WWE is in constant need of new talent. Wrestlers don’t last forever, and particularly not at their highest level of performance. As more Superstars edge toward part time status, or recognize opportunities to thrive outside the WWE system, it’s important that WWE continue to funnel in newer stars to take their place, appeal to different demographics, and generally freshen the product.
Keeping top new talents coming in is especially important given WWE’s current business model. WWE runs not only Raw and SmackDown as its too primary brands, but also has to keep in mind operating 205 Live and NXT as their own unique television products catering to WWE Network subscribers. The company is also consistently running additional programming like the Mae Young Classic, the Mixed Match Challenge, and UK focused specials, not to mention international stadium shows that started cropping up this past year.
But whom should WWE recruit? The answer isn’t necessarily as simple as finding the best talents who aren’t currently signed. The company has to consider who will be a cultural fit for the locker room, who will help diversify the matches WWE can present, and who won’t get lost in the shuffle and wind up the subject of resentment if they’re under utilized. Moreover, sometimes stars who thrive in New Japan, Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, or elsewhere struggle to make the transition to connecting with to the broader, more mainstream WWE audience.
This article takes a look at ten men and ten women WWE should focus its efforts on signing in 2019.
20 Male: Pentagon Jr.
Pentagon Jr. has been on of the most buzz worthy wrestlers in the world in recent years, and particularly notable for generating all of that excitement without ever having set foot in a WWE ring.
His character on Lucha Underground exploded based on his sensational in ring skills and dark gimmick of routinely attacking opponents after matches.
Pentagon has emerged as one of the top stars in lucha libre circles for sure, but has gone on to become one of the hottest acts across US independents and into Impact, where he won their top title. Particularly given WWE’s reported interest in pushing new Latino stars, to shore up that demographic of their fan base, Pentagon seems like a no brainer for WWE to sign as soon as he’s available.
19 Female: Taya Valkyrie
Taya Valkyrie is a veteran of women’s wrestling who weathered leaner years and came out the better for it. She is strong, athletic, and skilled in the ring, and has now starred on nationally televised promotions including Impact Wreslting and Lucha Underground.
To be fair, Taya is now in her mid-thirties and can’t be expected to eclipse stars like Ronda Rousey or Charlotte Flair in WWE’s standings. However, she could be a rock solid anchor for the division, working something like Natalya’s role as a player coach, with the added benefit that she’d still be a fresh face to the WWE faithful.
18 Male: Joey Ryan
Joey Ryan has gotten over on the independent circuit based on his over the top, Attitude Era-esque character. His gimmick has included various silly antics that WWE fans might have seen back in the late 90s.
There’s a great deal about Ryan’s gimmick that wouldn’t make sense in today’s family friendly WWE. However, Ryan has proven to have the ability to get over with wrestling fans that’s based almost entirely on personality, with the foundation that he’s also a proficient mechanic. Ryan could fit in nicely in NXT, and quite possibly use his time there to cultivate a more WWE appropriate gimmick.
17 Female: Rosemary
Rosemary has become one of the most recognizable female wrestlers outside of WWE based not only on her talent, but her unique look. Her signature style involves wearing face paint that makes her appear monstrous, or even demonic, and she has been great about putting forth body language and a wrestling style that match her aesthetic.
Rosemary’s ability to stand out from a crowd is one of the key characteristics in having a successful WWE run.
Especially as the women’s roster only grows more packed with talent, it’s key for WWE to sign individuals, and Rosemary would be a terrific addition from that perspective.
16 Male: Jeff Cobb
Jeff Cobb turned heads playing The Monster Matanza Cueto on Lucha Underground. He was a monster heel who was bigger than most of that roster, but also proved himself more than capable of working big match scenarios. He has since that time worked for Ring of Honor and impressed there as well, and one PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles this fall.
To be fair Cobb’s size wouldn’t hold up as well in the land of giants that is WWE. Still, with his rock solid fundamentals and suplexing abilities, not to mention an amateur pedigree that included representing Guam in the Olympics, Cobb could hold his own in the heavyweight division.
15 Female: Tessa Blanchard
WWE had its hands on Tessa Blanchard so far as her competing in the original Mae Young Classic, and Blanchard expressed in interviews afterward that she was a disappointed to have not been offered a contract. In Blanchard’s case, this may well be less a case of whether or not WWE will be interested, but rather when.
