Many members of the WWE Universe actually see WWE as the biggest and best company when it comes to the wrestling business. While this is technically true, there are a number of companies outside WWE right now that have gained quite a lot of attention over the past few years. Lucha Underground, New Japan Pro Wrestling and even Impact Wrestling have been known to recruit a number of WWE stars after they have been released from the company, which has given them a platform for them to continue to thrive in their career.
Many of these stars have either been fired or released from WWE and have then managed to find much more success and had a lot more freedom from working for other companies that don’t have the same kind of rules as WWE. Obviously, this isn’t the case for many stars who have left the company over the past few years, but it is the case for a number of wrestlers who were able to prove that they have what it takes to be the best when they have more control over their characters and their gimmick.
The following list looks at just 15 WWE stars who were fired or released that have been able to continue to pursue their career at a high level ever since their departure. Many of these stars have been so successful that WWE has actually resigned them a few years later because they know that they were one of the hottest things in wrestling at the time.
15. Maria Kanellis
Maria Kanellis was a participant in the 2204 Raw Diva Search before she was signed to WWE and given the job as a backstage reporter. Maria was once described by Paul Heyman as having one of the best wrestling brains he had ever seen, something that WWE never capitalized on.
Of course, after Maria left WWE there were a number of other companies who were prepared to capitalize on this and Maria was able to develop a new character and a decent heel persona in both TNA and Ring of Honor before WWE came calling once again earlier this year and decided to resign Maria along with her husband. The duo made their return back at Money in the Bank, but her recent pregnancy announcement could have delayed her blossoming career somewhat. Maria is one of very few female wrestlers who has been able to find success off the heels of a WWE stint.
14. Drew McIntyre
Drew McIntyre was once “the chosen one” in WWE and seemingly had potential to be one of their biggest stars. Much like many of the stars on this list he was pushed down the ranks in NXT and relegated to jobber status as part of 3MB before he was released from the company in June 2014.
McIntyre made the switch over to TNA almost as soon as he left WWE and quickly became their World Champion. The Scottish star continued to perform all over the world for promotions like ICW, Evolve, and Pro Wrestling Guerilla before it seems that he made enough of an impression on the Independent Circuit that WWE made the decision to bring him back to the company this year. Even though he is currently out injured, he has already had a stint as NXT Champion as was undefeated until his recent match against Andrade “Cien” Almas.
13. Evan Bourne
Much like many of the stars, you will see on this list, WWE had no idea what to do with Eva Bourne when it came to his in-ring ability, at a time when the Cruiserweight Division was a thing of the past. Bourne became a Tag Team Champion and was even part of a Money in the Bank ladder match but was never really able to push for the bigger prizes in the company.
Injuries were his biggest downfall and led to his release back in 2013 which he managed to turn in his favour. Bourne became Matt Sydal and made a name for himself when he joined New Japan Pro Wrestling. Sydal became a standout star on the roster and is a former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion. Even though 2017 hasn’t been that big a year for Sydal, he should come back strong in the coming year.
12. Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio is a former World Champion in WWE and managed to capture the United States Championship in his second stint with the company that ended back in 2016. Del Rio was released from the company back in 2014 and went on to have a successful stint in Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground.
After a year in WWE he requested his release back in 2016 and over the past year, he has been tangled up in a lot of drama which revolves around his ex-fiancée Paige. Del Rio has continued to wrestle and is currently one of Impact Wrestling’s biggest stars, but it seems that one of the main reasons that Del Rio has been in all of the headlines over the past year is because of his rocky relationship with the former Divas Champion. It could also be added that his previous relationship with current SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte played its part too.
11. Ethan Carter III
Ethan Carter first found fame as Derrick Bateman as part of the fourth season of NXT, but like many stars who came through NXT when it was still seen as a competition, he became someone who was expendable to the company since he never made much of an impact.
Carter moved over to TNA after his release in 2013 and managed to develop a much better character for himself so that he could finally be taken seriously. Over the past few years, Carter has been seen as Dixie Carter’s nephew and portrayed a fantastic heel character. He’s former two-time TNA Heavyweight Champion and has definitely proved that WWE made a huge mistake by not giving him a fair chance all those years ago. Maybe the future holds another WWE stint for the star, where this time the company can give him an actual push or at least a decent character to work with.
10. Gail Kim
Gail Kim is a former WWE Women’s Champion and someone who had one of the greatest departures from WWE in the history of the company when she eliminated herself from a Divas Battle Royale, walked out of the arena and out of the company for good.
Kim said that she would never return to WWE because of the way the company had treated her before it was revealed that Vince McMahon had refused to push her as the face of their division because he didn’t think that anyone found Asian women attractive. Since her departure, Kim has become one of the best female wrestlers in the world and the face of the Impact Wrestling Women’s Division. Kim is a record-setting seven-time Knockout’s Champion and was the first ever female inductee into the TNA Hall of Fame back in 2016. Kim may have made the decision to walk away from WWE, but she is someone that WWE has definitely been trying to get back ever since.
9. Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes was one of the superstars who was a shock departure from WWE because he came from one of the best-known wrestling families in the history of the company. It seems that Rhodes was frustrated with a lot of the booking that he was forced to be part of when he was employed by WWE and left so that he would have freedom when it came to his character.
Rhodes has since been employed by Impact Wrestling, What Culture and even New Japan Pro Wrestling over the past few years and recently stated that he had made more money in 2017 than he had for a year while he was contracted to WWE. Rhodes has also found an equal amount of success and has been able to do it all by the side of his wife Brandi, so it seems that he will not be returning to a WWE ring anytime soon. Rhodes also scored a guest spot on TV series Arrow earlier this year as well.
