The current climate in WWE is absolutely fascinating with the influx of new talent over the past few years. WWE has aggressively pursued the top free agents on the market focusing on the top independent wrestling stars and former performers. Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakmaura and A.J. Styles are all big players in various aspects of the WWE. Many years ago, fans would have any of these names coming to the WWE as a realistic pipe dream. Today, it is a whole new wrestling world with the company in need of a deeper roster. With Raw, SmackDown and NXT, each requires a unique roster to run compelling programs.
Along with the top wrestlers making their name on the independent scene, WWE is looking for former talents to return. Bill Goldberg is back in the WWE for a big match against Brock Lesnar. Given the negative relationship between Goldberg and the company for many years, it proved they will bring back anyone that can bring in revenue. The company has even brought back smaller names like Rhyno and Curt Hawkins to add depth.
There are many rumors out there about current and upcoming free agents that the WWE has shown interest in. We’ll take a look at the rumor mill with these fifteen wrestling stars that will likely be on the WWE roster very soon.
15 Matt Hardy
The biggest wrestling star outside of the WWE right now has to be Matt Hardy. A character revamp has resurrected his career to make him one of the hottest commodities in wrestling today. Hardy is now Broken Matt and completely out there as a silly but compelling character. The risks being taken by Hardy with this gimmick has led to the biggest singles push of his career. Even the biggest TNA detractors have found charm in the segments and matches involving Hardy.
Broken Matt has led to Hardy showing his wrestling intelligence in several forms which has caught the eye of many. Rumors are out that Triple H is personally interested in bringing Hardy back into the WWE when his TNA contract expires next year. The freedom of Hardy in TNA and on the independent wrestling circuit along with working his own schedule may make it a tough sell to sign with the WWE. However, Matt is a businessman and if the WWE truly wants him, they’ll make an offer he can’t refuse.
14 Shelton Benjamin
The brand split forced WWE’s hands into signing new talents to round out their rosters. Shelton Benjamin was the most exciting name on WWE’s radar and they actually aired vignettes for his re-debut on SmackDown. The return was ultimately ill-timed when Shelton was hit with an injury that he sustained during his time in Japan. WWE pulled their offer and Benjamin underwent surgery. Considering the injury took place in another company and Benjamin never officially returned to the WWE, he is still a free agent.
WWE did not make any promises about Shelton’s future with the company when he recovers from his surgery. Still, Benjamin has shown optimism in interviews about the door being open if he can prove he is still at a top performer. Benjamin will just have to work the independent wrestling scene for a few months to prove he can still perform at a high level and the WWE will be calling him back.
The reports have suggested that the company eventually wants to have a shooter stable featuring amateur wrestlers like Benjamin, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger and American Alpha on SmackDown.
13 Zack Sabre Jr.
WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament opened the eyes of many fans to the top independent wrestlers around the world. One top star that did well in the CWC was Zack Sabre Jr. WWE was not able to sign Sabre like many of the other competitors from the tournament. His technical wrestling has created a comparison to Daniel Bryan when the latter was on the independent scene. Sabre also happens to be a top star for EVOLVE and the WWE has a great working relationship with the independent company.
The writing is on the wall that Sabre will have some type of role in the WWE soon. His style is perfect for NXT and the cruiserweight division on Raw. Rumors have circulated that Sabre is in the process of moving from the United Kingdom to Florida. The location seems quite ideal for a run with Triple H's NXT. Sabre’s talent, connections and potential all make him a likely candidate to come to the big company in the next few years.
Tajiri made his WWE return for the Cruiserweight Classic representing Japan. His work provided entertainment for the WWE towards the end of the Attitude Era and beginning of the original brand split. Tajiri delivered the perfect mix of character work and in-ring excellence. The veteran still wrestlers actively in Japan and showed he could still hang in the ring during the Cruiserweight Classic. Many reports claimed Tajiri reached an agreement on a new contract with the WWE following the end of the CWC.
We have yet to see him in the cruiserweight division on Raw and it’s unclear if the deal has been officially processed yet. Tajiri may very well be in the process of moving from Japan to the United States before going on the road again. Once he returns, "The Japanese Buzzsaw" will either find his way to the cruiserweight division on Raw or sign for depth purposes on the SmackDown brand.
