For countless Superstars in the past, a failed WWE career has either caused them to change career paths or to slowly fade away, wrestling for small independent promotions. Rarely do you see wrestlers thrive outside of the company in an attempt to recreate themselves. Cody Rhodes is the latest example of a wrestler who is attempting to do so. The good news is, some wrestlers today have thrived doing what Cody has done, leaving many to speculate that this will actually do wonders for Cody’s future as a performer.
On another note though, some have failed to regain the form they had under the bright lights of a WWE stage. More times than not, released WWE Superstars have faltered away from the company, so statistically, odds are that you won’t succeed.
The following article will take a look at both sides of the spectrum, featuring examples from the 90s, 2000s and today. Some of these wrestlers thrived while others plummeted to irrelevancy quickly. So let us begin. Here are seven wrestlers that found success outside of the WWE and seven that didn’t. Enjoy!
14 Did: Kevin Nash and Scott Hall
Kevin Nash and Scott Hall are regarded as the poster boys of this article, becoming some of the first wrestlers to ever find success outside of a WWE ring. Not only did the duo cash in nicely with absurd contract terms, but they also helped revolutionize the wrestling business and pave the way for a new era that had never been seen before. Their accomplishments are still being discussed today, and will live in the hearts of wrestling fans for years to come. Many wrestlers jumped ship to WCW back in the 90s, only to fall into irrelevancy rather quickly. Hall and Nash instead thrived, becoming the faces of WCW and contributing to their success that led to defeating the WWE for 84 weeks in a row. Not to mention Nash was a member of the creative team and defeated Goldberg, ending his illustrious win streak. These two wrestlers may go down in history as the two most successful wrestlers ever to jump ship.
13 Didn’t: Ultimate Warrior
Warrior’s run outside of the WWE was borderline embarrassing for the former WWE Champion who completely lost himself as a performer. In the midst of a revolutionary Attitude Era, Warrior’s gimmick became outdated causing wrestling fans to lose faith in a Superstar they once cherished in a different era. His promos were even more confusing, matches were a mess (particularly against Hogan at Halloween Havoc) and most importantly, his gimmick which made him thrive with the WWE simply didn’t work with WCW, which was ushering in new and “cool” talent era. Had the Warrior not been so money driven, he could have potentially bolstered his name and legacy even more with an extended run with the WWE in an effort to put over younger talent. Sadly, this didn’t happen.
12 Did: Gail Kim
In an era which saw the Divas division being in constant disarray struggling to find its image, Gail Kim was lost in the shuffle. Kim was by far, the best in-ring performer at the time- the only issue was the fact that Vince McMahon wasn’t into her at all. This eventually caused Gail to move down the card, and she would later shock everyone and ask for a release from the company. During her final match, Gail decided to leave on her own terms by eliminating herself during a Divas Battle Royal matchup. Since leaving the WWE, Gail has thrived on a smaller stage under the TNA lights. PWI’s former number one ranked Diva in the world is still performing at a high level at the age of 39. She is still a prominent part of the women’s division with the company, and a five time TNA Knockouts Champion. Although she left on terrible terms, several wrestling fans would love to see her back with the company mentoring the future WWE women down in NXT.
11 Didn’t: Bret Hart
Going to WCW eventually destroyed the career of the Hitman in more ways than one. Not only did he receive a career ending injury by Goldberg, but he also lost himself as a performer due to terrible bookings by WCW's creative team. His debut was awkward to say the least, aiding Sting in capturing the WCW Championship in what was one of the most confusing high profile matches of all time. It just seemed like everything they did with Bret was forced and unrealistic, like his stints as a member of the nWo. In Hart’s defense, leaving the WWE wasn’t his intention. The story goes that Vince actually asked Bret to leave so he can usher in a new era of young performers. Vince later changed his mind and attempted to keep Bret, but it was all too late, and Hart had already negotiated with WCW on his new terms. Unfortunately for Bret, the hype fell short on what could have been.
10 Did: Matt Hardy
It wasn’t till a kayfabe storyline involving his ex-girlfriend Lita, and former best friend Edge, that Matt finally rose to the upper-card as a legitimate main event performer. Although it was a pretty brutal situation, the angle turned out to be one of the best situations for Matt whose popularity rose to new heights, eventually opening the door to capturing some prominent championships like the ECW and United States Championships. Following his rise, things once again began to become stale for Matt, this time Hardy parted ways in an attempt to recreate himself as a performer away from the WWE. A surprise to many, Hardy did exactly what he set out to do and re-identified his entire gimmick, becoming an upper-card heel for TNA wrestling. In addition, Hardy had two reigns with the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, both runs as a face and heel. At the age of 41, Matt is still going strong with the company. It’ll be interesting to see if he will make a WWE return before he rides off into the sunset for good.
9 Didn’t: Jeff Hardy
Unlike his brother Matt, things were actually going really well for Jeff who was finally working the upper-card before his release. Not only was Hardy involved in a storyline with CM Punk, he also got the chance to capture the World Heavyweight Championship on multiple occasions, followed by a run with the WWE title. After leaving the company, Hardy would go through the worst spell of his career, losing himself in and out of the ring. In 2011, Hardy worked Wrestling Observer’s worst match of the year in an absolute embarrassment of a bout against Sting at Victory Road. The match was cut short due to Jeff showing up heavily intoxicated. Despite three runs with the TNA Championship, Jeff seems to have lost his swagger with TNA. It would be a great redemption story to see Hardy back in a WWE ring once again. Jeff admits, he wants one more run with the big company before calling it a career.
