Wrestlers have started to realize they can make a great living outside of WWE. Many years have featured wrestlers believing WWE is the only game in town and the place they must work to find happiness. WWE is still the only promotion at its level as a global juggernaut, but other promotions also offer positive things for the free agents. All Elite Wrestling has launched with a huge backer and big goals for the future starting in May of 2019. New Japan and Ring of Honor are running a sold out Madison Square Garden venue during WrestleMania weekend as both companies grow. Even Impact Wrestling has its own place in the industry with a fun product.
The independent scene is booming as many other promotions run during the weekend to deliver great cards. Wrestlers benefit most from this as they don’t have to continue wrestling in WWE if they don’t want to. Rumors have indicated that The Revival, Mike Kanellis, and Maria Kanellis have requested their release in recent weeks. Part of this is due to the success achieved by other wrestlers that have left WWE. We will look at the wrestlers thriving, struggling, and everything in-between in the life after WWE. Find out just what these former superstars are up to right now. These are twenty recently released WWE superstars and an update on where they are wrestling today.
Join us for Where These 20 Recently Released WWE Superstars Are Wrestling Today.
20 Big Cass: Independent circuit
Things changed so quickly for Big Cass within a few months. The return from an injury showcased Cass in the biggest angle of his career against Daniel Bryan. WWE used Bryan’s first singles feud storyline after getting cleared to come out of retirement to face off with Cass.
Backstage issues caused WWE to give up on Cass and surprisingly release him. Cass made a few appearances on independent promotions with his biggest match coming against MVP at Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore. Currently, he is recovering from a health issue but was recently brought in for "a work" at an ROH G1Supercard event. Perhaps Big Cass will be back in the limelight sooner than we think.
19 Rich Swann: Impact Wrestling
Former Cruiserweight Champion Rich Swann was a major part of the 205 Live Show and cruiserweight division in the early stages. Swann, however, lost favor with WWE when he was in the news for negative things. WWE took a wait and see approach with Swann, but he wanted the release if they didn’t plan to use him any time soon.
A connection with Impact Wrestling would see Swann become a full-time roster member and an important fixture on the show. Swann would win the X-Division Championship and is the face of that division. Impact even discussed Swann as one of the opponents for Chris Jericho if he agreed to show up, but a deal was not reached. This still shows how much Impact believes in Swann.
18 Rosa Mendes: Recently returned on independent circuit
Rosa Mendes is not a name most wrestling fans associate with having great matches in WWE. The prior hires of former models landed Mendes a spot on the main roster despite not having the best in-ring skills. WWE eventually transitioned her into a manager and broadcaster.
The departure from WWE would see Rosa take a few years off from the ring before getting the itch to come back in 2018. Mendes wrestled two matches on the independent circuit last year for the MCW promotion. Rosa even attended a Ring of Honor show hoping to build connections for an opportunity there. Time will tell if she can get her foot in the door of a bigger promotion again.
17 Ryback: Taking time off from independent circuit
Ryback leaving WWE was a big story since WWE always had some level of faith in him. The huge push of Ryback to start his run with that character put him on the upper tier of wrestlers in the company. An inability to get over to the next level led to Ryback falling lower in the mid-card picture.
WWE still valued Ryback for the depth, but he requested to leave once his contract ended. Ryback has wrestled on the independent circuit for smaller promotions since leaving. However, he is taking some time off now to focus on other projects. The last few appearances for Ryback took place in NEW Wrestling back in the summer of 2018.
16 Sawyer Fulton: Independent circuit
Sawyer Fulton is the forgotten former member of the Sanity faction. The removal of Fulton left the core of Eric Young, Killian Dain, Alexander Wolfe and Nikki Cross. Fulton was in the NXT system for quite some time trying to find a way to break out. It just never happened for him, and he would eventually get releases from his contract.
Fulton has continued wrestling on the independent scene trying to impress one of the bigger promotions to give him a shot. Independent companies like Chikara, TRUE Wrestling, Rockstar Pro Wrestling, and many others have brought him in. Fulton has even wrestled legends like Raven and Tommy Dreamer on the indie scene, but his hope is to land a contract with ROH or AEW.
15 Enzo Amore: Not wrestling
One big name to get fired from WWE and have zero interest in wrestling is Enzo Amore. The always controversial Enzo found success in NXT thanks to his wild personality. Enzo even did well enough on the main roster to sell merchandise well, but the problem was his attitude. WWE released him despite many believing in his potential.
