On January 1st, wrestling fans woke up to a big announcement: All Elite Wrestling. The rumors had been circulating for months, especially after trademarks were filed a few weeks ago, but this was our first concrete confirmation.
All Elite Wrestling (or AEW) is a new promotion run by Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks after the monumental success of All In. The indie wrestling circuits are more united than ever before, thanks in part by All In, and there are plenty of big names who could easily sign with AEW. Meanwhile, WWE is struggling with an overcrowded and underutilized locker room. We will likely see many of those underutilized talents jump ship as well. The list could go on forever, but here are the top 15 that should sign with All Elite Wrestling.
15. Gallows And Anderson
This is about as close to a sure thing as it gets, though they will probably have to wait out their contract with WWE first.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson were two of the founding members of Bullet Club, the New Japan Pro-Wrestling faction that the Elite spun off from. The pair were big signings for WWE and initially made a splash. Their success was short-lived despite the vote of confidence skipping NXT would imply. Since moving to SmackDown without Finn Bálor, they’ve floundered and have hardly sniffed a title opportunity in months. They will probably be more than happy to join their friends and become one of the standard bearers in the tag division.
14. Shinsuke Nakamura
Regardless of AEW’s status, Shinsuke Nakamura was probably not sticking around much longer in WWE. He was a massive star in Japan but hasn’t been able to get off the ground in WWE. His NXT run was underwhelming, but at least it came with a top title in tow. He did win the 2018 Royal Rumble but lost his match to AJ Styles in a feud that turned him heel and then subsequently went nowhere else.
Signing with AEW would give him opportunities like none other; he would become the dream match machine we all thought he was going to be in WWE.
13. The Revival
Another oh-so-obvious pick must be the Revival. The former NXT Tag Team Champions are easily some of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the WWE. Not that you’d know it by their current status, which is usually jobbing out the tag champs of the day, or hanging out in catering. This injustice has gotten the eye of the Young Bucks. They’ve been not-so-subtly letting everyone know they plan to fight the Revival. WWE hasn’t prioritized Tag Team wrestling for a long time, but given the success of the Young Bucks, it will likely be a centerpiece in AEW and the Revival could really shine.
12. AJ Styles
Much like the first entry on this list, AJ Styles is a former member of the Bullet Club and great friends with the Elite. Rumor has it that back when he signed with WWE, he asked the Young Bucks to come with him. The roles might soon be reversed. Styles is certainly doing well, but the schedule is hard on the father of four.
Reports surfaced the negotiations for his new contract included Styles looking for a less demanding role without as much travel. If WWE continues to hold out, he might very well end up with his buds over at AEW.
11. Tessa Blanchard
Venturing out of WWE, we should expect to see some crossover between AEW and other promotions. Talent exchanges have become popular over the past year and it seems likely they’ll have a courteous relationship with Impact Wrestling.
The reigning Knockouts Champion, Tessa Blanchard, would be a major asset to AEW. Any promotion with any sense will be courting her if they haven’t started already. She’s only 23 but the third generation wrestler already has an impressive resume. While promoting All In, Blanchard was incredibly enthusiastic about the platform this sort of event would give women’s wrestling. AEW is just the next logical step for her.
10. Zack Ryder
This may not seem like a particularly obvious choice, but it actually may be one of the more likely. Zack Ryder and Cody Rhodes have been friends for years. In fact, Cody called out Ryder as one of the people he most wanted for All In, but couldn’t sign for obvious reasons.
Since the Hype Bros break up a couple years ago, Ryder hasn’t been up to much of anything. It feels like such a waste because we know how good Ryder can be when given the opportunity. He may not fit the image we have of an indie wrestler, but lest we forget, this man got himself over on a YouTube show with a belt of his own creation. What’s more indie than that?
9. Leva Bates
With the early announcement of Britt Baker joining the AEW roster, it seems likely that women will have a decent presence in AEW. Despite the issues in WWE’s own women’s division, many of those stars seem willing to ride it out. Looking around the indie scene, there are some obvious choices, like the aforementioned Blanchard.
Leva Bates may be one we shouldn’t sleep on though; the artist formerly known as Blue Pants. Although her short-lived time with WWE ended with rumors of backstage heat, she got massively over with the crowd thanks to her natural charisma. There wasn’t anything to her character, but she still made it work for her. It would be an interesting addition to the women’s division.
