wrestling / Columns

Top 7 Exits From Wrestling Promotions

December 16, 2022 | Posted by Steve Cook
Hulk Hogan WWF Image Credit: WWE

Most people that enter the wrestling business aren’t going to spend their entire career working for one promotion. Back in the day, there were territories that wrestlers & managers could bounce around. The choices haven’t been quite as numerous since the 1990s, but every wrestler will have to leave a company at one point or another. How the parting of ways is handled by the company & the wrestler says a lot about everybody involved.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about good departures from wrestling companies, largely because of how poorly William Regal’s departure from AEW has been handled. They’ve run three different segments that people thought were Regal’s last hurrah. The Wednesday after Full Gear, Bryan Danielson saved Regal from a beatdown by Jon Moxley by begging on his mentor’s behalf. Moxley told Regal to run away and never come back, like he was Scar talking to Simba. Maybe not the most ideal way to end the story, but it worked. At least until a week later, when Regal came back so he could get punched in the back of the head by MJF. OK, so MJF got some heat for turning on the guy that helped him win the AEW Championship, and they at least had Moxley leave the building prior to explain why Regal felt safe. Again, not ideal, but it accomplished the purpose of getting Regal out of there for good.

Until he appeared the next week via pre-recorded video! See, Regal had arranged an interview with Tony Schiavone to explain himself to his Blackpool Combat Club students just in case something terrible happened to him. The explanation was so ridiculous that Moxley completely no-sold it and moved on to hyping the ROH PPV that coming Saturday. At this point I’m expecting to see multiple interviews that Schiavone conducted with Regal just in case something terrible happened. Maybe something with Regal declaring his love for Excalibur, or taking credit for the brawl at All Out.

The best departures from wrestling companies happen one time, and last for a long period of time. Mick Foley had a couple of good ones back in the day, but they lasted a couple of weeks. As much as I liked Ric Flair & Shawn Michaels’ retirement ceremonies, it’s not like they were leaving WWE to go somewhere else. They’d be back within months to hype something or other.

Today, we look at the seven most magnificent exits from wrestling companies.

7. Slick Ric Leaves Town

After spending the early part of his career as the standard bearer for the National Wrestling Alliance, Ric Flair finally made the jump to the WWF in 1991. He couldn’t take any more of Jim Herd’s nonsense, so it was time to see what he could do working for Vince McMahon. Flair had a productive 18 months with the WWF, winning their Championship twice, the Royal Rumble once, and destroying the marriage of the Macho Man & Miss Elizabeth. Or was that just a storyline? I can never keep these things straight.

It was destined to be a short-term stay, as Flair was set to return to WCW once things changed there and/or Vince got tired of using him on top. Monday Night Raw was just starting on the USA Network, and was going to need some big matches early on to get some attention. The third episode would feature Flair’s last match on WWF television for nine years, as he & his former Executive Consultant Mr. Perfect would face off in a “Loser Leaves WWF” match. Flair & Perfect went all out for that one, giving fans something to remember. The match wouldn’t air until the night after the Royal Rumble, and Flair would still make appearances through the company’s tour of England & Germany in early February.

I dunno, it’s just kind of shocking that a Loser Leaves Town stipulation lasted as long as it did.

6. Austin – Manager = Profit

The Million Dollar Man had been a staple of WWF programming since I’d started watching in 1990. While older wrestling fans were plenty familiar with the concept of Ted DiBiase working for other promotions, it was an alien concept to me. Then, all of the veterans were making their way to WCW at this point. Hulk Hogan had taken a bunch of his friends over. Mean Gene, Bobby the Brain & Jesse the Body had made the jump years before. With Razor Ramon & Diesel moving over in 1996 & the New World Order becoming a thing, WCW definitely seemed like the cool place to be.

