Professional wrestling is nothing but a small circle. Wrestlers come and go all the time. Some fail in one promotion only to excel in the other. The same can be said for WWE. The sports and entertainment juggernaut is known for releasing a horde of talent on a yearly basis, citing “budgets cuts” as the reason. But for some WWE superstars, the premature exit has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. That being said, here are five WWE superstars who found success after being let go by the company.
If there’s one person who should be deemed worthy of the “belt collector” moniker, it’s Matt Cardona. You may remember him as the one Zack Ryder in WWE. Cardona started as one-half of the Edge Heads in 2008. The team found modest success until WWE decided they had enough of them.
As a solo competitor, Cardona found great success, becoming the self-proclaimed internet champion in the process. Unfortunately, WWE released him from his contract in 2020. That didn’t stop Cardona from becoming an indie darling. Safe to say that Cardona is winning title in every promotion he’s going.
Gail Kim won the WWE Women’s Championship in her debut match for Vince McMahon’s promotion. The success, however, was short lived and Gail Kim was released from her contractual obligations in 2004. Budget cuts, of course. IMPACT Wrestling picked her up shortly after her release. Gail Kim would go on to have the run of a lifetime in the promotion.
IMPACT recognized her talents and booked her to be the first-ever Knockouts World Champion, a title she held on more than five occasions. She is also the first woman to be inducted into the promotion’s Hall of Fame. Though Gail Kim returned to WWE in 2008, she realized it was a mistake and made her way back to IMPACT in 2011.
Bobby Lashley was built as a legitimate monster during his first run with the WWE. The former collegiate wrestling champion became a regular on SmackDown before getting drafted to WWE ECW. There, he won the brand’s top title. Lashley even had a marquee match at WrestleMania 23.
However, WWE never saw him as their top star and he was released from his contract in 2008. Lashley joined IMPACT Wrestling (then TNA) shortly after his WWE release. His first stint was brief but he returned to the promotion in 2014 and became their top star in a matter of months.
Drew McIntyre was the chosen one when he made his debut for Vince McMahon’s company. The Scottish Warrior had everything WWE was looking for in their next big star at the time. Unfortunately, McIntyre’s first run with the company turned him into a joke and he was released from his contract on June 12, 2014.
Just when everybody thought it was over for McIntyre, he used his WWE release to turn into one of the hottest stars on the independent circuit. McIntyre made a name for himself in every major promotion other than WWE. The company finally noticed his resurgence and brought him back into the fold in 2017. His current accolades include a Royal Rumble win and multi WWE Championship reigns.
Cody Rhodes is Vince McMahon’s dream of what a WWE superstar should look like. The grandson of the plumber made his triumphant return to his home promotion at WrestleMania 38. But the road to his illustrious comeback had a disheartening start in 2016.
Cody left WWE after having grown frustrated with the creative. It was on the independent circuit that the American Nightmare was born. Cody wrestled for IMPACT, New Japan and others before co-founding All Elite Wrestling in 2019. Now, he has his sights set on championship gold in WWE.