Any wrestling fan who frequently visits WWE’s official website is familiar with what it means for a Superstar to be “future endeavored.” It’s that dreaded consolation message the company sends out to the public for any employee released from his or her contract which always includes some form of the phrase “WWE wishes him all the best in his future endeavors,” and it has been used on so many occasions that it has become almost like a running joke.
WWE Superstars are released all the time for any number of reasons. Sometimes the decision is a mutual one when both parties agree the timing is right for them to part ways, but other times the wrestler has racked up too many violations of the company’s wellness program or behavioral issues have played a role in the crumbling of the business relationship. Sometimes the decision to leave WWE is entirely that of the employee as many have determined that Vince McMahon’s business environment is not suited for him or her.
Whatever the reason, a WWE release can spell a vast array of different outcomes depending on the person and situation involved. While many wrestlers never manage to reach the heights of popularity of WWE ever again and fail to recapture any real sort of magic in their careers, others soar once their ties with the company have been severed. It can be interesting to see how wrestlers manage to find greater success following a release from WWE, so let’s look at fifteen of them who have managed to do the impossible.
15 DH Smith
He’s the son of the late “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and the nephew of WWE Hall of Fame inductee Bret “Hitman” Hart, but the man who wrestled in WWE as David Hart Smith, or DH Smith, is probably relatively unknown by modern fans. It’s been several years since Smith’s successful run with the Hart Dynasty faction alongside Natalya and Tyson Kidd as a WWE Tag Team Champion, but the trio had several memorable moments, including their involvement in the return storyline of Bret Hart.
Since parting ways with WWE in 2011, Smith’s wrestling career has flourished. He’s continued to carry on the legacy of his famous father in America and Japan, even winning the rights to use the moniker of his dad and becoming professionally known as the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, Jr. No doubt, Smith has certainly seen more success than he would have if he’d stayed in WWE to be bounced around the undercard once his run with the Hart Dynasty ended.
Fans of women’s wrestling may remember Kaitlyn from when she got her start in the exclusively female season of NXT when the developmental program was still a seasonal competition. She and the ever popular AJ Lee, who is good friends with Kaitlyn in real life, teamed together to form the Chickbusters on the main WWE roster and would eventually become arch rivals as they feuded over the Divas Championship. The rivalry actually managed to captivate the WWE Universe in a rare way during a time when women’s wrestling was still being used as a special attraction.
Kaitlyn was a powerhouse and she was on a roll until WWE mysteriously stopped using her so much. Following her descent into obscurity, Kaitlyn chose to ask for her release from the company and it was granted. Like many stars who are let go from WWE, fans probably expected Kaitlyn to not do so well, but she’s successfully started her own fitness clothing business known as Celestial Bodiez and even opened her own smoothie bar.
13 Maria Kanellis
When Maria Kanellis was eliminated from one of the first Diva Search competitions, everyone knew she’d be back. Maria had the looks and the charisma to be exactly what the company was pushing as the quintessential Diva at the time and, predictably, she was offered a contract following the tournament. Few of the women WWE hired in this manner ever contributed much of anything meaningful, but Maria was one of the rare exceptions. Starting off as a ditzy backstage interviewer and ending up as an in-ring competitor, she was one of the most popular Divas of the 2000s.
After being released from her WWE contract in 2010, Maria moved on to Ring of Honor and, along with her eventual real life husband Mike Bennett, became one of ROH’s most popular acts. In 2016, Maria and Mike signed on with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and have become a highlight of Impact Wrestling. Clearly, Maria has managed to take what she started in WWE and see it bloom into a highly successful career in professional wrestling.
12 Evan Bourne
The high flying sensation known as Evan Bourne in WWE has gone down as one of the biggest missed opportunities the company has ever had the misfortune of seeing. Known on the independent wrestling scene as Matt Sydal, he was a star before WWE even brought him on board and fans were more than excited to see him change the game in the company, which was still known for its excessive use of tired and repeated rivalries between the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton and Triple H.
However, as a WWE Superstar, Evan Bourne never got a fair shot. He saw much fanfare but the company constantly failed to capitalize properly and following an extended hiatus after breaking his foot, he asked for his release from WWE due to inactivity. Matt Sydal returned to the independent scene where he regained all his old momentum and continues to make a memorable wrestling career for himself.
