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Cageside Countdown: Most Shocking Wrexits (Part 2)

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In late June 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted on a referendum as to whether or not they should stay with the European Union. The referendum, known as the Brexit, had quite the shocking result: the people voted in favor of leaving the EU and going on their own once again. The Brexit has far-reaching consequences that will very likely be felt for generations to come... assuming the United Kingdom actually goes through with it.

Big deal said the wrestling fan, probably. People shockingly leaving their favorite promotion is nothing new. Hell, it’s a way of life in professional wrestling. Eventually, your favorite wrestler is going to leave the company, probably not by their choice, and it’s still going to be shocking when it happens.

But what is the most shocking wrestler exit ever?

Last month, we put that very question to you, the Cagesiders. So in the spirit of Brexit, here are...

the 10 most shocking wrexits ever.

Ok, this countdown had 25, so for 25-11, plus ten honorable mentions, you'll want this list here. Anyway, on with the countdown.

10. AJ Styles.

Wrexit via: Leaving TNA for New Japan Pro Wrestling, 2013.

Allen Jones Styles was the face of TNA. He was. Don't argue about this. He was the first ever X Division Champion. He was TNA's first triple crown champion. He was TNA's first grand slam champion. HE WAS MR. TNA THREE YEARS IN A ROW. He won ALL THE THINGS.

And yet, none of that mattered. Though I said he was the face of TNA, he was never treated like it, often being overlooked by guys like Jeff Jarrett, Kurt Angle, Christian, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and pretty much every Tom, Dick, Harry, and ex-WWE or WCW wrestler looking for one last payday. Obviously, you've probably put two and two together and figured out that AJ was criminally underpaid. And... he was. And though he was criminally underpaid, there was no way he was going to get a fair shake in WWE, which is probably why he stuck around for all those years.

But eventually there comes a time when a man must be paid what he's worth, and that time came in 2013. When his contract came up, he expected a raise. Unfortunately, that time for a raise came at a time when TNA was budget-cutting. Push came to shove, and after being offered just over half of what he had made to stick around, AJ left TNA after 11 and a half years in the company.

Soon after, he turned up in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and less than six months after his debut, he won the first of his two IWGP Heavyweight Championships. Styles signed a letter of intent to return to TNA, but in the end, he would turn up in WWE earlier this year, debuting at the Royal Rumble. AJ bet on himself, and he won. Big.

9. Rick Rude.

Wrexit via: Leaving WWF for WCW, 1997.

Ravishing Rick Rude was key figure for the WWF in the late-1980s. He was also a key figure for WCW in the early 1990s. But a back injury ended his in-ring career in 1994. He remained on the sidelines for the next two and a half years before turning up in 1997 antagonizing (and later joining) Shane Douglas in ECW. But most people probably know Rick Rude for his return to the WWF as the "insurance policy" for Shawn Michaels and Triple H, aka D-Generation X.

On November 9, 1997, the infamous Montreal Screwjob went down at Survivor Series. In the immediate aftermath, Rude got a hold of Eric Bischoff informing him that everything that went down was 100% real and that he wanted to come back to WCW, and one week later, Rude turned up in WCW. And then he turned up on RAW. On the same night. Wait... what?

Rude was at the RAW following the Screwjob and the taping of the next week's show the next night. In between that and when he appeared on Nitro, the WWF tried to negotiate a long-term deal for Rude. At that time, Rick was on an "per-appearance" deal, meaning he had no contract. As Rick was still bitter about the Montreal Screwjob (and who can blame him), a freshly shaven Rick Rude appeared on Nitro eight days after the events of Montreal...while appearing on a taped episode of RAW later that evening.

And to top it off, sometime in that negotiating period, Rude appeared on ECW's Hardcore TV, another show that had already been taped. Time paradox? Nope. That strange confluence of events meant that Rude appeared on WWF, WCW, and ECW programming in the same week. Rude would remain in WCW until shortly before his death in early 1999.

8. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

Wrexit via: Leaving WWF for WCW, 1996.

Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were two of the biggest names in the WWF during the New Generation era. Though Hall never won the WWF's top prize, he was Intercontinental Champion four times, at the time a company record. Kevin Nash won the WWF's triple crown in less than ten months, including a year-long reign as WWF Champion. That's longer than anyone in the 1990s. But during that year-long reign, business for the WWF spiraled to all-time record lows, basically meaning the money was not coming.

And if you had a family to feed back home, that was especially hard. That was the case for Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. In early 1996, Scott was looking for a raise; after all, he'd meant as much to the WWF as the top stars, right? Not in Vince McMahon's eyes. Eventually, he gave WCW a call, and he got a sweetheart deal. In summary: more money for less dates. Where do I sign? Scott told Kevin, who was also getting frustrated with his sinking paydays, and Kevin wanted to jump on the "more money, less dates" train. In Kevin's case, it came with reservation: he didn't really wanted to leave, so he told Vince to match the money, and Vince couldn't do it.

Six weeks after Wrestlemania XII, the two best friends went out in style before taking their talents to Atlanta... where they would only have a hand in changing the wrestling business forever. I mean, it's no big deal.

