It's beginning to feel like a week doesn't pass in the pro wrestling world without rumours of some marquee name appearing poised to switch promotions. In an increasingly fragmented industry, where there is no clear No. 2 promotion to challenge WWE and where even the industry leader has fallen on hard times with financial cutbacks and lagging TV ratings, wrestlers are scrambling to jump on both the next big thing but also the sure thing. And the promotions are eager to participate, with GFW perpetually seeking relevance, ROH looking to replace departed stars, NJPW trying to further gain a foothold and WWE apparently attempting to corner every niche.
With this many viable destinations for wrestlers, it's of little wonder that the market is so active. WWE has added so many former ROH stars that they appear headed towards a stable of the promotion's former stars, ostensibly based around reDRagon mates Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish and new signee Adam Cole. Not that WWE has landed every free agent talent, mind you. NXT talent HoHo Lun recently requested his release from the company and Cruiserweight Classic standouts Kota Ibushi and Zach Sabre Jr both rejected WWE contract offers during the 2016 tournament.
Wrestler movement across different promotions doesn't appear to be slowing down, so let's take stock of what is - for now - the current climate of pro wrestling personnel. Here are eight stars who have found an ideal fit and another seven who are sorely in need of a change of scenery.
15 Wrong Place: Dolph Ziggler
Even the most ardent Dolph Ziggler fan will have trouble getting too excited over reports that "The Showoff" is set to be re-packaged. After all, its not as though recent attempts to jump start Ziggler have been particularly effective. Becoming No. 1 contender to Dean Ambrose's WWE World Championship soon after being drafted to SmackDown didn't signal a run with the brand's top title. Likewise, a heel turn on the first SmackDown episode of 2017 hasn't sparked any upward movement. Maybe it's time to give up entirely.
As a master seller and an exceptional worker with charisma to burn, surely some wrestling promotion could get some serious mileage out of Ziggler. Lesser talents have exploded in smaller ponds thanks to their WWE cred. While TNA seems to be the go-to haven for ex-WWE talent, a wrestler with the in-ring skills of Ziggler could find an interesting match in either ROH or, should he be so inclined, NJPW. The New Japan option would be particularly compelling, offering a jarring culture change but also the biggest stage outside of WWE and the chance to feud with the likes of Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi.
14 Right Place: Kota Ibushi
If NJPW were to ever require some representation in swaying Ziggler towards the promotion, perhaps they could call on Kota Ibushi. Ibushi ranks as one of the few known wrestlers to have rejected a WWE contract offer in favor of NJPW. As one of the favorites heading into WWE's Cruiserweight Classic, some fans were surprised to see Ibushi lose to eventual tournament winner TJ Perkins in the semifinals. Soon, it emerged that the Japanese star had been offered - and rejected - a WWE contract, thereby prompting the company to de-emphasize him in their booking plans so as to focus on pushing contracted talent.
Ibushi's decision, while surprising, was quite understandable. He was making significant money on the indy circuit and has since elected to return home and rejoin NJPW, first under the mask of Tiger Mask 5 and more recently as himself. Returning home has earned Ibushi an impressive showing at the recent G1 Climax tournament and seems to be sending him towards a high profile feud with Kenny Omega for Omega's IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship. Had he stayed in WWE, he might have gotten the green light to win the Cruiserweight Classic, but even that distinction wouldn't have guaranteed stardom (just ask TJ Perkins). Toiling away on 205 Live amidst cheesy storylines would have been a waste of Ibushi's talents.
13 Wrong Place: Zack Sabre Jr.
There are easy parallels to make between Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr., both of whom were semifinal losers in the Cruiserweight Classic despite being built up as the stars of the tournament. Both men rejected WWE contracts and now find themselves getting big opportunities with NJPW. So why then, you might ask, would I highlight Ibushi as being in a good place while damning Sabre to the "wrong place" group? Evaluating the present situation for a wrestler demands recognition of their current level of success balanced against their projected potential elsewhere, and Sabre, for all of his NJPW success, could be something truly special away from New Japan.
If we're being honest here, cultural differences are significant in the distinction between Ibushi and Sabre. Shinsuke Nakamura notwithstanding, wrestlers with a first language that isn't English don't have a tremendous track record of reaching the upper echelon in WWE. On top of that, Sabre exudes a certain star quality about him that Ibushi - for all of his in-ring talent - lacks. The charismatic Brit, who is also five years younger than Ibushi, would likely be, at worst, a centerpiece talent on 205 Live in WWE. His ceiling, however, would be much higher, with a work rate and image that could play well on Raw or SmackDown. Though hardly wasted in just a few months in New Japan, Sabre hasn't yet sunk his teeth into a major feud, although signs may be pointing to a big battle forthcoming with IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi.
