It’s very hard to succeed in the world of professional wrestling. There are a lot of factors that determine in which direction your career goes. Some of these things you can control or improve upon over time. These include: your look, your wrestling ability, your charisma and your ability to cut a promo. Even if you’re not the best in one or more of these categories, there’s always a chance you can work on these things over time to get better.
Then there are the things you cannot control: your booking by a wrestling promotion (unless your name is Hulk Hogan or Kevin Nash); the character you portray in front of the audience, how you’re perceived by the fans and others backstage, and timing.
Even if you excel in all the aforementioned ‘controllable’ aspects of your wrestling career, if one or more of these external factors works against you, your career might be in doubt. That’s what happened to these fifteen men and women. They were signed by WWE with hopes of making tons of money, traveling the world, doing what they loved to do. But shortly after their respective departures, things began to take a turn for the worse.
One by one, these wrestlers suffered some kind of issue or problem that led to their departures from WWE. Worse, many of these men and women were actually very good at what they did and the fans liked them in one way or another. Unfortunately, something got in the way of their success, and all of them eventually ended up elsewhere.
Here we’ll look at fifteen men and women whose WWE firings were either disappointing or stupid or both.
15 Ultimo Dragon
WWE signed the legendary Ultimo Dragon in June 2003 with the hopes that he’d be the next Rey Mysterio, who was already making WWE tons of money in merchandise sales. It was a smart move; Rey & Ultimo had great matches together in WCW.
Sadly, WWE failed to use him properly after his WWE debut. He wrestled in a U.S. Championship tournament during the fall of 2003, but after that he faded into relative obscurity. WWE didn’t realize what kind of cash cow they could’ve had with him if only they put more effort into booking him strongly and letting him work in the same high-profile cruiserweight matches he had in WCW.
The only silver lining in this story was that he did perform at Madison Square Garden for WrestleMania XX in a brief elimination match for the Cruiserweight Championship. He was let go by WWE shortly thereafter, and the cruiserweight division lost a major name that could’ve done wonders to help it grow.
14 Alberto Del Rio
Del Rio was one of WWE’s biggest stars during his first run. He won the MITB briefcase, the Royal Rumble, and the World Championship on several occasions. It was clear from the beginning he was meant to be a major draw for the Latino audience, whose interest in WWE must’ve been dwindling since Rey Mysterio’s prominence on the program was waning.
What made Del Rio’s departure so dumb was that he was fired before the other belligerent party. For those that might not have heard, Del Rio was fired almost immediately for slapping someone backstage after they had allegedly made a racist comment towards Del Rio and Mexicans.
After details emerged, many were upset that both Del Rio and that employee weren’t fired on the spot, as both of their actions reflected poorly on WWE. That employee was indeed fired eventually and Del Rio did return to WWE for a second run, but by that point things were already worse for everyone involved.
13 Shelton Benjamin
Benjamin was one of the best natural wrestlers WWE had on their roster during the 2000s. To say he was an excellent wrestler is an understatement. He was so good at everything he did that his treatment and booking were both borderline insane given his abilities. If WWE were a true meritocracy, where abilities and talent are considered above all else, Benjamin could’ve been a top superstar for sure.
Instead, somewhere midway through his upper mid-card push, something went wrong. Reportedly, Benjamin insulted a WWE Hall of Famer, which upset many people backstage.
That was apparently enough for the power-brokers of WWE to halt his push and saddle him with the ‘Momma’s Boy’ gimmick until he learned some respect. Seriously, what is it with WWE Superstars having such fragile egos that any slight piece of disrespect is grounds to completely destroy someone’s career?
12 Ken Kennedy
By the time Kennedy was released in May 2009, he already had a few black marks against him. First, following the Chris Benoit controversy, Kennedy went on air and said he didn’t take steroids. Shortly thereafter, he was suspended for 30 days for violating WWE’s Wellness Policy. Second, he already had experienced several injuries early on in his career, which was leading to some people to label him as ‘injury prone’.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he suplexed Randy Orton in a way that Orton didn’t like. According to Kennedy, Orton claims he landed on his head and neck, which could’ve shortened or ended his career.
From most camera angles showing the move, Orton simply landed a bit too hard. Not really bad enough to end one’s career (certainly nowhere near as bad as Steve Williams’ Dangerous Backdrop, where his opponents were actually dropped on their heads).
Kennedy further explained that Orton went to John Cena, and both of them convinced Vince McMahon to fire Kennedy. Whether all of this is true or not remains to be seen; we have yet to hear Orton or Cena’s side of the story.
