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Due to the inevitability of the roster being out of date resulting from an earlier cutoff date (which is usually around WrestleMania) combined with yearly releases, there are some characters that appear in each game despite no longer being in the WWE by the time the game hits the shelves. There are also straighter examples within each installment:

Smackdown!

  • Ken Shamrock is in the game despite the fact that he left the company several months before. He was also in Smackdown 2, which was dummied out. As Shamrock left the company to return to his UFC career.
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  • Both Goldust and Jeff Jarrett's parts are available in Create A Superstar mode under 'Standard'. Both were originally supposed to be in the game, but Goldust had left the company some time before, and Jarrett had jumped ship to WCW on bad terms.

Know Your Role

  • Royal Rumble mode randomly generates characters. It doesn't just do this with playable characters; it can extend to characters you haven't unlocked yet and even the otherwise Dummied Out Ken Shamrock and Big Show.
  • Like the first game, both Goldust and Jeff Jarrett's parts are available in Create A Superstar mode under 'Standard'. Goldust had left the company some time before, and Jarrett had jumped ship to WCW on bad terms. You can play as Jarrett in "WCW Backstage Assault", released that year, although it's regarded as one of the worst wrestling games ever made.
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  • One of the Unknown characters resembles Scott Hall (then wrestling for rivals WCW) to the extent that it must have been done deliberately.
  • The Kat is playable in this game, despite only being Best Known for the Fanservice and doing little in the ring besides participating in T&A fests. She was only in the WWF because she was the wife of Jerry "The King" Lawler at the time. She was fired three months later and retired on bad terms with the company.

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Just Bring It!

  • Fred Durst, who was included as part of a deal to include the band's song 'Rollin' (The Undertaker's Biker-era theme music) in the game.
  • Jerry Lynn is playable despite not wrestling very many matches in WWF. He also was released three months after the game came out.

SmackDown vs. Raw

  • Chuck Palumbo, somehow made it in to the game, even though he was only being used as a jobber on Sunday Night Heat for the majority of 2004.

SmackDown vs. Raw 2006

  • Jerry "The King" Lawler becomes your tag partner in one match in season mode, and you can play as him in that match if you tag out. He has a complete set of moves, however, he's not unlockable in any form. It's likely that the storyline was written before the decision was made to write out his character, but that it was too late to remove them from season mode.

SmackDown vs. Raw 2007

  • Tazz and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart probably weren't expected by most.
  • Hardcore Holly, who was injured during most of the production cycle and was barely relevant.
  • Vito made it in, under his original Heel trunks attire, despite a) switching to a dress wearing Face gimmick, and b) Nunzio not being in the game, even though Vito was Nunzio's bodyguard and Nunzio had held the Cruiserweight Championship that year.

SmackDown vs. Raw 2009

  • Due to the release of Legends of WrestleMania the following year, the game took an unusual step and forewent the traditional "Legends" roster. Not even Stone Cold and The Rock made it in.note  Instead, we got the likes of Ric Flair, Vince McMahon, and...Tazz (again) who hardly anyone expected to see as a playable character.
  • The game also included two bonus characters: Tony, a soldier friend of John Cena’s, and a mysterious masked man involved in Chris Jericho’s storyline.

Legends of WrestleMania

  • Kamala and Michael Hayes are playable in the game, despite their only appearances at the event being in the famous "Gimmick Battle Royal" at WrestleMania X7.
  • Koko B. Ware somehow made it in, even though he was a jobber that never won a match, or even had a memorable moment, in the event's history. His inclusion was likely due to his Hall of Fame induction that year.
  • Dusty Rhodes was definitely a legend of the the 1980s, but he wasn't exactly a "legend of WrestleMania", as his only match at the pay-per-view was a forgettable and poorly received mixed tag match with Sapphire against Randy Savage and Sherri.
  • There's little denying Triple H is a "legend of WrestleMania", but as the "Hunter Hearst Helmsley" gimmick? Not so much.

