WWE is aggressively pursuing talent more than they have in a long time. The brand split has changed the dynamic of the industry. They need two rosters that are strong enough for national television with Raw and Smackdown live every week, not to mention touring every weekend. NXT coming into play makes things interesting with a third brand in need of a credible roster. The rise of NXT has led to fans wanting to support the third developmental brand enough for it to tour every weekend as well. WWE is looking at the free agent market to provide the depth desperately needed.
The best free agent talents are typically performers honing their craft wrestling around the world. ROH, PWG, EVOLVE and various international promotions book and develop the independent stars of today. There are also the established veterans that used to work for WWE. They typically work in smaller independent promotions and have infrequent schedules. WWE scouts every avenue for the talents worthy of a contract. We’ll examine both sides of the free agent market when it comes to what WWE should be looking for. These are eight top talents WWE should try to sign as soon as possible and seven they must avoid at all costs.
15 Sign: The Young Bucks
WWE is finally giving attention to the tag team division. The New Day are being allowed to thrive as a unit rather than splitting up for the hopes of one becoming a singles star. The Club, American Alpha, Big Cass & Enzo Amore and a few others are credible teams. They need to find another elite team or two to completely revamp the division. The Young Bucks are the top tag team on the independent wrestling scene and arguably the best in the world.
Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson excite fans with an array of dazzling moves and charmingly obnonoxious personalities. WWE is starting to aggressively pursue the best talents on the free agent market as seen with A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and many of the other high profile signings. The Young Bucks would easily become a hot act in the current WWE climate. NXT could use them as an attraction or the main roster could see a new boom period for the tag division with The Bucks adding a new dimension.
14 Avoid: Carlito
The brand split has caused WWE to look at former talents to bring back for depth. Lower level names like Rhyno, Curt Hawkins and Jinder Mahal have already returned. WWE hoped to bring back Shelton Benjamin before his injury ruined their desires and they are still looking for more talent to add the roster. One of those rumored names in the early stages was Carlito. Despite his great potential and high expectations, Carlito never made the progress needed to become a major player.
WWE management grew frustrated with the lack of motivation and hunger exhibited by Carlito. His career would fall apart and WWE released him. Unlike many other wrestlers released, Carlito did not find inspiration in his newfound freedom. The veteran rarely takes independent wrestling bookings and the ones he does take are usually weaker cards that pay him more. Carlito still has the same issues that haunted in his WWE days. A new contract won’t fix that.
13 Sign: Cedric Alexander
Cedric Alexander became the standout star of the first two rounds in the Cruiserweight Classic. Fans showered Full Sail with “Please Sign Cedric” chants following his elimination to Kota Ibushi. Alexander has always been extraordinarily talented but other promotions have missed the boat on him. Ring of Honor used to be known for their ability to create new stars, but have transitioned into a different brand outlook that harmed Alexander’s career there.
The new opportunity in the WWE has reinvigorated the passion of Alexander. After cutting over 20 pounds to qualify, Cedric decided he would no longer be denied with two spectacular performances. WWE desperately needs new talent for both NXT and the Cruiserweight division coming on Raw. Alexander is the perfect man for both of those roles. Triple H coming out to show respect towards Alexander and acknowledge the fans appreciation for him at the CWC may be enough to see a contract coming in the very near future.
12 Avoid: Chris Hero
Don’t get it wrong. Chris Hero is one of the best wrestlers in the world. He’s just a bad fit for WWE and WWE is a bad fit for him. Many wrestlers like to refer to themselves as artists or storytellers, but Hero truly fits the bill. Hero's recent run in PWG, ROH and various international independent promotions proved he could deliver great matches at a rate unlike anyone else in the business right now.
Hero just isn’t the kind of talent that can thrive in WWE’s system. The freedom restricted in WWE harmed him during his days in developmental. Hero gained a negative reputation for wanting to do things his way and stepping in to help coach other talents. WWE just doesn’t create a climate for his talent to thrive in and they should keep the relationship split. Hero will make money having stellar matches on his own terms and WWE can sign wrestlers more suitable for what they want.
