The independent circuit has produced so many top talents in recent years for WWE and the rest of the industry. Names like Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe helped WWE realized the importance of the independent circuit. Instead of just signing the occasional standout talent, WWE started showing interest in almost every major name out there for their various brands. New Japan also benefited from the indie scene as many wrestlers continue to make their presences known over there. There are even rumors of The Elite starting a new promotion with a financial backer believing in the talent out there.
We will look at the independent circuit solely from the WWE perspective here. There are rumors of many wrestlers making the jump to WWE in 2019. The working relationship with a few indie promotions, the desire to expand globally with NXT UK and the interest of just wanting the best talents in the world has WWE looking to continue adding talent. Aside from the rumored names joining the company, there are also the wrestlers that fans want to see. These wrestlers may not want to join WWE, nor may they even be on WWE’s radar, but they certainly would create great interest for us. Some wrestlers also just would not make sense for WWE as they don’t them. All will be examined here with seven independent wrestlers rumored to sign with WWE, seven independent wrestlers we’d love to see in WWE and seven that we don’t need to see in WWE.
21 Rumored to sign: Trevor Lee
Trevor Lee has been a relevant name on the independent circuit for many years now, thanks to his success in PWG. Kevin Owens even picked Lee as the person he wanted to put over on his final PWG show before signing with WWE. Lee would have his biggest opportunity on television as part of the Impact roster over the past few years.
The Impact run is over, and Lee is reportedly looking to join WWE. There have been some rumors of Lee potentially joining WWE as part of the Performance Center as soon as early 2019. Lee is still very young with a huge upside. The interest from WWE could see him land a contract within the next few months.
20 Want to see: Zack Sabre Jr.
Zack Sabre Jr. was one of the standout talents in the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, but he had no interest in signing a WWE contract. The limitations of being in the cruiserweight division didn’t appeal to Sabre. It worked out well for him as he landed a spot in New Japan shortly after.
Sabre has become one of the top technical wrestlers in the world. Daniel Bryan even stated in interviews that Sabre has passed him as the better technical wrestler. Dream matches of Sabre facing off with Bryan, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins and many more could make him an ideal signing for fans wanting the best matches possible.
19 Don’t need: Nick Aldis
Nick Aldis' improvement has been shown off in 2018, thanks to a meaningful run as NWA Champion. Aldis squaring off with Cody Rhodes ended up being a huge match and storyline for the incredible All In show that took place during the summer.
Despite proving he was better than his Impact days as Magnus, Aldis still seems a bit below the other top wrestlers signed by WWE in recent years. Most of the performers in NXT and on the main roster are above Aldis in the pecking order. It would make no sense to add him as he’d get lost in the shuffle. NWA is a much better fit as he is a bigger star there and helps them more.
18 Rumored to sign: Shane Strickland
Shane Strickland had a very good 2018 with standout performances in multiple promotions. Major title wins in Evolve and MLW each showcased how much Strickland has stepped up his game to become an upper-level performer on the independent circuit.
Evolve using Strickland as one of their main eventers could help him land a WWE contract sooner or later, given their working relationship together. Strickland has been on WWE’s radar for quite some time now according to the reports. This means he’s more than likely going to get a chance to start in WWE soon unless someone else provides a better offer.
17 We want to see: Dalton Castle
Dalton Castle is one of the few independent wrestlers that delivers more on the character side of the presentation. Fans are won over by Castle before the match even starts. His elaborate entrance along with the over the top gimmick makes him stand out in the best way possible
Castle had an ROH Championship reign end this year and has achieved all he can in Ring of Honor. The charisma of Castle would get him over instantly in NXT. Without much left to accomplish in ROH, the evolution of Castle should be WWE or another larger promotion. WWE makes the most sense given the platform and his skill set.
16 Don’t need: The Briscoes
Mark and Jay Briscoe have been a fixture in Ring of Honor since the early days in the early 2000s. Both brothers have remained in the tag team throughout their run with small singles pushes, but they never chose to split up.
WWE was reportedly interested in the Briscoes a few years ago before controversial social media posts hurt their changes. There is always a second chance for those that work to get them by WWE, but Jay and Mark have missed the boat. Their work has diminished throughout the years and the momentum is gone. ROH seems like the promotion they will spend the rest of their career in.
