The world of professional wrestling is massive. Casual fans may only be aware of World Wrestling Entertainment and the performers under contract for that company, but there has never been a shortage of willing men and women at their disposal. At any given time, the independent wrestling scene is packed with both young, hungry stars and seasoned, decorated veterans, and they’re all ripe for the picking because it is every wrestler’s dream to sign on to work for Vince McMahon and one day perform on the grandest stage in the entire sport, WrestleMania.
WWE might be a place where the dreams of men and women of the squared circle come true, but first and foremost it is a business, and that’s how McMahon runs it. There’s little room for emotion and sentimental reasoning when deciding which Superstars to market because the wrong decision can cost the company valuable time and money, so employees are constantly cycling in and out as McMahon and his team attempt to build the strongest roster of in ring competitors possible.
Earlier this year, we caught up with fifteen of the men and women who have most recently been sent packing by WWE and took a look at what they’ve been up to since leaving the company. But despite the newly minted brand extension and the increased need for a deep talent pool on both Raw and SmackDown, these are busy times for WWE releases. Here are updates on fifteen more WWE Superstars who have recently left the company and moved on to other endeavors.
15 Josh Woods
NXT is the place where modern day WWE Superstars are trained and shaped into tomorrow’s faces of the company. Given this, the nature of NXT sees that it is inevitable that most men and women who come through the developmental program have an expiration date on their time there.
In the latter category falls Josh Woods, who trained in NXT for quite a while. He did make it to a level some young upstarts never manage to achieve in that he was traveling with the company and wrestling official matches, and even made it to television. Perhaps his biggest match came in a losing effort earlier this year to No Way Jose, but soon after his wrestling career would come to a screeching halt, at least with WWE. Today Woods is still taking independent bookings and is very active on social media.
14 Sylvester Lefort
WWE’s developmental territory has evolved into a WWE Network phenomenon known as NXT, complete with its own pay-per-view events and a high production value. NXT actually feels like a really big deal and many fans prefer the product over Raw and SmackDown for its focus on the wrestling aspect. Despite its name value, however, NXT is known for releasing as many upcoming stars as it creates for the future. Sylvester Lefort was one of those upstarts released over the past year, and it actually seemed as if he had a bright WWE future ahead of him.
Lefort is best known for being a part of the tag team known as The Legionnaires with Marcus Louis, though he was under contract with the company for several years and wrestled plenty of matches before forming this team. In February 2016, Lefort was released from his developmental contract and now competes in TNA Wrestling.
13 Brooklyn Brawler
Steve Lombardi has been associated with WWE for a number of years, competing sporadically on screen with the company since the 1980s when he originally adopted the gimmick for which he’d become best known, the Brooklyn Brawler. The Brooklyn Brawler was infamous for being an enhancement talent, nearly always being on the losing end of a match. However, the Brawler wasn’t his only role in company as he regularly played the role of various masked characters, usually that of Doink the Clown and Kim Chee, the handler for WWE legend Kamala.
In 2016, after decades of contributions to the company, Steve Lombardi was let go from World Wrestling Entertainment. Rumors around the internet have suggested that what resulted in the termination of his contract after 33 years with the company was a “small mistake” on his part. Lombardi was recently on Chris Jericho’s podcast and cites the success of that interview as the reason he has decided to write a book.
12 Brie Bella
Brie Bella had an illustrious decade inside the wrestling ring competing for WWE. She and her sister Nikki, known collectively as the Bella Twins, practically dominated the Divas division since their debut. It wasn’t just about championships, because aside from Nikki’s nearly year-long run with the Divas Championship the twins rarely had gold in their hands. They were one of the most marketable aspects of the division for a very long time, proving to be versatile and always improving their in ring product.
The Bellas have been at the center of nearly every major Divas storyline throughout Brie’s tenure and she even competed against Stephanie McMahon in one of the marquee matches at SummerSlam in 2014. For years, however, Brie spoke about wanting to start a family with her husband and fellow WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan, and in 2016 she retired from the ring to do just that. She is now expecting her first child and still appears on WWE’s reality shows Total Divas and Total Bellas.
11 El Torito
The team of Primo and Epico were competing in WWE’s tag team division for years before the company finally decided it was time to freshen up their act after their momentum had been at a complete halt for an extended period of time. WWE decided to rebrand the duo as Los Matadores, two bull fighters who were accompanied to the ring by their very tiny accomplice, El Torito. El Torito is a professional wrestler known in Mexico as Mascarita Dorada, but in WWE he would sport a full body costume which gave him the appearance of a small bull.
