the return of the company. Sandman was one of many names from ECW’s past that were brought in following the second One Night Stand PPV. The new ECW never fully encapsulated the feel of the original brand, and the response from fans was largely negative.
Eventually WWE’s version of ECW became just a third-tier brand that utilized the same style of sports entertainment as WWE. There were reports that Sandman had been let go from the company in 2007 because of an altercation he had with Ricky Steamboat (a backstage agent for WWE at the time) on a flight back from a WWE tour in South Africa. But in an interview he would give afterwards, Sandman stated that he asked for his release because he wanted to spend more time with his family.
13. Nathan Jones
Nathan Jones was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in a series of armed robberies in the 1980s, though he would only ever serve seven. From Queensland, Australia, Jones was only 18 years old when he was sent to prison. A gigantic man at 7 feet tall, rumors started to develop around him, including that he was able to rip off his cell door and snap handcuffs. He became to be known as “the Colossus of Boggo Road” – Boggo Road being the location of his incarceration.
With his size and notorious reputation, one would have thought Nathan Jones would have had a better career in the WWE. After being involved in some storylines involving the Undertaker, Jones would ask for his release in 2003, after only a year with the company. Jones would state that the travel demands of the job were too much for him. He is now working as an actor, having most recently filmed a role in Mad Max.
12. Monty Brown (Marcus Cor Von)
Monty Brown played professional football with both the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. In 1994, Brown would even play in the Super Bowl, albeit as part of a losing effort for the Bills. It seemed that Brown really wanted to be a professional wrestler, however, as he would later state that the reason he signed with the Patriots is because he wanted to be close to Stanford, Connecticut – WWE’s home base.
After being trained by Dan Severn, Brown would make his debut in TNA Wrestling in 2002, but wouldn’t become a full-timer with the company until 2004. Brown then signed with the WWE in 2006 and made his debut with the ECW brand in early 2007. That summer, Brown would ask for time off to deal with undisclosed family issues, and after three months of absence he was released completely from his obligations to the company. The last anyone had heard from Brown, he was working as a personal trainer.
11. CJ Parker
That annoying hippy from NXT is gone. Don’t get too comfortable, however; he will most likely be back some day. CJ Parker asked for and was granted his release from the WWE so that he could compete under New Japan Pro Wrestling. Parker debuted with the Japanese-based promotion in 2015 under the name Juice Robinson.
The deal with New Japan Pro Wrestling is an arrangement that Parker made with NXT head trainer Matt Bloom, with the feeling that he would get more experience and grow as a performer by going to Japan. Bloom himself competed for years in Japan under the name Giant Bernard before returning to the WWE, and perhaps Parker is looking to follow the same pattern.
10. Solomon Crowe
Better known to independent wrestling fans as Sami Callahan, Samuel Johnston went by the name Solomon Crowe in NXT. Before being signed by WWE and reporting to their developmental system, Crowe had wrestled for almost every major independent wrestling promotion in the United States. Crowe made stops in Chikara, Ring of Honor, Pro-Wrestling Guerrilla and Combat Zone Wrestling before WWE decided to scoop him up in 2013.
Once in the WWE system however, he struggled to find his place, usually only wrestling in dark matches. His gimmick was that of a rogue futuristic hacker, but this struggled to come across to audiences. He did receive a bit of a push in 2015, but after once again falling into an unseen role, he asked for his release from the company. Since his release, he has re-appeared in both CZW and PWG, and also wrestled a dark match for Lucha Underground in early 2016.
9. Duke “the Dumpster” Droese
Back in 1994, the WWE was still heavy into “gimmicks”. This was an awkward era for the company, when it was struggling to find itself since Vince McMahon’s steroid trial and Hulk Hogan’s exiting in 1993. It seemed WWE was throwing a lot of things up against the wall to see what would stick; Doink was the evil clown that made children cry, Kane played the role of Dr. Isaac Yankem DDS (a devious dentist), and Mike Droese took on the role of Duke “the Dumpster” Droese, a garbage collector.
To complete the gimmick Droese’s theme music was just the sounds a garbage truck makes when it backs up. After only two years in the WWE, Droese asked for his release from the company, citing the toll the travel schedule was having on him. Droese would go on to become a special education teacher.
8. Brian Kendrick
Brian Kendrick was part of the first graduating class of the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy, along with Daniel Bryan and Lance Cade. He competed for ROH under the name Spanky, and quickly gained a reputation for being a solid worker.
In WWE, he would form a popular team with Paul London before heading into his singles career where at one point, Ezekiel Jackson was assigned to be his bodyguard.
Kendrick failed multiple wellness tests for marijuana; however, the punishment for such an offence was only a fine. Rather than go without marijuana, Kendrick opted to simply pay the fine each time he was tested. Eventually, the WWE decided that they were going to take positive tests for marijuana more seriously, and it was at that time Kendrick decided to take his wrestling career elsewhere. He would go on to work in TNA and also for New Japan Pro Wrestling before heading back to Ring of Honor in 2016.
