wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Analyzing 14 Wrestlers Who Left WWE & Returned — Did Leaving Pay Off For Them?

May 31, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Drew McIntyre WWE Raw 11-5-18 WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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HOUSEKEEPING NOTES

Before we get into the column proper this week, let throw out a couple of quick housekeeping notes.

This is the first of two columns that I’m having published while I am on vacation. As a result, they might be a little bit quicker than usual, and, because I’m answering some of the questions while on a plane, train, etc., I won’t have the best internet access – so heavy research questions are going to take a little bit of a hiatus but will hopefully start to pop up against once I’ve gotten home.

Also, I’m going to take a moment after this to address some corrections and feedback, which I haven’t taken the opportunity to do in while.

FEEDBACK LOOP

First off, several people took the time to comment regarding last week’s headlining question about who the best NXT wrestler of all time was. One of the criteria that I used to make that evaluation was an NXT wrestler’s successful title defenses while NXT Champion, and, quite frankly, I missed several of them. The reason for that is that I was using a website for reference purposes that purported to contain a comprehensive list of all NXT Championshp defenses, but it apparently failed to do so. I’m not going to list the site, because I don’t want to make it seem like I’m passing the buck too badly here – I should have caught it.

So, we’ll just have to chalk that up as a Rick Perry “whoops” moment and move on with our lives.

Also, reader Gary emailed me recently and had this to say:

Saw your Ask411 column today and on the most Raw TV matches you had Orton 1st at 488. Im doing a career record book of all his matches and overall career and I checked and hes done 388 career Raw matches, not 488.

This was based on a column that I ran a couple of weeks ago in which a reader asked how many matches particular wrestlers had on WWE’s flagship program.

Of the listed names, I indicated that Randy Orton had the most matches with 488.

To be quite honest, I’ve not gone back and checked my number against Gary’s, but he’s taken on a much more focused project than I have and I’m sure has no reason to make up the number, so I’m going to assume that he is correct.

If he is, Orton is bumped out of first place on the list and is replaced by Kane with 436 matches.

And, with that said, let’s move on to the questions proper:

THE MAIN EVENT

Unfortunately, this asker’s name has been lost in my travels, but here is their question:

There seems to be a narrative going around about “a talented wrestler stuck in a jobber/mid-card role should leave and prove his/her worth on the indies, then come back better and finally get a well-deserved push” (for exhibits, see: Mahal, Jinder and C3, E). But with Lashley seemingly doing the same “leave WWE, build yourself up elsewhere, come back” cycle to diminished results, it has me thinking: is this tactic really all that useful? In the past 16 years, since WCW folded, how many wrestlers went through that cycle of “leaving and coming back better”? How many succeeded? How many failed? I kind of feel that this narrative is a myth, in that for every Drew McIntyre there are two or three Rybacks doing nothing but shoot interviews and podcasts to try to stay in the limelight. What do you think? Is my impression backed up by empirical evidence?

There have been quite a few young wrestlers who have attempted to leave WWE, gain experience elsewhere, and then return to a greater push. I perused a list of WWE alumni that listed their releases by year and found fourteen different individuals who you could argue used this tactic since WCW folded in 2001. Of those fourteen individuals, I would say that there are five individuals who wound up better off in their second WWE run compared to nine individuals who came back to the exact same position that they were in before, if not a slightly worse one.

Here is a breakdown of how I categorized the wrestlers involved:

Career Improved
1. Ron Killings (released 2001 / returned 2008): Killings, originally known as K-Kwik, went nowhere in WWE after his planned tag team with Road Dogg fizzled. After spending seven years in TNA, he came back to WWE and has held numerous midcard titles in addition to occasionally main eventing a R-Truth.

2. Mordecai / Kevin Thorne (released 2005 / returned 2006): Granted, Kevin the Vampire’s time on ECW didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it was better than this wrestler’s first stint in the company as Mordecai, which was dropped after just a couple of weeks.