8 Did: Shelton Benjamin
With a growing trend of New Japan wrestlers making the move to the WWE, we hope that Shelton Benjamin will be among these names in the future, although he is currently working with Pro Wrestling Noah. After a shocking release from the WWE, Benjamin continued to do what he does best and that is to put on some great wrestling matches, which included some bouts with New Japan legend and NXT star Nakamura. At the age of 40, Shelton is still performing at a high level putting on some fantastic matches, most notably with ROH and New Japan. With American Alpha rising to prominence down in NXT, we hope to see Benjamin make a return and have some type of involvement with the team.
7 Didn’t: Scott Steiner
His return to the WWE ranks in 2002 actually got off to a promising start. Steiner made his debut at Survivor Series, receiving a thunderous pop from the MSG crowd. Unfortunately for Steiner, once he got in the ring for a match fans realized he was not the same performer he once was. Scott’s WWE run was a trainwreck (still to this day Steiner bashes the WWE writers and its talent for burying him). Much to everyone’s surprise, following his release Steiner would actually falter even more putting on confusing promos and slow paced matches for TNA. He is mostly remembered for getting into real scuffles with fans since leaving the WWE. At the age of 53, Scott is still wrestling, this time with Global Force Wrestling. A future Hall of Fame induction seems rather unlikely when looking at his past antics, which featured several bashings of Triple H and in one instance a threat to beat up Hulk Hogan.
6 Did: Drew Galloway
Still only 31, Drew is thriving outside of the WWE as one of the top performers in TNA, carrying their prestigious TNA World Heavyweight Championship. When Drew first appeared on WWE television as Drew McIntyre, many truly believed that he was deemed to be a star based on his 6’5 look, and his silky smooth wrestling ability. After a promising start and an Intercontinental Championship run, Drew was lost in the mix and eventually was relegated to a stable member with 3MB. In an attempt to recreate his brand value, Drew resorted back to his old name Drew Galloway, outside of the WWE. He’s been thriving ever since spending time with ICW, Evolve, TNA and Pro Wrestling Guerilla. So much potential untapped in a WWE ring; fans would love to see the new and improved Drew back with the company preferably starting down in NXT.
5 Didn’t: Ted DiBiase Jr.
Labelled as a huge future star with the WWE, Ted DiBiase Jr shocked the WWE universe when he announced his sudden departure from the company. Ted left the company in order to spend more time with his family and help out in his community with chartable work, which is certainly quite admirable. Unfortunately for Ted though, this would be the last we would hear of him. Following a hiatus from the wrestling ring, Ted made his return wrestling on the independent circuit. After a brief run, DiBiase once again announced his retirement, although you can still find him at wrestling conventions today.
4 Did: Ethan Carter III
When it comes to young talent, rarely do you see the WWE give up on a young gem especially in this day and age, which stresses the importance of young talent down in NXT. Well, Ethan Carter became a rare asset the WWE decided to part ways with, potentially missing out on a future WWE Champion. Carter spent years with developmental working with OVW, FCW and NXT. He spent a grand total of over five years as a developmental wrestler for the WWE, only to see it all come crashing down. After some feuds with Big E and Cesaro down in NXT, it seemed like new talent was emerging rather quickly. With this in mind, the bar was set really high making the WWE part ways with the potential gem. Following his release, Ethan spent time on the independent circuit. He later transitioned into TNA’s hottest star and into the face of the franchise. Carter would go on to win the title on two occasions cementing himself as the promotion's top star. Still only 33, do not be surprised if Carter returns to the WWE in one of the greatest redemption stories of all time. Stay tuned.
3 Didn’t: Sunny
At one point in time, Sunny was the most popular wrestling personality in the entire WWE. The company would put out random vignettes of her posing in a bikini, and this simple tactic would raise her value to new heights as she would become one of the most searched people on the entire planet during the mid-90s. Following a great run, the arrival of Sable would cause some tension in the locker room. This would eventually lead to some reckless behavior from Sunny which eventually caused her release. After leaving the company, Sunny’s stock would never reach the heights it was once at. After a couple of failed stints with ECW and WCW, Sunny would spend the rest of her career working independently and attending wrestling conventions. She would also enter the adult entertainment industry working adult Skype sessions, and recently signing a deal with Vivid Entertainment to work several adult films.
2 Did: DDP
From a failed WWE announcer to a WCW World Champion, perhaps nobody in pro wrestling history thrived more outside of the WWE than DDP. Passion was always on Page’s side. In the early 90s, DDP tried to break into the WWE as a commentator. He would eventually fail his tryout and be relegated to driving The Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine to the ring during WrestleMania VI. When Dusty Rhodes began to work for WCW he offered Page a minor deal with the company to begin as a manager. During his managerial role, DDP would train day in and day out still holding an ambition of performing in the ring. In true underdog fashion, Page would become one of the most loved figures in WCW history. Nash and Hall in particular loved Page and expressed interest in putting him over by attacking both Hall and Nash, who seemed untouchable during the peak of their nWo days. The angle went over and DDP became an instant star. He would go onto win the WCW Championship three times and would eventually become the fourth WCW Triple Crown Champion in history.
1 Didn’t: Vince Russo
It’s hard to find a wrestling personality that failed worse than Vince Russo outside of the WWE. His stock absolutely plummeted without the guidance of Vince McMahon. Russo put in the final dagger during his run with WCW. His journey with the company was so bad that those within the promotion thought Russo was brought in to purposely destroy WCW. His ideas tried to be innovative but just came across as wacky and so over the top that it was just embarrassing to watch. His run was so bad that wrestling fans remember him today more so for his failed WCW run than his success with the WWE during the hot Attitude Era. His legacy was ruined following his WWE release in 1999.