More importantly for folks actually in the business, WCW was the place to get paid. Of course DiBiase was all about that. He’d spent the last couple of years in the WWF as a manager, and his Million Dollar Corporation had shrunk down to one wrestler. There wasn’t much left for DiBiase to do in the WWF, so going to WCW made perfect sense. The WWF wrote DiBiase out by having his charge lose a match to Savio Vega in which DiBiase would leave the company if he lost.

I was a big DiBiase fan, but I was pretty happy to see him go. Mostly because I was very familiar with the abilities of the wrestler he was managing. I’d followed Steve Austin’s career since his WCW days. I saw him as a Hollywood Blond, holder of various singles titles in WCW, and his run in ECW as a Superstar. I knew that Austin had a lot more to offer than what he’d shown as the Ringmaster, and the last thing a man with Austin’s charisma & speaking ability needed was Ted DiBiase doing all of his talking. Once Stone Cold was on his own, it was time for some glass to break. DiBiase’s departure was the best thing for everybody involved.

5. Lance Russell Suspends Jimmy Hart

Most of today’s wrestling fans probably recognize Jimmy Hart as the guy with the colorful jackets, sunglasses & megaphone that always seems to pop up alongside Hulk Hogan. Jimmy’s been joined at the hip with the Hulkster for most of the past thirty years, and seems to have made a pretty good living off of it. Some remember Jimmy as the guy with the colorful jackets, sunglasses & megaphone that managed most of the second-tier WWF heels during the 1980s & early 90s. If you weren’t highfalutin enough to be part of the Heenan Family, you’d probably fit in with Jimmy. You might win a title too, the Mouth of the South led folks like the Honky Tonk Man, the Hart Foundation & the Mountie to championships.

Before Jimmy started in the WWF, he was one of the focal points of Jerry Jarrett’s CWA during its strongest period. Anybody of any importance that came through Memphis during the late 1970s & early 80s was managed by Jimmy Hart or feuded with his clients. Probably both, as in the cases of Jerry Lawler & Andy Kaufman. In a territory that saw plenty of evil managers come and go, nobody was able to generate the amount of heat that Jimmy Hart did. Lawler is still the King of Memphis today, but it’s fair to wonder if he would have attained the same fame without Hart to work against during the prime years of the promotion.

With the WWF signing everybody during their national push, it only made sense that Jimmy would be one of their targets. Unlike many of the folks that jumped, Hart gave notice to the promoters he was working for, and a way to write him out of the territory was devised. He came out on TV, got into an argument with announcer Lance Russell and dumped a bag of flour on him. This may seem hard to believe after decades of announcers getting beat up on television with no repercussions from the promotions, but Russell had a lot of stroke at the WMC TV studio, and plenty of credibility with the audience. He told Hart that he was suspended, and would have to leave. Hart left after throwing a temper tantrum, and wouldn’t return for several years. Memphis wrestling fans were happy to be rid of Hart.

4. Please Don’t Go!

Extreme Championship Wrestling saw plenty of competitors come in, make an impact and move on. It was what one had to do to make a living in pro wrestling in the 1990s. ECW was a great place to go to get noticed, but it wasn’t the best place to get financially rewarded. Wrestlers that wanted to do that in the United States needed to be in the WWF or WCW. ECW fans saw a lot of farewell performances and got to say goodbye to a ton of wrestlers.

Eddie Guerrero & Dean Malenko were sons of legendary wrestlers that had a tough time getting work in the United States. They did well in Japan, and Eddie got plenty of work in Mexico, but mainstream US promotions weren’t interested…until Eddie & Dean got a shot in ECW and put on some classics. Then WCW was interested. ECW brass decided the best way to send them off was with a two out of three falls match. The third fall ended with a double pin, and was the only time I can remember off the top of my head where the fans didn’t boo a match ending in a draw. It was the perfect way for Eddie & Dean’s ECW stints to end. They made each other stars in the United States there, and would go on to WCW and have many more classic matches.

The ECW fans handled this farewell much better than they handled other ones. Plenty of “Please Don’t Go” chants, and I don’t think I heard one “You Sold Out” chant.

