Among these wrestlers are former champions, Money in the Bank winners, and wrestlers who shared a stable with Hall of Fame superstars. However, they were ultimately released from their contracts before fully having the chance to spread their wings in WWE.
1. Damien Sandow
Damien Sandow won the WWE Money in the Bank briefcase in 2013 but held the infamous honor of being the first wrestler to cash it in unsuccessfully.
On a night when John Cena had an injured arm, Sandow announced he was cashing in and proceeded to beat Cena down. However, John Cena would end up with the victory.
"Look, I was cast not to win,” Sandow explained in an interview with Chris Van Vliet.
“I needed to put my ego aside. I had to make people feel something in that match, an emotional response.”
Soon later, Damien Sandow became Mizdow and was paired with The Miz. He understood his role, and the gimmick was well-received by the audience.
In a four-way tag team match at Survivor Series in 2014, the pair captured the WWE Tag Team Championship by defeating the defending champions Gold and Stardust, The Usos, and Los Matadores, but tensions brewed, and their reign was short-lived.
The payoff was Sandow eliminated The Miz at WrestleMania 31 in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal where he would receive a huge pop.
Speculation was rampant that the two would face off at WrestleMania, but instead, the rivalry ended on an April edition of Monday Night Raw.
The Miz won, and Sandow would get released.
“Whatever happened, that’s how it is,” Sandow, now going as Aron Stevens, would later say.
“Thank you very much; it’s time to move on."
On his WWE release, he added, "I don’t think life is worth a paycheck necessarily all the time.
“When you feel creatively stuck and they view you as this; that’s all you’ll ever be. I did not feel like I was being creatively challenged enough, and I just think it was time to move on."
Aron returned to wrestling in 2019 for the NWA and has been making appearances since then for the promotion.
2. Mark Jindrak
Another rising star, one who almost had the opportunity to be in one of the most significant factions of the Ruthless Aggression Era, was Mark Jindrak.
Jindrak had the build, shine, and potential, but when the vignettes for the stable were being filmed, something was missing.
In an interview for the WWE Ruthless Aggression documentary, Triple H explained that Jindrak missed the memo on wearing a black suit for Evolution vignettes.
Soon later, Triple H went to Vince saying, "I don’t want him in the group. We’ve all decided this. He doesn’t fit."
Jindrak recently shared his side of the story, explaining how his behavior did not bode well with Triple H.
“I was immature. [Triple H] hated my antics."
Jindrak was switched out for Batista and taken out of the picture.
In 2003, Jindrak began making appearances as “The Reflection of Perfection”, a narcissistic heel gimmick obsessed with his own physique, similar to Lex Luger‘s “Narcissist” character, followed by tag-teaming with Luther Reigns.
Both storylines fizzled out due to not clicking with the audience, and Jindrak was released in July of 2005.
After WWE, Jindrak wrestled for CMLL, AAA, and Lucha Libre USA. He became the first American to win the CMLL World Championship in 2017, and he also had a reign with the Trios Championship.
Mark Jindrak has not been in the ring since 2020 but did pitch a match with Triple H at WrestleMania – a match that will now never come to fruition with Paul “Triple H” Levesque announcing his retirement from in-ring competition in March 2022.
3. Wade Barrett
Nexus was another stable that was red-hot. Wade Barrett was the leader, and Nexus raised hell wherever they went.
The storyline heading into SummerSlam in 2010 was Team WWE vs. Team Nexus, with the final member of Nexus being Daniel Bryan.
The original result was supposed to see Team Nexus going over Team WWE and receiving massive heat from the audience. However, plans changed.
Before the show, Vince McMahon looked Wade Barrett in the eye and said (as he revealed to Inside the Ropes), "The reason we are doing this is because SummerSlam has to have a happy ending. I want kids to go home happy!"
John Cena defeated a rising stable filled with potential and turned Wade Barrett into a leader of another heel stable called “The Corre” with Justin Gabriel, Heath Slater, and Ezekiel Jackson, which soon fell into oblivion.
Barrett’s career in WWE was revived as Bad News Barrett, where he rose from a podium and told the WWE Universe, "I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news!"
Vince loved the name but not much else, and Barrett was left with no choice but to run with the ball.
Upon his first attempts, the gimmick didn’t get over with the audience. However, as soon as Barrett added a gavel and podium, Bad News Barrett got over, but as mentioned earlier, Vince only liked the name.
Although Barrett would be crowned king at the 20th King of the Ring tournament in 2015, he would be released from WWE the following May.
His in-ring career is now over, and he is now on commentary, but he could have been more if given the time and commitment.
4. Gail Kim
Before any women’s evolution in WWE, there was a talented female superstar who became a casualty of the diva’s revolution. That woman? Gail Kim.
Kim had two runs in WWE. In her first run, she won the WWE Women’s Championship in her first televised match, a seven-woman battle royal on the June 30, 2003 episode of Raw.