7. Edge.

Wrexit via: Retirement, 2011.

The "Rated-R SOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPERSTARRRR"'s rise to the top of the wrestling business was filled with lots of pain and lots of scumbaggery. Debuting as a loner in 1998, he aligned himself with the Brood before forming a successful tag team with his longtime BFF/brother on TV Christian. Edge and Christian would go on to become one of the most prolific teams in WWF history, winning the tag titles seven times together (only the Dudley Boyz have more with 8). The duo is best remembered for the thrilling TLC series of matches that have gone down as some of the best in WWE history. Edge by himself has been in some ladder match classics (the first ever Money in the Bank ladder match comes to mind).

But the punishment of being in some of WWE's most extreme bouts took a toll on his body, even as he amassed eleven world championships. Just over a week after Wrestlemania XXVII where he retained the World Heavyweight Championship, Edge announced that after a doctor's checkup, it was recommended that he retired. Spinal stenosis, as it turned out, the same exact ailment that ended the career of Steve Austin nearly a decade prior. A man seemingly on top of his game suddenly told to hang it up for good. His sudden wrexit left a bigger hole in the roster than many people imagined.

6. Daniel Bryan.

Wrexit via: Retirement, 2016.

And speaking of retiring at the top of their game, Daniel Bryan Danielson was the man. THE MAN. Even when the office was clearly not behind him, crowds by the thousands demanded, hey! How about you give this guy a shot? We like this guy.

Pretty amazing considering that once upon a time, Bryan probably wanted nothing to do with WWE. Sure he was a hell of a wrestler (in his prime, the best technical wrestler on this or any other planet), but people of Bryan's size and stature have a limited ceiling in the land of the giants.

That's what made his ascent to the top of WWE even more remarkable. He wasn't supposed to make it. He was the "indy guy", the "smark favorite", the man who was "too small to draw". A "B+ player", if you will. A B+ player who was once fired for choking out a ring announcer with his own tie. But Bryan through sheer grit and determination (and without playing the political game, probably), won just about everything there is to win in the company, capped off by a WWE World Heavyweight Championship win at Wrestlemania XXX and an Intercontinental title win at Wrestlemania 31.

But his body took a hell of a beating to get to the top of the mountain. His hard-hitting style on the independent circuit probably took years off his career. His hard-hitting style in WWE took the rest. Almost as soon as the fireworks stopped at the end of Wrestlemania XXX, Bryan's body began to betray him. He spent more time in a doctor's office than in a ring, as he was taken off the road due to mounting arm and neck problems. Twice. Despite getting cleared by multiple doctors to return, WWE doctors simply said no. Earlier this year, he saw one neurologist, and whatever news he got spooked him pretty big.

Simply put, the multiple concussions he had suffered throughout his career were enough to pull the plug on it at age 34. And it's a shame. The good news is he won't end up in a wheelchair or do horrible, horrible things to his family. The bad news is we will never see him do what he does best--and once upon a time, better than anyone in the world--in the ring ever again.

5. Shinsuke Nakamura.

Wrexit via: Leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling for WWE, 2016.

Hiroshi Tanahashi may have been the heart of New Japan Pro Wrestling in recent years, but Shinsuke Nakamura was the soul. Once an unassuming asskicker that once fought (and beat) Brock Lesnar for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, it was when New Japan embraced "sports entertainment" that Nakamura's star took off. Part Michael Jackson, part Freddie Mercury, part prime Dan Severn, the King of Strong Style's bouts became must-watch wrestling, especially when he was bringing his A-game.

The three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion and once-upon-a-time MMA fighter's best work came when Nakamura was the IWGP Intercontinental Champion. Nakamura won the title five times and had brought so much prestige to the belt, the "secondary" title main-evented Wrestle Kingdom 8, New Japan's version of Wrestlemania, over the world title. That would be like United States Champion John Cena main eventing Wrestlemania 33 over Roman Reigns' WWE title match... which is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

So one would assume that New Japan would keep a huge star such as Nakamura around for as long as possible. One would assume incorrectly. As recently as this year (no, seriously), New Japan's performers have been operating on year-to-year deals for a quarter century. Those deals come up at the end of January every single year. What changed all that?

That man would indeed be him. The losses of two of their five biggest stars forced New Japan to return to the multi-year contract system, thereby keeping their stars in-house longer. The change came too late to save half of the Bullet Club and Nakamura, but it probably comes just in time to save others. In January 2016, Nakamura bid a tearful farewell to the promotion that made him an international sensation.

4. Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Wrexit via: Walkout on WWE, 2002.

By 1998, Stone Cold Steve Austin, thanks to his no-nonsense wrestling and no-filter attitude, was the biggest star in wrestling. Not even a broken neck could stop the train of the Texas Rattlesnake. At the height of his popularity, Stone Cold stuff accounted for half of all merchandise sold in the then-WWF. When you're THAT popular, you don't even want to think about life after that popularity dies down.

