WWE is the largest professional wrestling/sports entertainment promotion in the world. People may enjoy NJPW or ROH more than WWE, but the fact remains that it is the mecca in the world of pro wrestling.
It gets the most exposure, makes the most money and has the highest production quality. For these reasons, most wrestlers around the world aspire to make it to WWE at some point. But there are many that don’t (looking at you, Kenny Omega), and there are plenty that decide they want to leave once they get there.
There is a variety of reasons why WWE superstars may eventually decide being in WWE isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some of them are personal, some business-related, and some are just petty. We’re going to go through the five biggest reasons why WWE superstars leave the company.
While WWE is the most popular wrestling company in the world, that doesn’t necessarily mean it pays the best. Make no mistake, the salaries they give their Superstars are largely very lucrative. But for many wrestlers, particularly those who are not at the top of the food chain in WWE, their salaries aren’t enough to make WWE the best place for them.
Take Curtis Axel, for example.
Per TotalSportek.com, Axel made $75,000 in 2016. That isn’t a bad salary by any means, especially for someone like Axel who is used so sporadically on WWE TV. But when these Superstars have to travel around the world year-round and have to pay those expenses themselves, working for WWE as a lower-level talent becomes far less enticing.
Then there’s the issue of merchandise.
The Young Bucks never “left” WWE since they were never there, to begin with. But one of their reasons for joining the WWE is something that many WWE Superstars have likely thought about when considering leaving.
The Bucks, as is the case with all independent talent, are allowed to sell their own merchandise and keep 100 percent of the profit. They have made a killing off of their various Bullet Club/Young Bucks merchandise and it’s no surprise they would prefer to continue being able to do that.
In WWE, the company produces the merchandise and the Superstars are given a cut of the profit, rather than the entire thing. On the surface, it may look like WWE is the place to be when it comes to money. But with everything else factored in, that’s not necessarily true for the guys lower on the totem pole.
#4 Lack of creative control
WWE is very particular about what they put on camera these days. Promos are overly-scripted, many characters are bland, and the Superstars themselves rarely have the power to do anything about it.
Again, much like the money aspect, unless you’re at the top of the food chain in WWE, you probably don’t have much creative control over your own character. This is something that can rub some guys the wrong way and ultimately lead to them leaving the company.
Stardust, formerly known as Cody Rhodes and now simply known as Cody, is the prime example of this.
Cody was saddled with the Stardust gimmick which made sense at first but quickly got very old. Credit to Cody, he made it work to the best of his ability whenever he was put on TV. But when the cameras were off, he desperately negotiated with the WWE to allow him to return to being Cody Rhodes.
However, rather than having a meaningful discussion about it with one of their most reliable workers, WWE basically told him “Sorry, not gonna happen.” Instead, the company forced him to continue playing this character that clearly wasn’t going to be successful no matter how hard Cody tried.
Because of this, he left WWE and is now wrestling all over the indies as Cody, and enjoys great success doing so.
This is the same reason that many are worried about the prospect of “Broken” Matt Hardy returning to WWE. Assuming he would be allowed to keep his same character, people are afraid WWE would water it down to the point where it’s not entertaining anymore.
Matt Hardy made perhaps the biggest impact out of anyone in the world of pro-wrestling last year, and it was all because TNA gave him the freedom to execute his character the way he wanted. WWE doesn’t always allow this kind of freedom, and sometimes that can drive Superstars away from the company.
#3 Creative has nothing for them
Anyone who played WWE 2K15 knows this one all too well. You would play match after match, only for Vickie Guerrero to continuously say “Creative has nothing for you” week in and week out. As the player, if you could have abandoned ship and gone to NJPW 2K15 or TNA 2K15, you probably would have.
So it’s no surprise some WWE Superstars did exactly this and left the company to find someplace that would utilise them more effectively.
Take King Barrett for example.
His main reason for leaving was him not enjoying his role in WWE anymore, and that should surprise absolutely no one. After getting incredibly over with his “Bad News Barrett” gimmick, WWE dropped it for seemingly no reason other than not wanting him to pick up steam.
Then they saddled him with the “King” gimmick as a result of winning King of the Ring. Now common sense would dictate that if Barrett was picked to win a major tournament, it must mean WWE has plans for him, right? Wrong. Barrett quickly faded into obscurity and following a brief stint with the League of Nations, exited the company.
WWE has an expansive roster. The fact of the matter is some guys aren’t going to be used as prominently as others. Many Superstars just deal with this fact because they’re still able to be part of the biggest wrestling company in the world. But for others, not being featured is reason enough to take their talents elsewhere.
#2 Backstage issues
What would this list be without the most notable WWE departure of the past decade?
CM Punk was once at the very top of the mountain in WWE. You have to go back to 1984 to find the last time somebody held the WWE Championship as long as he did. That would be Hulk Hogan who held it for 1,474 days.
In other words, Punk is the most dominant Superstar in the modern era as far as carrying the WWE title is concerned. Then one day, he was gone, and it really did feel that sudden. But why did it happen?
Well, it should be obvious that none of our previously listed reasons applied to Punk. He was making good money as one of WWE’s top stars, his character never changed so creative control was never a problem, and he was always booked in meaningful storylines.
The reason behind Punk’s departure revolved largely around his issues with certain people and the overall atmosphere backstage. He went so far as to call said atmosphere “toxic” to Vince McMahon’s face which, per Fox Sports, was essentially the last thing he did before he was given his walking papers.
Anyone who knows anything about CM Punk knows he has a bold personality, so this didn’t really come as a surprise. But Punk isn’t the only one to leave WWE due to backstage issues. Alberto Del Rio’s initial departure was a result of an employee making a racist remark backstage, which led to an altercation between the two men.
And more notably, Bret Hart departed WWE for WCW in one of the most famous examples of backstage politics making its way on TV in the form of the Montreal Screwjob. What you see on-screen isn’t all that goes on in WWE.
The surprising, shady, and sometimes downright disrespectful things that go on backstage can occasionally lead to WWE Superstars leaving the company.
#1 The Schedule
The biggest difference between being a wrestler in WWE or any other promotion is the rigour of their schedule. The idea of WWE having an offseason has long been considered. The year-round schedule has become increasingly conducive to injuries and many believe the on-screen product would be richer if there was a break in between seasons.
Regardless, a reduced schedule will likely never happen because of the money WWE brings in by doing shows all year long. And because of this, some Superstars are driven away.
Look no further than Jeff Hardy for an example of someone who couldn’t handle WWE’s schedule. The nonstop nature of the schedule likely didn’t help the drug problem that plagued Hardy throughout his WWE tenure.
While this isn’t necessarily something that would affect other Superstars, it goes to show the mental impact that such a demanding schedule can have. And that’s without even getting to the physical impact of having to wrestle several nights a week.
The WWE schedule also has an impact on the Superstars’ personal lives. To use another example of a wrestler who never “left” WWE but has a more than valid reason not to come to begin with, take Nick Jackson of the Young Bucks.
A fan on Twitter told Nick it was a crime that he’s not in WWE. Nick replied and said “I’ve wrestled twice this month and have seen my children for three weeks straight. They don’t think it’s a crime.” If that doesn’t sum up the nature of WWE’s schedule, I don’t know what does.
Being in WWE is a massive commitment, and understandably it’s one that some Superstars may not want to make.
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