Life after WWE is a difficult transition for wrestlers making the change away from the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. It is the only company that will guarantee you’ll make a comfortable living no matter where you are on the roster. The news of a release can create a tough journey for those unprepared. There have also been the situation of wrestlers wanting to leave WWE and choosing to walk away to find a new path to success. Wrestlers usually go one of two ways when leaving WWE.
There have been a few wrestlers to dominate their new surroundings in other noteworthy promotions and the independent wrestling scene. These names used the motivation and fuel to come from leaving WWE to completely rejuvenate their career. Others completely fall apart without the backing of the WWE machine to help them out. The pressure and responsibility of controlling your own career can lead to disaster. We will look at stories of wrestlers to leave WWE in recent memory. Both sides of life after WWE will be examined on what leads to success and what leads to failure. These are eight wrestlers to thrive after leaving WWE and seven that completely flopped.
15 Thrived: Cody Rhodes
The most recent example of success after leaving WWE is Cody Rhodes. A decision was made to leave WWE after a long disappointing stint as Stardust. Rhodes knew his career was going nowhere with the gimmick and requested his release to completely revamp his standing in the business. The rare move to leave WWE by his desire led to a career renaissance for Rhodes. Cody is thriving in every promotion he works for from New Japan to Ring of Honor to Impact Wrestling to international indies.
Rhodes’ passion for wrestling is what made the fans come to his side. The popularity continued to gradually grow to the point that NJPW brought him to become the newest member of the Bullet Club. Rhodes is also selling lots of merchandise with the most popular t-shirt on ProWrestlingTees beating out numerous top names in the sport. Every aspect of a career after WWE has been successful for Rhodes.
14 Flopped: Ted DiBaise Jr.
The former tag team partner of Cody Rhodes didn’t have the same luck when he was released years earlier. WWE once viewed Ted DiBiase Jr. as the future of the company due to his potential and pedigree as the son of the legendary Ted DiBiase Sr. Things didn’t come for DiBiase Jr. as well as the company expected following the ending of the Legacy faction. WWE tried to push him as a singles star but DiBiase couldn’t connect with the fan base.
A lack of charisma and the ability to rise to the occasion of bigger matches led to his demise. Independent wrestling fans were treated to a handful of disappointing DiBiase matches before he made the decision to retire from the wrestling industry. The work and commitment that is needed to thrive on the independent circuit is not something DiBiase wanted to make his life after WWE ended the dream. Today, he works in other career fields with no desire to return to professional wrestling.
13 Thrived: Maria Kanellis
Maria Kanellis getting fired from WWE was a big surprise due to the fact that she was trying to start a music career. WWE let her go after years of making her one of the faces of the divas division. Maria was not one of the better wrestlers in the ring, but time has proved she is among the best personalities. WWE used her primarily as a face character with very little depth other than ditzy humor.
A relationship with fellow wrestler Mike Bennett landed her in Ring of Honor as his manager among others. The charisma and microphone skills of Kanellis impressed enough to get a rare spot as one of the very few women in New Japan. TNA later signed her and Bennett to one year contracts before they decided to hit the free agent market this year. Rumors suggest WWE is looking to bring in Maria once again but to use her in a more fulfilling role as the heel manager for Bennett.
12 Flopped: Ryback
WWE pushed Ryback to the moon for quite some time with the hopes he’d evolve into a top star. Ryback had the look and intensity that Vince McMahon wants out of his talent. The momentum of Ryback ended shortly after his undefeated streak was stopped. Fans never truly bought into him as a top star on the level of the main event names. Ryback shocked the world when he decided he no longer wanted to work for WWE.
The outspoken wrestler went on the record claiming WWE don’t treat their talent right and has made many controversial comments following his departure. That is about all he has done of note. Ryback appears on the smaller promotions that don’t hold much relevancy in the independent wrestling world. All that Ryback does to stay relevant in wrestling is make bitter comments on his podcast. Ryback doesn’t appear to have anything left to offer in the ring.