15 Rumored to sign: Rachael Ellering
Rachael Ellering has had a few moments in WWE already between the Mae Young Classic and the occasional NXT television matches. She also happens to have a few connections to the company. Rachael is the daughter of legendary manager Paul Ellering and the girlfriend of NXT star Kassius Ohno.
There are reports that Ellering may be among the next group of independent wrestlers signed in early 2019. Triple H consistently wants to add top female free agents to continue the momentum of the Women’s Evolution on all WWE brands. We may even see Paul Ellering manage his daughter in NXT since he needs a new act after getting removed from managing Authors of Pain on the main roster.
14 We want to see: Tessa Blanchard
The hottest name on the women’s wrestling side of the industry outside of WWE right now is Tessa Blanchard. At just 23-years-old, Tessa has become one of the faces of the Impact roster of both genders. Blanchard is on another level from everyone else in the Knockouts division that even booker and commentator Don Callis references it on commentary.
Tessa signed a short contract with Impact as they can’t offer long-term deals in their current state. WWE is the ideal place for her to join for her future. Blanchard has the talent to be on the main roster with the likes of Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. The scary thing is she can get a lot better, given her young age.
13 Don’t need: Madison Rayne
Madison Rayne is a respected name on the women’s wrestling scene following many years in Impact Wrestling. 2018 featured her wrestling for Impact, WWE, ROH, and many other promotions. Many expected her to get a WWE contract after the Mae Young Classic, but it never came.
Rayne did not stand out as much many fans predicted in the tournament. Despite being talented and a proven successful wrestler, Rayne does not seem like the right fit for WWE’s current divisions. ROH and Impact each would have more use for her and she would shine brighter. An NXT deal would likely end in Madison struggling to get television time.
12 Rumored to sign: WALTER
WALTER has been one of the most exciting wrestlers on the independent circuit in recent years. The schedule that had him wrestling all over the world proved he could thrive in different styles. WALTER’s personal style is easily fun to watch, as he’s a larger wrestler that delivers brutal hits to create a hard-hitting match.
Reports have surfaced that WALTER already verbally agreed to a contract with WWE. The expectations are that he will start in NXT UK, with occasional appearances in NXT. This shows that WWE is trying to invest in NXT UK by signing on the top names in the European scene.
11 We want to see: Fenix and Pentagon
The brothers Fenix and Pentagon are two of the top wrestlers in the world today. Whether they are wrestling in singles action like on Lucha Underground or in tag team action on Impact Wrestling, Fenix and Pentagon are always among the top stars of the night.
Both wrestlers have huge potential as singles or tag stars. The brothers reportedly want to stick together no matter which promotion they end up in. WWE would make sense as they are the most hyped luchadors in North American since the era of Rey Mysterio, Juventud Guerrera, and Psychosis. Fenix and Pentagon would instantly be must-see stars in WWE.
10 Don’t need: Tama Tonga
Members of the Bullet Club are almost always going to be on the rumor mill regarding future WWE employment. Tama Tonga is one of the few original Bullet Club members that still is a part of the faction. Fellow OG members Finn Balor and Karl Anderson are in WWE, so it wouldn’t be insane for him to join as well.
It would be a bad move for all involved. Tonga is not known for having the best matches at a time when good matches are more important than ever for WWE. The momentum of Tama would end right away and he’d likely become a flop signing like Anderson and Gallows.
9 Rumored to sign: Darby Allin
WWE’s relationship with Evolve has led to wrestlers like Matt Riddle, Keith Lee and a few others getting signed within the past few years. The Evolve wrestler currently on WWE’s radar is apparently Darby Allin. Evolve has made Allin the face of their promotion during the transition period in 2018.
Kassius Ohno, Mustafa Ali, and Velveteen Dream were all booked to face Allin during some of their appearances in Evolve. This shows that someone in WWE wants to see how Darby could perform against established WWE talent. Allin will likely remain in Evolve longer to help the promotion grow, but he is clearly is on WWE’s radar to sign at some point.
8 We want to see: Will Ospreay
WWE’s style is seeing high-flying wrestlers have more importance than ever before. Top stars like Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, and many others embark in high-risk moves that leave the fans in awe. This extends towards shows like NXT and 205 Live, where these athletes are expected to raise the game even more.
