Some leave to get better, while others slowly diminish and lose their passion. This is the tale of two different stories following a WWE release. For the most part, this article features wrestlers that not only left the company on their own terms, but that are also thriving elsewhere, being given the opportunity to shine.
Cody Rhodes was the latest example of this trend; the former WWE star wanted a gimmick and card change after years of service to the company. The WWE just didn’t see him in that light and refused his requests. What Rhodes did next takes a lot of courage; he requested a release from the company in order to resurface his gimmick on the indie scene. Only time will tell if this was the right decision, but I can bet that we will one day see Cody back on WWE television.
Some of the wrestlers on this list are also being linked to a return, while others look like they’ll continue to ride their success outside of the company. Without further ado, here are 15 former WWE stars that are still wrestling: where are they now?
15 CJ Parker: New Japan
In 2011, CJ Parker was signed to a deal with the WWE’s former developmental system FCW. His potential at that point was huge, already having years of experience from his indie work and factoring in his age at that point (which was 21). He was praised for his in-ring work by several WWE stars, though despite this he only had one title reign during his FCW and NXT days as a Tag Team Champion with FCW.
Eventually Parker got lost in the mix and couldn’t gain any sort of momentum down in NXT. Some blame his failed stint on timing, as Parker was with the brand during a time that had an NXT roster absolutely stacked from top to bottom.
Nonetheless, CJ made an admirable decision to leave the company in order to recreate himself outside of the WWE. This decision was met with a lot of respect amongst his peers, especially when you factor in that he’s still only 27. Today, you can find Parker under his new alias of Juice Robinson, working over in Japan for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Many believe that following his stint with the company, a WWE return will be very probable.
14 Daivari: Lucha Underground
The 32 year old was actually quite the wrestler, but ultimately his WWE stint was lost in the shuffle due to a controversial gimmick, alongside Muhammed Hassan. His final days with the company saw him put wrestlers over every week, and finally the company released Daivari on October 16th, 2007.
At that point, the mainstream wrestling fan probably figured that the Texas resident had stopped wrestling, although it’s quite the contrary. Daivari’s career had in fact only just begun. He spent a year on the indie circuit following his release and later would spend a couple of years on and off with TNA, followed by a year with ROH. His biggest accomplishment during that time was winning the X Division Championship with TNA, becoming a prominent mid-card heel for the company. As of 2015, he once again found himself a new home signing a deal with Lucha Underground. He is known as DelAvar Daivari with the promotion.
13 Davey Boy Smith Jr: Pro Wrestling Noah
After signing a deal with the WWE back in April of 2006, it seemed like David was destined for Superstardom with the company. Not only did he have Hart family connections, but he was also the son of the late great British Bulldog. If that wasn’t enough, Smith was built like a prototypical Vince McMahon guy, standing in at 6’5 and weighing over 260 pounds. It seemed like his potential was through the roof. Unfortunately, his potential never really developed and his most prominent run was sustained as a Tag Team wrestler winning the World and WWE Tag Team Championships, alongside Tyson Kidd. Following his run, he began to slowly fade from storylines and was eventually released.
He would join the indie circuit and later sign a deal with New Japan where he would enjoy some instant success. As of 2015, the Alberta native has been a member of Pro Wrestling Noah, finding some great success as a Tag Team wrestler once again.
12 Taka Michinoku: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Oh yes, that’s right; the great Taka Michinoku is still wrestling at the age of 42. His brand value began to surface way back in 1997 when he made the jump to North American wrestling joining the extreme ECW promotion. After a short stay, Taka signed with the WWE back in 1997. Quickly after his debut, Michinoku would make history, winning a Light Heavyweight tournament and being crowned as the first ever Light Heavyweight Champion. His run with the championship seemed like the only time in WWE history that the title had some value. Taka held the belt for 10 months before finally dropping it to Christian.
In 2001, his WWE run came to an end and Taka headed back home to rehab a shoulder injury. During that time, he would also open up his own Dojo and later sign a deal with All Japan Pro Wrestling. After a seven year run with the promotion, Taka decided to work exclusively for New Japan, a promotion he’s been with for over a decade now.