She held the title for four weeks.
Gail Kim would later be “wished well on her future endeavors” for the first time on November 3, 2004.
Kim’s release caught her off guard, especially as she was on Raw the week of her release. She was told the reason for her release was that management wanted to take the women’s division in a different direction.
Kim re-signed with WWE in 2008 after her three-year contract with TNA (now Impact) expired.
In an interview with Fight Network, Gail Kim described her experience of returning to WWE.
"I remember looking back at the crowd sometimes and [thinking that] they were not invested at all.
She continued, “I tried to do my best when I had singles matches [in WWE], but they were far and few between. I eventually became so unhappy and I couldn’t stay."
Comparing WWE to Impact Wrestling, Kim explained, "I was a completely different person [in WWE]. I walked on eggshells.
“I never felt at all that I needed to be someone else in Impact. They make me feel more comfortable.
"I never felt like Gail was good enough in WWE because I could never be myself. My personality did not fit there. I don’t think they like strong, outspoken woman."
Gail’s second and final stint with the WWE ended when she eliminated herself from a Battle Royal for the Divas Championship by sliding under the bottom rope.
Kim would admit that she did it because she was told she had to be out of the match within the first minute. She followed orders while also taking matters into her own hands.
She tweeted a few days later that she quit the WWE, but the WWE refused to release her.
After sitting out the final two months of her WWE contract, Gail Kim returned to Impact Wrestling where she’d win the Knockouts Championship an additional five times and tag team titles while there.
Gail Kim retired from in-ring competition in 2019.
She was a wrestler ahead of her time and is often hailed as one of the greatest women wrestlers of all time. She is in the Impact Wrestling Hall of Fame and currently a producer for the company.
5. Rusev / Miro
“The Bulgarian Brute” Alexander Rusev (now known as Miro in AEW) debuted alongside his manager/wife Lana in 2014, pummeling the competition with his signature move, The Accolade.
He was booked as a monster initially, won the United States Championship, and boasted a 38-match unbeaten streak.
Soon, Rusev would start a program with John Cena and lose his first match in WWE at WrestleMania 31 after entering the arena on a tank!
Did you know?: Fans still talk about Rusev’s tank entrance at WrestleMania 31 as one of the best ‘Mania entrances of all time. However, for Lana and Rusev, that day, and tank, in particular, are memorable for a different reason altogether! According to Lana on her Instagram account, she and Rusev totally “did it” in that tank before the big show!
In 2015, Rusev would join the League of Nations stable composed of Sheamus from Ireland, King Barrett from England, Rusev from Bulgaria, and Alberto Del Rio from Mexico. Soon, their villainous stable would be at the receiving end of a beatdown by Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and Shawn Michaels.
In 2017, Rusev would be paired with Aiden English, where "RUSEV DAY" organically got over huge with the fans.
On his YouTube channel, Miro shared the story of how Vince McMahon reacted to their rising, unplanned popularity with the fans.
"Hey Vince, we have something here," Miro recalled telling Vince.
"No, [the fans are just messing] with you,” was his reply.
Miro pointed to merchandise sales, but Vince didn’t budge, stating they made too little.
Despite being over with the fans and having a Casket Match against the Undertaker at 2018’s Greatest Royal Rumble event, Rusev was never given a chance to flourish in the WWE.
On Ryback’s podcast, Miro would reveal that after his shoulder surgery in 2017, WWE management never reached out to him to check in on him, which was upsetting for him.
"After shoulder surgery, after I gave up my life for this company, not even one person reached out,” Miro revealed.
“I was lying there in the hospital by myself, and nobody cared.”
After his WWE release in 2020, he debuted in AEW as Miro. He has since won the TNT Championship and has been putting on clinics with the likes of Bryan Danielson and others. His redemption was one of 2021’s greatest wrestling stories.
6. Alex Riley
Alex Riley was initially paired in the WWE with The Miz and was primed for a push that never came.
There is a lot of speculation about why Riley didn’t accomplish more in WWE, but Riley himself says it was due to backstage controversy with another popular superstar: John Cena.
"We just didn’t like each other," Riley admitted on Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling podcast.
Over the years, Riley has stated that his career in WWE took a turn for the worse after standing up for himself backstage with John Cena, claiming John followed this by using the power he held backstage to influence his career negatively.
"There was a situation where [Cena] stood on his belief system of what he believed it took to be a main event wrestler in the WWE, and I stood on mine."
Riley added that before this, the powers-that-be were high on him.
"I know [Vince] was a fan of mine. I know he believed I was massively talented", Riley declared.
"I was given an opportunity by management of WWE. They had enough confidence to put me on live worldwide television."
Alex Riley’s time in the ring grew scarce after 2013, and he would spend time in the color commentator role before his release by the WWE in 2016.
He has said that he would return but on his own merits.
