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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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