When it comes to professional sports, free agency is always a fun time. Fresh faces in new cities always brings excitement for the upcoming season.
The WWE is a bit different. There is no offseason, so additions are fluid. Plus, independent contracts are getting richer by the day, making it harder for Vince McMahon and the rest of the front office to sign any wrestler they please.
But just because wrestlers aren’t as readily available doesn’t mean the WWE won’t do what it takes to bring in new talents. Plus, it doesn't hurt that there are a boatload of top talent that are chomping at the bits to join the biggest wrestling company in the world.
But for every new wrestler that signs with the company, a veteran will lose their spot. With NXT brimming with talent and new signees on the horizon, underutilized wrestlers on the main roster must keep their head on a swivel and look out for their eventual “future endeavors” email that they’ll receive.
By the end of the year, there will be new faces to get used to. Here are 8 wrestlers rumored to join the WWE by the end of 2017 and 7 current stars that will be replaced.
15 Join: Donovan Dijak
If you were to give Vince McMahon the chance to create a wrestling in WWE 2K18, there’s a strong chance it would resemble Donovan Dijak. Once a standout football and basketball player at the collegiate level, the Massachusetts native decided to focus his attention on the professional wrestling industry. Despite debuting in 2013, Dijak rose to stardom in Ring of Honor as he won the promotion’s Top Prospect Tournament in 2015.
After having an up and down career in ROH, Dijak took his talents to the Northeastern independent circuit and has continued to develop his craft. Due to his impressive combination of size, agility and build, he seems like a perfect fit for the WWE. The feeling appears to be mutual, as there are strong rumors that Dijak will join NXT once he wraps up his independent dates in August.
14 Out: Erick Rowan
Erick Rowan has always been viewed as the black sheep of the Wyatt Family — and no, that isn’t only because wears a sheep mask. When the group was together, Bray Wyatt was the clear star. Luke Harper showed immense babyface potential while Braun Strowman looks like the company’s next breakout star. Unfortunately, however, Rowan has been someone who has yet to make much noise when working as a solo act.
Does he have a unique look and is he competent in the ring? Yes. But Rowan has yet to prove that he can be a successful solo act and he’s recently been banished from SmackDown Live altogether. Once more talents make their way through the system, spots on the main roster will have to clear up. Rowan may be viewed as someone that’s expendable.
13 Join: Shelton Benjamin
When the WWE first announced their Brand Split, it was obvious that they wanted to bring in additional wrestlers to add depth to each show. At one point, Shelton Benjamin was a lock-in for the SmackDown Live brand, as the former WWE Superstar even had vignettes air on Tuesday night’s that hyped his return. But when the two sides went through their medical process, a torn rotator cuff lead to the WWE pulling their offer off the table.
Fast forward almost one year later and Benjamin isn’t only healed from his injury but there have been some rumors that he’s once again in line to join WWE’s blue brand. Benjamin was a terrific mid card hand during his first stint with the company, and the belief is he would bring a much-added boost to the roster.
12 Out: Rhyno
When looking back at veteran wrestlers, some struggle once their time passes. Rhyno, however, has stayed consistent, and it has landed him back with the WWE. After spending time with ECW, WWE, and TNA, The Manbeast continued his career on the independent circuits before WWE came calling with a spot in NXT.
After putting talents over in WWE’s developmental, Rhyno found his way back to the main roster in a feud that pitted the Dudley Boyz and Tommy Dreamer against the Wyatt Family. Nowadays, his tag team with Heath Slater found short-term success and has continued as a comedy tandem. Unfortunately for Rhyno, however, he’s in the twilight of his career. If room needs to be made, he could be on the chopping block.
11 Join: Carlito
Similar to that of Shelton Benjamin, Carlito, too, was rumored to come back to the company after the Brand Split was announced. The fit was logical, as Carlito was a strong hand during his time with the company in the mid-2000s, plus his brother Primo — along with Epico — make up the tag team The Colon’s on SmackDown Live.