12 Right Place: Marti Belle
Some wrestlers just weren't meant for the big time. Marti Belle showed enough potential to whet the appetites of talent evaluators in both TNA and WWE, but fizzled out in both promotions. In TNA, she was unable to make herself stand out and was, instead, 'the other girl' in the Dollhouse faction alongside leader Taryn Terrell and rising star Jade, who would go onto a Knockouts title reign soon after Terrell held the belt. Belle, meanwhile, failed to make much of a mark prior to her contract expiring earlier this year. The expiration of her contract allowed Belle to accept an invitation to WWE's Mae Young Classic tournament, but she failed to impress in a sloppy first round loss to Rachel Evers.
Where Belle has always found some level of success is in Shine. Currently a Tag Team Champion alongside Jayme Jameson, she has served as both the promotion's most recognizable star and as a versatile talent who can shift seamlessly in and out of the main event picture. She has been used as a showcase talent and as an established star who can elevate other young budding stars. The 29-year-old still has some good years in her and her entry into the Mae Young Classic shows that she isn't afraid to take a chance, but for now, Belle can take comfort in being a big fish in a small pond, particularly given her poor performances on bigger stages.
11 Wrong Place: Sienna
Sienna would certainly be staring a gift horse right in the mouth if she were to lament her positioning in GFW right now. The 29-year-old currently reigns atop the women's division as Knockouts Champion and doesn't have a clearly evident long-term rival to challenge for the belt. But perhaps that's just the problem. Sienna is something of a division unto herself right now in GFW. I mean, consider the competition. Beyond a soon-to-be-retiring Gail Kim, there's Rosemary, heels Taryn Terrell and Taya Valkyrie, the un-threatening Allie and comedy character Laurel Van Ness.
It's lonely at the top, and Sienna might be feeling it more than most. At this rate, even with the eventual babyface turns of Terrell and Valkyrie, Sienna will quickly run out of rivals in the paper thin division. A mass exodus in recent months that has seen Jade, Angelina Love, Velvet Sky and Madison Rayne all jump ship has cut deeply into the talent depth of GFW women. If Sienna were to make her way to any of WWE, NJPW or Lucha Underground, she may not carry her top dog standing along with her, but she will find plenty more opposition to sink her teeth into. To paraphrase the famous Ryback catchphrase, "Feed Sienna more!!"
10 Right Place: ECIII
That isn't to say that GFW isn't the right spot for some wrestlers to find themselves. Dating back to its early TNA days, the company has been ridiculed as being a landing spot for washed up former WWE superstars seeking one last big payday with minimal work involved. However, the addition of Ethan Carter III, aka the one-time Derrick Bateman in NXT, to the roster back in 2013 represents a major exception to the trend. Better known as EC3, Carter has gone from spinning his wheels in a comedic, go-nowhere gimmick in NXT to being the most consistent main event presence in TNA/GFW over the past four years.
Though brought in as the spoiled, pretentious nephew of then-president Dixie Carter, Carter has proven to be equally adept on the babyface and heel sides of the ledger, a good sign given how regularly he has flip-flopped. Right from jump, he received a mega-push that included a lengthy undefeated streak, 100-day world title reign and signature victories over major stars like Sting, Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy. He repaid the push by signing a multi-year extension and continuing to deliver both in the ring and on the mic. He now stands as a two-time Impact World Heavyweight Champion and the reigning Impact Grand Champion. At 34 years of age, Carter still has a few years left to bring much-needed stability to the top of the promotion.
9 Wrong Place: The Hardys
You can't ask for a more gratifying return than the one that Matt and Jeff Hardy enjoyed as they came back to WWE earlier this year after a number of years away. By making a surprise appearance in the Raw tag team title ladder match at WrestleMania 33, the Hardys returned in front of 75,000 fans to win gold on what we are constantly reminded is wrestling's biggest stage. Older fans were eager to see their beloved Team Extreme back in a WWE ring, while newer fans were intrigued by the prospect of the brothers bringing their popular 'Broken' gimmick over from TNA.