SmackDown vs. Raw 2010

  • JBL's inclusion was hardly surprising, despite having retired in April 2009, as he was a legendary figure and was the main villain in Shawn Michaels’ story, but what was surprising to some was the fact that he was playable from the start, rather than an unlockable like Ric Flair in 2009. However, far fewer people, if any, expected Mr. Kennedy and Umaga to be on the roster, having spent much of 2009 injured and being fired from the company almost immediately after returning. Mr. Kennedy at least had an important role in Edge’s "Road to WrestleMania" story, but Umaga was almost completely irrelevant in that mode.
  • "Cowboy" Bob Orton is playable, thanks to his involvement in Randy Orton's "Road to WrestleMania" storyline. It's odd considering that he's not really one of the more popular Legends unlike the other two Legacy dads, and his son has almost completely eclipsed him in popularity.
  • The Red and Green test dummies from Create-a-Move Set. It's actually a lot more awesome than it sounds.

SmackDown vs. Raw 2011

  • Rob Van Dam may be the most triumphant example, let alone as one of the Legends, due to his debuting in TNA earlier in the year. This was largely down to the decision to include RVD & signing the deal to get him in the game happened before his TNA debut.
  • One of Undertaker's Druids is a playable character.

WWE All Stars

  • Hulk Hogan, who had been in TNA for quite a while at the time of the game's release.
  • Randy Savage, making his first WWE video game appearance since the SNES-era. Sadly, he died only two months after the game's release. He made his debut in the series proper as DLC for WWE '12.
  • On the superstars side, how many people expected Drew McIntyre to be on the base roster?

WWE '12

  • Brock Lesnar, especially since Brock hadn't been seen in a WWE ring again for nearly 8 years and didn't exactly have a decent send off. This example became Hilarious in Hindsight about five months following the release of WWE '12 due to Lesnar's return, so it's possible that his inclusion in the game was meant to hype his return.
  • Kharma was included as DLC and appeared on-disc in '13 as well. She never wrestled a single match during her time there note , only appearing on TV every so often to beat someone up.
  • Batista being a DLC character was odd since he left the company over a year before the game's release.
  • Despite them "wrestling" a few matches during the game's development, did anyone honestly think that Michael Cole or Jim Ross would be playable?

WWE '13

  • John Laurinaitis of all people is a playable character.
  • Gangrel, since no one expected THQ & WWE to license the character's name from White Wolf for the sole purpose of including him as DLC.

WWE 2K14

  • Ultimate Warrior & Hulk Hogan; with the former's notable bad blood with the WWE & the latter being a part of TNA for three years prior to the game's release - however, with the game celebrating 30 years of WrestleMania, it wouldn't feel like a real celebration of the event's history without the two.
    • To take it further with Warrior, not only was he in the game, he was the Pre-Order Bonus character and appeared in the commercials for the game.
  • Goldberg is another example, since it's common knowledge that he and WWE don't get along well, and his sole WrestleMania match at the time was the infamous match with Brock Lesnar, where the crowd had turned on both competitors due to their leaving the WWE after the show. They needed something to make up for the absence of the WWE and World Championship matchesnote , as Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit could not be included in the game because the former was still in TNA at the time and the latter will obviously never appear in a WWE game again after the murder-suicide, and Goldberg's only other appearance in a main-line game was in Here Comes the Pain.
  • Bruno Sammartino makes his WWE game debut as a DLC character, marking the first instance of a pre-80s star appearing in a modern WWE game and the debut of a wrestler who has had an infamous grudge with WWE.
  • Not a lot of people expected David Otunga to be in WWE 2K14, considering that he vanished after the Royal Rumble. Needless to say, that was his last appearance in the franchise.
  • Aksana was a shocker too, being that her role in WWE at the time was largely that of a jobber.