El Torito was wildly athletic, making it look to be a simple task for him to effortlessly float around the ring and bounce off the ropes, an impressive feat especially at his size. He captivated the WWE Universe and became the star of the three man act, far outshining Los Matadores themselves. However, in 2016 WWE saw that this new gimmick wasn’t going far either and once again repackaged Los Matadores. El Torito was dropped from the act and released from his contract, though he has returned to competing on the independent circuit since his WWE release.
10 Hugo Knox
Before embarking upon a career as a professional wrestler, Stuart Tomlinson was an English football player. When he decided to step into the wrestling ring, however, he was in new territory and at the mercy of the infamously rigorous training program all aspiring WWE Superstars must face. All men and women looking to get into WWE these days must work their way up through the developmental territory, NXT, if they want to someday be called up to Raw and SmackDown, and Tomlinson was no exception.
Tomlinson adopted the ring name Hugo Knox and trained with NXT for nearly two full years without really making much progress in his goal to make it to the big leagues. He wrestled non television matches for the company, but earlier this year he decided the wrestling thing just wasn’t working out for him and decided to leave the company. Tomlinson remains in remarkable shape and keeps his social media accounts updated for his fans.
9 Sara Lee
Sara Lee is known to wrestling fans as the female winner of the 2015 Tough Enough competition, a tournament through which WWE searches for its next WWE Superstars. Sara earned quite a following during her time on that program and showed remarkable promise as a future female competitor for the biggest wrestling organization in the world. Upon winning the competition, Lee reported to NXT where she began training for her future career as a Superstar and even performed in some non televised matches with the company.
However, in 2016 Sara Lee was suddenly and unexpectedly released from her developmental contract after just a year. It was a baffling move, at least until Lee and her boyfriend, fellow NXT star Wesley Blake, announced they were expecting their first child together. It would appear that Sara Lee remains on good terms with the company and there is certainly the possibility that she will return to work following the birth of her child.
8 Zeb Colter
Dutch Mantell is a legendary wrestling manager and writer, having been connected to the business since the 1970s and associated with some of the biggest and most respected grapplers to ever compete inside the squared circle. However, modern fans will most certainly know him best for his recent tenure in WWE where he played the part of Zeb Colter. Zeb Colter was the manager for Jack Swagger and, at one point, Swagger’s tag team partner Cesaro when the two teamed as the “Real Americans.” Zeb was the mouth piece for Swagger, who was a physical workhorse without much in the way of microphone talents.
Zeb and Jack Swagger did some solid work, but even he couldn’t see Swagger to consistent main event status when the crowd was just not buying into him beyond his “We the People” catch phrase. After Colter and Swagger parted ways, Zeb was aligned with his former nemesis Alberto Del Rio, though the two had absolutely no chemistry and that failed as well. Dutch Mantell was released from his WWE contract in 2016 and now performs at comedy shows and remains political on Twitter.
7 Santino Marella
The “Milan Miracle” Santino Marella made a big splash on his debut night with WWE when he won the Intercontinental Championship in his first ever match by defeating the monstrous Umaga. Santino was later closely aligned with the “Glamazon” Beth Phoenix, and the popular comedy couple was affectionately referred to as “Glamarella.” Marella’s comedy skills eventually led him to dressing in drag and portraying what he himself referred to as his twin sister, Santina Marella, a character as whom he would win the title of Miss WrestleMania.
A series of injuries would keep Santino largely inactive in his final years with the company. In 2016, he was finally released from his contract and now considers himself retired from pro wrestling competition, although he still occasionally makes wrestling related appearances and stays very active on social media. He also owns a training facility called Battle Arts Academy in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
6 Marcus Louis
Marcus Louis is one of so many men and women who were formerly under developmental contracts with WWE but never seemed to connect enough with the NXT audience to warrant being called up to WWE’s main Raw and SmackDown Live rosters. Louis was with NXT for three years and was actually featured quite frequently on the NXT program on the WWE Network, usually as a part of the tag team known as The Legionnaires with Sylvester Lefort. That team would crumble when Lefort lost a hair versus hair match against Enzo Amore, but refused to have his hair cut and ran away from the ring, leaving Louis to have his own head shaved. Louis would then snap and turn on his partner.
