8 Former WWE Stars Who Succeeded in AEW
Yesterday, the wrestling world was rocked by the news of WWE Legend The Big Show (real name Paul Wight) signing with their competition All Elite Wrestling, AKA AEW.
Wight's departure from WWE is due to what he feels was a lack of appreciation for a star with his tenure and experience. The 49-year-old giant signed with WWE in 1999 after his time in WCW and has been one of their biggest stars ever since.
Wight will be pulling double duty at his new place of employment as an in-ring talent and on-air commentator for their new YouTube show AEW Dark: Elevation.
With its inception in 2019, All Elite Wrestling is the first wrestling promotion to offer WWE stiff competition in over 20 years. It's become an alternative to the WWE for fans who are tired of the stale product and for wrestlers feeling creatively stifled by the out-of-touch tyrant Vince McMahon.
Frustrated WWE superstars now have a place to flourish in a way they couldn't before. President Tony Khan, Executive Vice Presidents, and AEW Talent Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and The Young Bucks let the wrestlers maintain creative control over their characters, matches, and promos — which has made them the stars they could've been in WWE if they were given the same freedom.
Although there have been a lot of WWE superstars that have jumped ship to AEW, only a handful have lived up to their potential. Let's highlight former WWE talent who became AEW's most successful stars.
WWE squandered a golden opportunity to capitalize off the moment of the Broken Matt Hardy character. When Matt and his brother Jeff Hardy returned to WWE at Wrestlemania 33, fans anticipated the debut of Matt's eccentric yet entertaining alter ego.
Unfortunately, the "Woken" version of the character didn't delight audiences in WWE as it did in Impact Wrestling.
Hardy's exit from WWE was the result of creative differences. Hardy's vision for his character didn't align with upper management and as a result he left in March of 2020 after his contract expired. Hardy debuted in AEW a few weeks later on an episode of Dynamite and has since been featured in the company's top storylines as a wrestler and as manager of the tag team, Private Party.
Much like Paul Wight, Dustin Rhodes is a WWE legend and a prime candidate for the company's Hall of Fame. He is celebrated for his groundbreaking portrayal of the androgynous cinema buff Goldust. He's had on and off stints with WWE, but fans identify him as a WWE guy through and through. At least, this was true until he asked for his release from the company in March of 2019.
Dustin started his AEW run with an emotional feud with his real-life brother and company executive, Cody Rhodes. Their match at the company's inaugural pay-per-view Double or Nothing was one of the highlights of the show. Dustin's age seems not to be a factor when it comes to his abilities as a performer. The 51-year-old can hold his own in the ring against wrestlers half his age.
The Revival (Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson) were one of the hottest tag teams in all of pro wrestling during their time in NXT. Their traditional style of tag team wrestling earned them comparisons to some of the most influential duos in the sport's history. However, Vince McMahon didn't see what the rest of the wrestling world saw in The Top Guys when they were called up to the main roster.
Injuries and bad booking saw The Revival go from promising stars to a parody. The company's need to humiliate them had Dash and Dawson counting the days until their impending WWE release.
After being let go in April of 2020, Dash and Dawson became Cash Wheeler and Dax Hardwood and adopted the new team name FTR. Since debuting in AEW in May of 2020, Wheeler and Hardwood have won the AEW Tag Team titles and re-established themselves as credible performers who need to be taken seriously.
Pac's WWE run under the name Neville ended when he walked out of the company in October of 2017. The British wrestler disagreed with the company's decision to take the WWE Cruiserweight title away from him and place it on WWE's most annoying and controversial star at the time, Enzo Amore. Pac sat out the remainder of his WWE contract at home.
After a brief return to the independent promotion Dragon Gate, Pac signed with AEW and began his rivalry with Hangman Adam Page. His matches with Page and Kenny Omega showcased Pac's true potential as a franchise player instead of a jobber weighing under 205 pounds.
On paper, Jake Hager had everything WWE looks for in a top star. His massive physique, All-American looks, and amateur wrestling background was taken into consideration when WWE decided to make his character, Jack Swagger, their World Heavyweight Champion. Unfortunately, his championship reign wasn't memorable, and he found himself treading water until he left the company in 2017.
Hager wrestled for various independent promotions and fought for Bellator MMA before arriving in AEW on the first episode of Dynamite. His current on-screen role is the muscle for Chris Jericho's heel faction The Inner Circle. His legitimate fighting background reinforces his character's believability as a silent but deadly henchman.
Jon Huber was the lackey of a backwood cult leader when he went by the name Luke Harper in WWE. As a member of the Wyatt Family, he did Bray Wyatt's bidding, but anyone who followed his career on the independent scene as Brodie Lee knew he was capable of so much more. He had moments of success in WWE, which included a reign as Intercontinental champion and as tag team champions with Erik Rowan.
Huber left WWE after an arduous battle to obtain release from the company. He debuted in AEW in March of 2020 as The Exalted One Mr. Brodie Lee, the leader of The Dark Order. As the commander of his own cult, Brodie was able to showcase his range as a performer while taking subtle jabs at his previous employers. Sadly, Brodie Lee passed away in December of 2020 from an undisclosed lung condition.
Chris Jericho's longevity in wrestling needs to be marveled at. For over 30 years, he's remained one of the top in-ring competitors while also being able to reinvent himself to keep up with wrestling's ever-evolving climate. The majority of Jericho's success was experienced under Vince McMahon's leadership. But his desire to do something different led him to wrestle in AEW's greener pastures.
Jericho was AEW's biggest initial acquisition. Having a performer of his caliber meant that AEW had every intention of becoming the premier promotion in sports entertainment. Chris Jericho would have been a star no matter where he went after WWE because he's Chris Jericho. But AEW granted the opportunity to once again reinvent himself while establishing the company and its talent as the future of professional wrestling.
Dean Ambrose of The Shield, Moxley, alongside Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, was being groomed to be one of the industry's next big stars. He experienced success as a singles competitor once the faction dissolved, but it seemed like the company was more invested in pushing Rollins and Reigns as bonafide stars, while Ambrose was presented as an unhinged comedy act.
Moxley's creative frustrations with the company forced him to leave the company once his contract expired in 2019. His introduction to the AEW audience happened at Double or Nothing where he attacked Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega.
Since leaving WWE for AEW, Moxley has become the AEW Heavyweight champion, as well as New Japan Pro Wrestling's United States Champion. His career resurgence in AEW created not only the company's biggest star but one of the most talked-about performers in pro wrestling.
Did we leave out a former WWE superstar who is now making waves in AEW?
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