Unlike most others to get released from WWE, Enzo is not trying to continue his wrestling career. The hope for him is to become a successful rapper after releasing a few seasons. Enzo did make wrestling headlines by sitting in the ringside area for Survivor Series and causing a disruption. That’s likely the last time we’ll see him on a WWE show. That said, Enzo was spotted with Big Cass at a recent ROH G1Supercard event when the duo rushed the match.
14 Simon Gotch: MLW
The tag team of Aiden English and Simon Gotch had strong potential in WWE thanks to the NXT run as Tag Team Champions. It never worked out on the main roster. Gotch would get released with WWE management not viewing him as having the same upside of English.
The post-WWE career of Gotch has seen him wrestling for many independent promotions. Gotch tried his luck in a few Ring of honor appearances before finding his primary place in MLW. A small television deal has MLW trying to grow and Gotch appears to be one of the names that will be a big part of their future. He still wrestles for smaller indie shows as well.
13 Ho Ho Lun: Wrestling in China
WWE hyped the signing of Ho Ho Lun to show their approach to scouting the international scene. Lun showed great potential as a young prospect making the move from Hong Kong. Appearances in the Cruiserweight Classic and on NXT showed that WWE wanted to do something with him.
Unfortunately, Lun would have to leave to help take care of his ailing mother. The request for a release was granted. Lun is still wrestling internationally for the Chinese promotion King of Pro Wrestling among other smaller international companies. His goal is to eventually return to WWE when life is stable, and he is an even better wrestler.
12 James Ellsworth: Independent circuit
James Ellsworth returning to WWE in 2018 was a big surprise when he helped Carmella defeat Asuka in multiple matches. This was the only purpose for Ellsworth in his second run as WWE would release him shortly after for the second time in as many years.
Ellsworth has continued wrestling on the independent circuit. He even made his own title called the Intergender Championship that he brings to various shows. Ellsworth has even appeared for relevant promotions like Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor (on Chris Jericho’s Cruise) and NWA. None has signed him to a contract which makes Ellsworth a free agent on the indie scene.
11 CJ Parker: New Japan and Ring of Honor
Former NXT talent CJ Parker made a bold move when asking for his release from WWE. Parker realized he was never going to move up the card until he improved and made a name for himself outside of WWE. He wanted to travel the path of friends like Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and Finn Balor.
The new name of Juice Robinson would be his identity in New Japan. Following a run in the NJPW Dojo, Robinson became a fixture for the promotion. Various departures have Juice slotted as one of the top American names there and he is the current U.S. Champion. Ring of Honor also has Robinson as a top star for 2019 as he leads the new stable known as Lifeblood.
10 Summer Rae: Appears at shows in non-wrestling capacity
Summer Rae showed great potential during her time in NXT as a heel personality. Dusty Rhodes viewed her as a future star, but WWE did not showcase it at full potential. Following a few years of ups and downs, Summer would get released with a few others that weren’t doing much.
The post-WWE life for Summer has her mostly modeling and growing that aspect of her career under her real name of Danielle Moinet. Summer has not wrestled a match outside of WWE, but she has shown up at a few indie promotions to sign meet fans with autograph signings. The role of Summer has her still doing things in wrestling and many fans hope she will return to the ring at some point soon.
9 Adam Rose: Independent circuit
Adam Rose was one of the biggest busts to get called up from NXT and do nothing on the main roster. There was hope for Rose when his Exotic Express gimmick showcased the charming party animal with a group of friends in wild costumes dancing to the ring.
Rose could not make the gimmick work on the main roster as comedy characters typically don’t thrive. A few incidents would lead to WWE cutting ties with Rose and releasing him to free agency. Rose claimed to retire for a short time, but he has continued wrestling over the past for smaller promotions. MCW, ARW, and other lesser-known companies use Rose these days.
8 Tajiri: Wrestling in Japan
The legendary career of Tajiri in Japan has made him a top veteran there. North American fans also have a strong love for Tajiri due to his entertaining runs in both WWE and WCW. WWE brought Tajiri back for the cruiserweight division on 205 Live. Injury issues prevented Tajiri from getting an angle and WWE eventually decided to let him go.