11 Mickie James
The enigma known as Mickie James was a rarity in WWE’s women’s division. James came into the company and walked right into one of the most popular storylines ever produced, and that doesn’t just go for women’s wrestling. She played the role of an obsessed Trish Stratus fan – so obsessed, in fact, that when Trish showed disinterest in a romantic connection with James, Mickie turned on her idol and brutally attacked her for months on end. This culminated in what was easily one of the finest women’s matches in the history of WrestleMania.
Mickie went on to have much more success in WWE, winning a plethora of Women’s and Divas Championships before being released in 2010. James would not let her career slow, however, and went to TNA Wrestling to further her laundry list of championship wins with several runs as the Knockouts Champion. Even as a new mother, James stayed active in wrestling and has remained relevant enough that, as of 2016, she is back on working terms with WWE.
After getting his start in WWE as the bodyguard for a rising star known as the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, Diesel went on to become one of the longest reigning WWE World Champions in history between 1994 and 1995. That sounds impressive on a legendary scale, and it is, except for the fact that Diesel has always been plagued with claims that he was one of the lowest drawing champions in the company’s storied past.
But the man behind Diesel, Kevin Nash, would not rest on his laurels. Instead, he jumped ship from WWE to the company’s biggest competition, World Championship Wrestling, at the onset of the infamous Monday Night War. This would kick off a wildly successful run which would see him win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship multiple times. It was his WCW years, particularly those as a part of the New World Order, for which Nash would arguably become even better known than his time in the World Wrestling Federation.
9 Alundra Blayze
Though not by any means the focal point of the television programming at the time, the World Wrestling Federation’s women’s division in the mid-1990s was nothing to sneeze at, featuring such memorable competitors as Bull Nakano, Bertha Faye and Aja Kong. That’s why it is so impressive for WWE Hall of Famer Alundra Blazye to have the honor of laying claim to being the face of the era with three impressive runs as WWE Women’s Champion under her belt. Having established such a legendary career on those accomplishments alone, one would have assumed her departure from WWE would mean the impending end of her wrestling days.
However, when she defected to WCW while still reigning as WWE’s Women’s Champion, she would have her defining moment when she dropped the belt into a trash can on a live edition of Monday Nitro. As Madusa, she would go on to wrestle some of WCW’s top male competitors, even winning the Cruiserweight Championship at one time; a title typically competed for by men.
8 Cody Rhodes
Judging by his time as a part of the team known as Legacy alongside Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase, Jr., it seemed that Cody Rhodes had WWE well behind him. He embarked upon a solo career after that faction ran its course and had a memorable run with the Intercontinental Championship. The story had all the makings of a trajectory that would lead Rhodes straight to the WWE World Championship and a career worthy of the WWE Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, it seemed the company gave up on Rhodes at some point when they began throwing him into tag team after tag team, refusing to let him shine on his own. Once WWE decided to paint him up like his brother, Goldust, and start referring to him as “Stardust,” Cody’s WWE run went straight into the toilet. In 2016, the son of the late Dusty Rhodes left WWE for the independent scene and a stint with TNA Wrestling and hasn’t looked back since.
7 Drew McIntyre
One of the more perplexing cases of WWE giving up on a star they seemed to be so strongly behind is that of Drew McIntyre. To this day, it’s still not entirely clear why WWE abandoned all hopes of making McIntyre work, because he turned out to be quite the memorable Intercontinental Champion. His theme music was fantastic and the WWE Universe took to him quickly. He was one of SmackDown’s fastest rising stars right out of the gate, but somewhere along the way everything went wrong.
Along with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal, McIntyre wound up as a part of 3MB, a band of WWE rejects who played air guitar and one of the most hopeless groups of enhancement talent to ever have been assembled. While Slater would finally go on to see some success, McIntyre and Mahal were mercifully released from their contracts. McIntyre went on to a successful career on the independent scene and an impressive run in TNA as Drew Galloway.
6 Jeff Jarrett
As far as Jeff Jarrett’s time in WWE is concerned, there was no higher peak than his time with the Intercontinental Championship. Right in the middle of the Attitude Era, Jarrett memorably was accompanied by Miss Debra, who was the inspiration for WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler’s infamous “puppies” line. When Jarrett began attacking helpless women, including Debra herself, the legendary Chyna stepped in to finally defeat him for his title, becoming the first woman to hold the Intercontinental Championship.
