All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is a relatively new promotion that has been making waves in the professional wrestling industry since its inception in 2019. Founded by Tony Khan and a group of wrestlers known as The Elite, AEW has been attracting fans and talent alike with its creative freedom, competitive pay, and fan-friendly approach. One of the most notable aspects of AEW is its roster, which features many former WWE wrestlers who have decided to jump ship and join the new company. In this article, we will look at some of the top former WWE wrestlers who are now in AEW and the reasons why they left WWE.
Santana and Ortiz
Santana and Ortiz are a tag team that debuted in AEW in August 2019, attacking The Young Bucks and aligning themselves with Chris Jericho’s faction, The Inner Circle.
The duo, formerly known as LAX, had a successful run in Impact Wrestling, where they won the tag team titles four times and were part of the Latin American Xchange stable.
They also had a brief stint in WWE’s developmental territory, NXT, in 2016, but they were never signed to a full-time contract.
Santana and Ortiz left WWE, specifically Impact Wrestling, in 2019. They had a successful run in Impact, becoming four-time Impact World Tag Team Champions and holding the record for most combined days as champions.
After their departure, they joined the newly created All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and initially joined Chris Jericho’s stable, The Inner Circle.
However, they eventually left The Inner Circle due to a dispute.
The reasons for their departure from WWE and their subsequent joining of AEW are not explicitly stated, but it is evident that they were unhappy with their situation in Impact and sought new opportunities elsewhere.
After leaving Impact, Santana and Ortiz had a successful run in AEW, with Santana even winning the TNT Championship.
However, there have been recent reports of heated exchanges between the two, suggesting that their relationship may not be as strong as it once was.
Cody Rhodes is the son of the late wrestling legend, Dusty Rhodes, and the brother of Dustin Rhodes. He started his wrestling career in WWE, where he worked for 10 years, from 2006 to 2016.
However he left the company in 2016. There were several reasons behind his departure:
- Unfulfilled potential: Rhodes felt that he was not reaching his full potential in WWE, as he was unable to break through to the main event scene despite multiple failed gimmicks.
- Backstage incident: In 2016, Rhodes had a backstage incident with a writer who expressed that he was “too busy to speak with [Rhodes]” by fake typing on a powered-off laptop. Triple H advised Rhodes to punch the writer in the face, but he chose not to.
- Desire for independence: Rhodes wanted to write his own story and explore opportunities outside of WWE. After leaving the company, he competed in various promotions, including Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, TNA/Impact Wrestling, and All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
Rhodes eventually returned to WWE in 2023, and his departure from AEW sparked speculation that he might be heading back to WWE.
However, he had a meeting with then-WWE chairman Vince McMahon and senior vice president Bruce Prichard before announcing his departure from AEW, which led to a storyline involving him and Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 39.
Sting is a wrestling icon, who is widely considered as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. He is best known for his long and illustrious career in WCW, where he was the face of the company and a multiple-time world champion. He also had a successful run in TNA, where he won more titles and became a Hall of Famer.
He finally made his WWE debut in 2014, at the age of 55, and had a few matches, including a dream match against Triple H at WrestleMania 31, and a world title match against Seth Rollins at Night of Champions 2015, where he suffered a career-ending neck injury. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016, and appeared to be retired from wrestling.
He had expressed interest in having a match with The Undertaker, but it never materialized, and he felt that it wasn’t working out for him in WWE
However, he shocked the world when he made his AEW debut in December 2020, confronting Cody Rhodes and Darby Allin.
In a recent interview, Sting said that returning to the ring wasn’t a “goal” of his, but he was interested in facing The Undertaker in a cinematic match. He revealed that he left WWE as he thought it wasn’t “working out” for him. Sting’s in-ring career in AEW has been successful, and he has competed in a cinematic match and a tag match with Darby Allin.
In October 2023, Sting announced that he would retire from wrestling after AEW Revolution in 2024.
There have been rumors that Sting could make a stunning return to WWE at WrestleMania 40 to face The Undertaker, but it remains to be seen if this will happen.
