No matter what anyone thinks of the product, the rise of All Elite Wrestling has been vital to the pro wrestling industry. Monopolies are detrimental to all industries, and choice is paramount to growth. More importantly, competition is healthy, as AEW keeps the WWE on its toes and it provides options for the talent if they aren’t happy where they are. It’s also beneficial to the fans, because who wouldn’t want more wrestling on television and in their lives?

While AEW has helped former WWE performers such as FTR and Jon Moxley rejuvenate their careers and prove the doubters wrong, there are others who may have taken a step back by jumping ship to Tony Khan’s promotion. In all fairness, this is the world of pro wrestling and anything can change in a heartbeat or the ring of the bell — so never write them off completely — but these choices were made with current facts in mind. So let’s take a look at former WWE wrestlers who are worse off in AEW.

Malakai Black

There’s no doubt that Malakai Black has an X factor in both his look and personality. It’s actually ludicrous that he and Bray Wyatt’s Fiend weren’t put in a feud to determine the next big supernatural superstar in the WWE, especially with The Undertaker’s imminent retirement at the time. However, Black’s best days were in the NXT brand when he secured himself the NXT Championship as Aleister Black and established himself as a fan-favorite wrestler who could go the mile in the ring. His venture to the main roster started with a promising undefeated streak before he found himself lost in a shuffle with storylines that never quite went anywhere.

After Black’s release from WWE, he jumped ship to AEW. For a brief period, it appeared like his supernatural gimmick would be given time to shine in the main event as he battled "The American Nightmare" Cody Rhodes. Unfortunately, his momentum was all but halted after the arrivals of CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Adam Cole in the company. While he formed a powerhouse stable known as the House of Black, his position on the card slid further down. In WWE, he feuded with the likes of Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins near the top of the shows, but now he’s stuck in trios matches and nowhere near being seen as a future AEW World Champion.

Ruby Soho

Ruby Soho arrived with a bang in AEW. As the Joker contestant at All Out’s Casino Battle Royale, she won her debut match and challenged Britt Baker for the title soon afterwards. Yet, her first month in AEW appears like it was her best, since Soho has fallen out of the main event scene and failed to gain the same momentum she had when she arrived. Instead of tearing down the house with Thunder Rosa or Baker for the AEW Women’s World Championship on a regular basis, she was getting her hand smashed in a never-ending feud between the Jericho Appreciation Society and the Blackpool Combat Club. Still, to this day, no one knows why she was included in that storyline.

On the other hand, as Ruby Riott, she was in the middle of a reunion with Liv Morgan as the Riott Squad — a beloved tag team of the women’s division — before she was released. More importantly, with Morgan’s rise to the top as SmackDown Women’s Champion, it isn’t hard to imagine that Soho would have been one of the first people in line to challenge — and possibly even defeat — her former teammate for the title.

Jake Hager

There’s an argument to be made that Jake Hager peaked as Jack Swagger in 2010. It was the Year of Swag in the WWE as he captured the World Heavyweight Championship and competed against the likes of Chris Jericho, Edge, Randy Orton, CM Punk, and Rey Mysterio. While he never quite experienced the same levels of success thereafter, he remained a regular feature of WWE television, including a memorable stint as part of the Real Americans stable, until his departure in 2017.

After a successful venture into MMA, where he went on an impressive run of victories, he debuted in AEW in 2019. There was the potential to take his real-life combat skills and incorporate it into a gimmick that would make him fearsome, comparable to how Brock Lesnar was repackaged when he rejoined WWE. Unfortunately, any splash only came from the bottom turnbuckle as Hager has done nothing more than hang onto Jericho’s coattails throughout his run. He has had no single’s feud to speak of (apart from squashing poor Marko Stunt on "AEW Dark") and acts more like a peripheral figure in Tony Khan’s company. Even if it’s unlikely that Hager would have been a main event talent in WWE if he were still there, he’d certainly be doing more than carrying Jericho’s bags, as Claudio Castagnoli beautifully put it in a ruthless promo.

Adam Cole

Let’s get one thing straight here: Adam Cole has the best theme song in pro wrestling and it isn’t even a contest. Yet, it appears that beyond the big intro and the "Adam Cole, Bay, Bay" shtick, he isn’t much better off than if he had stuck around in the WWE. Forget about the rumor WWE wanted to cut Cole’s hair and use him as Keith Lee’s manager on the main roster for a second, and let’s look at the facts presented to us.

During his stint in "NXT," Cole was — pardon the pun — an undisputed star. He won everything there was to win on the brand, while taking part in legendary feuds with the likes of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. By the time he departed WWE, many were left shocked that the promotion allowed a superstar whom many dubbed "the next Shawn Michaels" to walk out of the door without so much as a fight. While Cole has regularly appeared on AEW television, won the inaugural Owen Hart Cup, and challenged for the AEW World Champion on a couple of occasions, it’s difficult to see where else he can go from here. In a main event scene packed with names like Jon Moxley, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Adam Page, and Kenny Omega, does anyone see Cole displacing any of them as the new face of AEW?