3. Gorilla Sends Bobby on a Trip

Bobby Heenan had a heck of a decade as part of the World Wrestling Federation. He managed some of the biggest names in wrestling. He served as a broadcast journalist during some of the company’s biggest matches. During this time period, the Brain got under the skin of every single fan favorite in the WWF at one point or another. Whether it was Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, “Macho Man” Randy Savage or anybody else that got cheers from the fans, Heenan had a bone to pick with them. He & his charges did a lot of dastardly things to people, and plenty of people would have had reason to boot the Brain out of the WWF.

However, nobody had to deal with Bobby’s nonsense more than Gorilla Monsoon. He hosted Prime Time Wrestling & Wrestling Challenge with the Brain for years, and constantly had to put up with Heenan’s tomfoolery & snide remarks. These two spent the best years of their lives constantly arguing with each other. When Bobby decided he’d had enough of the WWF grind, there was only one man that should have gotten credit for eliminating the Brain from WWF television. Gorilla ended up kicking Bobby out of the arena at the end of an episode of Monday Night Raw. Bobby Heenan and his bag of assorted things were tossed into the night, not to be seen again on WWF programming until WrestleMania X-Seven.

It was the perfect way for the Monsoon/Heenan relationship to end. It still rates as one of my favorite comedic pairings on wrestling television, or any form of TV for that matter.

2. Yokozuna ends Hulkamania

Hulk Hogan retired at WrestleMania VIII, so of course he was back in time for WrestleMania IX. The build for the show had Bret Hart defending the WWF Championship against the Royal Rumble-winning Yokozuna, while Hogan & his buddy Brutus Beefcake were challenging Money Inc. for the Tag Team Championship. After Yoko beat Bret with the help of Master Fuji, it only made sense that the Hulkster would come to the rescue and beat Yoko to make the big man the second-shortest-reigining WWF Champion in history. Well, I don’t know how much sense it made, but the crowd popped for it and it definitely came as a surprise to people.

Hart would later claim in his autobiography that the plan was to have Hogan pass the torch to him at SummerSlam 1993, but Hogan put the ixnay on that idea. Other accounts have disputed this, but what ended up happening instead struck me as a proper ending for Hulkamania. Hogan defended the championship against Yokozuna at King of the Ring. Hogan vs. big foreign heel was nothing new, but the result was. Yoko kicked out of the legdrop, Hogan was shocked and walked towards a photographer, whose camera exploded! Yoko did his own version of the legdrop and got the three count on the Hulkster. Then, to send the message home, Yoko did the Banzai Drop on the downed Hulkster, and sent Hogan packing from the WWF for nearly nine years.

I’m not convinced that Hogan passing the torch to Hart would have worked at that point in time. As big a fan as I was of the Hitman, Bret vs. Hulk would have split the audience, and they would have been lucky to get the reaction Hogan vs. Warrior at WrestleMania VI got. Bret ending Hulkamania wouldn’t have helped his cause with the casual WWF fan. Yokozuna destroying Hogan established him as a monster that everybody would need to contend with. Granted, business in 1993 indicates that it didn’t work for everybody, but it worked for nine year old Steve Cook, by cracky.

Honorable Mention: Montreal

Here’s the thing: Bret Hart’s exit from the World Wrestling Federation in 1997 was certainly the most memorable exit of a wrestler from a promotion. We still talk about the event twenty-five years later. It certainly came off like an interesting piece of business on television, and everybody involved has gotten something out of it afterward.

I don’t consider it the same thing as the exits that made this list, which were all agreed to in advance by the promotion and the wrestler leaving. Bret was leaving, and the promotion was ok with it, but a proper agreement between the parties on how never took place. I can’t make a list like this without mentioning Montreal, but I can’t rank it in comparison with these other exits either.

