For Carlito, life after WWE meant returning to a pro wrestling hotbed, a Caribbean island he calls home: Puerto Rico.
The world outside of pro wrestling's biggest company must seem daunting for so many Superstars post-release, but Carlito always had a safety net under him. His father, Carlos Colon, founded and owns Puerto Rico's World Wrestling Council, a respected promotion that has hosted greats such as Ric Flair, Abdullah the Butcher, Randy Savage and Bruiser Brody (who sadly died in a WWC locker room in Bayamon, Puerto Rico).
Carlito began his career with WWC when he was just 20 years old.
WWE signed him in 2003, and he spent much of the '00s winning titles there. He and his brother were tag champs, and Carlito held both the Intercontinental Championship and U.S. title. His energy and personality were among his biggest strengths.
Charm, family lineage and athleticism wasn't enough for him to stay with the company, though. WWE released Carlito on May 21, 2010, "due to his first violation of the WWE Wellness Program and his subsequent refusal to attend a rehabilitation facility," per WWE.com.
Fans didn't see him in a WWE capacity again until the 2014 Hall of Fame Ceremony, where he and his brother and cousin inducted Carlos Colon.
During that stretch, Carlito had been busy re-establishing himself in Puerto Rico, adding WWC titles to his collection in the process. First, though, the Far East awaited him.
One of Carlito's first post-WWE gigs came with Antonio Inoki's Inoki Genome Federation. The promotion was best known for its infusion of shootfighting and hiring kickboxers and MMA fighters as well as wrestlers. It also featured a faster-paced lightweight division.
That's where Carlito fit in.
He tangled with Kendo Kashin (Tokimistu Ishizawa), an accomplished performer in Japan, in December of 2010. The fans inside Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan watched as the former WWE wrestler strutted to the ring to the tune of one of Raw's theme songs, "Burn It To the Ground."
He misfired while spitting bits of an apple early on, nailing the wrong man. Carlito argued with the referee and showed off some of the personality that earned him some traction in WWE, but this was Kashin's show.
The man who once defeated Ryan Gracie delivered a number of smooth counters and performed a bridge that coaxed the crowd to aah. Kashin pinned Carlito, leaving him to stand frustrated in the ring, red and yellow lights circling on him.
Puerto Rico remained a home base and a hub for Carlito from this point on, but he continued to venture out. Qatar Pro Wrestling, Dutch Pro Wrestling, International Pro Wrestling United Kingdom and New York's Family Wrestling Entertainment all booked him on a short-term basis.
Mexico and Japan offered opportunities as well.
On March 4, 2011, he competed in a Fatal 4-Way for Mexico's Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion against Ozz, Jack Evans and Decniss. In December of the next year, he battled in a Mexico vs. USA match featuring Shelton Benjamin, Blue Demon Jr. and Lizmark Jr. That followed a stop in Tokyo for Wrestling New Classic, where he lost to Tajiri in the first round of the WNC Championship Tournament.
It was Puerto Rico, though, that remained the location for the bulk of his biggest matches. He wasn't just a guest star there but a champion, a central piece of narratives.
By the time WWE let Carlito go, he had already won the WWC Universal Heavyweight Championship 11 times. After parting ways with Vince McMahon and company, he went on to win it twice more, his 13th reign lasting from June 4, 2011 to March 4, 2012.
A familiar face, former IC champ Benjamin, tried to take the belt from him at WWC's Crossfire 2010.
It was not as entertaining a bout as they had together in a Triple Threat with Johnny Nitro at Vengeance 2006, but the fans there were locked in from bell to bell. Carlito's strikes were far too light at times, punches and knee lifts looking tepid.
The fans were too busy pulling for their native son to notice. Benjamin administered much of the punishment, suplexing his foe hard on the mat and whipping his head downward in a DDT.
Eventually, his brother Primo (now Diego of Los Matadores) aided Carlito to a win. Even with the cheating he required, fans hopped happily in the stands for the result.
In a way, it was if "The Caribbean Bad Apple" took pieces of the WWE to his home island.
One of the biggest stars he faced has yet to debut for WWE. Sting traveled to Bayamon and WWC chose Carlito as the man to greet him.
On August 18, 2013, on one of the company's famous anniversary shows, Sting defeated Carlito despite getting apple chunks sprayed into his face. Wrestling in a T-shirt and clearly past his prime, "The Icon" still had great presence.
Energy crackled as he stepped in the ring, fans howling along with him.
A Scorpion Death Drop earned Sting the win. Confetti fluttered above him as a guitar screeched through the speakers.
Carlito had a victory of another kind to celebrate. In an angle that stretched out for months, he had taken control of his father's company. The story saw him suffer a spray of green mist in his eyes, harassing members of his own family, form the Carlito Caribbean Company and sit opposite his famous father at a meeting table with the family business on the line.
WWE never would have offered him something this high profile. The equivalent would be him challenging the McMahons for control.
While always the pauper with WWE, in Puerto Rico, he was the prince.
Carlito continues to work there and on the independent circuit, continually meeting up with folks he faced off against during his WWE days.
Most recently, he took on Tommy Dreamer and Matt Hardy in a TLC match on June 14, 2014 at a House of Hardcore show. He ended that bout splayed out among a broken table and a ladder leaning against the second rope.
An appreciative crowd chanted their gratitude for his and Dreamer's hard work. Cheering like this awaits him whether he goes to Valley Center, California, or Tokyo, but there never will be a substitute for home.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!