While WWE fans of that era will always remember him for those storylines, Jarrett saw continued successes following his time with the company. He moved on to WCW and became a dominant World Heavyweight Champion before getting TNA started and wrestling his way to a legendary career in that company as well. Jeff is now the owner of Global Force Wrestling and continues to be a relevant influence in the wrestling industry.
For a woman who got her start in the wrestling business as a “ho” for the Godfather, Victoria sure went on to one hell of an impressive wrestling career. In fact, she was seen by many as one of the greatest female wrestlers in the world and fought her way to two reigns as the WWE Women’s Champion. Victoria competed against many of the greatest competitors of all time, including Lita, Trish Stratus, Gail Kim and Molly Holly, but experienced a lengthy streak near the end of her WWE run where the company rarely used her except to give another woman a quick win.
She voluntarily left WWE in 2009 and most wrestling fans assumed she would be permanently retiring from in ring competition. That wasn’t to be the case, because soon after leaving WWE she wound up in TNA, making a name for herself in that company with multiple runs as the Knockouts Champion.
4 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is one of the most decorated champions in the entire wrestling industry, and it really came out of nowhere. When he showed up at the height of WWE’s Attitude era, Angle instantly started winning Championships including the European and Intercontinental Titles as well as the WWE World Championship, which he would go on to hold on several occasions. It was as if, overnight, this new face burst onto the scene and became a true legend. He’s certain to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame one day, but when he left the company in 2006 it didn’t seem certain that he’d ever work with WWE again.
Angle joined TNA soon after being released and he made the most of it, becoming one of the most famous TNA World Heavyweight Champions of all time. He spent ten years with Impact Wrestling, which was longer than his stay with WWE, and was inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame in 2013. Needless to say, if the day comes that Kurt Angle makes his long awaited WWE return, he will come back as a much bigger star than when he left.
3 Matt Hardy
Few wrestlers have ever benefited from a pink slip in the way Matt Hardy has managed. Sure, he and his brother Jeff were already a tag team worthy of the WWE Hall of Fame when he was originally released in 2005. Matt and Jeff Hardy had competed in what are still some of the most popular Tag Team Championship matches in WWE history, but until his departure from WWE Matt had always been outshone by his younger brother. It all changed when fans got wind of Matt’s real life girlfriend, Lita, cheating on him with WWE Superstar Edge. Vince McMahon had no choice but to rehire Matt Hardy and bring him in for a storyline with Edge and Lita, setting Matt’s career on fire.
Years later, Matt was released again following frustrations with the company, and once again what followed was a career rejuvenation when Matt eventually ended up in TNA and created the infamous “Final Deletion” match which had the entire wrestling world buzzing.
2 Gail Kim
Gail Kim is another example of a wrestler who has benefited from a WWE release on two separate occasions. Having originally been released from the company after a run as the WWE Women’s Champion in 2004 when the company told her they were going in a different direction, Kim made the most of her first firing by signing on with TNA and eventually becoming the first ever Knockouts Champion for that company.
Later, Gail returned to WWE briefly but was so appalled by the company’s mistreatment of female wrestlers that she quit her job by walking out of the ring in the middle of a match on live television. Not willing to let WWE define her wrestling career, she would return to TNA and continue on a path that eventually led her to an induction into the TNA Hall of Fame in 2016. Making the most of a WWE release once is quite an accomplishment, but doing it twice is worthy of the Hall of Fame itself.
1 Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar might just currently be the single biggest money draw in all of WWE. That makes it seem odd, then, that Lesnar would also be the man who has most benefited from being released by the company. During his initial run working for Vince McMahon, Lesnar was a monster and saw much success with his runs as the WWE World Champion. In 2004, however, the two parties decided to part ways and for a very long time everyone assumed Brock Lesnar was done with professional wrestling.
But after years of making a major name for himself in mixed martial arts with UFC, Lesnar had the wrestling world buzzing about a potential return to WWE. When he finally did make his comeback to the squared circle, Lesnar’s popularity had multiplied beyond what anyone could have imagined. Brock Lesnar has since been a part of many of WWE’s most memorable moments and matches and has become the company’s most valuable competitor.
Sources: WWE, Wrestling Inc, Cageside Seats, FOX Sports
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