11 Mickie James
The announcement of Mickie James resurfacing in NXT for a big match against Asuka in Toronto has added excitement surrounding the potential of a full-time return. James is currently only expected to have the one attraction match to add some depth to a huge card. Recent history has shown us that a good performance by James will likely earn her a contract back in the company.
Raw, SmackDown and NXT all having separate rosters during the company’s push of the women’s revolution means they need more female talent than ever before. More importantly, they need credible talent to add validity. James was viewed as one of the first elite female in-ring performers to get pushed in the WWE. Her match with Asuka is definitely going to be something special. Expect Mickie to impress and return to the main roster in the very near future.
10 Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes requesting a release from his WWE contract and moving on to the independent wrestling circuit would indicate he has no intentions of going back anytime soon. There’s a theory floating around various wrestling circles that the WWE and Cody planned this all together. The theory goes Rhodes hit the free agent market in order to gain some momentum working in other promotions by winning over the diehard fans. A return in a year or so would give him more support and allow him to potentially become a main eventer.
Regardless of the rumor, Rhodes coming back to the WWE is very likely to happen by 2020. Rhodes is doing superb on the independent circuit right now, but that’s because he’s in high demand. Sooner or later, the buzz attached to his name will fade like any other independent wrestler and he’ll start to witness the lesser aspects pertaining to the indie life. Rhodes adding respect value to his name right now could also see the WWE view him as a bigger deal and want to push him in the way he always wanted.
9 The Young Bucks
The best tag team in the wrestling world currently works outside of the WWE and the duo is known as The Young Bucks. Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson have dominated the independent wrestling world for many years. Wrestling’s most exciting brothers are currently tag champions in New Japan, Ring of Honor and PWG. Those are arguably the top three promotions outside of the WWE right now. The Young Bucks have improved over the years from just delivering fun matches into now becoming elite performers.
Matt and Nick stopped caring about what others thought of them and started doing what they thought was interesting. This led to fans falling in love with them. WWE has been rumored to have interest in The Young Bucks for a few years now. Their desire to make tag teams relevant again could see The Bucks get offered a deal bigger than their current ROH/New Japan deal. WWE will have to give them a big contract in order to convince the duo to come over.
8 Kenny Omega
You can’t mention The Young Bucks without bringing up their Bullet Club and Elite teammate Kenny Omega. The ascension of Omega has seen him become one of the top singles stars in New Japan helping pick up the slack following the departures of Shinsuke Nakamura and A.J. Styles at the start of the year. Omega has been the MVP of NJPW this year and has elevated his work into being arguably the best wrestler in the world.
Rumors were floating around that Omega had already agreed to a deal with the WWE, but that wasn’t true. However, it could be true within a couple of years. Both Styles and Finn Balor signed with the big company following successful stints as the leaders of the Bullet Club. Omega is following in their legacies quite impressively and WWE will surely want him. The talent and potential star power of Omega is too strong to ignore and it will be shocking if WWE doesn’t sign him by 2020.
7 Matt Riddle
Former UFC fighter Matt Riddle recently entered the wrestling business and is already among the top independent wrestlers in the world despite his lack of experience. Wrestling Observer pundit Dave Meltzer compared Riddle to Kurt Angle and many others among the best wrestlers to become elite performers this early in their careers. Riddle wrestles for EVOLVE Wrestling and originally started working there as a favor for the WWE.
Triple H requested EVOLVE start booking Riddle because the big company saw potential in him as a future star. Riddle has spent the past year showing massive improvements. His in-ring work is already towards the top of the wrestling world, utilizing his MMA background and intelligence to make every match work. EVOLVE fans treat him as the biggest star in the company and that's truly saying something considering the company's loaded roster. WWE will ultimately want to cash in on their investment and sign Riddle to a deal in the next few years.
6 Kota Ibushi
Many would argue Kota Ibushi was the most impressive performer in the Cruiserweight Classic. Ibushi had outstanding matches against Cedric Alexander, TJ Perkins and The Brian Kendrick. WWE and Ibushi could not come to a contract agreement following the CWC. Ibushi did not want to sign with the WWE just yet and is already back working in Japan. With A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura already signed to the WWE, Ibushi is now the most popular star among American fans that seek out Japanese wrestling.
