Here at the beginning of 2019, professional wrestling has changed incredibly and the first month is not even over yet. With the birth of All Elite Wrestling (AEW), along with the continuous success of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Major League Wrestling, and IMPACT Wrestling, and other independent promotions, wrestling is becoming more than a one company race. And with that happening, the wrestlers in the biggest pro wrestling company in the world want to find new homes because they feel they deserve better than what they are receiving from WWE. With wrestlers like The Revival, Mike Kanellis, and most recently Hideo Itami and former WWE Champion Dean Ambrose informing their respective company that they want out, it raises hope in the wrestling world, along with looking at what happens when you move on and try to prove you’re worth more than the creative team views. Leaving WWE isn’t something new, however, and many stars have clearly benefited from moving on, proving their worth and even catching WWE’s eye once again. Let’s take a look at the wrestlers who believed in themselves and showed they were a real loss for the WWE.
Davey Boy Smith Jr.
As the son of the British Bulldog, wrestling has been in Davey Boy Smith Jr.’s blood since birth. On August 5th, 2011, Davey Boy was let go from the WWE after a run on the main roster that included winning tag team gold with Tyson Kidd as part of the Hart Dynasty. While at the time this may have been seen as not a huge deal, Davey Boy has turned his career completely around becoming a mainstay on the independent circuit in tag team and singles competition. After being let go from the WWE, he would take his talents to Japan to join New Japan Pro Wrestling. In 2012, he and Lance Archer formed the team Killer Elite Squad, who have been big-time players in the heavyweight tag division in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Smith and Archer have become three-time IWGP Tag Team Champions in their tenure, as well as being two-time NWA World Tag Team Champions. Davey Boy has competed all around the world as top star, competing in Pro Wrestling NOAH, DEFY, and Ring of Honor among others. Davey Boy recently signed with Major League Wrestling (MLW), which is a great move for both sides. It is clear while Davey Boy has been on indie scene for a while, he has proven he is a name that WWE should have held on to.
On June 12th, 2014, Drew McIntyre was released from the WWE after a questionable run in the company. From being Vince McMahon’s “chosen one” on screen all the way to playing air guitar in 3MB with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal, the Scottish Psychopath never truly found his footing in WWE prior to moving on in the summer of 2014. Once he was out on his own, he did something that many wrestlers who leave their big-time company try to mirror. McIntyre reinvented himself, returning to the indies as Drew Galloway and wrestling all around the world in companies like EVOLVE, Insane Championship Wrestling, IMPACT, Defiant, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Doing so, he got to wrestle some of the best in the world while making it known that he was also one of the best in the squared circle. He captured multiple championships on his ride through the indies, a ride that saw him return to the WWE with NXT. And since he has come back to his once former company, he has become a main event player on the flagship show, Monday Night RAW.
For those who don’t know, Tanga Loa, one-half of the Guerillas of Destiny and current Bullet Club member, was once a part of the WWE. Formerly Camacho, Loa was released along with McIntyre on June 12th, 2014. When Loa was released, he took most of 2014 off until he showed up in IMPACT Wrestling in 2015, joining a group that oddly enough involved McIntyre known as The Rising. His tenure with IMPACT was short-lived, however, as he found his true home in 2016 with New Japan Pro Wrestling. It’s there he joined the Bullet Club with his brother Tama Tonga. After joining the Bullet Club, he truly found his footing with his brother as the team Guerillas of Destiny, being one of the top heavyweight teams in the company. He has captured the IWGP Tag Team Championships four times as part of the Bullet Club, as well as the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championships three times. Loa continues to be a part of the Bullet Club to this day, being a key part of NJPW as lots of change continues to happen. Loa has done just fine for himself since his days in the WWE to say the least.
John Morrison (aka Johnny Mundo, Johnny Impact)
In December 2011, WWE had announced that they had come to terms on John Morrison leaving the WWE, leaving many fans confused despite not being pushed nearly as much as he was the year prior. While many stories have been made about Morrison’s end to his WWE tenure, it was always known in the wrestling community that this could be a big loss eventually. And the reason he follows McIntyre here is due to him seemingly going inactive in the world of wrestling for a few years to work on other projects. He wrestled a very limited number of matches in 2012 and 2013, but it was 2014 where Morrison would return to the spotlight of the pro wrestling world once again. Debuting on the new Lucha Underground television show as Johnny Mundo not only returned the “Shaman of Sexy” back into professional wrestling but made him a main event player. While he is the reigning IMPACT World Champion, he captured the AAA World Heavyweight Championship and Lucha Underground Championship as well. He has worked with a multitude of companies since his return to professional wrestling like MLW, IMPACT and many others. Almost eight years since his WWE release and Morrison is on top of the wrestling world.
April 3rd, 2015. For whoever does not know, this was the day that CJ Parker of NXT, now the Juice Robinson you know and love, was granted his release from the WWE. And while his CJ Parker may go down as being most known for breaking Kevin Owens’ nose in Owens’ NXT debut at NXT Takeover: Revolution, Juice Robinson has become a centerpiece in the independent wrestling scene. Per the Observer, Robinson was understanding that he wasn’t going to make it to the main roster, so he knew it was time to go out on his own. In 2015, Robinson signed with New Japan Pro Wrestling, and despite being in NXT, he somewhat remained an unknown to many fans at the time. Since that time, however, the Flamboyant One has become a fan favorite and a budding star in the world of wrestling through his incredibly real promos, excellent in-ring storytelling, and his flamboyant self. He has become the first ever two-time NJPW United States Champion, beating Jay White the first time and Cody Rhodes most recently at Wrestle Kingdom 13. He has made countless appearances on Ring of Honor, being a fan favorite in Japan and the US, and even declined a contract offer from WWE to remain with NJPW for the next few years. Juice has made himself a star and now leads a new faction in ROH called Lifeblood.
