There is a huge divide in wrestling: You’re either in the WWE, or you’re in the indies.
It used to be in order to get to the WWE, you had to go to Japan or Mexico, be a former bodybuilder/athlete or know someone already in the biz. That’s not the case anymore. Nowadays the biggest exposure you get as a wrestler is to simply be seen by a lot of people. Sure, this exposure can come by being hired directly by WWE, but most likely it’ll come by joining an indie promotion.
You can’t just make the jump from the indies to the big show without impressing the right people, and when it comes to WWE, those people are Vince McMahon and Triple H. Unfortunately for a lot of wrestlers out there, Vinnie Mac and Trips have very different ideas as to what makes a WWE Superstar. Vince has always been known as a body guy. The bigger you are, the bulkier you look and the closer you resemble a real-life action figure, the more he’ll like you. On the other hand, despite being a big guy himself, Triple H is less concerned with how you look inside the ring, and more focused on what you can do inside of it. You can imagine this leads to some disagreements in who the next big signee will be during those executive meetings in Samford, CT. With that in mind, here are the eight indie wrestlers Vince McMahon most likely has his eye on, and seven wrestlers that are more Hunter's style.
15 Brian Cage (Vince's Guy)
Brian Cage is a modern day monster. His 265 pound frame more than meet the standards laid out by Vince. Not only is his size impressive, but the way he carries it is something of a modern-day miracle. After a brief stint with WWE’s developmental brand FCW, Cage began wrestling for TNA, PWG and AAA, but he really didn’t start to be noticed until his time on Lucha Underground, matching some of the most well-known luchadors in the world spot-for-spot.
It’s obvious to see why Vince would be drooling at the prospect of Cage. He has all the muscle of Cena and Ryback, but he also has the moves to back it up. You can almost see Vince’s daydream of Cage throwing Kalisto across the ring like a lawn dart into a crowd of people.
14 Dalton Castle (Triple H’s Guy)
Dalton Castle is one of the more famous indie wrestlers on this list to never have a contract with WWE in any form. In 2013 that he joined the promotion he’s more famous for being in: Ring of Honor. It was in ROH that he adopted “the boys” and became the character he is today. Castle won his first-ever ROH World Championship on December 15th, 2017.
Dalton Castle is known nowadays for his flamboyant personality, heel tendencies and being adept on the mic...all traits that Triple H loves. Castle also benefits from his in-ring style, which matches better with the WWE than most indie performers do. If Trips had his way, Dalton Castle (and probably his boys) would be making the rounds in NXT ASAP.
13 Matt Cross aka Son of Havoc (Vince’s Guy)
There are certain types of wrestlers who are build for more extreme rules matches, and Matt Cross is certainly one of them. Having spent time doing dangerous acts in CZW, Chikara and most recently in Lucha Underground (performing as Son of Havoc), Cross is ready to step in and participate in the nearest extreme rules or street fight match.
Cross might not be the biggest guy on this list, but his in-ring ability and ability to withstand punishment put him squarely in Vince’s eyes. Whether he adopts his Lucha personality, or comes at it squarely as himself, there’s no doubt that Cross would succeed as one of Vince’s top guys.
12 The Young Bucks (Triple H’s Guys)
Matt and Nick Jackson may be the most accomplished name on this list to never play a major role in WWE. They’ve become world-famous while wrestling as members of the Bullet Club for ROH and NJPW. However, it’s what they do outside the ring that make them HHH guys and not Vince’s.
The Bucks are very well known for their kayfabe breaking shenanigans. They’ve tweeted while hiding under the ring for a surprise appearance, they regularly talk to fans about how they sell to their opponents and they’ve been accused of not taking the sport seriously (despite their talent). These types of acts may get under Triple H’s skin a bit, but their talent is so undeniable that he could easily look the other way.
11 Ronda Rousey (Vince’s Girl)
While not technically not an independent wrestler, Rousey checks every box Vince could possibly want in a superstar. Is she a huge name? Check. Does she have a reputation for being tough? Double check. Is she hot? Super check. This may be a case of both Vince and Hunter seeing eye to eye, as Triple H was recently spotted dining with Rousey.
Ronda has already made a few WWE appearances. She famously stared down Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania 31 and has recently been seen cheering on current NXT superstar and personal friend of hers Shayna Bazler at the Mae Young Classic.
There are plenty of examples of MMA stars making the transition to the WWE including Brock Lesnar and another member of this list, so it’s no stretch to say Rousey couldn’t make an immediate impact in WWE.
10 Viper (Triple H’s Girl)
Viper made a splash in the Mae Young Classic as Piper Nevin and her fans haven’t looked back since. Even though she didn’t win the overall tournament, eventually losing to Toni Storm in the third round, the indie darling from Scotland (known there as Viper) broke barriers as well as her opponents. Being billed as over 200 pounds, Viper doesn’t fit the glamour model/baby doll look that Vince craves, but one look at her ability shows that she has everything else you’d want in a professional wrestler.
Because she made such a memorable appearance in the Mae Young Classic there is no reason why Viper shouldn’t already be a big part of NXT. Many question why is hasn’t already happened, especially with the plethora of callups we've seen to the main roster in recent months.
9 Ethan Carter III (Vince’s Guy)
EC3 actually began his career, and had some decent success, in FCW and NXT. He rose as high as becoming FCW tag team champion with partner Fandango before losing it to a team which included Xavier Woods. He continued to be prominent in NXT until his eventual release in 2013. Shortly thereafter he debuted in TNA as he is now known: Ethan Carter III.
EC3 became the face of the fledgling wrestling company as a multi-time champion and in-ring staple. EC3 was released from his contract in early January.
