World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is encountering some genuine competition to its brand for the first time in almost two decades. You see, All-Elite Wrestling (AEW) has taken the industry by storm and has already signed several well-known WWE talents, including Matt Hardy, who jumped ship in March 2020. So here are 20 other superstars who left WWE in 2019, and 20 more who could soon follow them out the door in 2020.
20. Dean Ambrose
In January 2019 it was announced that Dean Ambrose, a former WWE Champion, would be leaving the company after that April’s Wrestlemania 35. It is believed WWE tried to convince him to stay by offering a much improved contract, but it was to no avail. He soon signed with AEW and became its World Champion in February 2020, wrestling under the ring name “Jon Moxley.”
19. Tye Dillinger
Tye Dillinger, a popular talent on WWE’s developmental brand NXT (NeXT), experienced some success on the main roster’s Smackdown following his call-up in 2017. However, after injury stunted his progress, he requested his release from the company in February 2019. He then signed with AEW, wrestling under the name “Shawn Spears.”
18. Hideo Itami/KENTA
Hideo Itami endured a tough five years with WWE, before requesting his release in January 2019. The Japanese star debuted on NXT in 2014 but struggled to adapt to the WWE ring-style. He also suffered a devastating shoulder injury which derailed his momentum. So he moved back to his native Japan to wrestle under his pre-WWE ring name “KENTA.”
Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) veteran Rhyno did the unthinkable in 2019 when he left WWE after turning down a contract offer worth more than double his salary. He then immediately moved to Impact Wrestling. He explained his reasoning to Wrestling Inc., saying he could better serve the industry by helping discover and nurture young talent.
T.J. Perkins wrestled for WWE from 2016 to 2019, and during that run he won the inaugural Cruiserweight Classic Tournament and the Cruiserweight Championship. Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio alleged that his release was due to, “disciplinary” issues, with some company insiders declaring him hard to work with. But TJP has since wrestled for Impact and New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW).
“The Natural” Dustin Rhodes is currently rolling back the years in AEW, battling against (and alongside) his younger brother Cody. Rhodes, who wrestled in WWE as the enigmatic Goldust, had let his contract run down in early 2019. He may have already been planning the move to AEW, because after the customary 90-day no-compete clause in his agreement was up, he immediately debuted there!
14. Luke Harper
The story of Luke Harper’s WWE release is a long and torturous one. You see, it took eight months from the time Harper first asked for his release, to the time they finally granted it. Furthermore, WWE reportedly added six months to his contract due to an injury layoff he’d had following a wrist issue. He was eventually able to sign with AEW.
13. The Ascension
Konnor and Viktor aka The Ascension were a dominant team on NXT, where they were the brand’s longest reigning tag team champions at one point. But they were never able to emulate that success on WWE’s main roster. Sadly, they were released in December 2019 after eight months in which they didn’t appear on television. Since their release, they have wrestled for New York’s Outlaw Wrestling promotion.
12. Sin Cara
In November 2019 Sin Cara announced on Twitter that he’d requested his release from WWE. He posted a statement in Spanish, saying he felt he had become stuck in a position where he wasn’t valued as a talent. Less than a month later, WWE granted the release, despite the Mexican superstar reportedly having three years to run on his contract.
11. Jordan Myles
Jordan Myles had a short tenure in NXT that unfortunately ended with a significant amount of acrimony. You see, he signed in February 2019 and won the NXT Breakout Tournament, before going on to face NXT Champion Adam Cole for the belt. However, he was released in November after airing his grievances on social media over a WWE t-shirt design he believed was “racially insensitive.”
10. Stacey Ervin Jr.
In an Instagram statement on April 26, 2019, Stacey Ervin Jr. claimed he was the, “highest flyer” in WWE history, in terms of the height and airtime of his leaps. Sadly, the former gymnast never debuted on the main roster and only made one NXT TV appearance. However, he wasn’t fired but requested his release, allegedly due to a concussion scare.
9. Arn Anderson
Legendary “Four Horsemen” member Arn Anderson worked for WWE as a road agent/producer from 2002 until February 2019, when he was unexpectedly fired. In March Wrestling Inc. revealed that Anderson had allowed Alicia Fox to wrestle a match despite her arriving intoxicated. When Vince McMahon found out, he was reportedly given his marching orders.
8. Dean Malenko
Dean Malenko worked for WWE from 2000, initially as a performer. He then became a road agent following his retirement from the ring. But in 2019 he left the company of his own volition. In an interview with RF Video, he said he had other business interests outside of wrestling that he wanted to explore. However, less than a month later, he joined AEW as a senior producer.
