World Wrestling Entertainment made some noteworthy changes to the company’s overall roster and to its programming in the summer of 2016. A WWE Draft that occurred in July split the rosters in two, one that is featured on the Raw show and one that is associated with SmackDown. The NXT brand continues to be strong heading into the fall of 2016, as tremendous wrestlers such as Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode are carrying the banner for NXT as of the final weeks of summer. There is also the Cruiserweight Classic that has aired on the WWE Network, a tournament showcasing talent that, in the past, would have been ignored by the WWE. While there have been both ups and downs in the WWE Universe over the past 12 months, fans have to admit that 2016 has been a solid year for the biggest professional wrestling company in the world.
We could not help but wonder how much better the WWE would be if certain retired or independent wrestlers were able to work in the company during what has been referred to as the “New Era” on WWE programming. We are not referring to independent talents who had opportunities to prove their worth during the Cruiserweight Classic. We, instead, focused on individuals who haven’t wrestled in the WWE recent memory. Who from the past and from the current wrestling community would fit right in on WWE shows in 2016? It’s an interesting topic if only because a variety of performers, with different styles and different skill sets, could make it in the WWE right now.
15 Steve Austin
We absolutely had to begin with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for reasons that should be obvious to anybody who was a passionate WWE fan during what is known as the “Attitude Era.” For starters, Austin could produce memorable matches with just about everybody who works at the top of WWE cards in 2016. Austin would also likely be the top promo guy in the WWE at the moment.
While he could not completely replicate the persona he played in the 1990s due to several factors, Austin could still get over among audiences. Just think of the dream feuds we could see play out before our eyes if a version of Austin in his prime entered the WWE right now. Austin versus A.J. Styles, Austin versus Dean Ambrose and Austin versus John Cena are three that immediately come to mind. We still miss you, Stone Cold.
14 Matt Hardy
Every critic and doubter who forgot about this particular wrestler before 2016, even the individual typing this sentence, owes that performer a sincere apology. “Broken” Matt Hardy is arguably the top new wrestling character of the year and Hardy has done well to bring attention to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling shows that otherwise would have been ignored by pockets of wrestling fans. It was not all that long ago when we would not have imagined either Matt or Jeff Hardy making a return to the WWE.
That all changed, however, thanks to Matt’s “broken brilliance.” Broken Matt feuding with Bray Wyatt could be a lot of fun. Hey, we’d even go so far to suggest that Broken Matt could work a program with The Undertaker assuming that Undertaker is willing to work another match. We’re not suggesting we’d put the WWE Championship on Broken Matt, but Matt nevertheless could contribute to the company’s “new era.”
The WWE needs more classic heels who can cut promos without unintentionally turning babyface among fans and who can work with a plethora of performers regardless of their styles. A portion of the wrestling community, thus, turns their eyes to John Bradshaw Layfield. JBL, who currently works as an announcer in the WWE, could be involved in several entertaining feuds while working as a top heel on either Raw or SmackDown.
The matches could also be pretty good so long as JBL was paired with the right opponents. Just think how awesome it would be to watch JBL and Samoa Joe slug it out inside of a WWE ring. Promos JBL and Kevin Owens would cut on each other while feuding could leave fans talking and laughing for hours. JBL serves as a reminder that a wrestler does not always have to produce five-star matches to get over and be a draw.
12 Matt Sydal
We understand that Matt Sydal had some issues while working in the WWE in previous years. Known as Evan Bourne during his WWE career, Sydal allegedly failed to follow company rules that dictate what substances wrestlers can and cannot use. That was many years ago, however, and the WWE has shown that it can forgive and forget in certain instances.
Sydal has proven his worth to promotions around the world, and he remains a recognizable star working for companies such a New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor. The WWE is bringing back the cruiserweight division, one that will hopefully be booked properly and respected by those running the company. Sydal could make for one of the top stars of that division and a wrestler who performs on weekly editions of Raw. The WWE has shown, over the past couple of years, that it is willing to branch out and acquire such talents. We hope the WWE will consider signing Sydal in the near future.