Tajiri continues to wrestle at 48 years old in Japan today. All Japan Pro Wrestling is currently his main home along with appearances in other companies like Wrestle-1 and Big Japan. Tajiri will likely have a role in the Japanese wrestling circuit until he makes the decision to retire at some point.
7 Darren Young: Independent circuit
Darren Young had a solid run in WWE with his greatest success coming in the Prime Time Players tag team with Titus O’Neil. Both wrestlers worked well together and had a couple of WWE Tag Team Championship reigns during their time as a unit. WWE eventually split them up and Young could never find success as a singles wrestler.
WWE made the call to release Young just one day after he represented them at a WWE appreciation night for a Los Angeles Clippers game. Young has been involved in a few projects since leaving WWE and is still wrestling on the independent circuit. Promotions like Chikara, WrestleCade and Big Time Wrestling showcased him in 2018. Young is hoping to wrestle more and make bigger moves this year.
6 Santino Marella: Independent circuit
Santino Marella wrestled his final match for WWE in 2014 after gaining some injuries. The legacy of Santino is one of the greatest comedy wrestlers in WWE history. Santino’s style is simple enough for him to wrestle without taking too many risks or worrying about receiving injuries as easily as the average competitor.
Most fans missed Santino coming out of retirement a few years ago for limited appearances on the independent circuit. Santino has wrestled internationally for companies like BCW, UCW, and WrestleZone. Impact Wrestling also employs him for broadcasting work on the Twitch channel. A tag team dream team of Santino and Colt Cabana will see them unite for a WrestlePro soon as 2019 will see more bookings for Santino.
5 Wade Barrett: Lucha Underground and World of Sport
Wade Barrett has been very selective with his schedule since leaving WWE. The decision to walk away from the company was mostly inspired by the desire to chase an acting career. Barrett has filmed a few movies and enjoys that new field, but he has started taking steps to return to wrestling.
World of Sport has employed Barrett as an authority figure booking the matches and taking part in storylines without wrestling. Lucha Underground also brought him as a huge reveal at the end of last season which means he’d be a top star if another season is filmed. Barrett has not wrestled a match after WWE, but it seems like a matter of time before he does.
4 Austin Aries: Independent circuit
Austin Aries left WWE in 2017 after spending his main roster run in the cruiserweight division. There were a few cool moments like his NXT debut and competing at WrestleMania against Neville, but the fit was a bad one otherwise. Aries was released and seemed content to return to his old stomping grounds.
Impact Wrestling was the main home of Aries in 2018 before his contract expired and he left in controversial fashion. Aries is now a free agent wrestling for smaller promotions. WSW, Warrior Wrestling, and the Hawaiian promotion Unify Championship Wrestling have been the main promotions of Aries since leaving Impact.
3 Jack Swagger: Lucha Underground
The departure of Jack Swagger from WWE featured a rare former World Champion hitting the free agent market. Swagger only had one world title reign and it was a huge flop, but this showed that WWE once believed he could mature into a top star for them.
Life after WWE has seen Swagger wrestling for various independent promotions. Lucha Underground became his main home while still wrestling for smaller companies as well. Swagger ended the past season as the Lucha Underground Champion. A passion for MMA will also see him make his debut for Bellator in 2019. Swagger has a full schedule outside of WWE.
2 Emma: Ring of Honor
WWE did nothing of note with Emma and seemed to give up on her once it became apparent that she could not deliver on the Emmalina gimmick they wanted. Emma would get released despite being one of the best in-ring performers on the roster during her time in NXT.
The independent circuit has been kind to Emma as she has wrestled under her real name of Tenile Dashwood. Ring of Honor is the main home for Dashwood these days as she is still appearing while recovering from a serious injury. Dashwood is part of the Lifeblood faction and will be the face of the women’s division there once she’s cleared to compete.
1 Neville: All Elite Wrestling and Dragon Gate
Neville became one of the hottest free agents on the market in 2018 when WWE released him. The unhappy nature of being stuck in the cruiserweight division with no chance to move up led to Neville requesting his release. WWE kept him home for months before letting him walk as his contract expired.
Neville has mostly wrestled for the Japanese promotion Dragon Gate for personal happiness and loyalty since they booked him before he was a star. A few smaller UK promotions have had him on the card as well. Neville, however, made the biggest decision for his future when becoming one of the first major signings for All Elite Wrestling. He is expected to be one of the faces of the new company moving forward.