In 2016, both Marcus Louis and Sylvester Lefort were released from their WWE developmental contracts. They soon would appear in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, performing as the team known as the Tribunal under the names Baron Dax and Basile Baraka, respectively.
5 Alex Riley
In 2010, Alex Riley would debut in the second season of NXT when NXT was still a competition style program. Each NXT trainee was assigned a mentor and Riley would be aligned with WWE veteran Mike “The Miz” Mizanin. This turned out to be quite beneficial for Riley as he joined the Miz eventually on Raw and SmackDown and was featured in a lot of high profile segments with the former WWE World Champion. This would prove to be the biggest exposure of his career, however, as he eventually wound up at the commentary table back in NXT and, despite one final attempt at reviving his in ring career, nothing ever took off for him.
In 2016, Alex Riley was released from his contract with World Wrestling Entertainment. It didn’t come as a surprise as the company hadn’t seemed interested in investing much into Riley for years prior. Ever since parting ways with WWE, Riley, who was usually active on social media, has largely remained out of the public eye except for a tweet in support of former WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes when Rhodes left the company.
Zamariah Loupe, known affectionately as simply “ZZ,” won over the hearts of the WWE Universe when he appeared as a contestant on the 2015 version of the WWE Tough Enough competition show. ZZ was a naïve and gentle man who proudly boasted about his alligator handling skills. He was severely out of shape for an aspiring WWE Superstar and came off as lazy to the trainers on the show. Nonetheless, he was offered a developmental contract following the conclusion of Tough Enough and given the opportunity to train at the WWE Performance Center.
ZZ was featured heavily on the WWE Network series Breaking Ground, which followed various men and women as they trained at the Performance Center in hopes of making it big with NXT and eventually WWE. ZZ was always falling behind, however, and in 2016 WWE seemed to finally give up on him when they handed him the pink slip. He released a statement soon after, stating that he’s grateful for what he learned and doesn’t believe his time in WWE is over, indicating he may still continue to train for wrestling.
3 Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett had a pretty impressive stay in WWE despite never seeing his potential fully realized. He got his start in NXT and saw his first big main roster push as the head of The Nexus, a villainous band of former NXT stars like Darren Young, Heath Slater and Daniel Bryan who went on to terrorize Raw and SmackDown. Following The Nexus, Barrett went on to several runs with the Intercontinental Championship.
Despite the popularity of his Bad News Barrett gimmick change a few years before his time with WWE came to a close, the company never capitalized on it. He was packaged with Sheamus, Rusev and Alberto Del Rio in the League of Nations, but once that stable failed Barrett decided to leave the company. Upon his release, Barrett, whose real name is Stu Bennett, stated that he planned on temporarily leaving the wrestling business and began pursuing a career in the acting field.
2 Brad Maddox
The WWE career of Brad Maddox just never got off the ground. Starting on the main roster as a referee, he eventually got involved in storylines with other wrestlers like Ryback and CM Punk. He only wrestled a handful of official matches, so fans never truly got a glimpse of his abilities in the ring. The WWE Universe did, however, have the misfortune of watching Maddox fill the role of an authority figure on Monday Night Raw for an uncomfortable long time alongside Vickie Guerrero.
Maddox began teaming with Adam Rose briefly in 2015 before he was released from his WWE contract following controversial language he used at a non-televised event. According to Maddox, the phrase that got him served his pink slip was “cocky pricks,” which he says really bothered Vince McMahon. Perhaps one day he will get another shot at a WWE career, but for now he continues to wrestle on the independent circuit.
1 Billy Gunn
“Bad Ass” Billy Gunn is easily one of the most legendary tag team performers of all time. He certainly had solo successes, such as runs with the Intercontinental and Hardcore Championships, but it’s for his time in tag teams that made him so famous and for which he’ll always be remembered. As “Mr. Ass,” Gunn teamed with Road Dogg Jesse James in the New Age Outlaws and the two won the WWE World Tag Team Championship on many occasions. It was the New Age Outlaws which brought Billy into the spotlight, but he also made headlines alongside Chuck Palumbo years later when the tag team pair pretended to be in love for the sake of publicity, which was a highly controversial angle at the time.
In 2015, Billy’s time with the WWE came to close when he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, a huge deal breaker for WWE following their years of troubles dealing with related issues such as the Chris Benoit tragedy. Billy continues to make wrestling appearances for independent shows and will likely show up in WWE again someday, at the very least for a much deserved Hall of Fame induction.