8. Dolph Ziggler
Fans of Dolph Ziggler are used to a certain emotional roller coaster that seems to come along with the show-off. He’s contending for a championship, he’s jobbing out, he’s hot, he’s irrelevant, he’s a heel, he’s a face, and we don’t know about you, but we’re exhausted.
Maybe the reality is WWE isn’t a great fit for him. Notoriously, Ziggler has never been able to do 100% of what he’s capable of due to the WWE style. We get a few moments of brightness and promise from him each year but it seems to fade just as quickly. A new home could be good for him; and like many others on this list, he’s great friends with Cody and the Young Bucks.
7. Ivelisse Velez
You may not know her name, but Ivelisse is probably one of the best female competitors we will never see in the WWE. Initially a contestant on Tough Enough, she was fired from her developmental contract, possibly after reporting Bill DeMott. It was probably one of WWE’s biggest misses, as Ivelisse went on to make a name for herself on Lucha Underground, Shimmer, and Shine. Her work in Lucha Underground as a tough-as-nails Trios Champion (who, by the way, won a ladder match for her team with a broken ankle) is evident of how capable she is given the right environment. Knowing that the relations with WWE are probably chilly, she could be a prime candidate to join AEW
6. Pentagón Jr.
Among the hottest names outside of WWE, Pentagón Jr. has to make the top 10, at least. He used to spend his times dominating and breaking arms in Lucha Underground, AAA, and PWG. These days he dominates and breaks arms on Impact Wrestling.
Like Blanchard, the specifics of his deal could be a roadblock, but it may be possible for him to take dates with AEW. His uniquely eerie mask and ninja-like ring skills set him apart from the rest of the current crop of wrestlers. It also has given him quite a following among indie wrestling fans. AEW most certainly needs buzz, it’s their biggest asset right now, and Pentagón would bring plenty of it with him.
Cesaro has not had a bad run as of late. His feud with Sheamus turned into a long-term partnership that has lasted far longer than anyone expected. The question is, however: is he doing as well as he could be? Given the way that WWE has a tendency to treat tag teams as an afterthought, we’d probably say no. Cesaro is quietly one of the best across the roster. He’s got a great presence and he’s just plain cool. Most recognize the potential Cesaro exhibits and if he were to come over to AEW, he’d probably bring some eyeballs with him.
4. Joey Ryan
Meet the man who will never, ever sign with WWE. The parody of a 1980s porn star has been very vocal about the fact his gimmick would never work in WWE. He also has been vocal about the fact that he’s doing just fine, thank you very much. So what’s next for this indie darling? AEW might be a great choice, as he was a surprise attraction at All In and had a rather interesting feud with Hangman Page leading up to the event. If there’s one thing we can count on from this new promotion, it’s that it will never take itself too seriously, and that’s exactly Ryan’s MO.
3. Candice LeRae
If AEW can sign Ryan, they ought to look to his former tag team partner Candice LeRae next. The NXT superstar has not exactly had the career we expected from her since signing with WWE a couple years ago. She had a great showing in the Mae Young Classic but since has been largely an accessory to her husband’s program. It’s really a shame because she has been doing great character work and proven some decent chops from an acting standpoint. LeRae was always known for intergender wrestling, and WWE just isn’t there yet. Even With Johnny Gargano finding success, the best thing for her career would probably be in AEW.
2. John Morrison
What’s in a name? John Morrison, Johnny Mundo, Johnny Impact, whatever you call him, he’s one of the best in the world. Morrison has a certain presence to him that comes from earned confidence. He’s one of those heels that no matter how hard you try to hate him, you will always come back to loving him. Over the years since leaving WWE, Morrison has proven he’s not just a pretty face, but rather a really smart athlete who knows exactly what he brings to the table. Plus, a new moniker of Johnny Elite would be a nice little nod to all that Morrison has done in his career and how fully he commits to every new chapter.
1. Finn Bálor
The most unlikely name on our list would be the biggest signing if AEW pulled it off. That’s the original Bullet Club leader, Prince Devitt, or as he’s currently known: Finn Bálor.
Since signing with WWE, Bálor has had a lot of ups and downs. Many believe he’s not being treated like the star that he was in NJPW. Signing with AEW could change all of that. WWE clearly sees Bálor as a popular and lucrative talent, but they are completely unwilling to give him wins against the big guys. AEW would slap a belt on him quicker than he could throw up a "too sweet." Surely, it would feel like coming home for Bálor. At the same time, though, he seems happy doing what he loves on the biggest stage in wrestling.
Will he be among the first signees to All Elite Wrestling? We’ll have to wait and find out.