Fast forward five months and it's clear that the momentum from their memorable return hasn't quite carried over. The Hardys have since dropped the Raw belts and aren't even in the title picture any more, instead settling for a meaningless pre-show six-man tag loss at SummerSlam. Their disappointing run has been at least partially hampered by the on-going legal battle with Anthem Sports, the majority owner of what is now GFW, over the 'Broken' copyright. Though the Hardys have teased the gimmick on numerous occasions, they have been visibly hamstrung by their inability to use this strange and captivating dimension of their persona. While a reunion with GFW seems laughable given the bitter feelings between the two sides, seeing The Hardys travel through ' time and space' to various indie promotions would be a whole lot more interesting than what they are doing now.
8 Right Place: Cody Rhodes
In the department of 'sad but true', there seems to be a common trend among most wrestlers following their release from WWE. Things will typically veer in one of two directions - they will either fade off into irrelevance on the indie scene or they cling to a roster spot in another promotion hoping to capitalize on their once-significant name. Cody Rhodes, once a can't-miss second generation young WWE superstar, deserves credit for bucking the odds. Rather than a fall from grace, his release in May of 2016 spurred strong demand, brought on at least partly by Rhodes' clever list gimmick in which he highlighted some top indie names and built intrigue over potential dream matches.
Basically, Rhodes got himself over in a way that WWE consistently failed to do, particularly with regards to the widely ridiculed Stardust gimmick. On the indie circuit, he was free to jump from promotion to promotion, putting in time with ROH, TNA and New Japan. Though his TNA days appear to be behind him, he currently reigns as the ROH World Champion and a key member of the Bullet Club. Now billed as the "American Nightmare", Rhodes can't actually use the last name that his father, Dusty Rhodes, made famous due to WWE copyright, but he controls his own schedule and has quickly attained main event status. In other words, he's doing just fine.
7 Wrong Place: Ricochet
There aren't many stars in the world of professional wrestling who are as big as Ricochet without having had at least a cup of coffee in WWE or its developmental system these days. It's fairly remarkable, then, that the Lucha Underground, New Japan and Pro Wrestling Guerilla standout also known as Prince Puma has managed to stay WWE-free for this long. It's not as though the rumors haven't been there linking the company with the 28-year-old. Speculation has carried on for years, reaching a fever pitch when his contract with LU came up in 2016. For as much as Ricochet deserves credit for making it big outside of the world's largest pro wrestling company, maybe it's time to give it a shot.
Were he just another lucha, Ricochet wouldn't stand much of a chance of making it big with the industry leader. But the two-time Lucha Underground Champion has the look and star presence needed to rise up the ranks in a hurry in spite of his relatively diminutive stature. He would be instantly popular with the savvy NXT crowd and then would be afforded a chance to get his crisp, high flying offense over with WWE audiences. At worst, he could be a top star with 205 Live. More optimistically, however, he could get over with hardcore and casual WWE audiences alike in a similar way to Finn Balor and Seth Rollins. After all, neither of those guys are exactly towering monsters either.
6 Right Place: Bobby Roode
Roode's run on top of NXT has served in stark contrast to his time spent spinning his wheels in TNA. Although over as half of the Beer Money tag team alongside James Storm, he proved an awkward fit in his Million Dollar Man-esque persona and has since demonstrated how much money TNA left on the table by botching his push. Given his age (he turned 40 in May), his recent dropping of the title (and the evident directional shift of the main event picture) and the well-honed nature of his act, it should only be a matter of time now before Roode is using nefarious tactics to cheat his way into the WWE Championship picture.
5 Wrong Place: Kalisto
Ever since Rey Mysterio Jr. left the company, WWE has been widely believed to be in the hunt for a top Hispanic superstar. Sin Cara hasn't panned out as hoped. Alberto Del Rio, despite a plethora of chances, could never quite put it all together. Kalisto, meanwhile, has never really gotten a fair shot. The former Samuray del Sol's small stature has probably worked against him, but the 5'6" lucha has done his best to make up for it with an electrifying offensive move set and an evident comfort in playing the underdog role against the likes of Baron Corbin and Braun Strowman.
What's most puzzling in Kalisto's current invisibility across WWE programming is that the company now has a program specifically tailored to the master of the Salida del Sol. When the 31-year-old was drafted to Raw in the post-WrestleMania Superstar Shakeup, there was some optimism that he would be incorporated into the 205 Live cruiserweight roster. Yet, WWE has oddly avoided an easy move that would carry the mutual benefit of injecting some star power onto 205 Live while also giving Kalisto something meaningful to do. It wouldn't quite achieve WWE's hopes of creating a top Hispanic star, but it would get more value out of Kalisto than they currently are. Until then, you'd have to figure that he's feeling a little nostalgic for his AAA days.