7. Eric Bischoff
Eric Bischoff, the former WCW President and on-screen general manager of Raw, was surprisingly rehired by WWE in June 2019 as executive director of Smackdown. However, by October he had already been fired. Bryan Alvarez of Wrestling Observer Live would later claim that Bischoff was unfamiliar with the current WWE product and talent roster and was often elusive backstage.
6. Dasha Fuentes
The story of Dasha Fuentes’ release from WWE is harsh. Initially signed in 2014 as a wrestler, she was assigned to developmental. She soon transitioned to ring announcing and backstage interviewing, before debuting on the main roster in this role. However, she was fired in April 2019, and revealed to Chris Van Vliet that it was due to, “a tiny little blip” in an interview with Roman Reigns.
5. Kurt Angle
Olympic Gold Medallist Kurt Angle returned to WWE in 2017 in an on-screen general manager role. He would sporadically wrestle over the next few years, before competing in a retirement match with Baron Corbin at 2019’s Wrestlemania 35. The 50-year-old Angle told Collider Live that the match was his decision, as he knew people were saying he had become slower and looked in pain while wrestling.
Angle wasn’t the only performer to hang up his boots at Wrestlemania 35. Guardians Of The Galaxy star Dave Bautista had returned to WWE to work a feud with Triple H, and they engaged in a brutal No Holds Barred match at the event. That very night, he announced on Instagram that he’d experienced his, “story book ending” and was, “officially retiring from Sports Entertainment.”
3. Brie Bella
In a March 2019 episode of reality show Total Bellas, Brie Bella announced that she had retired from in-ring competition. She told her twin sister Nikki that she intended the women’s pay-per-view Evolution to be her last event, and after it she would be, “fully retired. Fully done.”
2. Nikki Bella
Nikki Bella announced her own retirement on Total Bellas the very same month as her sister Brie. However, in June 2019, she revealed on The Tonight Show that it wasn’t her choice to retire. She had struggled with neck injuries and then found out she had a cyst on her brain, which led to medical professionals calling time on her career.
1. The Rock
Dwayne Johnson became one of the biggest movie stars in the world after he left WWE in 2004. But over the years he would come back for select runs. However, in 2019 he announced on Live With Kelly and Ryan that he had, “quietly retired from wrestling.” It meant an impromptu six-second match with Erick Rowan at 2016’s Wrestlemania 32 was his last bout.
20. Andrade and Charlotte Flair
This might seem strange considering both Andrade and Charlotte Flair have experienced huge success in WWE in recent years. In fact, Andrade won the United States Championship and Flair has held women’s championships a record 11 times. However, Fightful reported in November 2019 that the real-life couple applied to trademark different ring names; La Sombra and Ashley Flair respectively. Perhaps they are preparing for a move away.
One of the most popular wrestlers on WWE’s roster, Rusev has also been one of their most underutilized performers in recent years. He is currently involved in a lengthy contract dispute with the company and hasn’t been seen on TV since the January 20, 2020 episode of Raw. Maybe he’ll show up in AEW before the end of 2020?
18. Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio, arguably the most famous Luchador to wrestling fans worldwide, was involved in a main event storyline with Brock Lesnar in late 2019. Now, he lost that bout. However, a rumoured Wrestlemania 36 angle involving him wrestling or tagging with his son Dominik had been going around. In any case, Cody Rhodes has publicly said he’d love to sign Mysterio for AEW once his contract finishes.
17. The Revival
It seems a foregone conclusion that The Revival will leave WWE in 2020. After all, the tag team have already asked to be released twice and reports surfaced that they’ve filed trademark applications for the name of their finishing move and their catchphrases. They have allegedly turned down new five-year-deals and insiders say they are simply not happy in WWE.
Ethan Carter III aka EC3 has endured two tenures in WWE, both of which have been frustrating. Having departed in 2013, he worked hard to make himself a star in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA, now dubbed Impact Wrestling) and was rewarded with a return to WWE in 2018. However, aside from a pursuit of the 24/7 Championship, which was mostly played for laughs, he’s experienced little success and limited TV time.
15. Mike Kanellis
Mike and Maria Kanellis signed five year contract extensions with WWE in June 2019. But only four months later Mike asked to be released. Meanwhile, Maria became pregnant with their second child soon after they signed, and though this was worked into a storyline, it fizzled out .Former WWE wrestler Bubba Ray Dudley told Busted Open Radio that he heard the couple “misled” WWE in negotiations, and there may be some backstage bad feeling toward them.
14. Eric Young
A “TNA Original,” Eric Young spent 12 years with that promotion before somewhat unexpectedly being signed by WWE in 2016. He led the villainous stable Sanity in NXT, but since moving up to the main roster that group has disbanded. Young now mostly appears on TV in losses to younger, more spotlighted superstars. At the age of 40, his time in WWE may be running out.