11 Sign: Matt Riddle
The rise of Matt Riddle has become the hottest story on the independent wrestling scene. Riddle found his greatest fame in the UFC, but has transitioned into a new career with pro wrestling. WWE scout Gerald Brisco believed he had a world of potential and he was correct. Rumors suggest WWE management wanted Riddle to get experience in EVOLVE before he tried his luck in the WWE world. Riddle responded by becoming a main event player on the independents.
EVOLVE fans treat Riddle like a main eventer in a promotion featuring many of the top wrestling talents in the world, despite Riddle having less than a year in experience. Riddle picked up the skills needed to get over and recently received a huge booking in the PWG Battle of Los Angeles tournament, showcasing the best un-signed wrestlers in the world. WWE needs to step in and realize he’s ready for a bigger stage. The momentum of Riddle is trending upwards into the WWE Universe.
10 Avoid: Magnus
TNA signed Magnus with minimal experience because Dixie Carter saw something special in him. Dixie Carter is often wrong. In fairness, Magnus had a respectable TNA career winning almost every relevant championship. The problem is he didn’t have what was needed to match up with the best of the best. You could tell he didn’t belong in the same ring as guys like Samoa Joe or A.J. Styles. Magnus chose to leave TNA in 2015 with the confidence of making it big elsewhere.
The only notable thing Magnus has done is serving as the face of the failing Global Force Wrestling brand. GFW has been an absolute disaster and Magnus is searching for his place in wrestling. WWE has shown no interest in him and we can only hope they continue to follow the path. Magnus has exhibited quite an ego blaming various aspects of the current wrestling climate for his inability to get booked in bigger promotions. WWE should stay away and focus on finding the many better talents out there.
9 Sign: Zack Sabre Jr.
The hottest name in the Cruiserweight Classic series is Zack Sabre Jr. Fans have given him the name of “The Technical Wizard” for very good reason. Sabre works magic in the ring with his chain wrestling and various submissions. Fans used to view that style as painfully boring, but Sabre has completely changed the perception of the viewer. Sabre is the most popular option to win the CWC and WWE needs to work on locking him into a contract.
Nothing has been confirmed but we can assume the winner of the tournament will be the crowned Cruiserweight Champion and will be on Monday Night Raw. No one is a better fit for the honor than Sabre. WWE can’t mess around and let him walk away without a contract. The other talents are great, but Sabre has something unique that makes him unlike anyone else in the company. Unique performers are needed and Sabre is the best option.
8 Avoid: Tommy Dreamer
We all have the upmost respect for Tommy Dreamer, but it’s time to stop bringing him into WWE. Dreamer is 45 years old and it shows every time he appears in a ring these days. An active in-ring schedule on the independent wrestling scene keeps him in shape, but the years of wear and tear definitely limit him. WWE has a horrible tendency to rely on the part but it is understandable with the likes of The Undertaker, Sting or Triple H.
Dreamer getting a spot for his past accomplishments is where the line is drawn. WWE is rumored to have offered a contract to Dreamer due to the brand split, but he declined. Dreamer runs his independent promotion House of Hardcore and likely wants to keep it running rather than give it up for a role as enhancement talent on WWE TV. WWE is better suited offering the same deal to younger talents with potential.
7 Sign: Ricochet
The contract situation of Ricochet is always confusing. It seems like he is wrestling everywhere except WWE these days. His contract in Lucha Underground restricts him from working for other wrestling promotions on television, but it is reportedly ending soon. Ricochet stated on Jim Ross’ podcast that he is considering various options going forward. WWE is definitely one of the realistic possibilities. Ricochet was turned down after appearing at a tryout camp and used it as inspiration to become one of the best wrestlers in the world.
Over the past few years, WWE has done a tremendous job finding the top assets outside of the company. Ricochet is a case of one they missed the boat on and will need to correct. The Cruiserweight division and high-flying style being appreciated more makes him a huge free agent. Ricochet can do things the average human can barely process, let alone do. The potential of Ricochet vs. Neville alone could make the CW division instantly credible and WWE has to go after him to make it happen.
6 Avoid: Charlie Haas
WWE wanted to make Shelton Benjamin a fixture on SmackDown with the brand split needing more established names. Benjamin has a great reputation among diehard fans for his amazing athleticism and the outstanding matches he had in the past. While Benajmin has definitely been on a bit of a decline outside of WWE, he is still good enough to deliver the goods when called upon. One of the ideas rumored to be discussed about Benjamin’s return before an injury was reforming The World’s Greatest Tag Team with Charlie Haas.