Dustin Rhodes (Goldust in WWE)
Dustin Rhodes is the older brother of Cody Rhodes, and the son of Dusty Rhodes. He is a veteran of the wrestling industry, having wrestled for over 30 years, in various promotions, such as WCW, ECW, TNA, and WWE. He is best known for his gimmick of Goldust, a bizarre and androgynous character, who was one of the most controversial and memorable characters in WWE history.
He left WWE to join his brother’s company, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) in 2019 and felt as if there was not much left for him to do in WWE.
He said, “With the WWE, I’d had enough. It was time for me to go. It had been such a long, storied career with the Goldust character and, do you know, I really thought that I was going to retire – and then I got pulled in and my passion got reignited when I wrestled my brother, and we had the match of the last decade, probably, if not the last two decades.”
Furthermore, Rhodes also expressed that he enjoyed the scheduling of AEW far more than WWE.
Samoa Joe left WWE twice. Initially, he was released in April 2021 due to budget cuts.
However, he was rehired just two months later, making his return to NXT in June 2021. Joe was released again in January 2022.The reasons for his departures from WWE are not explicitly stated, but some factors that may have contributed to his releases include:
- Budget cuts: Joe was one of the superstars released in April 2021 due to alleged budget cuts.
- Injuries and personal reasons: Joe began working as a color commentator in 2019 due to accumulated injuries, and he eventually left WWE in April 2022 to join Ring of Honor (ROH) and All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
- Management issues: Joe mentioned that there were issues between the two upper echelons of management in WWE, and they were playing out their war with the careers of others.
After leaving WWE, Joe signed with ROH and later joined AEW in April 2022. He has had a successful run in AEW, winning the AEW TNT Championship.
Claudio Castagnoli is a Swiss wrestler who is widely regarded as one of the best technical wrestlers in the world. He has wrestled in various promotions, such as ROH, PWG, NJPW, and WWE. He is best known for his WWE run, where he worked under the ring name Cesaro, and won multiple titles, including the United States Championship, the Raw Tag Team Championship, and the SmackDown Tag Team Championship.
He left WWE to join All Elite Wrestling (AEW) after spending 11 years with the company. He explained that he was looking for a new challenge and wanted to do something with his career that he wasn’t going to just be complacent. He expressed a desire to move up and get better, as he felt like he had gotten into a rut towards the end of his time in WWE. This decision allowed him to pursue new opportunities and continue to grow as a professional wrestler.
Miro (Rusev in WWE)
Miro, formerly known as Rusev in WWE, was released from the company in April 2020.
He explained that he was trying to protect his co-workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this may have led to his release.
Miro expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of concern for the health and safety of the wrestlers, and he was happy to leave WWE and join All Elite Wrestling (AEW) where he felt his talents would be appreciated.
His departure from WWE allowed him to pursue new opportunities and continue his wrestling career in a company where he felt more valued.
Saraya (Paige in WWE)
Saraya is an English wrestler who comes from a wrestling family.
She started her wrestling career at a young age and joined WWE in 2011, where she worked under the ring name Paige.
She had been with the company for 11 years and had won the Divas Championship twice. Paige suffered a neck injury in 2016 that put her wrestling career in doubt, and she retired from in-ring action in 2018 due to the injury. After retiring, she performed various non-physical roles for the organization over the years.
Paige left WWE in July 2022, and she later revealed that it was not a mutual decision.
She clarified that she did not want to leave WWE, but the company decided not to renew her contract.
Paige joined All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and made her return to in-ring action in September 2022. She has since been wrestling under her real name, Saraya, and has been successful in AEW.
Matt Hardy is one of the most innovative and creative wrestlers in the industry, who has constantly reinvented himself and his character throughout his career.
He is best known for his tag team with his brother Jeff Hardy, The Hardy Boyz, who were one of the most popular and successful teams in WWE history, winning multiple titles and revolutionizing the ladder match genre.
He also had a successful singles run in WWE, winning the ECW, United States, and Cruiserweight Championships, and feuding with the likes of Edge, MVP, and CM Punk.
He left WWE in March 2020 to join All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
In an interview, Hardy revealed that he still had a passion for in-ring work, but Vince McMahon wanted to transition him into a backstage role.
Hardy said, “I know in Vince’s head, he saw me being a producer already and that’s where he was.