11 Thrived: Ethan Carter III
The career of Ethan Carter III saw a road to redemption before becoming a success story. WWE used him under the name of Derrick Bateman but didn’t put him in a position to succeed. Bateman wallowed in obscurity on the old NXT television show engaging in comedic segment that showed his entertainment value. It didn’t impress WWE enough to give him a relevant position on Raw or Smackdown.
Following a release, he went to TNA under the EC3 name. The heel work instantly made Carter one of the top stars on the show. Fans started to view EC3 as the biggest reason to occasionally check out Impact and give TNA a chance. Carter held his own with the top veterans and possessed a star quality that WWE somehow missed the boat on. Anyone to witness the career resurgence of EC3 has to question WWE made such a mistake letting him go – the best sign for somehow leaving the company.
10 Flopped: Carlito
Carlito received one of the biggest pushes to start a career in WWE. The second generation talent defeated John Cena to win the United States Championship in his debut. WWE pushed him well for quite some time before the wheels fell off. Many people in the company viewed Carlito as lazy and unmotivated. The lack of desire to get better and move into a top spot will harm the career of anyone in WWE.
The release of Carlito came in 2010 when WWE demanded he go to rehab after violating the Wellness Policy. Carlito refused and went to the independent circuit. Most fans would not know this due to the lack of his presence out there. Carlito rarely wrestles and it is usually for less known promotions. WWE proved to be right with Carlito not caring enough to change his career for the better. The post-WWE run of Carlito is a definitive flop.
9 Thrived: Kassius Ohno
WWE signed Kassius Ohno/Chris Hero to start 2017 as they were in need of new talent for NXT. This comes over three years since he was released. The fit didn’t appear right with Ohno failing to get any television time despite being as talented as his peers. A return to the independent circuit under his old Chris Hero moniker completely rebuilt any momentum lost from the disappointing WWE stint.
Hero dominated hot promotions like PWG, Evolve and AAW with stellar performances on a weekly basis. The matches of Hero had many indie fans calling him the best in the world. It was impressive enough for WWE to come back calling. The most successful thing one can do after leaving WWE is become so good that they admit they made a mistake and attempt to sign you back. Ohno is proving that as he is back as a fixture on NXT television today.
8 Flopped: Adam Rose
The top stars in NXT typically go on to become successful names on the main roster. Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe have proven that NXT success is very relevant when it comes to the big stage. That wasn’t always the case with prior acts to get over in NXT not being suit for Raw or Smackdown. Adam Rose is the perfect example. The party gimmick with the Exotic Express dancing with him to the ring became a smash hit with the Full Sail in NXT.
Rose tanked on the main roster and instantly devolved into the most irrelevant man on the roster. An eventual release after Wellness Policy controversy saw Rose trash talk WWE. The overall commentary suggested they held him back and he was going to show just how big of a star he was. Rose unfortunately has shown the complete opposite with nothing of relevance coming on the independent circuit. No one wants to sign him and the hot promotions don’t think he’s good enough. Rose is expected to retire at the end of 2017.
7 Thrived: Trent Barreta
If you remember any noteworthy moments from Trent Barreta’s WWE career, you are a better wrestling fan than the rest of us. WWE employed Barreta for many years but nothing with him. It was a difficult task to realize he was on the main roster for the majority of his time in WWE. The release came to no surprise when WWE decided they no longer needed him on the roster.
Trent went on to show that WWE absolutely wasted the chance to have a very talented star like him. A highly successful PWG career making up the Best Friends tag team with Chuck Taylor earned him a spot in New Japan and Ring of Honor. Trent has another tag partner in those promotions forming the very impressive Roppongi Vince team with Rocky Romero. Barreta is one of the best in-ring performers in the world making it clear that WWE was the one in the wrong regarding the poor fit.
6 Flopped: JTG
It became a running joke that WWE forgot JTG was on the roster. The former Cryme Tyme tag team standout worked as a singles performer on lower tier shows like Main Event and Superstars. JTG even fell out of that spot and just stayed at home for many months before WWE eventually released him. They once viewed JTG and Shad as a valuable commodity for the Cryme Tyme but neither career worked out in the long run.
