Spent the last year hammering ‘WWE 2K20 CM Punk’ into search engines? You are not alone. The five-time world champ's last videogame appearance was in WWE 2K15, and he left the company on notoriously awkward terms - likely ruling him out of future appearances. Yet he isn't the only one. Below we profile Punk, AJ Lee and 13 other superstars you won't be seeing this year, or on the WWE 2K21 roster. Note that the brilliant Owen Hart, who tragically fell to his death while on WWE duty, is deliberately left off our list out of respect to his family.
Who is he? Favourite of the independent scene who signed for WWE in 2005 and become widely revered for his top-tier matches and fourth-wall-breaking promos.
Why’s he out? Always his own man rather than a company stooge, Punk walked out without warning the night after the 2014 Royal Rumble, never to wrestle again. In 2018 he won a civil lawsuit brought about by WWE doctor Chris Amman after Punk publicly criticised treatment of injuries suffered in the ring.
Last appearance: WWE 2K15
Who is she? The pocket-sized three-time world champion who kickstarted WWE’s ‘women’s revolution’ by calling out her boss Stephanie McMahon on Twitter.
Why’s she out? WWE is the McMahons’ family business; it seems unlikely that the above tweet was appreciated in private, and Lee has never received any onscreen credit. Just as pertinent is Lee’s post-WWE life. She’s married to CM Punk, and both seem content with their exile status. It’d take a miraculous change of heart for either to return.
Last appearance: WWE 2K15
Cody Rhodes & Goldust
Who are they? The sons of WCW and WWE legend Dusty Rhodes, who've both bounced between the 'E and other organisations repeatedly over the last three decades. Outside of WWE, Goldust goes by the name Dustin Rhodes.
Why are they out? In 2018, Cody teamed up with tandem the Young Bucks to map out a new fed called All Elite Wrestling (AEW) - and it's proven itself as the biggest threat to WWE's popularity in two decades. Brother Dustin departed WWE in April 2019 to sign for AEW, and engaged in a brutal brawl with Cody at the subsequent Double Or Nothing pay-per-view.
Last appearance: WWE 2K17 (Cody, as Stardust) / WWE 2K19 (Goldust)
Who are they? Ax and Smash, an ‘80s tandem beloved by fans from that era for their dominant matches – and very cool Hasbro action figures.
Why are they out? Bill ‘Ax’ Eadie and Barry ‘Smash’ Darsow were among 51 plaintiffs who sued WWE in a complex mid-2010s lawsuit regarding CTE injuries discovered later in life. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2018, but you suspect all those involved are considered personae non grata in WWE’s eyes.
Last appearance: WWE 12
Who is he? Bearded Brit who established himself as WWE’s top cruiserweight – and an incredibly effective heel – before suddenly walking out, much like CM Punk.
Why is he out? Neville remained contracted for a further ten months before his departure, supposedly declining all attempts to end his silent protest, which won’t have gone down well with WWE top brass. He’s now signed to All Elite Wrestling (AEW), the rival federation being funded by Jacksonville Jaguars boss Shahid Khan.
Last appearance: WWE 2K18
Legion Of Doom
Who are they? The greatest tag-team of the ‘80s, known as the Road Warriors outside of WWE. Across their career they won 22 separate championships in various feds.
Why are they out? Joe ‘Animal’ Laurinaitis was another of those 51 former stars who sued WWE over CTE injuries, likely ruling him out of ever working with the company again. Michael ‘Hawk’ Hegstrand passed away in 2003, and it’s unlikely his likeness would ever be used in-game without a digital Animal alongside him.
Last appearance: WWE 13
Alberto Del Rio
Who is he? Firebrand Mexican with a variety of wrestling and mixed martial arts organisations on his resume, including two separate stints in WWE.
Why is he out? Infamous for his self-confidence both and in and out of the ring, Del Rio and WWE always ‘enjoyed’ a sparky relationship – not least when he began dating Saraya-Jade Bevis, better known as Fighting With My Family’s Paige. Their acrimonious split rules him out of a return so long as the much-loved Bevis remains under contract.
Last appearance: WWE 2K17
Who is he? One half of WCW and WWF tag masters The Steiner Brothers, later achieving individual glory as the peroxided ‘Big Poppa Pump’.
Why is he out? Released from WWE in 2004, Steiner has never been shy with his opinions on power couple Triple H and Stephanie McMahon – even using the C-word to describe the latter. And I don’t mean ‘comrade’. He described his WWE stints as “brutal” in a Whatculture interview which emphatically closed the door on any potential return.
Last appearance: WWE Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain
Who is she? Arguably North America’s best out-and-out female wrestler of the past 15 years, boasting seven TNA championships in addition to one WWE title run.
Why is she out? Despite constant rumours of a return to wrestle in WWE’s annual Mae Young Classic tournament, Kim has made clear that she is finished with the company. “I’ve been there twice. I have never been happy there. Life is about happiness,” she tweeted in July 2018, reaffirming a stance held for some time.
Last appearance: WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011
Who is he? Canadian technician who made his name in turn-of-the-century ECW via memorable feuds with Chris Candido, Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman.
Why is he out? Storm trained current WWE superstars Tyler Breeze and Peyton Royce, but there’s no chance of him returning to line up alongside his proteges. “You don’t date the guy with the most money, you date the guy that treats you right,” he wrote in support of Gail Kim’s above tweet. “At least if you have any self respect. Seems pretty simple.”
Last appearance: WWE Day Of Reckoning
Who is he? In real life: New Yorker Marc Copani. In WWE lexicon: Arab-American grappler trying to overcome post 9/11 stereotypes. Which could have been progressive, except he was cast as a heel.
Why is he out? Hoo boy. Of all WWE mis-steps from the past 30 years, this is surely the biggest. The week of the 7/7 London bombings in 2005, WWE broadcast an angle in which masked men led by Hassan beat down The Undertaker while armed with piano wire. Yes, astonishing. Hassan left that September and is now a Syracuse school teacher.
Last appearance: WWE Day Of Reckoning 2
Who is he? Cruiserweight expert and former tag-team partner of Brian Kendrick. Kendrick returned for WWE 2K20 despite a puzzling omission from the 2K19 roster.
Why is he out? Repeatedly critical of his former employer, London recently came out in support of an HBO piece which took WWE to task for treating its wrestlers as independent contractors. “[WWE’s] wellness policy is a sham and a selective ‘witch hunt’ to weed out those who don’t play the game,” he said. The scope for a reunion is nil.
Last appearance: WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2006
WWE 2K20 is out now. To keep tabs on those wrestlers who are in this year’s game, Irish whip yourself towards our WWE 2K20 roster guide.