WWE 2K15

  • CM Punk is a semi-example. Whilst Punk was one of the biggest WWE names in recent years, his less than amicable departure from the WWE after the 2014 Royal Rumble and the fact that WWE has since then been trying to Un-person him to near Benoit-levels made his inclusion in the game a surprise to some, especially since there was plenty of time to remove him; however, since he had an entire story mode centered around him, it would have been difficult to do so.
  • Sting's inclusion was initially shocking to most. He had never wrestled for WWE (except for the last episode of WCW Monday Nitro, which is counted as a WWE show) at the time, and had repeatedly expressed a lack of interest in working for WWE. Yet somehow he made it into a WWE game. As a Pre-Order Bonus no less. As it turned out, Sting would appear in WWE for the first time a month after the game was released. His inclusion in the game may have been to build hype, fuel speculation, stimulate fan interest and/or introduce the character to younger fans who might not be aware of who he is.
  • 2K15 marks the first time superstars in the developmental system would be included in the game's roster, with NXT superstars Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, Corey Graves, and (albeit as DLC) the Ascension being includednote . Graves, however, stands out amongst the group due to his last WWE match being in March 2014.
  • Also, Vince McMahon not being playable came as a surprise to many, given he hasn't been an NPC since Smackdown vs. Raw '07.
  • The WCW DLC characters pack consisted of Bam Bam Bigelow, Lord Steven Regal, Fit Finlay, Diamond Dallas Page and Lex Luger. Bigalow, Finlay and Regal are somewhat surprising since they were only midcarders at best and not guys you'd instantly expect to see in a WCW pack.
  • NPC or not, not too many people expected Bill DeMott in this game.

WWE 2K16

  • The Terminator, since he's a fictional character and not even a wrestler.
  • Few, if any fans expected Layla to make the game given that she was excluded from 2K15, had degenerated into a joke character and was inactive due to injury from November 2014 to January 2015 note . Upon her return, she only wrestled a couple of times on its C Show Main Event and made a brief cameo on Raw before retiring in July. It goes to show that 2K is more lenient than THQ was about including inactive or lowercard wrestlers to its roster.
  • Like Layla above, Cameron was rarely appearing on TV and was eventually sent back down to NXT before being released seven months after the game came out.
  • All of the DLC characters from 2K15 (except Hogan, who was pulled due to being unpersoned for his racist comments, and The Great Khali, who had left the company) returned for 2K16, among them are guys like Colonel Mustafa, General Adnan, Fit Finlay and Lord Steven Regal, which had baffled/pissed off some fans since they all seemingly have no business in the game. Finlay and Regal being random WCW midcarders as noted in the 2K15 entry (at least Bam Bam Bigelow had a solid WWE career to make up for it), Adnan was barely a footnote in WWE history, and because Mustafa isn't in as The Iron Sheik when Randy Savage and Sgt. Slaughter have been given their more familiar personas in this game note 
  • Santino Marella, who made the game despite retiring from in-ring competition in July 2014, through he did do backstage work for WWE and made the occasional non-wrestling appearance before being released at the same time as Cameron. What's especially weird is that Corey Graves, who's last match was in April 2014 but retired due to injury a good 5 months after Santino, was cut despite actually being an on-air personality for both NXT and the PPV pre-shows. Probably because Graves' career was far less memorable.
  • Batista (again) since he had left the company to act in movies in June 2014 after his disastrous return in January that same year.
  • Somehow Mikey Whipwreck made it in, thanks to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's title match with him in ECW being featured in his 2K Showcase, which in itself is shocking since most people expected the WCW and ECW portions of Austin's career to be overlooked or outright ignored. Even with his early career in WWF people weren't expecting to see someone like Savio Vega in. And for the trifecta, Austin's WCW run allowed Colonel Rob Parker to be in as a manager, who would've had no chance of ever making it in a WWE game otherwise.
  • Even though many fans predicted/hoped that Samoa Joe would be a DLC character for the game, the fact that it actually happened was shocking to many. He didn't debut in NXT until late May 2015, two months after the cut off date. However, his signing with WWE was known months in advance, so it probably wasn't that far-fetched.
  • Bobby Heenan is included as a manager, and has a 100 rating to boot.
  • Stevie Ray, who is about one step above Marty Jannetty as the "lesser partner" in Breakup Breakouts, was included as DLC in the Hall of Fame Showcase DLC, due to the inclusion of an Outsiders vs. Harlem Heat match for undeserving inductee Kevin Nash.