Given he was already a part of WWE in the past, and the way he’s maintained his look and character, EC3 is a shoe-in to become the next WWE/NXT signee with Vince’s approval.
8 Kota Ibushi (Triple H’s Guy)
One of Japan’s most decorated wrestlers, Kota Ibushi had a cup-of-coffee stint with the WWE as a participant of the Cruiserweight Classic and subsequent Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Tournament before going back to Japan. It was rumored that Ibushi signed with the WWE during the CWC, but it turns out he was only offered a contract and didn’t actually take it.
Possessing the rare trait of being both a technical and strong-style wrestler, Ibushi is the kind of wrestler that Triple H loves. There was already a push for him to be a part of the NXT/WWE roster and even though he didn’t accept the offer at the time, the door is always going to be open for Ibushi to come back to NXT.
7 Sexy Star (Vince’s Girl)
Other than for short-term storyline purposes, there has never been a full-time masked female wrestler in WWE history. But if there were ever going to be one, it would be Sexy Star. Sexy Star has a reputation for being an extreme athlete, taking on matches with men and never being afraid to get bloody. Her most recent TV appearance was as a champion and competitor on Lucha Underground.
There’s no doubt Sexy Star’s toughness would “get over” on Vince. Her extreme tendencies would be the next evolution of The Women’s Revolution. Vince’s biggest problem with Sexy Star would be her reckless reputation with her opponents in the ring and her stubbornness outside of it. Then again, maybe Vince's ego will allow him to think he can harness that intensity and make himself another superstar.
6 Toni Storm (Triple H’s Girl)
Much like Viper, Toni Storm is already on Triple H’s list and has had multiple tryouts for WWE, including an appearance in the Mae Young Classic. The New Zealand beauty is currently wrestling in Japan and for Progress, reaching the status of title holder in both companies.
As evidenced by her performance in the MYC, Storm has the athleticism and in-ring style to match up with anyone in the world. She also possesses the around-the-world experience that Triple H loves, having lived and worked in Australia, Japan, Europe and the United States. Put Storm on the list of ladies we were most surprised didn’t get a contract after the MYC, but because of her youth (she’s only 22) it won’t be long before we see her in NXT.
5 Jeff Cobb aka Matanza (Vince’s Guy)
If there were anyone on this list that screams Vince McMahon, it’s Jeff Cobb. At a billed height of almost six feet, and a billed weight at a whopping 263 lbs, Cobb is the kind of monster that makes Vince’s mouth water. He has participated in a few indie promotions like NJPW and Progress, but he’s made his biggest impact in PWG and Lucha Underground. Wrestling under the name Matanza, Cobb made an immediate impact in Lucha Underground by winning the championship in his first appearance. He is also the current PWG tag-team champion with Matthew Riddle
Cobb’s size and look (even without his Matanza mask) would suit Vince well enough to sign him straight away, but his ability to hang with the most athletic wrestlers would really put the cherry on top of signing Cobb to WWE.
4 Zach Sabre Jr. (Triple H’s Guy)
With the history of sound technical wrestlers in the WWE, it’s almost amazing to see that the most gifted technical wrestler in the business isn’t a part of the biggest show in the world. Sabre Jr. currently wrestlers for Evolve, NJPW, PWG and a host of other British indie promotions, holding titles in almost all of them. He made a strong appearance in the Cruiserweight Classic and was a strong candidate to win, that is until he didn’t sign a contract with WWE and he lost in the semi-finals.
Because he’s already been there, the door is still open for a Sabre Jr. return to WWE. Some of the wrestlers he’s already defeated currently star in 205 Live, meaning Sabre Jr. could fit right in to the promotion.
3 Laurel Van Ness (Vince’s Girl)
Laurel Van Ness is a recent departee from TNA/Impact that you know Vince would love to get his hands on. As a cute blonde, LVN would easily fit in Vince’s idea of what a female superstar should be. Not to mention she already has a bit of history with the WWE: she Megan Miller the alleged physical therapist that Daniel Bryan “had an affair with” during a storyline in 2014.
Even though she was in Impact for the last few years, LVN was able to showcase her ability to wrestle and play a character at the same time. She’s also played both a face and a heel in her time there. LVN would be able to fit right into the women’s revolution.
2 Kenny Omega (Triple H’s Guy)
If there’s any doubt who would be the #1 Triple H guy who currently isn’t in WWE, is it any surprise that it’s Kenny Omega? Arguably the best wrestler in the entire world, Omega is famous for his 5 star matches, his willingness to show color and wrestle hardcore and having never appeared on WWE television.
The recent match Omega had with Chris Jericho in NJPW is turning the tide on this conversation as it seems the WWE is more willing to “their guys” wrestle elsewhere. Unfortunately for the WWE, Omega recently announced that he was re-signing with NJPW, but you better believe Triple H is going to come knocking on Omega's door again as soon as there's a window to sign him.
1 Matt Riddle (Vince’s Guy)
If there’s one thing Vince loves it’s when established athletes come into the WWE. One of the hottest former MMA fighters wrestling in the indies right now is current tag-team champion Matt Riddle. Once a former MMA fighter, Riddle made his transition into wrestling in 2014 and won Rookie of the Year honors for his efforts.
Former MMA fighters-turned-wrestlers are all the rage right now and Vince would love to have the newest name in the biz on his promotion. There’s nothing right now that says Riddle couldn't come to WWE, but given Riddle’s background and age it’s almost a certainty Vince would want to talk with him. Once he gets a little more seasoned in the ring, there's no reason to think he wouldn't get a shot in NXT.