In 2016, the WWE treaded in uncharted waters. With Triple H gaining more and more influence, his knowledge of the independent scene was never more apparent, as evidenced by the WWE plucking indie darlings by the wayside and placing them in the company.
AJ Styles. Shinsuke Nakamura. Bobby Roode. Roderick Strong. Chris Hero. La Sombra.
The list goes on and on. And as the WWE Network expands, it’s expected that their efforts are ramped up even further.
But just because wrestlers around the world are dying to join the WWE, that doesn’t mean current WWE superstars aren’t chomping at the bits to get a crack on the smaller circuits around the globe. Take a look at Cody Rhodes, for example. After bolting from the company, he went on to compete in almost every top independent promotion, including Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and others.
While it’ll never be said, I’m sure there are a ton of superstars who are jealous of what Rhodes is doing. At the same time, there are indie talents who would take said superstars places in a heart beat.
But who would actually make these moves? Let’s take a look at 10 wrestlers who should be in the WWE and 10 WWE wrestlers who should take their talents elsewhere.
20 Join - Matt Hardy
Who would’ve ever thought that Matt Hardy would be in greater demand than his brother Jeff? That’s what happens when you gain creative freedom on a lower scale wrestling program. Ever since Hardy transitioned to his “Broken” character, his popularity has been bigger than ever — and that’s impressive, especially when you take into account how beloved The Hardy Boyz were in their prime with the WWE. Working with TNA Impact Wrestling, Hardy is the only thing bringing life to the floundering brand as his outlandish look, odd accent, and the “delete” and “obsolete” catchphrases have made him a popular act across the globe.
On one hand, it’s hard to see the WWE giving Hardy full control of his character. But if they come to their senses and allow that to happen, Broken Matt can bring a ton of charisma and originality to the company — and that’s something they’re sorely lacking.
19 Leave - James Ellsworth
Let’s be honest: the James Ellsworth story is a cool one. After being as entertaining as he could be during a squash match against Braun Strowman, the WWE decided to have him pop up in various backstage segments and ultimately gave him a contract to work on the SmackDown Live brand. His inclusion in the WWE World Championship program between Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles was fun…at first. But after months of popping up in the main event feud, fans grew tired of the longtime independent wrestler. Now working as the “love interest” of Carmella, his popularity has dwindled even further. Sure, he’ll probably pop up in the Royal Rumble match and may even eliminate someone; but after the event, the WWE should cut their ties with Ellsworth.
18 Join - Tama Tonga
This won’t be the last time you see a Bullet Club member on this list. Tama Tonga has come a long way from his days training with Bubba and D-Von Dudley and it shows in his worldwide popularity. The adopted son of former WWE star Haku, Tonga has been a fixture in New Japan Pro Wrestling, as he is a two-time IWGP Tag Team Champion. In addition to his time in Japan, Tonga has always gained experience in Mexico, which as also helped his wrestling career.
Equipped with a unique look and impressive in-ring skill set, Tonga would be someone who instantly stands out on WWE programming. Is he World Championship material? Maybe not. But Tonga has all the makings of a legitimate upper mid card talent and could be someone who helps revitalize the Intercontinental or United States Championship. While his intentions of leaving NJPW are unknown, the WWE should have interest in him nonetheless.
17 Leave - Oney Lorcan
Before he made his way to NXT, the man known as Biff Busick was rapidly rising up the ranks as one of the independent scene’s brightest young stars. Due to his strong style of wrestling, it was no surprise that the WWE took notice — and in September of 2015, he signed a developmental deal with the brand. Unfortunately, however, it’s been all downhill from there. Despite the Biff Busick name holding some weight, he was renamed Oney Lorcan; and if that name wasn’t bad enough, he hasn’t been booked prominently at all.
Although he’s become more and more of a fixture on NXT TV (and has even made an appearance on Smackdown Live), Lorcan continues to be passed over by bigger indie talents. At 31 years of age, he’s still young enough to take his talents back to a smaller stage in an attempt to revitalize his career. And with the way things are going, that could be Lorcan’s best course of action.