Honorable Mention: I Respect You, Bookerman

Since we included one that didn’t go as planned for the wrestler, we’ll also include one that didn’t go as planned for the company. Brian Pillman was working the Loose Cannon gimmick and had pretty well convinced everybody that he was a lunatic. Eric Bischoff thought he was in on the game, and liked Brian’s idea of releasing him from his contract to increase the realism of the angle. In fact, it came off so real that after a stint in ECW, Brian got offered a ton of money from the WWF to jump to their promotion. Whoops!

Of course, how it would all have worked out in the end is purely speculation. Pillman was involved in an automobile accident that shattered his ankle and extremely limited his physical capability for the rest of his life, which didn’t last even two years after the SuperBrawl when he called Kevin Sullivan “Bookerman” and walked out of WCW.

Honorable Mention: Allie Dies

In recent years, some wrestling companies have gone to extraordinary lengths to write out characters. I believe Lucha Underground was the first to have wrestlers that were moving on to other places get murdered in-storyline, but I could be wrong. Many wrestling fans were a bit put off by the idea for multiple reasons. I never had a problem with the idea of characters being killed off in wrestling like they are on other TV shows, but some people really did. I will say that most wrestling murders have come off a bit ham-fisted, or way over the top.

I tend to grant Impact Wrestling more leniency in the “over the top” category than other wrestling feds. I’ll use Matt Hardy’s Broken Universe as an example. When Broken Matt was doing his crazy stuff with Brother Nero and teleportation and dilapidated boats on Impact, it came off as different in a good way. When he brought it to WWE & AEW with certain tweaks in the presentation, it came off as cheesy. It didn’t fit in those companies, but Impact Wrestling, being the home of misfit toys, was a good place for it.

That’s why I enjoyed most of the storylines taking place in the Undead Realm for what they were. Allie/The Bunny becoming a demon and eventually getting murdered by Su Yung wouldn’t work on AEW Dynamite, but on Impact Wrestling it fit right in. Allie’s “death” wouldn’t be the last, just recently we saw Eric Young get stabbed to death by Deaner. Expect to see ol’ EY on WWE television soon, with less scarring than one might think.

1. Summer of Punk

CM Punk was going to WWE. Ring of Honor wasn’t one of those companies that could keep a secret from the majority of its fanbase. Everybody watching ROH in 2005 was very online and deep into the Internet wrestling scene. Punk had signed with WWE, and would be leaving Ring of Honor and the other independent wrestling companies he was working for after Death Before Dishonor. At that event, he’d put over ROH Champion Austin Aries in the main event, similar to how Paul London had left ROH by putting over ROH Champion Samoa Joe at a previous edition of Death Before Dishonor. It all seemed logical…until Punk defeated Aries and turned his back on the fans.

The next couple of months of ROH featured Punk on a quest to leave the company as ROH Champion and everybody else trying to stop him. Just when people thought “surely this is the last show Punk will be on, he’s gotta go to OVW at some point”, Punk won again and the saga continued. Jay Lethal, Roderick Strong, James Gibson & Christopher Daniels couldn’t get the job done in singles matches. It took a four-way match in Dayton, Ohio to finally get the title off of Punk. The next night’s show happened to be in Chicago Ridge, Illinois, where Punk could leave to the cheers of his hometown fans.

Ring of Honor managed to make two months of storyline out of CM Punk leaving for WWE. People weren’t 100% sure where it was going to end (unless they looked at the schedule), and fans across ROH’s territory at the time got to come out and say goodbye. Usually by booing Punk out of the building, which they were used to doing anyway. It was one of the creative highpoints of Ring of Honor, and the best farewell to the indies anybody ever had. I almost left it off this list because Punk had another ROH match six months later, but that only happened because of a snowstorm keeping most of the wrestlers from getting to the building. Punk never returned afterward, and I wouldn’t expect to see him in an ROH ring anytime soon.

Thanks for reading! Hit me up on the still existing social media, via [email protected], or go down in the comment section to talk about some of your favorites that I neglected to mention. Until next time, true believers…

article topics :

CM Punk, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Steve Cook