11 Evan Bourne: New Japan Pro Wrestling/ROH/ Dragon Gate
He signed his first WWE deal back in 2008 and immediately reported to FCW. Fans were beyond excited about the news that Matt Sydal had signed a deal with the company. Once he made his main roster debut, it was quite obvious why so many fans marvelled at this guy's talents, his in-ring work was a joy to watch. His booking by the company however, was not. Fans were enraged at how quickly Bourne became irrelevant on the program and would only have one Tag Team Championship run to show for under his belt.
Things went south for Bourne after he failed the Wellness Policy on more than one occasion, and he was later eased out of the company while out with an injury.
This only lit a fire under Evan who repackaged his identity to Matt Sydal. He would become a prominent fixture with the likes of Evolve, ROH and Drag Gate. Today, you can find most of his work as a part of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
10 Rob Conway: National Wrestling Alliance
At the age of 41, the former La Resistance member is still giving it a go with the National Wrestling Alliance. To his credit, Rob has stayed active since leaving the WWE ranks back in 2009. After a successful run as a Tag Team wrestler with the previously mentioned La Resistance, and capturing three Tag Team Championship reigns, Conway failed to break out as a singles star and this eventually caused his demise from the company.
Following his departure, Conway stayed in the wrestling business spending some time on the indie scene, which he still does today. In addition, Conway signed a deal with Juggalo Championship Wrestling back in 2011, and later joined his current promotion NWA. He surprisingly quickly rose to prominence with the company becoming the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. He would go on to win the championship for a second time and later become a fixture in the Tag Team division, winning the NWA World Tag Team Championships on two separate occasions.
9 Gangrel: Indie Circuit
He is the prototype of a journeyman in the world of professional wrestling. At the age of 47, Gangrel is still active wrestling small events on the indie circuit. Just a couple of weeks ago, on July 3rd, Heath was featured at a West Coast Wrestling Connection event as a wrestler for the show.
His career has taken several twists and turns since his debut way back in 1987. He initially debuted under a masked gimmick with the WWE back in 1994, as The Black Phantom. He mainly worked as a jobber and was later passed over to ECW. After a stint with the promotion and a short lived run with WCW, Gangrel headed back to the WWE under a vampire gimmick which endured some high levels of success. This helped pave the way for Edge and Christian, who would go on to become huge stars for the company; Gangrel however, was later released in 2001 due to weight problems.
Since his release, the California resident has been on the indie scene for over a decade now. He has also directed adult films during his indie career.
8 Paul London: Indie Scene
He remains a sought after free agent, despite the rumblings of a future retirement; London took to social media and made it well known that he is not retiring yet and will soon decide on a permanent promotion.
With this being said, you can’t help but to think what a perfect fit London could have been during the Cruiserweight Classic tournament providing an additional veteran face to the mix. Unlike his fellow and former Tag Team partner Brian Kendrick, London left the company on terrible terms and has gone on several rants bashing the way the WWE operates and Triple H’s negative role with everything that plays out behind the scenes. This factor makes his return unlikely, while Kendrick is set to attend the tournament as a key veteran presence.
For the time being, London is making appearances at various Wrestling Conventions. He was also a part of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla till 2013, teaming up with Brian Kendrick and taking on the likes of Johnny Gargano.
7 Chavo Guerrero: Lucha Underground
Creative differences eventually led to Chavo’s decade-long run coming to an end with the WWE. Ultimately, Guerrero felt like it was time for him to move up the card, while the company just didn’t see him as a top star. To his defense, Chavo proved he could be an upper-card heel if given the ball, as Guerrero had a tremendous feud with Rey Mysterio on SmackDown and really showed the audience his range as a serious heel-like performer. But obviously, this was not enough to sway the company. It was actually Chavo who wanted out in 2011. He requested a release in an attempt to recreate his legacy on the indie scene, a decision that you can’t help but to admire.
Chavo has thrived since leaving, spending most of his time on the indie circuit and a brief pit stop with TNA. Today, he is a main fixture with Lucha Underground and seems to be going nowhere for the time being.
6 Gail Kim: TNA Wrestling
Some WWE executives hate to admit it, but losing Gail Kim was a major loss (a big mistake, actually) especially when you look at the state of the women’s division today which is based on gifted in-ring female performers. Kim exemplified this and was a tremendous talent. According to rumors, her WWE demise came because Vince McMahon apparently had no interest in her, unlike the other women at that time. Gail was frustrated during her WWE run and claimed she was always being held back. She decided to leave on her own terms after she purposely eliminated herself from a Divas Battle Royal. She was immediately released following the incident.