11 Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes left WWE because of the ridiculous way he was being treated during his final years. Some people backstage were convinced that he should have kept portraying the Stardust character, despite it being arguably the worst on the WWE roster at the time. Cody didn’t like it and neither did the fans. But no matter how much he wanted to revert back to just being regular Cody Rhodes, WWE’s top brass simply wouldn’t allow it.
The stupidest thing about all of this is that Cody was actually a very good wrestler under the right circumstances. He was a solid midcarder throughout the mid-to-late 2000s and into the early 2010s. The problem was that WWE never gave him an opportunity to be anything more than a midcarder, despite his inherent talents. Cody has managed to achieve some degree of success outside of WWE, but one cannot help but still wonder where his career in WWE would’ve gone if they stopped presenting him as yet another weird version of Goldust.
10 Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett’s treatment in WWE over the past 3-4 years will go down as one of the biggest mistakes WWE has ever made. They had a guy who fit every criterion they wanted in a wrestler: tall, muscular, could cut a promo, and could wrestle.
They strapped a rocket to his ass as the leader of the Nexus, and soon he was the talk of the wrestling industry. Even though the Nexus storyline ended on a questionable note, it was still obvious that there were good things in store for Barrett.
But WWE screwed everything up with Barrett in ways only they could.
The second gimmick turned out to be ‘Bad News Barrett,’ an over-the-top gimmick that, unsurprisingly, got really popular very quickly. Fans loved Barrett’s segments, and he was quickly becoming one of the highlights of RAW.
Sadly, after yet another injury, his remaining years in WWE went terribly. Wade, and then King, Barrett became the picture of ‘mid-card loser’ being foiled easily by comedy wrestlers like R-Truth. He became a joke, a shadow of his former self, and made it clear he wanted out of WWE as soon as possible.
9 Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP)
There was significant hype for MVP’s SmackDown signing, and it wasn’t hard to see why. The man was the perfect cocky heel. He carried himself and spoke in a way that made him instantly dislikable, which led to rapid growth for him on SmackDown. It was obvious that WWE’s management saw something in him, as his hard work was rewarded with a 343-day reign as U.S. Champion.
Unfortunately, WWE didn’t think about how to book him to break into the upper mid-card once that title reign ended. Once he lost that singles belt, everything went downhill. He started a major losing streak that would last five months, turning this once-promising wrestler into just another midcarder on SmackDown. By that point, nothing could be done for him to salvage his character.
He was drafted to RAW in 2009, but that didn’t do him any favors, as he ended up being a big fish in a big pond. Compared to the other big stars on RAW, MVP was a relative nobody who couldn’t possibly hope to compete with the likes of John Cena, Chris Jericho, Batista, Randy Orton and Triple H. After being drafted back to SmackDown a year later, there was no hope for MVP, so he left the company.
8 Sean O'Haire
When people criticize WWE for giving up on something too early or putting someone in the wrong storyline, O’Haire is one of the first images to pop up.
Beginning in 2003, O’Haire debuted a new Devil’s Advocate character that was being hyped heavily through WWE’s production department. These well-made videos featured O’Haire encouraging people to question their government, commit sins, and give into otherwise unacceptable behaviour. It was unique, it was fresh, and most importantly, it made curious fans want to tune in to see what he’d say and do next.
And WWE screwed it up so badly.
Within a few weeks, O’Haire was already being paired with ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, who was embroiled in a feud with Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon. It was a terrible decision, because Piper became more of an important character than O’Haire, so interest in the newcomer’s gimmick dwindled rapidly. By November of that year, he had been involved in a motorcycle accident that would sideline him for months, after which he left WWE.
7 Drew McIntyre
When Vince McMahon appears on SmackDown and announces you personally as a ‘future world champion’, you cannot possibly get higher praise. At the same time, if that happens to you, the pressure to fill those expectations could not possible be higher.
McIntyre was pegged for early success in WWE, winning several high-profile matches and enjoying a close on-screen relationship with Vince McMahon. Vince did whatever he could to maintain McIntyre’s continued importance and legitimacy as a heel, including expunging any losses McIntyre may have suffered (clearly Vince did not understand the internet at this time).
Unfortunately, that push didn’t lead to anything more than a single Intercontinental Championship reign. His reactions were abysmal (not that people were booing him; they were barely reacting to him, period), and he had a high-profile argument with then-wife Taryn Terrell that apparently rubbed some people backstage the wrong way.
By 2012, McIntyre became a part of the comedy team 3MB, whose sole job was to lose in humiliating fashion, Brooklyn Brawler-style. There were many people who argued at the time that he was too good to be there, but sadly, there was nothing any of them could do to help him. McIntyre left WWE in 2014, and has enjoyed considerable more success elsewhere.