Ibushi is as talented as anyone in the industry. Some of the moves Ibushi pulls off aren’t even things that could be done in video games. WWE’s desire to have a global presence and relevant cruiserweight division would make him a prime candidate to join the roster soon. Ibushi is still planning to appear on NXT infrequently. WWE will likely make him the right offer to lock him up full time as their next major Japanese star.
5 Kurt Angle
One wrestling legend WWE fans desperately want to see return is Kurt Angle. His past run in the WWE showcased him as one of the most entertaining performers in company history. Angle left TNA in early 2016 for a chance to recharge his batteries with a reduced schedule. His current wrestling schedule sees him work the independent wrestling scene once in a while for a big match. There have been rumors of Kurt discussing a return with Vince McMahon, which could see him return as early as WrestleMania 33.
The same reports suggested Triple H talked McMahon out of bringing Angle back. This was before the WWE needed the addition of more credible talent with the brand split. The free agent market has a plethora of great independent wrestlers ready to make the next step in their careers. Established legends that can still work with the top stars of the industry are extremely hard to find. Angle has a few matches left in him and the WWE could benefit from his box office appeal, especially with the company starving for established talent to draw in the "old school viewer."
4 Candice LeRae
The women’s wrestling revolution in the WWE has led to a few signings of top talent from the free agent market. Asuka and Ember Moon are two of the better stories but there are many other names ready for the big move. Candice LeRae has established a reputation among the most popular female wrestlers in the world. Her work in PWG competing against men in inter-gender action led to fans viewing her as a top indie name, regardless of gender.
There are rumors of the WWE having a big tournament consisting of elite female wrestlers from all over the world competing against each other, similar to the Cruiserweight Classic. LeRae would be a near guarantee for the tournament unless she signs elsewhere before it happens. Candice’s marriage to NXT star Johnny Gargano adds a connection to the WWE landscape. She has appeared backstage at multiple NXT shows and it won’t be too long before she has some type of role in the company.
Ricochet has to be mentioned when you’re talking about the best wrestlers outside of the WWE today. The high flying Superstar puts on an aerial display unlike any other wrestler in the world thanks to his ridiculous athleticism. Ricochet wrestles all over the world with his best work coming in New Japan, PWG and EVOLVE. He also wrestles in Lucha Underground behind a mask as Prince Puma.
WWE rejected Ricochet a few years ago following his tryout but now he is back on their radar. The rumors indicate the WWE is waiting for his contract with Lucha Underground to expire so they can bring him in on an exclusive contract. Ricochet is very likely to end up in NXT and the Raw cruiserweight division in the next few years. WWE has assembled a dream roster of the best wrestlers in the world from every genre in the sport. Ricochet is the best high flyer and it only makes sense for the rumors to become true when he eventually inks the deal.
2 Jeff Hardy
The biggest name the WWE could potentially sign to a full-time deal is Jeff Hardy. WWE fans still absolutely love Hardy. Hardy left at his peak in 2010 when he was the second most popular star in the company after John Cena. The past few years have seen Hardy finally overcome his personal demons following the birth of his daughter. Hardy is still a superb performer and finally seems to have his head screwed on straight.
Various interviews have seen Hardy discuss the potential of returning to the WWE and wanting to end his career on the biggest stage. Jeff’s dream match is a Hell in a Cell bout against The Undertaker at a WrestleMania event. Hardy wants to hit the "Swanton Bomb" off the top of the cage. That may never happen due to various dangers and unrealistic aspects to the plan, but WWE definitely could use Hardy again in a different capacity. The rumors of his contract ending in early 2017 and WWE’s need of star power could provide a perfect fit.
1 Adam Cole
Adam Cole is the most talented young star outside of WWE on the verge of coming to the company very soon. Ring of Honor has spotlighted Cole as the face of the promotion for the past few years. The 27-year-old ROH World Champion possesses the presence of a star and has the character aspect down already. That’s usually the toughest aspect for an indie star adjusting to life in the WWE.
Cole’s ROH contract is reported to expire in the spring of 2017 and the rumors are already circulating that the WWE will aggressively go after him. WWE’s brand split has caused the majority of top NXT names to get called up to the main roster. Cole is the ideal candidate to lead the NXT brand in 2017 before becoming a star on the main roster, similar to the path Seth Rollins took. The most shocking thing about Cole’s success is realizing he’s just now entering his peak at such a young age. WWE will have a hot commodity with the potential to become even better when they sign Adam Cole.