Her release elevated her performance on a TNA stage, becoming the female face of the lackluster promotion. She is a five-time TNA Knockouts Champion and regarded as the greatest female athlete to ever step foot in a TNA ring. The WWE messed this one up.
5 Brian Kendrick: ROH/WWE Return
Recently, Brian Kendrick headed back to where it all began as a member of ROH. Brian has bounced around the world and back throughout his professional wrestling career. Asides from his WWE career, Kendrick made some notable pit stops along the way, performing with promotions like TNA Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and several indie bookings.
Mainstream WWE fans were reminded of Kendrick on a couple of Total Divas episodes which saw Brian train WWE star Eva Marie at his Pro Wrestling School. After appearing with ROH, the WWE announced Kendrick as one of the select veteran names to appear during the WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic Tournament. Brian advanced in his first round matchup defeating Raul Mendoza, kicking off the tournament. You can expect the former WWE star to go deep into the tournament as his recognizable face will only add more draw value as we get deeper into the rounds.
4 Drew Galloway: TNA Wrestling/Pro Wrestling Guerilla/ICW/Evolve
Similar to Gail Kim, the WWE dropped the ball with Drew. Since leaving the company, there is no wrestler that has thrived more than McIntyre recreating his entire gimmick into an upper-card role as Drew Galloway. He hasn’t only thrived in TNA as the World Heavyweight Champion for the promotion, but he also found success on other stages with the likes of ICW, Evolve and Pro Wrestling Guerilla. He still keeps a prominent position with all these promotions due to the fact that TNA works a very light load. In addition, he also takes various independent bookings, making him one of the most worked and sought after wrestlers in the world at the moment.
At the age of 31, time is certainly on his side. With all this experience and success, you’ve got to believe that the WWE will soon come calling with their new emphasis on exciting and established indie stars. Don’t be surprised to see Drew with the NXT brand in a year or so, hopefully this time the company will do him right.
3 Shelton Benjamin: Pro Wrestling Noah
His constant dedication since leaving the WWE will most probably earn Benjamin another chance with the company during the brand extension. The company is currently looking for established stars in order to add brand depth (talent is also a huge focal point). Hard to find someone that fits this bill better than Shelton Benjamin.
His WWE departure back in April of 2010, was met with some huge criticisms by WWE fans who truly valued Benjamin’s in-ring work ethic. Despite this obvious factor, the WWE let the veteran go because of budget cuts. This decision did not slow down Benjamin one bit, as he thrived on the indie circuit and later with ROH. His best work came in 2012 till 2015 with New Japan, playing a prominent role as an invader with the promotion.
Still competing at his “Gold Standard” level, most of us hope Benjamin will make his highly anticipated return during the brand extension.
2 John Morrison: Lucha Underground
Similar to Chavo, both wrestlers felt like it was time to move up the card after years of service to the company. Morrison made it clear that if he would sign a new deal that he wanted some sort of creative control to a new gimmick. The company wouldn’t allow it and Morrison packed his bags in search for a more prominent position as “the guy” with another promotion. Once again, you have to admire his passion and ambition when making such a decision.
Since leaving back in 2011, Morrison has thrived under his new role as Johnny Mundo. He has enjoyed some great success on the indie circuit and with the likes of AAA Mexico. His most notable accomplishments came as the face of Lucha Underground (which is enjoying some tremendous success). His accomplishments with the promotion include a Gift of the Gods Championship, a Lucha Underground Trios Championship and the highly regarded Lucha Underground Championship. Morrison admitted a WWE return is very possible but as of now, his heart remains with the Lucha Underground brand.
1 Rey Mysterio: Lucha Underground
After a tremendous WWE run which lasted over a decade, Rey Mysterio’s run came to an end. At the end of it, both sides were rather bitter. Rey wanted out, while the company had nothing for him creatively and just wanted to hang onto him for merchandise purposes.
Immediately following his release, the announcement was made that Rey was headed back home to join AAA in Mexico. His decision to leave was personal; Mysterio admitted that growing up he had dreams of being the major face in a Lucha Libre style of promotion and not one like the WWE. With this in mind, he took his talents to Mexico and later made the jump to Lucha Underground. Mysterio admitted he was blown away by the promotion, and was immediately drawn by their emphasis on the Lucha Libre style which Rey is highly regarded for. These factors made his decision rather easy. It remains to be seen when (and if) Mysterio will return to the WWE.