Ever since leaving the WWE, Carlito has been a consistent member of the World Wrestling Council’s roster in his native home of Puerto Rico, a promotion that his father runs. He’s found a ton of success outside of the company but many believed he was always destined to return. Carlito may not be a main event-level player anymore, but he would be a terrific hand in the mid card and would bring a fresh face to either Raw or SmackDown Live.
10 Out: Darren Young
Darren Young has been a curious case throughout a majority of his WWE career. Starting out on the original NXT television show, Young became a household name when teaming with Titus O’Neill as the Prime Time Players. The company, however, always viewed him in a high regard, as he was positioned as a single’s star on two different occasions. The latest saw Young get mentored by Hall of Fame Bob Backlund and compete for the Intercontinental Championship.
His biggest problems, however, is his injury history. After tearing his ACL and having to go through rehab in 2015, Young seriously injured his right elbow which has sidelined him for the majority of 2017. With two major injuries in the rearview mirror, it’s hard to see the WWE investing a serious amount of time in Young. Because of that, it can be argued that he can be replaced by newer talents.
9 Join: Ricochet
When scouring non-WWE wrestling promotions for some of the best talent in the world, Ricochet ranks at or near the top of the list. After starring in his earlier years with Evolve and PWG, amongst others, Ricochet gained mainstream attention once making the shift to New Japan Pro Wrestling. On top of his time spent there, he’s also become one of the main attractions with Lucha Underground as Prince Puma, further cementing himself as a top name in the world.
WWE fans may view Neville as the greatest high flyer on the planet but Ricochet definitely gives him a run for his money. There aren’t many people who can do what Ricochet does in the squared circle, and he can fit in seamlessly in NXT and even 205 Live. Not only are his best friends Apollo Crews and Akira Tozawa in the company, but his companion Tessa Blanchard also has WWE experience. It appears to be only a matter of time before Richocet follows suit.
8 Out: Oney Lorcan
Once upon a time, Biff Busick was viewed as one of the more popular talents not signed to the WWE. When he inked a deal with NXT in the Fall of 2015, many believed he was destined to be the next big independent name to rise up the depth chart. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as planned. Not only was he overlooked but was also straddled with the name Oney Lorcan, one that took time to get used to.
Outside of his name, Lorcan has done a fantastic job making a name for himself despite being featured lower on the card. Not many match the physical style that he displays each time he steps inside the ring, and he’s proven that he can put on top-tier matches when asked to do so. It’s hard to imagine Lorcan getting passed a certain point in NXT — but if he takes the Kassius Ohno route and reinvents his stock on the indies, he can leave the company and come back a bigger name.
7 Join: Crazzy Steve
It may have taken Crazzy Steve a decade to make it to a top-flight wrestling promotion, but he made the best of it. When he signed a contract with TNA back in 2014, he made a name for himself as a member of The Menagerie and within the X-Division — but it wasn’t until he helped form Decay when he gained national notoriety. Working next to Abyss and Rosemary, Crazzy Steve helped create one of the top acts in all of wrestling, which included a tremendous feud against The Hardy’s that included “Delete or Decay” and “The Great War.”
When Crazzy Steve finished his time with TNA, he was immediately contacted by the WWE to go through a tryout at the Performance Center. Rumors have circulated that he was expected to sign a contract but has yet to do so. The WWE’s interest is enough to assume that Crazzy Steve will one day wrestle in the company.
6 Out: The Ascension
There have been a number of acts that succeeded in NXT but struggled once promoted to the main roster. But there may be no greater victim of change than The Ascension. When in WWE’s developmental system, Konnor and Viktor were viewed as the most feared tandem that ever stepped foot in an NXT ring. Once they were promoted, the creative team positioned them as Legion of Doom knockoffs and were embarrassed by the NWO and New Age Outlaws.
