The dream of every wrestler entering the professional wrestling world is to make it to WWE. We all hear the interview of talents saying their goal is to main event WrestleMania. The sad truth is not everyone can achieve that and most likely won’t be able to find success in WWE. There are only so many spots on the roster and such a large field of competitors fighting for them. WWE also has a fair share of flaws associated with their structure. The best talent doesn’t always get a fair chance to succeed in the juggernaut of WWE and will have to find their spot elsewhere in pro wrestling.
Most wrestlers are afraid of losing their jobs in WWE due to the lack of consistent work out there. There’s no WCW to compete and offer massive contracts to talents unhappy with their careers in WWE. While there’s a lack of stability today, there’s still a great chance to reinvent a career and see it thrive elsewhere. Many wrestlers have found their greatest success in other promotions after leaving WWE. It has been going on for years, especially during the ECW era of the late 90s. We’ll look at the history of wrestlers to improve their standing following a split from the biggest wrestling promotion. These are fifteen of the best wrestlers who became much better after leaving WWE.
15 Ethan Carter III
WWE never knew what they had with Derrick Bateman until he became Ethan Carter III in TNA. EC3 is arguably the biggest star in Impact Wrestling today and one of the few reasons fans still tune into the program. The signs of potential were shown in small spurts on WWE television during the original NXT competition as the on-screen protégé of Daniel Bryan. Bateman was a spectacular comedic character but was never given any direction.
14 Shane Douglas
The debacle of Dean Douglas was one of the biggest disappointments of the 90s in pro wrestling. Shane Douglas always showed great potential and could have been a successful mid-carder but the silly gimmick of the dean ruined him. No one could buy into the hokey character of the educated Douglas rubbing his intelligence in the faces of the fans. The experiment failed instantly and Douglas departed the company faster than anyone could have imagined.
13 Taryn Terrell
Taryn Terrell had the looks of a major star with just about every physical asset a women’s wrestler could ask for. Between the bombshell good looks and the athleticism, she easily could have been a star for WWE in the right situation. The use of Terrell in WWE under the name of Tiffany was primarily as an authority figure as the General Manager for the ECW brand. They never put enough time into her improvement as a wrestler and released her when she didn’t appear ring ready.
12 Chris Hero
Many of the top independent wrestling stars signed to WWE in the past decade and became big stars. CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens stand out among the most successful to make the big jump. Chris Hero appeared to be next as one of the best overall wrestlers in the world when he was signed to NXT. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to team with his former partner Cesaro as the Kings of Wrestling and Hero was lost in the shuffle.
11 Lex Luger
Every longtime wrestling fan has a strong opinion on Lex Luger with most leaning towards the negative side. The physical specimen relied on his strength and look to become a successful name in pro wrestling. It worked to Luger’s advantage as he received more opportunities than deserved in both WWE and WCW. Vince McMahon originally signed Luger away from WCW with the intent to make him the next big superstar.
10 Matt Sydal
The WWE debut of Evan Bourne started the early stages of the change of culture in WWE. At just 5’8’’, he was one of the smaller members of the roster but received a respectable push as one of the most popular mid-carders in the company. The dazzling high-flying moves pulled off by Bourne were among the best ever done in WWE and the fan base fell in love with him until the final days of his tenure.
WWE has always been criticized with not knowing how to find or showcase credible female talent and the story of Catrina works against them. Under the name of Maxine, she had the special “it factor” of a stunning look and inherent charisma that showed within her presence. Dusty Rhodes went on record saying she was one of the best stars of either gender to come through WWE developmental but the powers that be never saw it.
8 Colt Cabana
The comedic work of Colt Cabana makes him an endearing and likeable performer that fans want to root for. Cabana made a name on the independent wrestling scene as a top name in Ring of Honor. WWE eventually signed him to a developmental contract but had no idea what to do with him. The name change to Scotty Goldman did him no favors and put his back against the wall before debuting.
7 Justin Credible
The wrestling career of Justin Credible was a tale of two completely different stories. WWE employed him in the early 90s to play the masked Aldo Montoya character. No one liked it and he looked like a kid made his mask with underwear and a pair of a scissors. The gimmick also prevented him from showing his skills as a wrestler and his value hit rock bottom. Aside from becoming a friend of The Kliq, nothing good happened during his early WWE career.
6 Gail Kim
Another example of a performer finding motivation from WWE failing to utilize them well is Gail Kim. Wrestlers perform at their best when placed in an environment where the promoter exhibits confidence in them. Gail never received that benefit and was used as a secondary member of the women’s division. WWE never appreciated Kim and her tremendous skills never could be displayed on a consistent basis in either of her stints there.
5 Kevin Nash
The biggest change in the pro wrestling business during the 90s featured Scott Hall and Kevin Nash leaving WWE for WCW to form the New World Order. Nash achieved main event success in WWE as a WWE Champion under the persona of Diesel. The title reign flopped horribly and he was going to be relegated to the mid-card. Nash saw the writing on the wall and decided to join WCW on a larger contract.
4 Trent Barreta
It would be perfectly understandable if you forgot Trent Barreta had a career in WWE. The talented in-ring competitor never received a big push and was typically an enhancement talent. Barreta was lost in the shuffle and could not get the opportunity to build up his name value. WWE released him unceremoniously leaving his future up in the air. Trent pulled off the impossible by using a few bookings to completely change the perception of him from just a guy into a top talent.
3 Drew Galloway
The career of Drew Galloway should have led to far more success in WWE but it just never happened. Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon all saw potential in him at a young age and introduced him on television with a huge push as “The Chosen One” Drew McIntyre. Between the large size, great look and athleticism, everyone predicted him being a future world champion but it never came to fruition.
2 Maria Kanellis
One of the most impressive stories of a performer improving greatly outside of WWE has to be Maria Kanellis. After a long tenure of consistent television time, Maria was shockingly fired and appeared to be in her final days in the wrestling business. Kanellis appeared at the random independent wrestling show but found success in Ring of Honor working with her real life significant other Mike Bennett. Portraying a heel character for the first in her career worked out perfectly for Maria to reinvent her brand.
1 Alberto Del Rio
The best example of a wrestler excelling after leaving WWE is actually a talent currently employed by the company. Alberto Del Rio achieved a great deal of success in WWE winning multiple world titles but he was almost always a bore. Years of irrelevancy killed the momentum of ADR into becoming a performer no one wanted to watch. The controversial moment of Del Rio slapping a backstage employee for making racist comments and getting fired for it forced him out of WWE.
Del Rio changed his reputations during his time on the independent wrestling scene with outstanding matches in ROH, AAA, Lucha Underground and many other promotions. We got to see his passion for wrestling again and he actually became one of the most exciting performers to watch. The work of Del Rio proved he is among the best in the world when at his best. Del Rio returning to WWE at the end of 2015 instantly lost all of the excitement behind him and he’s once again an irrelevant bore. We can only hope he ditches WWE to find his way back into being great again.
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