“The Boss” Sasha Banks and her tag team championship partner Naomi recently walked out on WWE‘s actual boss Vince McMahon, but they’re hardly the first wrestlers to do so. Since the unceremonious exit of Banks and Naomi, WWE has been quick to publicly shame them for their actions on TV, and announce an indefinite suspension for both. This isn’t too surprising, as if there’s any one thing McMahon tends to hold against people, it’s no-showing an advertised appearance.
Many would argue that McMahon and WWE are right to be irate when their contracted talent decides to walk out of the show, as very few wrestler contracts allow for any kind of creative control over their storylines and match outcomes. Only the biggest of the big names, such as Hulk Hogan, John Cena, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, and Steve Austin are known to have had that kind of sway with McMahon. Otherwise, WWE expects its performers to do what’s asked of them without complaint, especially since those at the top are often paid quite well.
While wrestlers walking out of WWE in a huff is a relatively rare occurrence when considering how long the company has been around, it’s still happened a considerable amount of times, for several different reasons. These instances are detailed below, as well as their resulting fallout. However, it’s worth clarifying that instances of wrestlers who simply chose not to re-sign and left after their contracts expired, such as Dean Ambrose (Jon Moxley) and Bill Goldberg, are not being included here. Neither are those who formally requested their release and received it.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
Arguably the biggest WWE star of all time, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin recently made his long-awaited return to the ring at WrestleMania 38. Back in mid-2002 though, Austin was physically and mentally burnt out, and dealing with several nagging injuries. Austin was generally unhappy with his character’s creative direction, and when asked to lose cleanly to a rookie Brock Lesnar on a random episode of Raw with no build, the Texas Rattlesnake balked and then walked. WWE spent months trashing Austin for his actions, but he would return in February 2003, then retire after WrestleMania 19.
Two years after being involved with Austin’s WWE walkout, Brock Lesnar did one of his own. Tired of the grueling road schedule in WWE, Lesnar made it known just days before WrestleMania 20 that he wanted out of his contract. Lesnar wanted to pursue his original dream of playing in the NFL, but when that didn’t work out, WWE filed a lawsuit to try and prevent him from wrestling anywhere else due to an extensive contractual no-compete clause. Lesnar was eventually able to work some matches for New Japan Pro-Wrestling, moved on to dominate the UFC for a while, then returned to the WWE fold in 2012 with a whole lot more financial leverage.
In perhaps the most famous walkout in WWE history, a burnt-out CM Punk riddled with health issues abruptly left WWE prior to the post-Royal Rumble 2014 edition of Raw. Punk was unhappy with his creative direction for WrestleMania, and continually being passed over by part-timers like The Rock and Brock Lesnar despite having largely carried the company on his back full-time since late 2011, among many other grievances. Punk was famously later served his termination papers on his wedding day. Punk left wrestling behind for seven years, before joining the AEW roster in 2021.
Ravishing Rick Rude
A top heel in WWE in the 1980s and WCW in the 1990s, by 1997 “Ravishing” Rick Rude had been forced to retire due to back issues. He was still a regular presence on wrestling TV though, as he remained a great talker, and carried a star aura about him. Rude had been serving as the bodyguard for D-Generation X, but after Vince McMahon infamously screwed over Bret Hart in Montreal at Survivor Series, Rude got some revenge for his friend. Rude had been working on a pay-per-appearance basis, so he simply hopped to WCW right after his last WWE obligation, hilariously appearing on a taped Raw and live Nitro on the same night.
Jerry The King Lawler
While he was mostly retired from the ring by February 2001, Jerry “The King” Lawler had served as the voice of the WWE’s Attitude Era alongside broadcast partner Jim Ross. The day after The Rock-headlined WWE No Way Out pay-per-view, Lawler’s then wife Stacy “The Kat” Carter was suddenly fired for reasons that were never really made clear. Lawler then walked out in solidarity with his spouse, being replaced by Paul Heyman. By November 2001, Lawler and Carter were divorced, and he returned to WWE.
Jeff Jarrett & The Roadie
In 1995, Jeff Jarrett was an upper midcard heel in WWE, flanked by his second The Roadie (the future Road Dogg). Upset with plans to split the two up, the pair abruptly walked out after Jarrett’s match against Shawn Michaels at In Your House 2. Both would return to WWE later that year. Jarrett would later earn a seemingly lifetime ban from WWE after holding up Vince McMahon for money owed before losing to Chyna at No Mercy 1999. He founded TNA Wrestling in 2002, but would rejoin the WWE fold in 2018.
By fall 2017, NXT standout Neville was shining on the main WWE roster as the “King of the Cruiserweights.” He had injected life into the division, but when the high-flyer was asked to drop his title to comedy wrestler Enzo Amore on an episode of Raw, Neville refused and left the arena. WWE wasn’t happy, and froze Neville’s contract, keeping him out of any ring for almost a year. He was finally released in August 2018, and now wrestles for AEW after jumping ship.
One of the most controversial wrestlers in recent memory, Ryback is today best known for his upsetting social media posts more than anything. In May 2016, Ryback wrestled what would turn out to be his last WWE match at the Payback pay-per-view. Afterward, it was revealed that he walked out on WWE due to a contract dispute, as well as creative problems. WWE officially released Ryback on August 5.
While Gail Kim would have a terrific career in TNA, both of her WWE stints left her displeased. On the August 1, 2011 episode of Raw, Kim was involved in a battle royal match, but opted to simply eliminate herself and go to the back after months of frustration with the role. She never returned to WWE, sitting out the remainder of her contract, as WWE wouldn’t grant her release request, before going back to TNA.
Toni Storm has a similar story to Kim’s. After months of displeasure with her storylines and treatment on the main WWE roster after excelling in NXT, a burnt-out Storm quit the company following a December 2021 live event. WWE didn’t fight her exit, opting to release her a week later. Storm now wrestles for AEW.
Sasha Banks & Naomi
The most recent WWE walkout, women’s tag team champions Sasha Banks and Naomi walked out of Raw after objecting to the plans for that night’s main event, as well as the overall lack of direction for themselves and the women’s tag division. As mentioned above, the two have since been trashed on WWE TV and suspended indefinitely. They’ve also been officially stripped of their titles. Banks and Naomi have reverted to their real names on Twitter, and have also been removed from WWE’s opening video package. For now, the chances of them returning to WWE anytime soon don’t look good.