He was going to use my mental abilities to help produce matches or be an agent or whatever. And I just still wanted to wrestle the last few years that I could, so that was the opportunity that is allotted to me at AEW. So that’s why I chose AEW.”
Hardy also mentioned that he may have stayed in WWE if Triple H was in charge of creative at the time, as Triple H offered him a spot on the NXT roster and the opportunity to wrestle as Broken Matt.
Serena Deeb is a veteran female wrestler who has competed in various promotions, such as SHIMMER, ROH, and TNA.
She made her WWE debut in 2009, as part of CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society, where she shaved her head to show her loyalty to the group.
She was released by WWE in 2010, due to alleged unprofessional conduct, and continued to wrestle on the independent circuit.
It was reportedly for not “living out” her straight edge persona in public.
Adam Cole is one of the most charismatic and talented wrestlers in the world, who has achieved success in various promotions, such as ROH, PWG, and NJPW.
He made his WWE debut in 2017, in NXT, where he formed a faction called The Undisputed Era, along with Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, and Roderick Strong.
He became the longest-reigning NXT Champion in history, holding the title for 403 days, and also won the NXT North American Championship and the NXT Tag Team Championship, becoming the first NXT Triple Crown Champion.
He also had classic matches and feuds with the likes of Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Finn Balor, and Pat McAfee.
He left WWE in August 2021 after his contract expired. He revealed that one of the big reasons he left WWE for All Elite Wrestling (AEW) was his relationship with his girlfriend, Britt Baker, who was already working for AEW.
Cole also mentioned that he wanted to wrestle in front of the passionate AEW fans and that he did not want to give up WWE’s policy on Twitch streaming.
Taya Valkyrie, known as Franky Monet in WWE, was released from the company in November 2021 after just debuting in May of the same year. Her release came shortly after NXT shifted to NXT 2.0, which put more focus on younger and newer talent.
Valkyrie expressed confusion and disappointment about her release, feeling that she was not given the opportunity to showcase her abilities and that the shift in the company’s direction was a significant change from her initial experience in NXT.
She also mentioned receiving threats and negative messages, which made her anxious to be around fans.
Valkyrie’s departure from WWE was a surprising and abrupt end to her brief run with the company, and she has since continued her wrestling career outside of WWE.
Chris Jericho is a wrestling icon, who is widely considered as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
He has competed in various promotions, such as WCW, ECW, NJPW, and WWE, and has won numerous championships and accolades. He is best known for his WWE run, where he worked for 19 years, from 1999 to 2018.
In 2018, he departed from the company because he felt that Vince McMahon didn’t see him as a main event talent anymore and viewed him as a “second match guy.” Jericho believed he could offer more outside of WWE and was looking for new challenges.
He also expressed creative frustrations and a desire to change the wrestling industry for the better.
Jericho’s decision to join All Elite Wrestling (AEW) was influenced by the passion and vision of AEW’s founder, Tony Khan, and the opportunity to make a significant impact in a new and growing company.
He saw AEW as a viable second company where athletes could grow, and he wanted to help elevate the wrestling industry as a whole.
Jericho’s departure from WWE marked a significant shift in his career and the wrestling landscape, as he sought to make history and contribute to the success of AEW.
Malakai Black is a Dutch wrestler who is known for his dark and mysterious character, as well as his striking and submission skills.
Formerly known as Aleister Black in WWE, he left All Elite Wrestling (AEW) in September 2022. There were rumors that he had been released from his contract, but Black denied these rumors and stated that he was still under contract with AEW.
However, leading wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer reported that Black had been granted a conditional release from AEW and that he wanted to go back to WWE.
Black had previously worked for WWE, where he won the NXT Championship and had a successful run on the main roster.
He left WWE in 2021 to join AEW, where he debuted as Malakai Black. Black’s departure from AEW was unexpected, and the reasons for his departure are not entirely clear.
However, Black mentioned “promises not upheld” by AEW management in a statement he released after his departure.
There have been rumors that Black could return to WWE under the Triple H regime, as he had a good relationship with Triple H during his time in WWE.
