If WWE is to be believed, then they are the be all and end all of wrestling companies. Every wrestler’s dream is to one day reach the dizzying heights of the WWE; hold their championships, compete at WrestleMania, enter the Hall of Fame. However, whilst most wrestlers certainly wouldn’t turn any of this down, as we’ve seen in recent years, there is a life outside of Vince McMahon. Plenty of wrestlers who were released or quit WWE have gone onto find success in the world of independent wrestling and on non-WWE shows; Cody Rhodes, John Morrison, Bobby Lashley and countless others have made huge stars of themselves outside of the WWE and wrestlers such as Drew McIntyre were able to use their time on the indies to reinvent themselves and make themselves hot enough properties for WWE to resign them.
There are plenty of incentives for a wrestler to want to work the indies; play your cards right and you can earn more money, have more creative freedom and not have to spend extended periods of time with Enzo Amore. With recent talk of multiple wrestlers wanting to leave WWE and work elsewhere, let’s take a look at who we think would be able to do this well and who would crash and burn faster than Baron Corbin’s main event push. Here are 8 WWE Wrestlers Who Would Thrive In The Indies And 7 Who Would Fail If They Ever Left.
15 Rusev (Would Thrive)
On the indies, every day could be Rusev day.
Rusev began with a lot of hope when he first arrived on the main roster in 2014. Paired with future wife, Lana, and given a pro-Russia (and therefore, anti-American) gimmick, Rusev went on a rampage, remaining undefeated for the best part of a year and capturing the United States Championship. Then he met a man called John Cena. After losing to Cena at WrestleMania 31, Rusev fell way down the card and has been stuck in character limbo, despite being one of the more consistently entertaining performers in the WWE. But he made Aiden English sing a song about him, and that’s gold.
Rusev has a huge following online and is one of the go-to examples for o line wrestling fans of underused talent in the WWE. If he were to leave the promotion, he could get work absolutely anywhere, I’m sure of that. He’s extremely talented in the ring, great on the mic and people want to see him succeed, something the WWE have foolishly yet to capitalise on. Imagine Rusev going toe-to-toe with fellow big men Bad Luck Fale or The Briscoe Brothers, or clashing with smaller guys like Will Ospreay. Those are some veritable dream matches right there and independent wrestling fans would go wild if they were ever made possible. Unless they give The Bulgarian Brute something to do, they may happen sooner than you think.
14 Alicia Fox (Would Fail)
She’s been with WWE since 2008. How?!
Alicia Fox holds a pretty important record in WWE history. In 2010, she captured WWE’s Divas Championship (remember that god-awful belt?), making her the first and only African-American Divas Champion ever. As impressive as this is, this is literally the only thing of note she has ever done in the WWE. Except maybe kissing Edge.
Fox isn’t a bad performer, but she’s certainly nothing special. Also, she is an absolutely terrible actress, with her backstage segments on Raw amongst some of the worst I have ever seen. If WWE were to release their longest-serving female employee (seriously, she is), then I doubt she’d be able to find much work and she would probably end up falling off the map entirely after a few months. Sorry, Foxy.
13 Apollo Crews (Would Thrive)
Remember when this guy was taken seriously? No, me neither.
Apollo Crews debuted on the main roster the night after WrestleMania 32, less than a year after his debut in NXT. Crews is an incredible talent – mixing high-flying agility with freakish power – but it was clear that WWE had no idea what to do with him, as he has been involved in no notable feuds or storylines since his debut and now finds himself in a lower-midcard stable with Titus O’Neil and Akira Tozawa. Not exactly great for the man who once challenged Finn Balor for the NXT Championship.
Crews’ incredible physique, moveset and combination of agility and strength would make him a red-hot property on the indies. He could compete with the high-flying, high-energy action of American and British promotions like ROH or Progress and could trade blows with the strong-style giants of Japan. With some proper creative direction, Crews could have been huge in the WWE. Sadly, I’m afraid this Apollo mission has been a failure. Houston, we have a problem.
12 Darren Young (Would Fail)
Guess they never did make him great again.
Darren Young arrived on the WWE main roster in 2010 as a member of The Nexus. Don’t feel bad if you’d forgotten he’d been in that stable, everyone else did. Since that stable crashed and burned, Young found himself in an on-again-off-again tag team with Titus O’Neil, known as The Prime Time Players, with whom he won the tag team titles in 2015. They beat the damn New Day for those belts. Oh, how times have changed.