7. Marty Jannetty
No strangers to controversy, the wild pairing of Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, collectively known as “The Rockers,” split in 1992.
"We had to talk about a way to split up,” Jannetty admitted in an interview on Hannibal TV, discussing the infamous incident where HBK gave him Sweet Chin Music through a barbershop window.
“We actually pitched [the idea] together!”
Michaels became one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, while Jannetty would have personal and professional problems that would result in regular suspensions, firings, and missed career opportunities.
The barbershop incidents led to a rivalry between Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty heading into 1993’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view.
The two practiced and wrestled a day before the event and were given a standing ovation. However, Marty explained the match was changed by agents, which disrupted its flow at the Rumble.
“Guys, come here. I need to talk to you. Very disappointed,” Marty remembered Vince McMahon telling them after their match.
Being the opening match of the big pay-per-view, the boss wasn’t impressed.
Jannetty was fired the following day over allegations of being intoxicated or hungover during the contest. Jannetty has always denied this and has stated he believes that Michaels himself started this rumor.
Marty would return to the company two months later, where he would win the Intercontinental Championship off his former partner, Shawn Michaels.
His first and only singles title run in the WWF would be short-lived, with Michaels winning the championship back at a house show a few weeks later.
He would appear on WWE television over the years to reignite his rivalry with Shawn Michaels, who beat him in a WWF Championship match on Monday Night Raw in 1996.
In his last appearance in the company, the two reunited where Jannetty saved Michaels from the Spirit Squad in 2008.
Marty Jannetty had a career of several high points but also one of unfulfilled potential.
Further reading: Marty Jannetty – His Turbulent Life After The Rockers
8. Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe has a great look, exceptional mic skills, incredible in-ring ability, and a catchy theme song.
Coming into the company after impressive runs in Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, and the indie circuit, Joe came in as a complete package. Yet, somehow, he was fired by the WWE twice in the same year.
He would win the United States Championship twice and would compete for the WWE Championship on a few occasions, but would find himself released by WWE for the first time in April 2021.
Before that, in February 2020, Joe suffered a head injury during a commercial shoot and was not medically cleared to compete. Four days later, he was suspended for thirty days for violating WWE’s wellness policy.
Samoa Joe would spend time in the commentator role due to being sidelined from concussions and not being cleared to wrestle before his first release from the company.
Budget cuts were given as the reason. However, injuries played a role, too.
“I did have an understanding,” Samoa Joe shared in an interview with Ryan Satin for WWE on Fox, giving his reaction to being released.
“At the time, dealing with injuries, it wasn’t unexpected, but at the same time, I was relatively calm about it."
He later revealed that Triple H called him to offer a return to NXT hours after being released.
Samoa Joe returned to NXT to have a feud with Karrion Kross and would win the title for the last time before getting injured and being released for a second time.
After, Joe explained that NXT 2.0 ushered in a new era that, in Vince’s eyes, didn’t involve Joe.
“By then, Vince [McMahon] wanted to go in a different direction with NXT,” Joe explained of his second release.
“[Vince] wanted to have the new opening with NXT 2.0 be with a bang, and I agreed with him. I said, ‘If that’s the case, this is probably what’s best for what your vision is for this product.'”
Joe returned to Ring of Honor, now owned by All Elite Wrestling co-founder and president Tony Khan, on April 1, 2022, at Supercard of Honor XV. Following this, Khan announced via Twitter that Joe had signed with AEW.
9 & 10. Shad Gaspard and JTG of Cryme Tyme
At one point, they were supposed to win the WWE Unified Tag Team Championship, but politics backstage got in the way of that.
"On a few occasions, we were supposed to [win WWE tag gold],” JTG disclosed in an interview on Hannibal TV.
“Because of heat and politics, we never got it."
The team was allegedly booked to win the titles at SummerSlam 2009, but plans changed.
The two would eventually split up and go on singles runs.
"At the time, the tag team division was dwindling,” JTG explained.
“There was no one else for us to work, and I think we both wanted to see where we could go as individuals."
In an interview with Sportskeeda, JTG would later reflect on how feels an opportunity was taken away from him and his friend.
“While I was in WWE, Shad and I were shafted. [WWE] chooses who they put the tag titles on, but they can’t choose who the fans love."
Shad Gaspard tragically passed away after giving his own life to save his 10-year-old son in a swimming accident at Venice Beach, California, on May 17, 2020.
On April 1, 2022, Shad Gaspard received the Warrior Award posthumously from the WWE, with his wife Siliana and son Aryeh accepting the award.
Since leaving WWE, JTG has worked on the independent scene and in the NWA. He has also written two books about his experiences being in the industry.
The above ten examples are just a snapshot of talented wrestlers who showed promise but were out of WWE before reaching their full potential. With more opportunities to flourish on a grand stage outside of WWE than ever before, the future is bright for wrestlers and fans alike.
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