The team used to be tremendous, but Haas has lost his way. ROH signed them with the hopes of bringing a valuable act into the company. Haas couldn’t back it up and looked completely lost in the ring, as he was unable to keep up with the younger stars. Benjamin has stated he expects to return following recovery from his injury but we can only hope Haas won’t be with him. The semi-retired Haas should continue to build his career outside of wrestling as he doesn’t have it in him anymore to be in WWE again.
5 Sign: Drew Galloway
The best example of a former WWE star having something to contribute to today’s version of the company is Drew Galloway. Following a lackluster WWE career and a release, Galloway has reinvented himself and become a hot commodity. Galloway wanted to prove he was more than the comedic jobber in 3-Man Band. Through runs in TNA, EVOLVE and PWG, he has lived up to his word as one of the top stars outside of WWE.
Galloway’s TNA contract is expected to expire very soon. WWE needs to go after him as if he was a first round draft pick. The potential they saw in him has been realized and they can finally profit off it. Galloway has the ideal look and now can provide the work to back it up. Galloway is definitely good enough to main event a WWE PPV. If WWE can find a way to bring Jinder Mahal back, they have to sign Galloway now that he’s ready for his spot.
4 Avoid: Velvet Sky
Bubba Ray Dudley has been campaigning for almost a year now for WWE to sign his girlfriend Velvet Sky. Fans have jumped on the bandwagon but WWE has not offered a contract. This is another case of TNA’s damaged goods looking for a chance in WWE. Unlike Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode and A.J. Styles, Velvet just doesn’t have the talent to make it work. The current women’s division revolves around athleticism and credible talents having good matches.
Sky’s strengths in TNA were gimmick matches and tawdry segments that featured her showcasing her body like the outdated days of women’s wrestling. She struggled to run the ropes and looked like a fish out of water in the ring at times. Velvet could possibly work as a manager but bringing her in to work matches would take many steps back in the women’s division. Fans have higher expectations from the female wrestlers in WWE today and Sky can’t match that on her best day.
3 Sign: Adam Cole
The potential of Adam Cole is second to none when compared to all the young wrestlers aspiring to get to the WWE. Cole is only 27 years old but has cemented himself as an elite performer in ROH and PWG. His overall body of work makes him a valued asset to a company like WWE. Cole can work great matches, cut incredible promos and has been a model spokesperson for ROH. His experience making media appearances is an underrated aspect that will help him in WWE.
Cole’s Ring of Honor contract is expiring at the end of the year and WWE needs to pounce on him. The star power of Cole could make him the face of NXT or his talent could take him to the main roster. WWE can use him in just about any role and it would be successful. Cole’s destiny is definitely WWE and we all deserve to see it come to fruition sooner than later.
2 Avoid: The Briscoes
This selection is a painful one to make because Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe are two of the best talents to never work for WWE. The Briscoes have been fixtures in ROH over the past decade with amazing matches and character work. There’s no knock in their wrestling game, but their personal lives have harmed them. Jay has been quite a few homophobic comments in the past that could hurt WWE if they signed him.
Their personal beliefs don’t line up with the current landscape of society. Mark and Jay own their own chicken farm along with the rest of their family. While it is endearing at times, it also provides another concern of PETA and other organizations coming at WWE for signing them. The risks are too much for the talented Briscoe brothers. They can thrive in a smaller promotion like ROH but their lifestyles would make WWE a tough sell.
1 Sign: The Hardys
WWE should zone in on signing the best available talents outside of the company and that’s quite frankly Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy. Jeff has always been the top active wrestler outside of WWE following his years of success as a main eventer in the company. The free spirit Hardy brother still has enough left in the tank to deliver great moments for another few years. Matt has become just as valuable as Jeff with the creation of the "Broken" Matt character.
Both brothers could be valuable as singles performers or as a legendary tag team. WWE has copied The Final Deletion with Bray Wyatt’s compound, so they are clearly keeping tabs on The Hardys work. Nothing in wrestling has been as refreshing as the Broken Matt/Brother Nero series. That creativity coming over along with the star power is a huge get for WWE. Jeff has spoken out about wanting to end his career in WWE and Matt obviously would take the right offer. WWE needs to go after them and bring them home.