8. Justin Gabriel
Justin Gabriel was a superstar that WWE never fully cashed in on. His talent and potential were there to see, but he was only ever able to win a Tag Team Championships on three different occasions while he was employed by the company. Gabriel’s best years in WWE were perhaps when he was part of The Nexus but his career went downhill after that.
Gabriel moved to Global Force Wrestling after his WWE career came to an end and it seems that finally, that company knew what to do with him. Under the ring name PJ Black, Gabriel became one of the promotion’s biggest stars. Black also had a successful stint in Lucha Underground where he proved that WWE obviously had no idea how to play Gabriel to his strengths and releasing the high flyer has come back to haunt them. The sad part is that if WWE kept Gabriel then he would have slotted in nicely as part of the new Cruiserweight Division.
7. Kenny Omega
That’s right, one of the greatest wrestlers in the world right now was once on WWE’s payroll and the company allowed him to slip through their grasp. Of course, this was more than a decade ago and Omega never made it out of their developmental division.
Instead, back in 2005, the current New Japan Pro Wrestling star was part of Deep South Wrestling where he was trained by Bill DeMott as well as being one of the first people to speak out about his less than acceptable training technics. Omega was then released from the company and decided to stay in the business and move around to a number of promotions before he became a star in Ring of Honor and a stand out star in NJPW. Omega has a huge match against Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 12 next month, with speculation still circulating that WWE is still hoping to resign the star.
6. John Morrison
It could be argued that WWE didn’t know what to do with someone of John Morrison‘s calibre, so they completely dropped the ball with him. Morrison had the complete package and could have easily been a main eventer in WWE but his girlfriend at the time, Melina, caused a lot of problems for him.
This eventually led to Morrison being fired from WWE, but he saw this as a blessing and has since gone on to become a standout star as part of Lucha Underground under the ring name Johnny Mundo and even in Impact Wrestling as Johnny Impact. Morrison has appeared for promotions all over the world since he has been given much more freedom by Lucha Underground even though he is one of only two triple crown Champions in the companies history. WWE will definitely be scratching their heads when it comes to the reason why Morrison was let go.
5. Kassius Ohno
Kassius Ohno has been making waves on NXT ever since he returned to WWE earlier this year, but before he was known as Kassius, he was taking the world by storm as Chris Hero. Of course, Hero had a stint with WWE back in 2011 and played a role in FCW and the first incarnation of NXT. The star lasted less than two years before he was released from the company but it seems that he didn’t take this as a negative.
Hero picked up where he left off on the Independent Circuit appearing at shows like Dragon Gate USA and House of Hardcore before WWE once again came knocking. Hero was the star that was pitched by CM Punk to become a member of The Shield instead of Roman Reigns, so it seems that he definitely left an impression during his time on the Independent Circuit.
WWE really dropped the ball when it came to Maxine. She came in as part of NXT’s all-female competition back in 2010 before she then pitched an idea to Triple H to be moved up to the main roster with, but he liked the idea so much that he gave it to Aksana instead.
Maxine was released from WWE back in 2012 without really being given much of a chance to make an impact, even though she stated that she had asked for her release at that time. After a few years of waiting around to see what came her way, Maxine moved to Lucha Underground, somewhere she still performs now under the ring name Catrina. Maxine has proved that WWE should have been willing to take a gamble on her a few years ago but is seemingly happy with her career in Lucha Underground and the way everything has turned out.
3. Mickie James
Mickie James is a former WWE Women’s and Divas Champion, but she was released from WWE back in 2010 after one of the worst storylines of that era when she was referred to as “Piggy James.” Considering Mickie was once the face of the Women’s Division, it was sad that WWE was quietly able to release her without anyone noticing, but it seems that she’s another star who refused to stay quiet.
Mickie moved over to Impact Wrestling where she became a three-time Knockout’s Champion and the only woman to have won the Women’s, Divas and Knockout’s Championships. James was also voted the Woman of the Year back in 2011 by the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Mickie accomplished so much that the company resigned her back in 2016 and she has since been a main part of the Raw Women’s Division and is set to make history at The Royal Rumble next month.
2. Bobby Lashley
Bobby Lashley was someone who was pushed to the top of WWE by Vince McMahon because of the way he looked. The former ECW World Champion had the physique that the WWE Chairman looked for in his top stars, but he had no personality and no mic skills.
WWE received a lot of backlash from their fans when they made Lashley one of their main stars, but it seems that Impact Wrestling managed to do the same thing but so much better. As part of TNA, Lashley has become one of their biggest stars and is a former TNA X Division Champion as well as being the final TNA King of the Mountain Champion. Add to these accolades the fact that Lashley is also a former three-time TNA World Champion and you will realize that Impact managed to accomplish something that WWE never could. They managed to make Lashley a star.
1. Matt Hardy
The Hardy Boyz were one of the biggest things that WWE’s Tag Team Division at one point, before the brothers split and focused on singles careers. While Jeff became World Champion it seemed that his brother Matt was never going to be able to step up to that level, but when he was released from WWE and given creative control of his own character in Impact Wrestling, he became one of the biggest wrestling stars in the world.
“Broken” Matt Hardy and his “Broken Universe” that also included Jeff Hardy as Brother Nero became one of the most talked about gimmicks in wrestling back in 2016. The final deletion was a match that was held at Hardy’s house between him and his brother Jeff and was one of the greatest things to ever grace wrestling TV. WWE was forced to come calling and resigned the brothers earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, they have been lost amongst the shuffle but with his new “Woken” gimmick, it won’t be long before Matt Hardy takes over once again.
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