When Sami Callihan signed with the WWE in 2013, it was supposed to be a huge signing for them as Callihan was a popular hand on the independent scene for many years before. Instead, he was given a hacker gimmick as Solomon Crowe and seemingly never was able to catch fire like many expected him to. On November 25th, 2015, Callihan left WWE and returned to the indie scene. The 31-year-old has been a big-time player since then, being a part of some big-time feuds and even making headlines through TMZ for hitting Eddie Edwards in the head with a baseball bat just last year. He played a big role on Lucha Underground as Jeremiah Crane, as well as his continuous success in IMPACT Wrestling since 2017. In 2018, he had some incredible feuds with Pentagon Jr., as they went to war for several months in some hardcore classics, Eddie Edwards as stated before, and most recently Willie Mack. Callihan has been a big part of the US indie scene especially, being apart of Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore, his old home of Combat Zone Wrestling, MLW, and even a few appearances in ROH last year. Callihan remains incredibly young despite his already great resume, maybe WWE comes calling again soon, but for now, he will continue to be the main attraction on the independent scene.
Cody and Brandi Rhodes
While everyone on this list has had success after leaving WWE, none may have had as much as Cody and Brandi Rhodes. When it comes to Cody, he was granted his release from the WWE on May 22nd, 2016 after being Stardust and not really getting guided away from that. He saw it was time for a change and left on good terms from the company. Brandi followed just two days later, receiving her release and going with her husband. While it was fair to think Cody could find success on the outside, it was never expected to get to where we are today. In 2016, it felt as though Cody went everywhere, he possibly could, in hopes of earning a name and becoming something bigger. He became a full-time independent wrestler, wrestling in companies like Northeast Wrestling, Defiant Wrestling, PWG, and House of Glory. He would then have a short run in IMPACT in a feud with Mike Bennett and go on to ROH to find his independent home. It was from there that he would join Bullet Club at Wrestle Kingdom 11, adding the nickname of the “American Nightmare” and would find The Elite, who would go on to rule the wrestling world. Signing with ROH exclusively, Cody won his first ever world championship against Christopher Daniels at ROH Best in the World in 2017. It was this moment that it felt that Cody had made it.
For Brandi on the other hand, she became Cody’s manager for most of his matches and a perfect addition to the act. Brandi went from being a ring announcer in the WWE to a manager for Cody and even a wrestler. She was featured in the Women of Honor Tournament in Ring of Honor to crown the first ever Women of Honor World Champion. As she continues to get better, she remains a fan favorite, not needing Cody beside her to get a reaction, which really shows her excellence.
And of course, Cody would work together with the Young Bucks to create the first big arena PPV for independent wrestling known as All In in Chicago, where he won the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship. This was not just a huge success but would lead to the confidence for the Cody-Young Buck trio to go on and take a chance on themselves and what they believe in, turning down WWE and starting All Elite Wrestling. It is clear that Cody and Brandi have proven themselves after their tenure with WWE.
Can you handle this? Rich Swann was at one time a huge part of WWE’s Cruiserweight Division, including capturing the WWE Cruiserweight Championship on the first episode of 205 Live. However, it was reported on December 10th of 2017 that Swann had been arrested on multiple charges involving domestic violence. And while the charges were eventually dropped, Swann was released by the WWE on February 15th, 2018. Swann had a tough time getting past this, mulling retirement even. Yet, Swann was able to land on his feet as many would expect this very talented wrestler to do. Swann would hit the independent circuit for a lot of 2018, participating in MLW and Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) to name a few, before finding a home in IMPACT Wrestling as one of their key guys in the X-Division. Swann would capture the IMPACT X-Division Championship at IMPACT Homecoming, winning the title in an Ultimate X match. Despite a tough go after being released, Swann has proven that he is one of the best wrestlers in the world with jaw-dropping matches for IMPACT Wrestling and will continue to do so as their X-Division Champion.
Possibly the weirdest story on this list is the story of PAC. Formerly Neville in the WWE, he walked out on the WWE in October of 2017. After being the second longest reigning NXT Champion and one of the most dominant wrestlers in the WWE as the self-proclaimed “King of the Cruiserweights” winning two Cruiserweight Championships (including the longest since its return to the company), PAC was done and walked out. And it wasn’t until August 24th of 2018 that one of the best wrestlers in the world was finally granted his release from the WWE. PAC returned to his former home of Dragon Gate, making a splash in the wrestling world after almost a year of not being heard from for the most part. PAC was back home, even stating on Twitter that the “KING IS DEAD”, taking a shot at his former nickname in WWE. It was clear that when PAC walked out of WWE, they knew what they were losing which is why the froze his contract for such a long time. Since his return to Dragon Gate, he has captured the Open The Dream Gate Championship. And to make an even bigger splash, he appeared at the big AEW rally to get in the face of Hangman Page, signaling a big signing for AEW and showing PAC is ready to show what the WWE lost out on by miscasting him for such a long time.
As more and more wrestlers continue to look for new beginnings outside of WWE, it is fair to say that they have people to look to for the success they dream of.