How Have Former WWE Superstars Fared In AEW?

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The talent roster of AEW is loaded in early 2022. The company possesses 119 wrestlers signed to contracts, some of whom are former WWE superstars. It would be a crime if some of those wrestlers hadn’t come over from World Wrestling Entertainment.

Looking at the overall landscape of the AEW Roster, you would think that the influx of talent hired over the last 3 years would be chock-full of former WWE employees. Since their inaugural pay-per-view offering, AEW Double Or Nothing, the company has signed 18 formerly contracted WWE superstars.

That number makes up 15% of the overall roster in AEW. A number you would think that would be much larger than it is. Seeing as the WWE has released or seen the contracts expire of 99 active performers, a staggering number when you see it in print.

When AEW emerged on the scene in early 2019, its roster was pint-sized. Filled with a mix of young and veteran talent, the company promised to bring pro wrestling back to the promised land in America.

3 years later, AEW is the number 2 promotion in America behind the WWE from a popularity perspective. The roster has ballooned in size and the product is on a seismic trajectory upwards. Armed with a National television contract and a vision for the future, AEW is sending shockwaves through the pro wrestling industry.

This brings us to the topic at hand. How have the aforementioned 18 wrestlers who left the WWE over the last 3 years fared since their arrival’s in AEW?

Some don’t have a resume built up yet in All Elite Wrestling. Talents such as Mercedes Martinez, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, Jake Atlas, and Tony Nese have incomplete grades at this juncture.

Also, for this exercise, Paul Wight and Mark Henry are excluded. Wight has wrestled 3 times in AEW and is commentating on Dark Elevation as his main job. While Henry hasn’t laced up his wrestling boots.

Christian Cage and CM Punk also will not be included. Cage only participated in the WWE Royal Rumble after 7 years away from the ring. Meanwhile Punk had been inactive altogether after leaving the WWE in January of 2014.

This leaves 12 men and women who have signed with AEW directly from the WWE to grade. The goal here is to be as objective as possible. I will tell you whether these talents have fared better in NXT, WWE, or in AEW?

Dustin Rhodes- Signed in April of 2019

Dustin Rhodes had an incredible debut promo and match in AEW. His bout with brother Cody Rhodes at Double Or Nothing in 2019 is arguably the best singles match in the short history of AEW. From that point forward, Dustin has been a background character and fantastic backstage hand. The overall body of work in the WWE stands out here, even though his few big matches in AEW have been spectacular.

Edge: WWE

Jon Moxley- Signed in May of 2019

This is a little more difficult than you may think.  His arrival brought with some major buzz and a fresher lease on life for the former Dean Ambrose.

It would be hard to omit the great accomplishments he had in the WWE. As a founding member of The Shield, Moxley would become a WWE grand slam champion. While his WWE title reign only lasted 84 days, Moxley was still an interictal part of the company for the near 7 years he was on the main roster. Even if his creative ended in an ugly way.

However, as Jon Moxley, he has arguably been the MVP of AEW over the last 3 years. The 2nd AEW World champion in company history and remains one of the franchise players in the promotion. Feuding with Kenny Omega upon his arrival and the train hasn’t slowed down since. The impact he has made in less than 36 months has spanned multiple promotions. It’s a close call but I lean,

Edge: AEW 

Shawn Spears- Signed in May of 2019

The chairman of AEW, Shawn Spears has had a rollercoaster run with the company. Thrust immediately into a feud with Cody Rhodes, it ended with a defeat at All Out. Spears really hasn’t gotten going in spite of a few glimmers of opportunity.

He would align with MJF and The Pinnacle in March of last year. Since then, he has been a side player in major company feuds with The Inner Circle and CM Punk. Often the fall guy in the group, Spears has failed to hit a significant stride in AEW.  I have fond memories of his NXT work as Tye Dillinger. His “Perfect 10” persona caught on with the Full Sail crowd and got him over in a big way. With a few solid matches thrown in, Spears is remembered for his black and gold days.

Edge: NXT 

Matt Hardy- Signed in March of 2020

The timing was off for Matt Hardy’s AEW debut. It was week 2 of a Global pandemic. No fans in attendance, he could still thrive in this environment. He was left to his own peril and creativity. Something not many other performers are better at than Matt Hardy is.

He arrived onto the scene and befriended the Elite in their faction feud with The Inner Circle. Over the last 2 years, Hardy has had a few memorable matches, yet nothing as legendary as his Hardy Boyz ladder matches in the early onset of his WWE career.

Matt Hardy reinvents his character better than most in the pro wrestling industry. He has done a solid job with his ‘Broken’ and ‘Big money Matt’ characters. Entering the twilight of his career, it’s quite difficult to exceed what he has accomplished over the last 2 decades.

Edge: WWE

FTR- Signed in May of 2020

Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood found a new lease on life with AEW. Stuck in some forgettable segments on WWE Monday Night RAW towards the end of their days with the company, FTR simply wanted to wrestle. Each and every night if they could, against the best tag team competition in the World.

FTR has put on some wrestling clinics since their AEW debut. Their Match against The Young Bucks at Full Gear in 2020 was an incredible bout. Wheeler and Harwood in the 1st 6 months of their AEW careers started out like gangbusters. It’s been somewhat slow going ever since.

Joining MJF and The Pinnacle was pushed to the forefront. They’ve had solid matches with Proud N Powerful and The Lucha Bros while with the Pinnacle. FTR is still miles ahead of their WWE main roster production. Yet their NXT tag team contests were legendary.

Matches against DIY and American Alpha were bright spots, and they had a match vs The Undisputed Era when they came back to NXT for one night that was a classic. Something we could see in an AEW ring in the near future. This is too close to call, so I’m going to give this a push.

Edge: Tie between NXT and AEW

Miro- Signed in September of 2020

The former Rusev has a near career parallel between his WWE main roster time and his AEW stop thus far. Rusev was undefeated for nearly a year in the WWE before losing to John Cena at Wrestlemania 31. Miro started his career out slow in AEW, being aligned with Kip Sabian as his ‘Best Man’ in a video game gimmick.

Once Miro broke away from Sabian, he went on a rampage in AEW. Much like his WWE run, Miro remained undefeated in singles competition for a year. He won the TNT championship in May of 2021, submitting a red-hot Darby Allin to seize the title away from him. Since losing his title to Sammy Guevara, he has summoned his god for redemption. The character has a lot of intrigue, even if it has been halted for a couple of months since losing to Bryan Danielson at Full Gear in November.

His Rusev Day gimmick in the WWE was well received by the fans but never caught fire backstage with creative. His run ended with him in the middle of a controversial angle with Bobby Lashley taking his wife Lana away from him.

There is no denying how talented Miro is and he is a World title threat no matter what promotion he works for. This is one of the tougher calls to make as to whether or not you prefer “Tank” and “Rusev Day” or ‘The Redeemer’ who has been terrorizing the AEW roster. His lows may determine which side you go within this case. Was his Best Man or cuckold angle worse?

Edge: AEW