WWE 2K17

  • Goldberg is back, and this time is the Pre-Order Bonus, along with the WCW Monday Nitro and Halloween Havoc 1998 arenas. His bad relationship with WWE appears to have been somewhat resolved.
  • Billy Gunn's return is a bit of a shock. No one expected him to be in 2K17 since he was fired from WWE in November 2015 after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs he was taking for a powerlifting competition. Road Dogg has also joined him, reuniting the New Age Outlaws.
  • Stardust's appearance surprised many. He requested his release from WWE in May of 2016 and left on pretty bad terms (as he wanted to go back to being Cody Rhodes, but WWE wouldn't allow it), while other notable wrestlers who were released around the same time like Wade Barrett, Damien Sandow, Cameron and Ryback (who despite being removed from TV to sit out the rest of his contract, never officially left the company until August) didn't make it in.
  • Two standouts from the "Legends Pack" were Brutus Beefcake and Tatanka, a couple of midcarders from WWF's Dork Age (though they were both highly requested by fans) and the former being better known as Hulk Hogan's coattail-riding lackey (especially given that Hogan himself wasn't in) than for his wrestling merits.
  • Greg "The Hammer" Valentine probably wasn't on many wishlists, but was a great addition nonetheless.
  • Getting the nWo Wolfpac version of Sting in the HoF showcase was a pleasant surprise for many, as they were expecting a 1997 Crow Sting. But considering that Sting's biggest match with that persona was against a person who's currently on WWE's shit list for the foreseeable future and we already had a 1999 Crow Sting, the devs gave us a very nice alternative.

WWE 2K18

  • Even though Paige is still under contract with WWE as of this writing, she had been out of action due to a neck injury for well over a year and had caused so much behind-the-scenes controversy with her fiancee Alberto Del Rionote  (two Wellness Policy suspensions, nude photos/a sex tape, passive-aggressive slander and reports of domestic abuse from both parties) that many are surprised that she's still employed at all, much less was included in the game. Summer Rae had also been off TV with an injury for ages, but her inclusion was a bit more expected than Paige's as she's been mostly scandal-free, though Summer was let go a couple weeks after the game came out and Paige made her return not long after that.
  • Similar to Paige and Summer is Tyson Kidd, who despite being more or less retired since a severe neck injury in 2015, made it into both 2K17 and 2K18, with his appearance in the latter being far less expected than the former.
  • Rick Martel was very unexpected, given how he was a midcarder at best, moreso that he was revealed during the big weekly roster reveals.
  • Sawyer Fulton of SAnitY, who had barely lasted two months with the stable and hadn't been in action since November 2016. Made more egregious when he was released in November 2017 after being cleared for 7 months without ever returning.
  • Gran Metalik appeared extremely sporadically throughout his time on 205 Live. Many were surprised to see him in.
  • Lars Sullivan, a recently-debuted NXT star who only had a handful of televised matches at the time, was announced as DLC.

WWE 2K19

  • Few expected Mike and Maria Kanellis to make it into the game (albeit as DLC) due to them being absent from TV for the majority of their time since their 2017 arrival, or return in Maria's case (due to Maria's pregnancy, Mike's injuries, etc.). Maria being a playable wrestler was also somewhat of a surprise since she hadn't yet wrestled any matches in her second run (though it would later turn out to be a late-00s version of Maria) and the likes of Lana (who has been an occasional wrestler since 2016) and Ted DiBiase were stuck as Non-playable managers for many years. Though both are playable this year, with Lana making her playable debut and Ted making his return after last being playable in 2K14.
  • Booker T was expected to be in the game, as he had since 2K started making them, but few expected his King Booker persona to be in and not his normal Booker T gimmick.
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