6 Paul London
London was a staple of WWE’s lower and mid-card for many years. A time-tested cruiserweight, London was very athletic despite his small stature. He could always be relied on to put on an exciting match, whether as a singles star or when teaming with Brian Kendrick.
London’s WWE departure was met with controversy. Reportedly, London was demoted, (and later fired) for one small, minute detail. During the segment that led to Vince McMahon’s limo exploding, Vince walked past several stars, all of whom had somber expressions on their faces. That is, all except London, who was smiling through what was supposed to be an ominous and otherwise dramatic scene.
After seeing this, Vince was convinced that London somehow sabotaged the segment by smiling, as if the segment in itself wasn’t one to be taken seriously. As a result, once his tag team title reign ended, he became something of a jobber on RAW before being let go in 2008.
5 Andy Leavine
What a waste this guy’s push ended up being.
WWE really tried to push the renewed Tough Enough as a big deal, with a lot of importance put on the moment by WWE. Steve Austin and Vince McMahon were both present in the ring to congratulate Andy on his victory, but after that they gave up on him. So what happened?
If rumors are to be believed, Andy didn’t sell Vince McMahon’s slap in the face enough when Vince ‘welcomed’ him to WWE. After that segment, John Laurinaitis was believed to be furious with Andy, and dressed him down in front of everyone that was back there. So after being hyped as a really big deal for winning WWE Tough Enough V, Andy Leavine was sent to FCW and was released within a year.
The circumstances of Chyna’s WWE departure remain highly controversial to this day. Long story short, Chyna was dating Triple H, Chyna was taken off TV after a storyline injury, and then Triple H started dating Stephanie McMahon.
The specific details of this situation remain unclear, but the most popular narrative is that Stephanie used her influence in WWE to get Chyna fired so that she could pursue her relationship with Triple H even further.
Chyna herself once said that Stephanie said that Chyna ‘wasn’t needed anymore’ by WWE, despite Chyna being one of the biggest draws in the company at the time. So for Stephanie to come out and say there’s no role for Chyna, one of their biggest draws, is preposterous.
Sadly, there was nothing Chyna could do. She tried to stay in wrestling a little while longer, but her career faltered shortly after a NJPW run in 2002, and it was all downhill from there.
3 Chris Masters
By WWE logic, Chris Masters should’ve been an enormous superstar. As everyone knows by this point, Vince was, and still is, obsessed with incredible physiques and larger-than-life superstars. Masters definitely fit into the former category, with a chiseled look that had people comparing him to an Adonis of Greek mythology.
His great look was accompanied by an excellent heel gimmick that, by all conventional logic, would’ve propelled Masters to great heights in WWE. But sadly this didn’t happen. After developing an addiction to painkillers and entering rehab to get better, he returned to WWE, albeit much smaller and less jacked. Many superstars noticed this change, including Triple H, who called him out on it on live TV.
This, coupled with WWE doing whatever possible to take as much attention away from their Wellness Policy controversies, led to a minimized role for Masters. He eventually realized nothing would materialize from WWE anymore, so he left the company in 2011.
2 Matt Morgan
During the early-2000s, WWE went on a hiring spree, trying to push as many big guys as possible after both Steve Austin and the Rock were in the twilights of their regular careers, and Triple H was on only one show. They had struck gold with Brock Lesnar, but they needed another monster big man to step up in case the Lesnar experiment failed. Enter Matt Morgan.
Standing at 7 feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds, Morgan was a perfect fit in WWE. Granted, he wasn’t the ideal worker during those first years, but neither is Braun Strowman right now, and look where he is now. He has improved significantly over the course of a year, and he was able to grow in areas where previously, he was lacking.
Unfortunately, WWE didn’t grasp this mentality with Morgan. He spent a few months in 2003 on regular WWE programming, before being sent back to OVW, before returning again in 2005. This second time, he had a stuttering gimmick and became Carlito’s bodyguard. Neither of those things could help him get over with the audience, even if his regular finishers (the Hellevator, and on a few occasions, Lesnar’s F-5) were awesome moves. WWE let him go in 2005, seemingly convinced that he wasn’t improving. If they had given him more time to keep improving, he could’ve gone so much farther in WWE.
After spending years toiling away in Japan and in smaller promotions, the woman called Awesome King debuted in WWE. She was quickly given the monster push, destroying one woman after another with relative ease. It was a time of happiness for many women’s wrestling fans; finally, a woman’s wrestler would destroy the plastic fitness models that had been dominating the division for years.
But it was not meant to be. Kharma had to take a break from WWE because she was pregnant, but the seeds for a return were planted after the Bellas mocked her for her weight. Unfortunately, that didn’t materialize either, because Kharma suffered a miscarriage, and entered a state of mind that prevented her from returning to WWE full time.