Whilst Young is a capable performer, he’s not exactly a name that people are dying to see and I doubt the demand for him on the indie circuit would be high if he were released. His time in WWE has left a pretty big stain on his career and, whilst time in the indies would probably give Young a chance to reboot his image, I don’t see him becoming a big name outside of the WWE. I can’t think of a joke to end this paragraph, so just go and Google Bob Backlund trying to take his shirt off at the end of Young vs Miz from Battleground 2016. That is hilarious.
11 Paige And Emma (Would Thrive)
Talk about underappreciated.
Whilst a lot of the credit for the “Women’s Revolution” in WWE goes to Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley (known as The Four Horsewomen), the efforts of Paige and Emma cannot be ignored. Before The Horsewomen rose to prominence in NXT, Emma and Paige were putting on stellar matches for the NXT Women’s Championship, of which Paige was the first holder. Sadly, both women have faltered on the main roster, with Paige falling completely off the radar following numerous incidents surrounding her real-life boyfriend, Alberto Del Rio, leaked personal images and run-ins with the law. Seriously, there’s no way I can explain the whole Paige saga in one paragraph. Could write an essay on that mess.
Both women could easily find work on the independent circuits. Both are good workers, both have great personalities (when they’re not being scripted within an inch of their lives) and both have enough of a brand around them to secure top level work. Paige could definitely find work through Del Rio’s connections and Emma has somewhat of a cult following around her, which would work in her favour on the indies. Both of these women have been overlooked massively in the WWE, so maybe it’s time to take their Revolution on the road.
10 Titus O'Neil (Would Fail)
Titus Worldwide might have to cancel its expansion plans if things carry on the way they are.
Titus O’Neil has been with the WWE since 2010 and, like his partner, Darren Young, hasn’t achieved much beyond a single, forgettable reign with the tag team titles in 2015. A few attempts have been made to break Titus out on his own, but the fans just haven’t taken to him as a serious act and Titus now finds himself as a manager and occasional wrestler as part of “Titus Worldwide”.
Like Darren, Titus is a decent in-ring performer, but he’s just not what the independent scene is looking for right now. Big, muscly dudes can get over outside WWE, but they need to have something special about them and Titus just doesn’t have that something. He’s much better off staying in WWE as a manager and praying that one day he’ll have a client who holds a championship for more than six days. Still don’t know why they did that with Tozawa.
9 Luke Harper (Would Thrive)
No one deserves to be in a team called “The Bludgeon Brothers.” No one.
Luke Harper is another case of someone who has been a victim of start-stop story-telling. As a member of The Wyatt Family, Harper received a pretty big push when he first arrived in the WWE in 2013. However, after years of breaking away from and then being put back together with his Family members, Harper has lost a lot of momentum since his red-hot debut and has gone from being a genuine WWE Championship contender to being off TV for months at a time. I can’t imagine this was the career Harper was hoping for when he started out as a wrestler.
Harper is another example of an incredibly powerful wrestler who can fly around like a cruiserweight. The dude can pull out a stiff-as-hell clothesline in the same match as a suicide dive, all whilst wearing a gritty tank top and some jeans. He’s also established that he can connect with the audience, as his storyline with Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton proved earlier this year. Harper could easily adapt his gimmick so it works outside of The Wyatt Family context, then take it onto the indies. He has been criminally underused during his time with the WWE and the fans know it, so maybe they’ll spend their money somewhere else if it means seeing the former swamp-dweller get the push he deserves.
8 Mojo Rawley (Would Fail)
He wouldn’t get made unemployed, he’d STAY unemployed.
No, I don’t want to rag on Mojo Rawley too much here, as I actually think he’s a pretty talented guy. However, I have not been a big fan of the way he’s been presented in WWE. His annoying, hyper gimmick comes across more like a kid who’s had too much sugar than a serious competitor. Also, his win in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal this year has led to absolutely nothing for Mojo, further proving the completely meaninglessness of that match. Whilst that isn’t Mojo’s fault, it’s still a black mark against his name.