Will Ospreay is arguably the top high-flying wrestler in the world today. An incredible run in New Japan has seen him become the top face of the junior division hoping to move up. Ospreay in WWE would add instant appeal to NXT or 205 Live. His moves are unlike anyone else in wrestling and it would lead to tremendous results.
7 Don’t need: Moose
Moose was reportedly on WWE’s radar at the end of his Ring of Honor run before they decided not to offer a contract. Impact Wrestling signed Moose and made him one of their top stars. Throughout the changes, Moose has remained one of the few top names to provide consistency.
The role of Moose is important in Impact. That just would not be the same if he made the move to WWE. Moose may get an early push due to the football background, but his overall skill level wouldn't be enough to surpass those in NXT or on the main roster. This is a case of a wrestler being better suited as a big fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in an ocean.
6 Rumored to sign: ACH
ACH has been a standout performer on the independent circuit for many years now. Runs in various promotions like ROH, Impact, New Japan and almost everything in between has shown that he could find success in different ways. ACH was once viewed as the next major independent star after guys like Kevin Owens signed, but it never worked out for him in the long run.
Reports are circulating that WWE will have ACH start with them in early 2019 at the Performance Center. NXT seems like the ideal place for him to make an impact. ACH has a chance to finally breakout for WWE if the rumors of him signing become confirmed.
5 We want to see: Kenny Omega
An obvious wrestler that fans want to see joining WWE is Kenny Omega. The past couple of years of incredible matches in New Japan has seen Omega develop the reputation as being the best wrestler in the world. Omega’s contract is expiring in early 2019 and no one is certain about his future.
New Japan does seem like the best fit, given he’s currently the IWGP Heavyweight Champion as the company continues to grow. However, the opportunity in WWE could see Omega join in a major role during his prime. Omega could become an instant main eventer as the company is clearly lacking some new stars stepping up to get those elusive top spots.
4 Don’t need: Matt Taven
Matt Taven is one of the ROH main eventers that has a lot of history with current WWE talents. The Ring of Honor faction known as The Kingdom featured Taven working closely with friends Adam Cole, Mike Kanellis, and Maria Kanellis. Taven also worked with many other stars currently on Raw, SmackDown, and NXT.
It would not make much sense to sign Taven to a contract given the number of wrestlers waiting for a chance. Names like Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic and many others are already in the waiting list and better than Taven. This is one top ROH name that would not thrive in WWE.
3 Rumored to sign: KUSHIDA
WWE is clearly not afraid of signing top New Japan talent after adding Finn Balor, AJ Styles, and Shinsuke Nakamura in recent years. The rumor mill claims that KUSHIDA is their next target if he accepts their offer. KUSHIDA is expected to become a free agent in 2019 and WWE wants to sign him.
The working relationship with ROH has seen KUSHIDA get over huge with the North American audience. It would be a great signing to add him as another top Japanese star making the move to NXT. KUSHIDA might have a realistic chance to become an NXT main eventer if they see his potential.
2 We want to see: Young Bucks
The Young Bucks will be the biggest names on the wrestling free agent market to start 2019. Recent years have seen Matt and Nick Jackson create an empire that helped independent wrestling grow to the next level. The Young Bucks, along with Cody Rhodes, even created the biggest non-WWE show to take place in North America in almost two decades.
WWE will clearly want to sign Matt and Nick to huge contracts, but it remains to be seen if they accept it. There are rumors that the Young Bucks and Cody may start their own promotion with a huge financial backer. If that doesn’t work, it would be great for fans to see Matt and Nick make tag team wrestling relevant in WWE again.
1 Don’t need: Austin Aries
One name on the free agent market that has no business returning to WWE is Austin Aries. It was rumored that several wrestlers were happy to see Aries gone after he left the company in 2017. He was reportedly a tough person for the writers and certain wrestlers to deal with.
The reputation of Aries would get worse following his most recent stint in Impact Wrestling. Aries was the Impact World Champion and even had a few great matches, but the backstage attitude led to people disliking him. A Double made a controversial exit from Impact, gesturing toward Don Callis before no-selling the end of a match with Johnny Impact. No promotion needs the antics of Aries right now, especially not WWE.