11 The Brain Busters
Anybody who watches NXT in 2016 should understand why we believe The Brain Busters could make it in the WWE during the current era. NXT tag team The Revival is basically an updated version of The Brain Busters. The duo of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard were all about “no flips, just fists” decades before such a slogan became popular among those who appreciate The Revival as one of the best tag teams in the WWE today.
Truth be told, we want to see Anderson and Blanchard in the WWE in 2016 if only so they and The Revival can have a match of the year candidate. The Brain Busters make this list assuming that the WWE won’t squander The Revival once Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder are called up to the company’s main roster. The Revival could be one of the top heel teams in the WWE and the same could be said for The Brain Busters.
10 Adam Cole
The first WWE performer who comes to mind when you think of Adam Cole may very well be Seth Rollins. Both Cole and Rollins earned reputations for putting on great matches as independent wrestlers. Both men have good looks for the business. Both are able to play obnoxious heels who draw heat from fans and both can turn babyface because of how they work inside of rings.
Cole would probably need some seasoning, working on the NXT brand before the company felt comfortable putting him on either Raw or SmackDown. That’s fine. The same could have been said about Seth Rollins years ago and Rollins is one of the best wrestlers the company has as of September 2016. The WWE has also acquired multiple wrestlers who were members of Bullet Club in different promotions. Cole is one of several current members of that faction the WWE should consider signing as soon as possible to capitalize on the popularity of that group.
9 Bret Hart
How awesome would the Bret “Hitman” Hart character be in the WWE in 2016? Hart truly was the “Excellence of Execution” during his physical prime, a wrestler who had five-star matches and who was also able to carry less-talented performers to solid encounters. Hart showed during his final year in the WWE that he could make a quick and smooth transition from babyface to heel without changing much about his wrestling style and without going against certain morals. We can even envision Hart creating a new Hart Foundation made up of Canadians wrestling in the WWE today.
Say whatever you will about Hart’s promos during his stint in the WWE. He certainly knew how to draw negative reactions from fans while speaking about why he loved Canada and disliked the United States. That type of program is ageless in the world of pro wrestling, as are Hart’s in-ring skills.
8 The Briscoe Brothers
We understand there are legitimate reasons why the WWE has not yet fully embraced the idea of signing The Briscoe Brothers. It’s 2016, though, and certain individuals within the company have been willing to think outside of the box and sign characters who previously wouldn’t have fit on a WWE roster.
The obvious idea here is that The Briscoes could link up with Bray Wyatt as a way to strengthen Wyatt and also introduce the team to WWE audiences who do not follow independent wrestling. Yes, The Briscoes would have to be more reserved when cutting promos. That shouldn’t be a problem. It was reported that The Briscoes turned down the WWE in 2015 for whatever reasons. It could still be worth it for both parties to come to terms on a deal that has The Briscoes working in the WWE if only for a couple of years before they depart back to the independent scene.
Edge is a wrestler who was, in ways, ahead of his time and made for the current WWE era. It’s not that Edge did not perform well with wrestlers such as John Cena, Randy Orton and The Undertaker. We just would have liked to see a healthy Edge compete with opponents such as Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose and even Roman Reigns. Imagine Edge cutting promos on Reigns as either a heel or babyface depending on the company’s direction and also on the reactions Reigns is drawing from fans at any particular time.
Edge’s prime as an in-ring performer occurred during his “Rated-R” days, and that style of working would get over with fans in 2016. Edge would not be able to perform a “live sex show” on Raw in 2016, but we are sure that he could draw heat with fans without making sponsors nervous.
6 Jay Lethal
We would like to believe that there are no longer a large group of knowledgeable fans and observers who think Jay Lethal couldn’t hang in the WWE. Lethal has done just about all that he can do on the independent scene in the United States. He carried the banner for a promotion as its World Champion. Lethal worked as a beloved babyface and underdog and also as a hated heel who defeated fan-favorites.