16 Join - Ivelisse
Before she became a star on Lucha Underground, Ivelisse was on the fifth season of Tough Enough, and despite not winning, was still awarded a developmental deal. Her time in the company was marred, however, as she was one of the first people to let the company know of how bad of a trainer Bill DeMott was. After her release, Ivelisse gained experience in AAA and TNA, among other smaller companies. However, it wasn’t until she made her way to the Lucha Underground Arena where she became a renowned talent. Known for her emphatic charisma and toughness, Ivelisse has become one of LU’s top stars. Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
And although Ivelisse has taken amazing strides since leaving the WWE, you know they’re kicking themselves from letting her slip through the cracks, as she has the looks and ability that the company craves.
15 Leave - Paige
Unfortunately, Paige has had a far fall from grace. Before Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Bayley were taking the wrestling world by storm, it was the England native who worked as the Anti-Diva, a female talent who prioritized in-ring ability over looks. After becoming the first ever NXT Women’s Champion, she debuted on the main roster and won the Divas Championship in her first televised match. But as the foursome worked to the top of the food chain, it was Paige who was put on the back burner.
A relationship with Alberto Del Rio, neck surgery and two Wellness Policy violations have made her stock plummet even further and it remains to be seen if she’ll ever return to WWE programming. But since Paige is still under contract, she still counts — and as of now, it appears that the best thing for her to do is to leave the company on good terms which could leave the door open for a reunion down the road.
14 Join - ACH
If ACH wasn’t locked into a contract with Ring of Honor at the time, he probably would’ve been a key member of WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic. Known as one of the best high flyers today, ACH has been a standout performer on the independent circuit as he’s worked with top promotions like ROH, CZW, AAA, Chikara, AAW, and most recently, New Japan Pro Wrestling. With his ROH contract expired, ACH made his debut with NJPW at this year’s WrestleKingdom, working as Tiger the Dark against Kota Ibushi, who wrestled as Tiger Mask W. With his ROH contract expired, rumors are rampant that he could sign with the WWE and come in as a key member of 205 Live.
While the show hasn’t gotten off on the right foot, bringing in someone like ACH — who can put on tremendous matches with Neville, Rich Swann, Tony Nese, Drew Gulak, and others — would provide the new show with some much-needed buzz and star power.
13 Leave - Apollo Crews
When Apollo Crews inked a developmental contract with the WWE back in early 2015, the internet world was buzzing. After all, the man formerly known as Uhaa Nation had the impressive combination of strength and high flying ability, making his in-ring talent like no other. During his time in NXT, Crews was the wrestler that he was in Dragon Gate USA but it was his mic work that needed the most improvement. But with Vince McMahon seeing money in him, he made the call to bring him up to the main roster as he was drafted by SmackDown Live.
Unfortunately, however, his skill set hasn’t manifested on the main stage, and instead of being a focal point, he’s an afterthought. It isn’t necessarily Crews’ fault; at the time of the draft, many believed it was way too soon for a call up. At this point, it doesn’t look like his WWE career is going anywhere. If he were to take his talents back to the independent circuit, it would give him the best chance to improve his stock. And since the company obviously loves his look, he will more than likely be welcomed back with open arms — as long as he’s improved.
12 Join - Jay Lethal
To start, Jay Lethal to the WWE won’t be happening for another two years, at the earliest. Despite rumors of him potentially joining the company as early as 2017, the former ROH World Champion re-upped with the promotion for two years. Either way, he will be the subject of rumors in 2019 — and deservingly so. When looking across the independents, there may be no wrestler that combines top notch in-ring skills with high quality promos and impressive charisma like Lethal does. Whether it was in TNA as a part of the X-Division, in ROH as a main event player, or as a special attraction in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Lethal has always been someone who has fans speaking highly of him. Largely considered someone with the total package, Lethal has everything that it takes to be a big player in the WWE. And although it might not be soon, his switch to the biggest wrestling company in the world seems inevitable. And with Lethal banking on himself, he could be in position to receive an AJ Styles-like deal and skip NXT.
11 Leave - Hideo Itami
Is there any bigger way to be introduced to the WWE audience than by Hulk Hogan bringing you out? That’s exactly what Hideo Itami had, with the company clearly pegging him as their next international star. When he was brought in to NXT with Kevin Owens and Finn Balor, it gave the brand a newfound buzz that changed it from developmental to an indie All-Star platform. Unfortunately, however, bad luck has hindered Itami’s growth. After debuting at WrestleMania 31 and being blatantly positioned as the number one contender for the NXT Championship, he went down with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for over a year. After the lengthy absence, Itami was thrusted into a prominent program with Austin Aries, but the feud never took off due to a neck injury that Itami suffered at the hands of Riddick Moss.