3. Jamal / Umaga (released 2003 / returned 2006): The former member of Three Minute Warning departed WWE in 2003 and went to All Japan Pro Wrestling, where he proved he could be an unbeatable top heel. Upon returning to WWE, they capitalized on that talent by making him an unbeatable top heel.

4. Jinder Mahal (released 2014 / returned 2016): Mahal as a main eventer now seems to be a failed experiment, but it’s hard to not say his career improved between WWE runs when he became WWE Champion after returning to the promotion.

5. Drew McIntyre (released 2014 / returned 2017): Similar to Mahal, though I think WWE could certainly handle McIntyre better than he has been in his current position, he’s at least better off than he was in 3MB.

Neutral or Worse
1. Gail Kim (released 2004 / returned 2008): Kim became WWF Women’s Champion during her first run with the company but got virtually nothing to do when she came back, aside from a brief run as Daniel Bryan’s girlfriend.

2. Christian Cage (released 2005 / returned 2009): Some people may argue that Christian was better off in WWE run number two because he very technically became a World Heavyweight Champion for a very brief time, but, let’s be serious here. He left as somebody WWE didn’t consider a top guy and came back as somebody didn’t consider a top guy.

3. Tyson Tomko (released 2006 / returned 2008): Though I think Tomko is well-remembered by WWE fans, he was really just a flunky in his first run, but things got worse in run number two, as he was injured in an early match and the company apparently didn’t think enough of him to keep him around, as he was cut while on the sidelines.

4. Chris Masters (released 2007 / returned 2009): Chris Masters’ first and second WWE runs were so similar that, quite frankly, I forgot that he had two separate WWE runs until I started putting together data for this column.

5. Shawn Spears / Tye Dillinger (released 2009 / returned 2012): Shawn Spears (a.k.a. Gavin Spears) was a talented yet barely-pushed opening match wrestler. Tye Dillinger was the same, except he was obsessed with the number ten.

6. Brian Kendrick (released 2001 / returned 2002 / released 2004 / returned 2005 / released 2009 / returned 2014): Man, I forgot that Kendrick has been in and out of WWE this many times. If he’s not careful, he’ll be the next Marty Jannetty. That aside, apart from making it on to the main roster after his first run was confined to developmental, Kendrick has always been at pretty much the same level, putting on good matches and winning low-card titles.

7. Luke Gallows (released 2010 / returned 2016): Part of me wants to say that Gallows is better off today than he was as Festus or CM Punk’s enforce in the Straight Edge Society, but is he really? Sure, he lost the goofy gimmick, but his TV time and push are still pretty limited.

8. Ethan Carter III (released 2013 / returned 2018): Some fans were expecting great things for Carter when he came back to WWE, and his NXT run seemed to confirm that suspicion . . . but, as a member of the main roster, he may as well be back on NXT Redemption. Then again, I don’t know why he thought Vince McMahon would push Dixie Carter’s nephew. There has to be some leftover animus there.

9. Bobby Lashley (released 2008 / returned 2018): In Lashley’s initial term as a member of the WWE roster, he was feuding with the McMahons and clearly being set up to be a face of the company. Nowadays, he’s feuding with Finn Balor over a secondary title. That’s not the worst position in the world, but it’s not as good as where he once was.

So, there you have it. Honestly, fourteen wrestlers probably isn’t the best sample size to base any conclusions off of, but, based on the data that we do have, it appears that leaving WWE for a period of time to build yourself up in other promotions can have a positive impact on your position when you later return to the E, though it is certainly far from a guarantee and you’re more likely to wind up exactly where you were on the card beforehand.

HOWEVER, one thing that you have to keep in mind is that positioning on the card isn’t everything. For most of these wrestlers, WWE represents the place where they can make the most money for their work, or at least it does for the time being. Thus, the return was likely worth it for them, even if they didn’t wind up a bigger star in the process.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].