The time for Lethal to join the WWE is now. Lethal would immediately be one of the best overall workers in NXT the first day that he walked in the door and it would be only a matter of time before he showed the company that he was deserving of a main roster spot. We hope to hear that Lethal and the WWE have come to terms on a deal soon, perhaps even before the end of the year.
5 Shawn Michaels
There are many things remarkable about "The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels as it pertains to this piece. Michaels in his prime obviously could wrestle circles around many who are on the current roster. HBK proved he can work as a heel or a babyface depending on his opponent and on the era. Michaels showed his toughness and dedication to the business when he returned from a serious back injury and then had a better run than his first stint in the WWE. We honestly would not be all that surprised if Michaels could come back today, at his current age, and wrestle a five-star match at a WrestleMania in 2017. That’s how great Michaels was up through his official retirement.
Michaels bumping for the likes of Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens would bring great joy to fans. Maybe HBK could teach a thing or two to Dolph Ziggler about playing the role of a “show-off.” We'd also like to see Michaels start a "Superkick Party" in the WWE.
4 The Young Bucks
The Young Bucks may be the obvious choice when picking independent wrestlers who would fit perfectly in the current WWE era. Nick and Matt Jackson could play all kinds of roles underneath the WWE umbrella. They could be obnoxious heels who draw heat, who feature in comedy spots and who also get over with fans because of their exciting news.
The Bucks would probably sell a ton of merchandise for the WWE. The WWE signing the Bucks could also result in the company forming a new version of Bullet Club at some point down the road. It’s been fun watching the Bucks compete overseas, in Ring of Honor and in other independent promotions. We are ready to see the Bucks work at one of the biggest NXT Takeover shows of the year before they finally debut on either Raw or SmackDown. Wouldn’t you love to see a Meltzer Driver at a WrestleMania?
3 Trish Stratus
It’s somewhat humorous to see how certain fans remember Trish Stratus. Some view her as one of the greatest overall female performers in WWE history. Others, however, point out that Stratus managed to improve during her career but was not at the level of current wrestlers such as Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte, Becky Lynch and others.
While there may be some validity to that second point, the fact remains that it would have been nice to see Stratus work during what is known as the “Divas Revolution.” Stratus was more than just a solid in-ring worker. She was a star in every sense. Stratus in her prime would make for a great heel in the current women’s division. Just the thought of her cutting promos on Bayley is enough to want to see Stratus back in the WWE and on television. That would probably also be a pretty good match all things considered.
2 Kenny Omega
One could say that the WWE dropped the ball in a big way when the company failed to fully utilize Kenny Omega when Omega was signed over a decade ago. In fairness to the WWE, that was long before Omega evolved into becoming one of the best overall workers and characters in the world. There are just some cases where a wrestler has to make it outside of the WWE before he is ready and able to feature on cable television shows and pay-per-view events.
Omega is a perfect fit on NXT, Raw or SmackDown as of the fall of 2016, and he could have tremendous feuds with many different members of the current WWE roster. You cannot mention this idea, of course, without suggesting that Omega could serve as a leader of a faction similar to Bullet Club. We could have Omega and The Young Bucks team up to take on a “Balor Club,” for example.
1 Ric Flair
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair is, at the very worst, one of the greatest performers in the history of North American pro wrestling. Any imaginative Mount Rushmore of wrestlers that does not include Flair’s face should be disregarded as irrelevant. Flair is a wrestler who would thrive in any era and in any promotion. As was commonly joked throughout his best days, Flair could get a good match out of a broom. Flair, to this day, remains one of the best promos to ever work in the industry.
Flair’s character as the cocky heel who wins titles and who spends money freely is timeless. Just ask Conor McGregor, who doesn’t even try to hide that he is playing his own version of "The Nature Boy.” Whether he was leading a stable or on his own, Flair drew crowds and drew reactions from fans. He is our first pick if we are having a fantasy draft of all-time great wrestlers.