4 Right Place: Johnny Mundo/Johnny Impact/John Hennigan
You'd be hard pressed to recall any instance of a wrestler competing in two major promotions, alternately performing as a top babyface and heel at the same time. That is, however, exactly what John Hennigan is doing right now as a main event member of both the Lucha Underground and, now, the GFW roster. As Johnny Mundo with LU, he has reigned as World Champion since November of last year and stands as the leader of the Worldwide Underground stable and the company's top heel. Recently, however, a partnership between LU and GFW has brought him to the Jeff Jarrett-run promotion, where as Johnny Impact, he has slotted in the top babyface role in place of the suspended Alberto Del Rio.
The dual role might seem strange and jarring to fans of both promotions, but it's gotta be a lot of fun for Hennigan. The former Johnny Nitro now gets prime national TV time while taking on two very different personas and facing two different sets of diverse competition. In LU, he is embroiled in a feud with Rey Mysterio and has mixed it up with pretty well every top babyface lucha star on the roster. As a newly debuted member of the GFW roster, he seems to have his sights set on new Impact World Champion Eli Drake. Soon, the one-time WWE mid-carder could well be the top champion in both LU and GFW.
3 Wrong Place: Apollo Crews
There isn't a wrestling promotion in the world that wouldn't jump at the chance to add a dynamic powerhouse with cruiserweight-like agility to its roster, which is why its perplexing to see Apollo Crews dwindle as a glorified jobber in WWE. The former Uhaa Nation looked poised to be a future star for the company when he arrived from Dragon Gate USA at the start of 2015. After a brief stint in NXT that saw Crews feud with the likes of Finn Balor and Baron Corbin, he reached the main roster a little over a year after signing his contract. Since then, however, things sure seem to have gone downhill.
Crews' introduction to the Raw audience back in April of 2016 showed him to be every bit the super-athlete that WWE hoped they were acquiring. His power moves and gravity-defying standing back flip splash wowed audiences unfamiliar with his work. Unfortunately, there just wasn't much else to grasp onto with his smiling, happy-go-lucky babyface character. Even now, as the other guy in Titus O'Neill's Titus Brand stable, he remains a bland presence more likely to be found on the secondary Main Event program than on a flagship show. The company has given him a shot on both Raw and SmackDown with little to show for it, so it's hard to see what is left to jump start his career - aside from being released, that is.
2 Right Place: Kenny Omega
In New Japan, he has been fully embraced and currently stands as one of the company's three or four top stars. In front of a global audience that at least somewhat rivals WWE, Omega has produced five-star matches with World Champion Kazuchika Okada and became the promotion's first ever United States Champion. While the US title can be seen as a secondary belt and, thus, a step down for Omega, it appears that NJPW is actually using him to elevate their new championship. Regardless, his standing in Japan remains loftier than anything he could reasonably expect in WWE, where he'd more likely be marginalized.
1 Wrong Place: The Young Bucks
Contrary to the way they are slotted here, The Young Bucks actually have a pretty good thing going in pro wrestling right now. Nick and Matt Jackson are kings of the indy scene, showing up in ROH and New Japan seemingly as they please and doing big business in the merchandise department. But despite their popularity, there looms a fundamental reality that the Bucks aren't quite as - ahem - young as they once were. Matt has hit his early 30s while Nick is reaching his late 20s. That isn't ancient in wrestling years, but assuming a stop in NXT would take place before a potential WWE main roster run, the clock is ticking.
Of course, that assumes that the Jackson brothers would be interested in a WWE run. Like any hot indy act, there's been speculation tying the Bucks to the company, but that doesn't mean there's any real mutual interest to be found. You couldn't blame Nick and Matt for being leery of a run with a top promotion states-side, given how quickly their run as Generation Next fizzled out in TNA and how they never really got much of a look in two brief jobbing stints in WWE. Things would surely be different now. As one of the hottest tag teams in the world, they would instantly be pushed to the top of the card in any promotion. While it has been ROH, NJPW and Pro Wrestling Guerilla that have helped catapult them into superstardom, now is the time for the Young Bucks to use that fame to make their mark in front of as many eyes as possible.
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