13. Sasha Banks
Following a four month hiatus in the aftermath of Wrestlemania 35, during which it is believed she contemplated quitting WWE, Sasha Banks returned. It seemed like she and the company had put everything behind them. But, considering rumors have swirled for several years about her being unhappy, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if she left WWE for good.
12. Cedric Alexander
In 2019 Cedric Alexander’s star was on the rise. He teamed with Roman Reigns on several episodes of Raw and challenged A.J. Styles for the United States Championship. However, this push stopped abruptly, and he was soon losing in short squash matches. Vince McMahon had reportedly given up on him, and he then voiced his frustrations on Twitter. He could perhaps join AEW in 2020, where his wife wrestles under the moniker Big Swole.
11. Lars Sullivan
Few wrestlers have stoked as much controversy in a short time as Lars Sullivan, real name Dylan Miley. And 2020 could just be the year when WWE decides to cut ties with the injured superstar. Soon after debuting on the main roster in 2019, evidence emerged of old racist and homophobic posts he had made on a body building forum. Furthermore, it was later revealed that he had once performed in homosexual pornographic movies.
10. Shinsuke Nakamura
Shinsuke Nakamura is an icon of Japanese wrestling and has been a featured WWE performer since 2016. Despite winning the NXT, United States and Intercontinental Championships, some believe he hasn’t been allowed to fulfil his potential in the promotion. And although he’s apparently happy with life in America, it’s possible he could decide that he wants a new challenge in 2020.
The “Swiss Superman” Cesaro is another superstar who fans feel has never gotten his due in WWE. Despite being widely regarded as one of the best wrestlers, he rarely rises above the midcard. On Busted Open Radio, WWE “Hall Of Famer” Mark Henry suggested Cesaro hadn’t left because he may want to work with WWE in a backstage capacity.
8. Robert Roode
Robert Roode has featured in a notable tag team with Dolph Ziggler since mid-2019. However, in late 2019 he was suspended for 30 days for violating the terms of WWE’s wellness policy. According to WrestlingNews.co, WWE will release the stars it feels simply won’t be snapped up by the likes of AEW. So perhaps the 42-year-old Roode should be on his best behavior for the rest of 2020.
7. Ember Moon
Summerslam 2019 saw Ember Moon challenge Bayley for her Smackdown Women’s Championship. It was Moon’s WWE peak, but it was followed by a losing streak of five matches and then an ankle injury which kept her out of action. She may want to leave the company in 2020, especially if a rumor about Vince McMahon not liking her is in any way true.
6. Peyton Royce
One half of the IIconics tag team, Peyton Royce may decide to move on from WWE in 2020 for a few reasons. The first is that she and Billie Kay have barely featured on television since losing their WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship in August 2019. But also her husband Shawn Spears left WWE for AEW in May 2019, and she may want to follow him there.
Glenn Jacobs, the seven-foot-tall athlete who has portrayed the demonic character Kane in WWE since 1997, is now the Mayor of Knox County, Tennessee. This move into politics, plus the fact he is 52-years-old, would surely indicate he’ll retire from the ring in 2020. However, he has been resistant to the idea, telling the After The Bell podcast, “I’m never gonna leave WWE.”
Now 53, Bill Goldberg lost his Universal Championship bout in April 2020 at Wrestlemania 36 to Braun Strowman. And retirement rumors have swirled around him for years. He recently told the Total Slam podcast that, “I’m considering my retirement match in Israel.” Perhaps 2020 will see the Jewish superstar wrestle that fitting last match.
3. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is the only person in history to hold both the UFC and WWE World Championship. This makes him a special attraction and he is remunerated accordingly. Even so, Lesnar’s latest WWE contract expires in May 2020, and it’s conceivable that he may want to move away from pro-wrestling again. In fact, he could potentially return to Mixed Martial Arts or take some time off.
2. Big Show
“The World’s Largest Athlete” Big Show returned to Raw in January 2020, following a yearlong injury layoff. But he hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since. Perhaps that’s due to him filming The Big Show Show, a Netflix sitcom where he plays a fictionalised version of himself. With his ring time so limited, and an acting career, perhaps 2020 will be the time he calls it a day.
1. The Undertaker
The world believed The Undertaker had retired following Wrestlemania 33. You see, the Phenom left his gloves, coat and hat in the ring in a poignant symbolic gesture. However, he surprised many by continuing to wrestle semi-regularly for the next few years. Rumors suggested November 2020’s Survivor Series pay-per-view is being earmarked for his legitimate retirement, though, as that event is where he debuted 30 years ago.