Cryme Tyme reformed on the independent circuit with JTG trying to keep his career going. A lack of bookings saw him transition into other paths trying to find a new job. JTG just didn’t have the overall ability to get a spot in a relevant promotion after WWE. Similar to many wrestlers to flop after leaving WWE, JTG wrote a book with little fanfare. JTG still takes rare bookings but his wrestling career is all but over in the grand scheme.
5 Thrived: Gail Kim
WWE is currently treating the women’s wrestling stars with respect. Many former credible talents weren’t afforded this opportunity in the past. Gail Kim has the biggest grudge against WWE and for good reason. The extremely talented performer never was able to showcase it in WWE during her two stints there. Kim returned for her second stint after having a tremendous run in TNA. It didn’t sell WWE enough to use her well.
Gail was so livid with her treatment by WWE that she eliminated herself from a battle royal and asked for her release. The second departure from WWE led to the second and current run with TNA. Kim put their knockouts division on the map numerous times through the years to rightfully earn a spot in the TNA Hall of Fame. For all the negative things about TNA, Gail’s success there after leaving WWE shows they did a few things right.
4 Flopped: Damien Sandow
Damien Sandow did many great things in WWE. The intellect character of an arrogant genius got over as a heel when placed on television. A face run as the comedic stunt double of The Miz became the most popular thing in WWE. Sandow showed enough to make you believe he was a special performer that was being held down. An eventual release from WWE in 2016 after being on the sidelines for a long time saw him disappoint us all.
Sandow signed with TNA and instantly was a bust. The look of Sandow appeared out of shape compared to the past WWE days. A lack of excitement in his matches made him just another average in-ring performer with nothing worth paying attention to. Sandow is trying his look with a unique Liberace-like gimmick. It is hit or miss depending on the week but the overall presentation of Sandow has been a massive flop given the expectations after leaving WWE.
3 Thrived: Rey Mysterio
The legendary career of Rey Mysterio appeared to be at the end of the line when he was granted his release from WWE in 2015. Numerous injuries kept him on the shelf and the grueling schedule of WWE no longer seemed like the right surroundings for him. Mysterio’s return to Mexico’s AAA and various independent promotions showed he still had enough skills to keep up with the young stars of today that his work influenced.
Lucha Underground signed Mysterio to become the face of the promotion and television series. Given the lighter schedule of tapings, it is the perfect fit for Mysterio to wrestle a few shorter matches every other week. Lucha Underground has benefited from Mysterio’s presence with more media marketing opportunities and Netflix even picking up the series. Mysterio is still traveling the world and has remained healthy following his release from WWE. The legend continues to add to his legacy.
2 Flopped: CM Punk
The biggest flop for someone leaving WWE in recent years is sadly CM Punk. Years of anger and frustration with WWE saw Punk finally made the decision to walk out after Royal Rumble 2014. Punk vented about WWE and decided he would no longer work in the wrestling industry. A complete change saw him enter the very real world of MMA facing the toughest competition in the UFC.
Punk made his UFC debut in September of 2016 suffering a first round submission defeat to Mickey Gall. To make matters worse, Punk was completely dominated getting in nearly zero offense. It was clear Punk had no business starting a UFC career at his current age and lack of experience. Punk is going to continue to get slaughtered if he keeps it up, damaging his name value after leaving WWE. The safer bet would have been finding alternatives to WWE to keep adding to his wrestling legacy.
1 Thrived: Drew Galloway
Drew Galloway’s time in WWE shows just how misleading life in WWE can be. Following an early push due to his potential, Galloway was turned into a secondary player and later a comedic act for the majority of his WWE career. A shocking release saw him provide the blueprint on how to go on after losing your dream job. Galloway wanted to show the wrestling world just how good he could be and has done that.
The success of Galloway in PWG, Evolve and various UK promotions made him a top independent wrestling name. TNA signed him and made him the World Champion as a fixture on the show. Galloway was on the rare bright spots providing a reason to watch Impact before the new management team let his contract expire. The young age, star power and potential to be even better has made Galloway among the top free agents in wrestling today.
Sources: Cageside Seats, Still Real To Us, SE Scoops
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