Once they were beat down by men much older than them, The Ascension fell to the bottom of the tag team depth chart. When the Brand Split took place, many viewed it as a chance for floundering acts to revitalize their stock. Unfortunately, the WWE continued to feature The Ascension on a small level, as they’ve only been background players with The Fashion Police. It’s unfortunate, but it only appears to be a matter of time before they’re replaced.
5 Join: War Machine
There are so many great tag teams in professional wrestling — but none compare to War Machine. The duo of Hanson and Raymond Rowe have an awe-inspiring combination of size and athleticism, combining for a hard-hitting, high octane offense each time they step into the ring. War Machine have spent time in Pro Wrestling Noah, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, where they are currently the IWGP Tag Team Champions.
The decision to give them the championships back on July 1 surprised a lot of people, as War Machine are currently free agents. With the Dusty Classic Tag Team Tournament coming up this fall, the team may be the perfect fit for it. War Machine would automatically be the top team in NXT, and battles with Authors of Pain and Sanity would be sights to see.
4 Out: Kalisto
At one time, many fans believed Kalisto would become WWE’s newest version of Rey Mysterio. With an impressive look and creative in-ring ability, it seemed as though Vince McMahon gave him a vote of confidence, as Kalisto was separated from the Lucha Dragons and was given the chance to hold the United States Championship.
Unfortunately, a Brand Split draft day promo seemed to put a halt to his push right in the middle of it. The multitude of flubs and stumbling over words provided a laugh for fans but also showed McMahon that Kalisto didn’t have the mic skills that he likes in his stars. Although he’d be a tremendous addition to 205 Live, it doesn’t seem like the WWE will put him on the show. It doesn’t appear as though the WWE has Kalisto’s best interests in mind — and that may result in a release sooner rather than later.
3 Join: Lio Rush
When thinking of the hottest young star in the world, Lio Rush will be the first name that many fans think of. At the ripe age of 22 and debuting just three years ago, the Maryland native has proven to have the natural talents to be a star in the business. In his three-year career, he’s made a name for himself in CZW, Ring of Honor and PWG and has shown the combination of in-ring ability and charisma that the WWE loves.
Not only is he a tremendous athlete, but he’s also taken the time to work on his character, something that doesn’t happen often on the indies. It has yet to be confirmed, but the belief is that Rush will immediately sign a contract with NXT. It’s possible that he gets pigeonholed on 205 Live, but if anyone break out despite his size, it’s Rush.
2 Out: Paige
Years ago, it appeared as though Paige was going to be a focal point for the WWE Diva’s division, as she was one of the first to put in-ring ability before anything else. She won the Diva’s Championship on her first night and put on terrific matches with talents that weren’t as good as her. When the WWE decided to put women’s wrestling at the forefront, Paige was expected to be a top name despite the presence of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Bayley and Sasha Banks, amongst others.
But once she entered a relationship with Alberto Del Rio, it seems like things to a turn for the worse. Del Rio had a public falling out with the company, which puts Paige in a tough spot. Not to mention, the pair has had their fair share of issues made public, further hurting her stock with the company. On top of all of this, she’s also one strike away from being fired due to the Wellness Policy. Paige still has the prime of her career ahead of her, but it seems most likely that she’ll get fired by the WWE before her potential is realized.
1 Join: Adam Cole
When you think of independent wrestlers that are tailor made for the WWE, Adam Cole immediately comes to mind. The former Ring of Honor and PWG star has what it takes to put on a tremendous match inside of the squared circle, but where Cole separates himself from the rest is with his charisma and mic work — two things Vince McMahon loves. Cole knows his character and can illicit emotion from every audience he performs in front of.
After getting the rub as a key member of Bullet Club, Cole turned into one of the hottest names in wrestling in 2017. Ever since he had his farewell match in PWG back in May, all signs have pointed to Cole heading to WWE at some point this year. With NXT Brooklyn III taking place in August, would anyone be shocked if he appears at the event?