Rawley fits the mould of what some people would call a “traditional” WWE performer; big, powerful, with a background in another sport etc. This isn’t what gets over with the independent audience, who often prefer more lightweight, high-flying wrestlers. Also, Rawley isn’t a performer that can draw money by name alone; he’s yet to establish any real fanbase in the WWE, so there’s very little chance he’d be able to offer much to independent promoters. Whilst there’s still time for WWE to turn Mojo around and give him something meaningful to do, for now, let’s just hope the Hype Train doesn’t come off the tracks for Rawley.
7 Dolph Ziggler (Would Thrive)
We may find out whether Dolph can make it outside WWE very soon.
Dolph Ziggler has been with the WWE since 2008 under his current gimmick, but has actually worked for the company since 2004, making him a 13-year employee with the promotion. In that time, he has achieved a great deal, with numerous reigns as World Heavyweight Champion, Intercontinental Champion, United States Champion and one reign as Tag Team Champion that saw him dress up as a male cheerleader. Swings and roundabouts, eh.
Despite all this, Dolph never really achieved any lasting success in the WWE. A victim of stop-start booking, every time Dolph got close to being a true top-level guy, his push came off the tracks and he was back to square one. Ziggler is an incredibly talented wrestler who is good on the mic and good at telling stories in the ring. He would be a perfect fit for the indies; possibly Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he could trade superkicks with The Young Bucks or maybe take on former WWE buddy, Cody Rhodes. Dolph has been criminally underused in his time with the WWE, so maybe it’s time The Show-Off showed WWE what they missed out on.
6 R-Truth (Would Fail)
What’s up? R-Truth wouldn’t last a minute on the indies, that’s what.
R-Truth has been involved in the wrestling industry for about 500 years now. Ok, that was a slight exaggeration, but he’s still been around for a while. As Ron “The Truth” Killings in TNA, he became the first African-American NWA World Heavyweight Champion in history in 2002 and was even active in WWE before this, winning two Hardcore Championships under the name “K-Kwik”. Sadly, the truth hasn’t been able to set R-Truth free of the midcard in WWE, and the most memorable thing he’s done in the last few years has been a feud with Goldust that, to the best of my knowledge, never actually ended. Seriously, are these guys still fighting or what?
Whilst Truth is still a fairly capable performer, he is once again not what the independent audience is looking for. His goofy rapper gimmick might get over with the kids in the WWE audience, but the hardened indies fans will mainly find this annoying. Also, Truth isn’t getting any younger; he’s 45 and the independent scene’s reliance on high-energy, fast-paced matches would not be kind to the veteran. Truth has had his time in the sun and would make a great addition to WWE’s backstage crew one day, but as an independent wrestler? Maybe he should leave that to someone else.
5 Cesaro (Would Thrive)
Cesaro is basically the blueprint for a successful indie wrestler.
Cesaro is a truly unique specimen in the WWE. One of the strongest wrestlers in the WWE today, Cesaro is also a technical master, an incredibly agile performer and one of the most popular performers of the past few years. So, why hasn’t Cesaro been a world champion? Well, if we knew the answer to that, we wouldn’t be sat here, would we?
As I said earlier, The Swiss Superman is what the independent circuit is built on. An innovator in the ring who can pull of spots most other wrestlers can only dream of, Cesaro is always guaranteed to put on a great match. A great character performer as both a face and a heel, one half of The Bar might not be going anywhere for the time being, but, if he ever decided to leave the WWE, he’d be employed again in seconds. Probably by me. I don’t have a wrestling federation, I just wanna hang out with him.
4 Jinder Mahal (Would Fail)
Bit worrying that I’m writing this about the WWE Champion, isn’t it.
So, who’d have thought we’d be talking about Jinder Mahal as the WWE Champion this time last year? No one? That’s what I thought. Mahal captured the most prestigious title in wrestling history from Randy Orton earlier this year, despite being a bona fide jobber for his entire career leading up to this point. Thanks to WWE’s plans to expand into India, Mahal was given the belt way before he was ready and his WWE title reign has been one of the most hated in recent memories, with terrible matches, terrible promos and flat-out racism at some points. Still, at least WWE Shop India is doing well. Yay.
Jinder is an average in-ring performer at best with a very limited moveset that mainly involves a lot of kicking, stomping and punching. This is absolutely not what the independent crowd wants to see. Mahal is not a main event talent in WWE and certainly wouldn’t be able to draw on the independent scene in the United States. The only way I can see Mahal getting over outside of WWE is if he performed in India; I know Mahal isn’t actually Indian, but becoming the first WWE Champion of Indian descent has made him a hero there. As for anywhere else in the world, Mahal doesn’t stand a chance. Quite ironic that someone with the nickname “Modern Day” Maharaja is stuck in the past when it comes to character.