Christian Cage is a Canadian wrestler who is best known for his tag team with Edge, Edge and Christian, who were one of the most entertaining and successful teams in WWE history, winning multiple titles and popularizing the TLC match. He also had a successful singles run in WWE, winning the World Heavyweight Championship twice, the ECW Championship twice, and the Intercontinental Championship four times.
He left WWE in 2005 after deciding not to re-sign with the company. There were several reasons behind his departure:
- Creative stagnation: Christian’s character in WWE, although successful as a tag team wrestler, did not gain the same level of credibility as his singles career in ECW. He was not able to achieve the same level of success as a singles star on the SmackDown roster.
- Injuries: Christian had been sidelined by injuries, which led to his departure from WWE in 2005.
- Personal goals: Christian wanted to explore new opportunities and challenges outside of WWE. He later revealed that Tony Khan, the founder of All Elite Wrestling (AEW), was the driving force behind his decision to sign with AEW in 2021.
After leaving WWE, Christian joined Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), later known as Impact Wrestling, where he had a successful run, winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
He returned to WWE in 2012, and had a brief feud with Randy Orton, before being sidelined with injuries. He retired from wrestling in 2014, and became a guest host and analyst for WWE shows.
He made a surprise return to the ring in 2021, at the Royal Rumble, where he reunited with Edge and eliminated five opponents. He then left WWE in 2021, after his contract expired.
In March 2021, Christian made his debut for AEW, where he won the Impact World Championship on the first episode of AEW Rampage.
CM Punk is a wrestling legend, who is widely considered as one of the best wrestlers of all time. He is best known for his WWE run, where he worked for eight years, from 2005 to 2014.
He became a three-time WWE Champion, a two-time World Heavyweight Champion, a one-time Intercontinental Champion, and a one-time Tag Team Champion.
He also won the Money in the Bank ladder match twice, and had the longest WWE Championship reign of the modern era, holding the title for 434 days.
He also had classic matches and feuds with the likes of John Cena, The Rock, Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar, and The Undertaker.
He left WWE in 2014 due to various reasons. He expressed feeling that the company never allowed him to fully live up to his potential and that he never reached his full potential during his time in WWE.
He also cited creative frustrations and a desire to change the wrestling industry for the better as factors contributing to his departure.
His return to WWE in 2023 marked a significant moment in his career, and he has the opportunity to rewrite the end of his WWE career.
His departure from AEW in 2023 was due to a physical altercation and other behind-the-scenes issues. His return to WWE after almost a decade has been a significant development in the wrestling world.
Bryan Danielson is best known for his WWE run, where he worked under the ring name Daniel Bryan, and became one of the most popular and beloved wrestlers in WWE history. He became a four-time WWE Champion, a one-time World Heavyweight Champion, a one-time Intercontinental Champion, a one-time United States Champion, and a one-time Tag Team Champion.
He left WWE in 2021 after his contract expired in May. There were several reasons behind his departure:
- Creative stagnation: Danielson felt that his character in WWE had reached its peak and that there was limited room for growth within the company.
- Schedule and creative freedom: Danielson mentioned that he wanted to “bleed” in his last WWE match, and he was seeking more schedule flexibility and creative freedom in his career.
- Exploring new opportunities: Danielson had been with WWE for over a decade and wanted to explore new challenges and opportunities outside of the company.
After leaving WWE, Danielson signed with All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and has had a successful run in the company.
Jon Moxley, formerly known as Dean Ambrose is a wrestling star, who is known for his hardcore and rebellious style, as well as his charismatic and unpredictable persona.
He left the company in 2019 after his contract expired. In an interview with Chris Jericho, Moxley revealed that he was unhappy with WWE’s creative process and his relationship with Vince McMahon.
He felt that the company never allowed him to fully live up to his potential and that he never reached his full potential during his time in WWE.
He also cited creative frustrations and a desire to change the wrestling industry for the better as factors contributing to his departure.
Moxley mentioned that he was depressed during his time in WWE because he couldn’t perform on that level, and he was told to read scripts verbatim.
He also expressed a desire for more creative freedom and schedule flexibility in his career. Moxley’s decision to join All Elite Wrestling (AEW) was influenced by the passion and vision of AEW’s founder, Tony Khan, and the opportunity to make a significant impact in a new and growing company.