Once again on the injured list, it’s unknown when Itami will return. With Shinsuke Nakamura now in the fold, Itami is no longer the number one drawing power for the Japanese market, making his future with the company that much more bleak. It wouldn’t be a shock to anyone if WWE cuts their ties with Itami, in which he will return to Japan and — hopefully — continue wrestling.
10 Join - Kota Ibushi
Unlike some of the other wrestlers on this list, the WWE Universe knows exactly who Kota Ibushi is. After all, he was the star of the Cruiserweight Classic and put on a legitimate match of the year candidate with Cedric Alexander. But because he refused to lock himself down into a deal with the company, he wasn’t awarded the newly-made WWE Cruiserweight Championship. Ibushi obviously likes his freedom on the independent circuit, as he can have comedy matches with DDT or mat classics in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
With that being said, he has the size, build, and more importantly, the wrestling ability, to make it in the WWE — and not only as a Cruiserweight talent, but as a star on either RAW or SmackDown Live. All indications are that Ibushi has turned down every offer that Vince McMahon and Triple H have given him; but if the WWE is intent on bringing in star power, they will give Ibushi exactly what he wants.
9 Leave - Luke Harper
When looking at the RAW, SmackdDown Live, NXT, and 205 Live rosters, there may not be as much of a unique individual than Luke Harper. While his dirty-looking clothing, bushy beard, and wide eyes make him stand out enough, he’s also a hidden gem inside of the squared circle. While he’s been relegated to power moves, there have been plenty of times where he’s been able to display he agility and quickness, something he frequented on the independent scene. Despite being one of the most well-versed wrestlers in the company, he seems to have a ceiling to due being a lackey for Bray Wyatt as a member of the Wyatt Family.
If the creative team can look past that, they have a potential star on their hands. Unfortunately, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Harper can be a main event player anywhere else in the world and it wouldn’t be a shock if he decides to take his career to another promotion.
8 Join - Pentagon Jr.
Taking our attention back to Lucha Underground, Pentagon Jr. may be arguably the best wrestler on their roster — and with a bevy of luchadors employed by the company, that’s saying something. But Pentagon, however, isn’t any old luchador. Mixed in with his high flying style is a vicious move set that includes a variation of stiff strikes, making him stick out more than other masked talents. In addition, his selling ability and charisma are also top notch, making him a wrestler the WWE should want. While his body type slides into the 205 Live category, Pentagon is someone who can come into NXT and be groomed as one of their top stars before making his way to the main roster. A frequent member of PWG and AAA along with Lucha Underground, it remains to be seen when Pentagon’s contract is up. Whenever it is, the WWE needs to be all over him.
7 Leave - Rusev
From his debut up until he was defeated by John Cena at WrestleMania 31, Rusev was booked extremely well. After all, it doesn't get much better than being a foreign powerhouse that doesn’t lose any matches. But once the United States Championship was taken off him, so was the care from the creative team, as Rusev has been on a downward spiral ever since. Once booked as a serious competitor, the Bulgarian Brute has been featured in more love triangles than beat downs. Despite being on the big side, Rusev is also very athletic, and if positioned the right way he could be a main event player. Instead, it seems like he’ll always play second fiddle to Lana, which also means he’ll probably never sniff the Universal Championship. Imagine Rusev working as a top level heel in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling?
6 Join - The Young Bucks
If we’re calling Gallows and Anderson the top team in Bullet Club, The Young Bucks would have something to say about it. There hasn’t been another wrestler or team that has worked the independent scene to their advantage as the Bucks are currently making WWE money while working half the dates that superstars do. Currently holders of the World Tag Team Championships for both ROH and PWG — while also being one of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s hottest acts — The Young Bucks' brash demeanor and awe-inspiring move set make them internationally loved.