7. Kelly Kelly
Barbara Blank was working as a model when John Laurinatis discovered her and decided WWE needed to hire the young attractive model. She would make her debut as part of the new ECW in 2006, taking part in very revealing “Extreme Expose” videos that almost showed the 19 year old topless.
The videos were to set up an angle where Kelly’s on-screen jealous boyfriend Mike Knox wouldn’t let Kelly expose herself for the ECW fans. Kelly would have a six-year run in the WWE, even becoming the Divas champion before asking for her release at the end of 2012. It was reported that Kelly simply wanted to be able to take non-WWE related projects at the time. In 2015, Kelly began appearing on the reality show Wags, which centered on the wives and girlfriends of professional athletes. She would marry hockey player Sheldon Souray in early 2016.
6. Gail Kim
Gail Kim would wrestle two stints in the WWE; one from 2002-04 in which the company decided to release her, and again from 2008 to 2011 where she requested they release her.
Hailing from Toronto, Kim has always been thought of as a very good worker, which is why it was somewhat of a surprise when the company released her in 2004. After catching on in TNA, the company hired her back in 2008, but Kim was never happy with how they used her upon her return.
The most notable incident that occurred during Kim’s second run in WWE was a battle royal match where she decided to go off script and eliminate herself from the match. In the very opening moments of the match, Gail Kim just dropped to the mat and rolled out of the ring. Evidently, she had been told to get herself eliminated early in the match and that is how she decided to go about things. A few days later it was announced that Gail Kim was no longer an active member of the WWE roster. She is currently with TNA Wrestling as of 2016.
A lot of people had high hopes for Low-Ki when he was signed to the WWE in 2008. Low-Ki had played a pivotal role in the early success of TNA’s X-Division and had established himself as someone die-hard wrestling purists could really enjoy.
Ultimately the WWE didn’t fit the style of wrestling that Low-Ki was interested in contributing to. In interviews after his release, he would state that WWE presented entertainment, and he wanted to be a wrestler. Looking back on what little he did do in WWE, it’s easy to see where his frustrations were, as the company paid little attention to the quality in-ring work he provided. Instead, they renamed him Kaval and partnered him up with the Diva pairing of Team LayCool as a prop for their storylines. After leaving the WWE, Low-Ki returned to TNA and has also wrestled with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
4. Molly Holly
Real name Nora Greenwald, Molly Holly might be the most wholesome wrestler in the history of the business. Known for having a sweet and nurturing personality, Holly would request her release from WWE in 2005, for reasons she has decided to keep private. Greenwald started in the business as “Ms. Madness” in WCW, one of a team of ring valets that accompanied “Macho Man” Randy Savage to the ring in 1999.
Once in WWE, she was paired up with Hardcore and Crash Holly as the third cousin in the fictional Holly family. She would later be paired up as the Hurricane’s superhero sidekick. Her most notable match in the WWE, however, was at WrestleMania 20, where she lost a hair vs. hair match to Victoria. Since leaving the WWE the former Molly Holly has invested in real estate and spends a lot of time working on behalf of charity.
As a 16-year-old, MVP was sentenced to 18 years in prison for kidnapping and armed robbery. However, he would be released in less than 10. While in prison, he changed his name to Hassan Assad. The WWE signed Assad in 2005 and he would make his debut as the blue-chip free agent prospect MVP in 2006.
After four years in the WWE he asked for his release, stating that he wanted to wrestle internationally. Shortly after his release, MVP would begin competing for New Japan Pro Wrestling, before returning to the United States to begin wrestling for TNA.
2. Marty Jannetty
Who doesn’t love Mary Jannetty? For years, Jannetty was one half of the very popular team “the Rockers” along with Shawn Michaels. In 1991, the WWE decided to split the team up and did so in a most spectacular way.
In what would become a famous clip the WWE would play for years to come, Michaels turned on Jannetty and threw him through a glass window that was part of Brutus Beefcake’s “Barber Shop” interview segment set. The WWE was not initially able to capitalize on the impactful moment, as Jannetty was sentenced to six months house arrest for an alleged physical altercation with a police officer.
Jannetty would make scattered appearances in the 90s with the WWE before turning heel and forming a team with Al Snow (then known as Leif Cassidy). The team would be referred to as the New Rockers, but they had little of the aura the original team had.
Marty Jannetty would request his release from the company that summer after growing frustrated with how he was being used.
1. CM Punk
CM Punk’s last match in a WWE ring was the 2014 Royal Rumble where Kane eliminated him.
In what was the most public breakup WWE had with any performer since the Bret Hart Montreal Screwjob fiasco in 97, Punk would open up about his time in WWE on his friend Colt Cabana’s podcast – blasting the company for numerous things. High on his list was a promise he felt the WWE failed to deliver on for him to compete in the main event of WrestleMania. Evidently competing the final match on the card was a career goal of Punk’s, and something he wanted to achieve before he finally called it a career.
Punk told Triple H and Vince McMahon the day after the Rumble that he was going home; frustrated over several perceived offences the WWE had committed against him. His official part from the company was not made until several months later.
CM Punk is now training to compete in the UFC as a mixed martial artist.