Andrade El Idolo

It was surprising that WWE agreed to release Andrade El Idolo in 2021. In his short three-year stint on the main roster, he solidified himself as a credible contender in the United States Championship scene, winning the title once. Looking ahead, though, he had the talent, look, and presence to become a world champion in the future, so it didn’t make sense why the WWE would be willing to let a potential big-time player slip through its fingers so easily.

As per PWInsider, El Idolo was reportedly unimpressed he had been left undrafted, so he sought out a new challenge. It arrived in the form of AEW. Yet, El Idolo hasn’t had the same kind of immediate impact in the promotion he had in WWE. He’s hopped from manager to manager, but he failed to find his place in the AEW roster, despite being one of the best dressed people on screen. While he might show up on "Dynamite" and "Rampage" from time to time, he isn’t exactly the first or fifth name written down on the booking sheet. The question is, would he be in the same situation had he stayed in WWE?

Miro

As Rusev, Miro had quite the ride in WWE. He was United States Champion on three occasions and generally involved in some of the most talked-about storylines during his stint there — for better or worse. While he never got a sniff in for the WWE Championship, which is a shame considering his unique look and high-impact style, he had a largely successful WWE career that saw him pick up victories over the likes of John Cena and Sheamus.

In AEW, he would pick up the TNT Championship once and lose it to Sammy Guevara (via WrestlingNews.co). While he entered the AEW World Championship Eliminator Tournament and lost in the final to Bryan Danielson, the man known as the Redeemer appears nowhere near to challenging for the big one anytime soon. Yes, his injuries slowed down his quest to build up some steam in AEW, but he also hasn’t set the world on fire either. With all the former WWE talents jumping ship to AEW and leapfrogging Miro, he’s no better off where he is now than when he was in the former company. Perhaps he might have more luck in ROH if he decides to slide across there.

Matt Sydal

Even before he landed in WWE, Matt Sydal had a decent career. From TNA to ROH, his high-flying style went down like Nutella. His WWE run might not have become Hall of Fame-worthy, but his stint as Evan Bourne and his Air Boom tag-team run with Kofi Kingston was electrifying. In many ways, he was an early prototype of Ricochet — in the sense that he was granted regular television time, but everyone knew he would never be world champ. In 2014, Sydal departed WWE, which was a shame since he would have been a perfect candidate for Triple H’s version of "NXT."

For the next few years, Sydal toured the world and explored the indies before finally signing with AEW in 2020. Unfortunately, in his first match, he botched a Shooting Star Press and his AEW career never recovered after that — even if the company tried to get an angle out of it. At the same time, Sydal has reached the veteran stage of his career, so it’s highly unlikely that AEW would be carving out a long-term plan for him. That said, he’d probably have more time on WWE television as an enhancement talent than what he does in AEW now.

Buddy Matthews

It might be early days in Buddy Matthews’ AEW run, but he has already stumbled into a major problem: the House of Black. While the stable looks exciting on paper and features three bona fide bruisers in the shape of Matthews, Malakai Black, and Brody King, it becomes difficult to decide who to elevate from the group. This isn’t an Evolution type of situation where it’s clear there will be a break when the students become the masters, but rather a sticky booking situation. With all three members of the group being young enough and hungry to compete for the AEW World Championship, who gets the big push when all is said and done?

While Matthews was nowhere near the headlining act when he was in WWE, he was embroiled in a terrific storyline with the "Monday Night Messiah" Seth Rollins, which did his profile wonders and introduced him to a wider audience. Additionally, long-term booking could have seen him become a big star if the promotion had chosen to get behind him. While it seemed like there was a plan for Matthews and his character before his release, the same doesn’t seem to be applicable to his AEW stint right now. Only time will tell.

Matt Hardy

There’s an argument to be made that the Hardy Boyz’ best days are behind them. While Jeff Hardy’s issues are due to other unfortunate personal reasons that he’s dealing with, his brother Matt’s run in AEW has been anything but extreme. There was a genuine excitement and hype when the two brothers teamed up again, but it was short lived as they proved they were nowhere near ready to displace the likes of the Young Bucks or FTR as AEW’s premiere tag team.

As a single’s competitor, Hardy hasn’t done much either in AEW. His feuds and matches have been forgettable, as he lumbers around and just pads the card as a recognizable name from yesteryear. While it’s doubtful he would be doing anything major on WWE television either, he was involved in the big feud between Edge and Randy Orton before he left. Surely, that would have been time better spent rather than the whole Hardy Family Office angle. What a sad twist of fate for Hardy.