Like Lethal, they, too, have re-signed their deals, making their potential WWE run something that will come further down the line. But unlike Anderson and Gallows, The Young Bucks ooze charisma and have always seemed to get a larger reaction from the fan bases that they work in front of. It would be interesting to see The Young Bucks wrestling in a WWE ring one day. But knowing them, they’d make it work.
5 Leave - Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows
It was just a year ago when the WWE pulled off one of the biggest raids since the Monday Night War as they were able to acquire AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows from New Japan Pro Wrestling. While Styles and Nakamura were sure fire stars, many fans were excited for The Bullet Club’s top tag team as it was hoped they would come in, shake up, and reinvent the WWE tag team scene. Unfortunately, however, they’ve been anything but. While Anderson and Gallows were decently positioned with Styles as The Club, they were mostly used as lackeys.
Once the WWE split them up in the draft, the duo has been booked quite poorly. Typically on the end of losing encounters, their long and unsuccessful feud with The New Day over the RAW Tag Team Championships made them out to be a joke. Internet fans are praying that Anderson and Gallows will be reunited with Finn Balor upon his return from injury but that remains to be seen. There’s no denying that the team stood out in NJPW and they would be better off if they were on the independent circuit.
4 Join - Kenny Omega
There may be no hotter name in the wrestling world right now than Kenny Omega. At WrestleKingdom, he put on one of the greatest professional wrestling matches ever against Kazuchika Okada and is currently positioned as New Japan Pro Wrestling’s top foreign athlete. With his brand at an all time high, the WWE must strike while the iron is hot. And with rumors circulating that his current deal with NJPW ends at the end of January, it’s possible that Omega could be in a WWE ring before you know it. Whether it’s his all-around ability as a wrestler, his unique and engaging promo skills, or his look, he has the potential to be the next big star in the WWE. And if Vince McMahon and Triple H and any sort of talent evaluation, they wouldn't hesitate to bring Omega into the fold and immediately put him on the main roster.
3 Leave - Dolph Ziggler
Oh, Dolph Ziggler. Has there been a more frustrating wrestler in recent memory? No, that has nothing to do with Ziggler himself. But it has everything to do with The Show Off doing everything in his power to be one of the most beloved and effective stars on the WWE roster, only to be booked like a loser while also being inserted into laughable and/or forgettable programs. A recent heel turn has many hoping that Ziggler can, once again, be a full-fledged member of the main event scene, but there’s no denying that his stock has fallen drastically in the last year or so.
Either way, there’s no denying that his magnetic personality, impressive in—ring ability and his uncanny way to sell makes him a fit on nearly any independent roster. Imagine Ziggler main event ROH or PWG shows? It’s not only something that isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but for Ziggler’s sake, it’s something that he should do.
2 Join - Adam Cole
The aforementioned names on this list are impressive. And if the WWE can add one of these talents, they’d be better off. But if they had only one slot open, all their attention should focus on Adam Cole. Sorry, Kenny Omega, but it’s your Bullet Club buddy who’s the star of the indies. Working with Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Cole is positioned as ROH’s top star, as evidenced by being the only wrestler in company history to win their World Championship on three separate occasions. He’s one of the best in-ring technicians in the world and can put on a quality match with almost anyone. He’s an impressive talk. He has looks and age on his side. He’s the total package who can take the WWE to the next level.
It’s been noted that his contract with ROH is up in April and the company is concerned that he may bolt for the WWE. Can you imagine Cole debuting on the RAW after WrestleMania? It isn’t out of the question…
1 Leave - Cesaro
Look up and down the WWE roster. Seriously, go ahead. Is there anyone who is a better wrestler than Cesaro? Sure, you can make the case for AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Sami Zayn or Kevin Owens. But when you’re only factoring what goes on in between the red and blue ropes, it’s hard to select anyone other than the Swiss Superman. With that being said, however, that's the problem. Cesaro is a great wrestler, but that’s about it. In the WWE, mic skills are equally as important as in-ring talent, and that seems to be the only thing holding Cesaro back. While he’s typically positioned as a great wrestler in the tag team division, he’s yet to get a true chance as a solo act — and that’s something every wrestler wants.
Would it be a big blow if the WWE lost Cesaro? Yes. But if he wants to be a wrestler, he can join literally any other roster in the world and be positioned as their top star. For Cesaro, that may be what he wants.
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