5 Superstars That Have Benefited from Leaving WWE

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJuly 12, 2021

5 Superstars That Have Benefited from Leaving WWE

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    Credit: All Elite Wrestling

    Contrary to popular belief, WWE is not the land of opportunity for all professional wrestlers. Many have left McMahonland frustrated, disappointed and searching for their shots.

    Some have found them in other promotions, while others have excelled beyond the creative confines of wrestling's most prominent company.

    Then there are those who revolutionized the industry.

    In honor of Malakai Black and Andrade El Idolo arriving in All Elite Wrestling and Chelsea Green debuting for Ring of Honor on Sunday at Best in the World, enjoy this look at those performers whose greatest runs came after they left the bright lights and grand stage of WWE.

5. Sami Callihan

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    After leaving WWE in 2015, released after his nondescript Solomon Crowe character failed to catch on with audiences, Sami Callihan seized the opportunity to rediscover his passion for the wrestling industry in promotions like Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Lucha Underground and New Japan Pro-Wrestling before striking gold in Impact Wrestling, both literally and figuratively.

    Callihan feuded with everyone from Penta El Zero Miedo to Tessa Blanchard in an intergender rivalry before making headlines via inadvertent baseball bat shot to Eddie Edwards' face. It was his feud with Brian Cage that netted Callihan his first world title, and though he would lose it to Blanchard in 2019, The Draw remained a top star with the company.

    Now, some six years after departing the biggest wrestling company in the world, Callihan has the opportunity to win title No. 2 by dethroning Impact, AEW and AAA Grand champion Kenny Omega, himself another entrant on this list.

    Callihan has created his own brand and elevated his own star since leaving WWE and figures to be a central figure of Impact Wrestling for the foreseeable future, especially if he can do what no one has been able to here in 2021 by knocking off the most decorated star in the industry today.

4. John Morrison

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    Before he was Johnny Drip Drip, John Morrison was another immensely talented wrestler stuck in WWE's crowded midcard with no indication that his status would change regardless of how many great matches he had against top stars.

    Morrison left the company in 2011 and worked the independent scene for three years while chasing a career in film. In 2014, he popped back up in the experimental (and revolutionary) Lucha Underground promotion, where he became one of the top stars and a multi-time champion.

    He would channel his success in that promotion into a run in Mexico and then a stint in Impact Wrestling. There, he captured the world heavyweight title and developed into a premier heel as Johnny Impact alongside wife Taya Valkyrie.

    The talented star returned to WWE in 2019 and immediately resumed his run as a tag team partner to The Miz and an uber-athletic midcard star, further enhancing just how significant that run away from WWE was. He rediscovered himself as a performer and finally achieved the success he sought.

    So much so that he felt comfortable returning to the company that made him a star initially, even if he knew the likelihood of a WWE world title to go along with those achieved elsewhere was low.

3. Drew McIntyre

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    Drew McIntyre's release in 2014 could have killed his passion for wrestling, especially after he spent two solid years as comic relief in WWE as one-third of 3MB.

    Instead, it reinvigorated him.

    McIntyre, under real name Drew Galloway, traveled the world and built a reputation for himself as one of the top wrestlers in the industry.

    Whether he was beating the hell out of Timothy Thatcher, Johnny Gargano, Matt Riddle and Roderick Strong in EVOLVE or knocking off longtime foe Bobby Lashley for the Impact Wrestling world title, the Scot was hellbent on establishing himself the most coveted star in the business.

    It worked too.

    In 2017, McIntyre re-signed with WWE's NXT brand. Since then, he has captured both that brand's world title and the WWE Championship, becoming the top babyface in the company in the process. He has headlined pay-per-views, been the face of WWE through the uncertainty of the pandemic and is on his way to a third world title win as he prepares for Sunday's Money in the Bank ladder match.

2. Kenny Omega

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    In what feels like an entirely different life, Kenny Omega was a developmental prospect for WWE.

    As apart of the Deep South Wrestling promotion under trainers Bill DeMott and Jody Hamilton, Omega endured what he said was an unpleasant time while speaking with Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated.

    After requesting his release in 2006, Omega went on a career-changing journey that would earn him rave reviews and the label of "best wrestler in the world" by many of those who witnessed his rise to stardom.

    Omega evolved from a talented member of the New Japan Pro-Wrestling roster to a member of Bullet Club and, eventually, the leader of the famed group. Teaming with The Young Bucks, he was a member of The Elite, the core group of wrestling's hottest faction.

    When the opportunity came to depart the promotion and once again revolutionize the business, both Omega and the Bucks did just that. Together, they partnered with Cody Rhodes (more on him in a moment) and billionaire businessman Tony Khan to form All Elite Wrestling.

    The rest is history.

    Omega is the AEW, Impact Wrestling and AAA Grand champion and among the biggest stars in the industry.

    All because he left a toxic situation under the umbrella of wrestling's most prestigious company and bet on himself.

1. Cody Rhodes

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    Cody Rhodes left WWE in 2016, and his future was uncertain.

    Though he had flashed brilliance throughout his young career, he had never achieved the success or opportunity most had hoped for. Add to it the shadow of his iconic father, Dusty, that had engulfed him from day one, and you had two incredible obstacles for him to overcome.

    But overcome them he did.

    Rhodes, like every other wrestler on this list, bet on himself.

    He created the American Nightmare brand, becoming one of the most recognizable independent wrestlers in the world. He appeared for Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling and New Japan Pro-Wrestling, where he was a member of the core Elite of Bullet Club.

    With The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, he envisioned a company that could be for wrestlers and run by wrestlers. They could take their homegrown success, brand it and create a promotion that would revolutionize the industry, just as they had by building their own stars in the four years prior.

    After capturing the attention of Tony Khan, they created All Elite Wrestling, with Rhodes serving as one of four EVPs. One of the top stars and very much the heart of the promotion, he appears poised to enjoy some crossover success thanks to an upcoming reality show.

    Not bad for a guy whose biggest claim to fame in WWE was the company's weak-ass ripoff of his older brother's greatest gimmick.