3 Daniel Bryan (Would Thrive)
What is it going to take for Daniel Bryan to get himself fired? Seriously?
Daniel Bryan retired from in-ring competition in February of 2016, following multiple concussions and head injuries that had derailed his momentum following his big WWE Championship win at WrestleMania XXX. Since Bryan hung up his boots, however, there has been an ongoing saga surrounding whether or not he is actually going to stay retired. Whilst WWE doctors refused to clear him, Bryan has stated that numerous other medical professionals had given him the all-clear to return to the ring. So, basically, WWE’s doctors and Daniel Bryan have been doing the medical version of his “Yes!”/”No!” chant for the last year and a half.
Bryan has made it clear in interviews and on social media that he is desperate to get back in the ring and the only way this is going to happen is if he quits WWE. Whilst Bryan’s health is of the upmost importance (especially as he has just welcomed a daughter into the world), can you imagine the excitement this would generate; Daniel Bryan, one of the most organically-over wrestlers of the last five years back in the ring after seemingly stepping away from competition forever. It would be huge. Any independent company would jump at the chance to host a Daniel Bryan match and any independent fan would jump at the chance to see The American Dragon roar once again. He just has to get his release from WWE first, which, if he keeps saying the things he says in interviews, may happen pretty soon. Seriously, how is he still employed?
2 Roman Reigns (Would Fail)
Not that this would ever happen, but just imagine.
If you’re hoping for an article that rags on Reigns for being “a bad wrestler,” then I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. The truth is, I think Reigns is a great wrestler and, if you think I’m crazy, just look back at some of the matches he’s had over the last year. The Extreme Rules Fatal 5-Way, the match with John Cena, the SummerSlam Fatal 4-Way, all of his incredible matches with Braun Strowman. There’s not a bad match in there, because Reigns, more often than not, puts on a great in-ring show. It’s just a shame that everybody absolutely hates him.
Reigns has been shoved down our throats so much since The Shield broke up that the hardcore fans are sick and tired of seeing him win. Fans have taken to Reigns about as well as a duck takes to boiling hot lava and the fact that he’s been pushed ahead of performers they actually like just makes us hate him even more. If he was to be booked at an indie show (which are attended almost exclusively by smart marks), then he would be booed out of the building, not because he’s a bad performer, but because the smart fans have been almost conditioned to hate him thanks to his botched run at the top. The only way I can see Reigns succeeding outside of the WWE is if he turned heel, but, let’s be honest, this isn’t a scenario we really need to think about too hard. Reigns could probably run over Vince McMahon’s dog and he’d still put the Universal Championship on him.
1 Matt Hardy (Would Thrive)
I think a career on the indies for Matt Hardy would be absolutely... WONDERFUL!
So, Matt Hardy has been back in the WWE for about six months now and, let’s be honest, it’s been a huge disappointment. When he and his brother, Jeff, made their shocking return to the WWE at WrestleMania 33, fans’ minds exploded at the thought of all the awesome stuff The Hardy Boyz could do with the WWE machine behind them. In reality, all the team accomplished was a pretty standard tag team championship reign and then a few matches on TV with Gallows and Anderson. With Jeff currently on the shelf injured, Matt’s been stuck in limbo, teaming with Jason Jordan because of... reasons. I’d say Matt’s character is “broken” right now, but, if that was the case, then we wouldn’t be in this mess.
“Broken” Matt Hardy was, and I genuinely mean this, one of the greatest characters ever created in pro wrestling history. The attention to detail, the deep mythology behind every little nuance, the hilarious jokes and reference, everything about The Broken Saga was spot-on. Furthermore, it helped keep TNA afloat during one of its worst periods ever and may have even saved the company from going under thanks to the attention it drew to the promotion. Due to complicated legal reasons, Matt hasn’t been able to use the Broken gimmick since his WWE return, robbing the fans of any more amazing stories. If Matt were to return to TNA and get the rights to his Broken gimmick back, then there’s no doubt that his career would once again take a turn for the better. Sadly, due to the bad blood between TNA and Hardy over the legal battle, there’s every chance we may never see the Broken character ever again, in WWE or otherwise. God dammit, TNA, why do you have to ruin literally everything?