As much as they would like to pretend otherwise, the wrestling industry exists outside of WWE. Most wrestlers spend the early years of their career honing their craft on the independent circuit, putting on stellar matches that become hidden wrestling gems.
Ring Of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling are two of the most respected independent wrestling promotions in the world. Former indie darlings have gone on to win WWE's top championships and establish legacies. Here are five of the finest exports from ROH and NJPW respectively.
10 ROH: Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan has had a hero's journey in professional wrestling. The Yes! Man spearheaded a movement in WWE that culminated at WrestleMania XXX when he stood victorious in front of a raucous crowd with the WWE World Heavyweight Championships in his grasp.
Before he found success in WWE, Daniel Bryan was one of the "Founding Fathers" for Ring Of Honor. Wrestling as Bryan Danielson, he competed in the main event for ROH's debut event, The Era Of Honor Begins. Bryan also won the ROH World Championship in 2005 and was the final Pure Wrestling Champion.
9 NJPW: Finn Balor
Finn Balor hasn't enjoyed as much success as he should have in WWE but remains one of the best wrestlers in the world. The inaugural Universal Champion helped establish WWE's developmental as a legitimate brand in itself, holding the NXT Championship for 293 days.
Balor excelled before this during his tenure with NJPW, where he wrestled under the pseudonym, Prince Devitt. The Irish born Superstar was involved in some of the promotion's biggest storylines and events, including establishing acclaimed faction The Bullet Club and winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
8 ROH: Seth Rollins
Daniel Bryan is not the only WWE Grand Slam Champion to have roots in Ring Of Honor. Rollins debuted in ROH at 2007's pay-per-view taping of Man Up, under his former ring name Tyler Black. The Beastslayer even clashed with Bryan in their pursuit of the ROH World Tag Team Championship.
Rollins won the ROH World Championship in 2009 after grueling matches against Austin Aries, the first of which drew to a 60-minute time limit draw. He lost the title after a 210-day reign before he debuted for WWE's then developmental brand FCW.
7 NJPW: Shinsuke Nakamura
Shinsuke Nakamura has had a similar journey in WWE to his fellow former NJPW star Finn Balor. Their addition to the NXT roster was a big moment that hyped the crowd and seemed to spell a new era for WWE going forward. The King Of Strong Style won the NXT Championship in 2016 by defeating The Demon and has since held the United States and Intercontinental Championships, as well as winning the 2018 Men's Royal Rumble match.
Nakamura originally debuted for NJPW in 2002 as the "Super Rookie," though quickly impressed the crowd with his speed and unique athleticism. Additionally, he is a three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, winning his first title at the age of 23.
6 ROH: CM Punk
Although CM Punk has left wrestling behind him, the fact remains that his legacy is undeniable. Punk was once one of WWE's biggest stars, an outspoken and controversial figure who could hold his own on the microphone like no other. Punk is recognized as the sixth longest-reigning WWE Champion, though he made a name for himself before signing with Vince McMahon's company.
Punk began his career working for ROH where he faced other future WWE Superstars such as Daniel Bryan and Samoa Joe, winning the ROH World Championship before migrating to WWE in 2005.
5 NJPW: Andrade
Andrade is one of the most talented performers on the WWE roster, despite not being booked as well as he should be. His high-flying repertoire makes him a delight to watch in the ring whilst the valuable presence of Zelina Vega helps establish him as an entertaining bad guy.
Before El Idolo signed with WWE and debuted in NXT, he crafted his career in NJPW. As La Sombra, he won the IWGP Intercontinental Championship before departing for WWE in 2015.
4 ROH: Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe is a unique talent who is capable of making even ludicrous segments both credible and entertaining. The Submission Specialist is a former NXT Champion and another star to be poached from ROH's ranks by Triple H and recruited for developmental.
Joe rose to prominence due to his tenure with TNA and ROH. He debuted with the latter during the promotion's inception in 2002, holding the ROH World Championship for a record 21 months.
3 NJPW: Vader
Big Van Vader was dubbed "one of the greatest super-heavyweight wrestlers of all time," with his diving moonsault voted the Best Wrestling Maneuver by Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers in 1993. He was a prominent feature in NJPW, WCW, and the WWF throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
The former WCW World Heavyweight Champion worked for NJPW from 1987 until 1992, winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship three times. He made a brief return to the company in 1996 before signing again with WWE and later TNA.
2 ROH: Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens is another beloved indie darling who paid his dues for years on the independent circuit before being snapped up sharply by Triple H for NXT. The former NXT Champion enjoyed a successful career alongside real-life friend Sami Zayn in ROH before he signed with WWE and won the Universal Championship.
The Prizefighter wrestled under his birth name Kevin Steen in ROH from 2007 until 2014, teaming and feuding with Sami Zayn's El Generico and winning the ROH World Championship.
1 NJPW: Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero's name is legendary in the wrestling industry. Having wrestled for various promotions such as WCW, ECW, and WWE, Guerrero built a name for himself that lives on as the inspiration for young, up-and-coming wrestlers today.
The former WWE Champion worked for NJPW from 1993 until 1996. He won 1996's Best Of The Super Juniors tournament for a chance to face The Great Sasuke for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, though lost the bout.