But that popularity indeed died down a bit by 2002, and with it, Austin's patience. While Stone Cold felt he was a top star in the company, WWF (later WWE) brass... not so much. Austin intentionally no-showed RAW the night after Wrestlemania X8 and would be suspended two weeks. A little over two months later, Austin was scheduled for a first-round King of the Ring tournament match against hot property of the moment Brock Lesnar. But on the day of the show, Austin and his wife Debra flew back home, never to return.

It was Austin's second walkout on WWE in less than three months, and that was enough. Never mind that Austin had done more for the WWE in a five-year period than most wrestlers in any promotion did in 20. Less than a week after his second walkout, Austin was fired. And to pour salt in the wound, the one-time uber-popular superstar was buried on their programming. It was as if he was never welcomed in their company again.

Until he was brought back the following February.

3. Bret Hart.

Wrexit via: Montreal Screwjob, 1997.

Keeping the bitter exits going, Bret Hart was about as loyal an employee as WWF had; he often did what was asked of him, and he rarely missed a show (by his count, two in fourteen years). He had the respect of his peers--most of them anyway--and his fans. But like most anyone worth their salt, Bret wanted to be rewarded for his hard work and dedication.

Unfortunately, Bret's wants came in direct contact with harsh reality. Despite signing a then-unprecedented twenty-year contract with the WWF in 1996, the company was on hard times, daddy, and in his first year, those hard times had only gotten worse, what with WCW ruling the wrestling world and all that. Eventually, decisions had to be made. With the WWF convinced they're unable to pay out the deal, Bret got permission to seek employment elsewhere, and like most everyone else around this time, Bret took his talents to Atlanta and WCW. But there was one last piece of business to take care of.

Bret at the time was the WWF Champion, and he had to leave it behind on his way out; you know, wrestling tradition and all that. Two problems with this: (1) Shawn Michaels was going to beat him for the title, and (2) Shawn was going to do it in Canada, where Bret is Wrestling Jesus. This wasn't going to wash with Bret who had grown to hate Shawn as much as moviegoers hated the Fantastic Four reboot. As much as Bret and Vince McMahon tried to work out a compromise to a finish, Vince had one idea and one only, thanks to a planted suggestion by Hunter Hearst Helmsley: get the belt off him by any means necessary.

The bout ended with an ending so ludicrous, even Hollywood would laugh you out of their town if you tried pitching it. As Hart was locked in the sharpshooter by Michaels, Vince McMahon called for the bell, abruptly ending the match. Obviously, Bret did not submit. Unfortunately, it didn't matter. Vince got what he wanted: he got the title off Bret on his way out. It didn't matter if feelings were hurt. The ends justified the means in his mind. The Montreal Screwjob, as it would be known, would be the beginning of a fractured relationship between the Hart family and WWE, one that to this day hasn't been fully healed.

Bret for all he had done deserved a better ending to his WWF tenure than this.

2. Chris Benoit.

Wrexit via: Suicide after double murder, 2007.

Ugh. Do I have to? Cause I don't want to, really. I mean, it's... gah. You know what? I'm... I'm just gonna go ahead and skip to #1. Anyway, if you wanna read about the whole tragic weekend, I have it in detail here, and if you guys wanna read that, that's cool. If not, that's cool too.

1. CM Punk.

Wrexit via: Walkout on WWE, 2014.

Of course this was going to be #1. Probably the only other walkout in recent memory to have a butterfly effect to this degree would be Austin back in 2002. But if you're someone who followed CM Punk's career closely, you probably weren't totally surprised this was coming: after all, he once said he wanted to be retired by age 35.

And yet, we were all shocked when he made good on his promise.

Though Punk was a featured star, especially following his infamous "pipebomb" promo just before his contract expired in 2011, he wasn't always treated as such, with main events going to the likes of John Cena, The Rock, and that talent of the future John Laurinaitais. Despite surpassing Cena for the longest WWE Championship reign since Hulk Hogan, there was always the feeling that management wasn't totally behind him. Him being passed over for the main event of Wrestlemania 29 in favor of a second John Cena-Rock match seemed to confirm that.

But what truly was the straw that broke the camel's back came the night after the 2014 Royal Rumble. Punk, not too happy with his place with the company as of late, was burned out. His body was betraying him and he felt management wasn't looking out for him. Punk could take no more, and he walked away from a company that was paying him over $2 million a year.

Six months of "will he, won't he" and "this is probably an elaborate work" followed before his contract expired and his profile was quietly moved to the Alumni section. Then, when Thanksgiving came, the fun really began. Punk ripped into WWE about his treatment in the company in a scathing shoot... a shoot that would end up with him in court with WWE's doctor (the suit's still going, by the way). But Punk's leaving left a huge hole not just on the roster, but in the hearts of many wrestling fans. Perhaps no one wrestler spoke to the "Internet fan" quite like Punk in recent memory--maybe ever.

We shouldn't have been been that surprised that Punk left; he always did things out of the norm anyway. But what other way there was to react than pure shock? That's why you voted this as the most shocking wrexit ever.

My apologies for getting this countdown to you so late.