Tessa is the daughter of wrestling legend Tully Blanchard, besides which she’s a very solid in ring performer, and even has kind of look WWE traditionally likes. She’s currently reigning as Impact Wrestling’s Women’s Champion, and WWE shouldn’t hesitate to sign her once she’s a bit more seasoned from that experience.
14 Male: Jay Lethal
After years of resistance to signing independent wrestlers who had picked up bad habits and might have a hard time succeeding in WWE, the company did a 180 in recent years. Part of that’s the influence of guys like Daniel Bryan and CM Punk succeeding at the highest levels of WWE. Some of it can be chalked up to the NXT system both being more conducive to indie stars and facilitating a transition into WWE.
Jay Lethal got started in an era when it was unclear if WWE would go for an indie-bred guy like him.
Now, he stands out as one of the most decorated stars to have never been contracted by WWE, and a guy can in many ways complete his legacy with a big time WWE run. The current reigning ROH Champion would be a fine addition to NXT.
13 Female: Piper Niven
Piper Niven was one of the most captivating new faces introduced during the original Mae Young Classic. She worked a heavyweight style reminiscent of someone like Bam Bam Bigelow, and while her look wouldn’t have fit WWE in the era when it focused on hiring models and training them to wrestle, she would be a fascinating addition to today’s women’s roster as a surprisingly agile big woman.
Niven is under contract abroad now, but if/when she becomes available and is willing to come Stateside for an extended stretch, she could be an extremely compelling signee for WWE at the moment.
12 Male: Rey Fenix
WWE has been on the hunt for its next Latino star. With Rey Mysterio reportedly back under contract and Andrade Cien Almas finding his footing, that need is less urgent than it once was. Nonetheless, if Alberto Del Rio and Sin Cara’s runs proved anything, it was that WWE couldn’t put all its eggs in one basket in representing a key demographic.
Rey Fenix is one of the most polished luchadors working today.
Like his brother, Pentagon Jr., he has succeeded in crossing over to a US-based, English speaking audience, which gives reason to believe he could similarly thrive in the WWE system.
11 Female: Chelsea Green
WWE had its hands on Chelsea Green for a season of Tough Enough, but wound up not signing her. This is one of those cases in which letting a talent go for a while may have been for the best. While she was already a sound mechanic and a beautiful woman when she appeared on Tough Enough, she has since developed her gimmick, particularly with the Hot Mess character that has helped her truly stand out on the indies.
On top of everything else she brings to the table, Green has made it clear that a WWE contract is her dream, and she’s involved with fellow WWE-devotee Zack Ryder, all of which makes her likely to be a loyal long term WWE star.
10 Male: Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes left WWE of his own volition and, perhaps more than anyone before or since, proved that he could make his own destiny in the wrestling world. Yes, he became one of the hottest acts on the indies, in ROH, and for New Japan. All the more important, he became a wrestling businessman in his own right, most notably teaming up with The Young Bucks to launch All-In—an indie wrestling extravaganza that sold out a 10,000 seat arena.
As a previously undervalued talent, a guy with buzz, and one of the very few guys around with the business savvy to conceivably cause problems for WWE, Rhodes is someone WWE should be—and reportedly is—trying to lock down soon.
9 Female: Tenille Dashwood
Before The Four Horsewomen of NXT and before WWE began touting a Women’s Revolution, one of the key matchups that foreshadowed a wave of change was Paige vs. Emma in NXT. The two competed for the NXT Women’s Championship, including a spotlighted hard hitting, submission hold oriented barnburner at the original NXT WWE Network special.
Paige would go on to her tumultuous run with NXT that culminated in her retirement from the ring and transition to an on-air authority figure role. Emma?
She would more quietly play a background role on Raw before getting released from the company.
Rebranded as Tenille Dashwood on the indies, she has done well for herself and would be a welcome returning character if WWE ever decides to give her another whirl.
8 Male: Brian Cage
The fact that Brian Cage was in the WWE developmental system and the company let him go is often as not surprising to fans. After all, Cage is not only a very good worker in the ring and an adequate promo man, but he’s also jacked to the gills—offering exactly the kind of look WWE stereotypically covets for top talents.
Cage has suggested in interviews that WWE has put out feelers to him and that he isn’t interested based on how the company previously treated him. If the company can change his minds, he feels like a near ideal fit to mix things up on the main roster.
7 Female: Brandi Rhodes
In pursuing Cody Rhodes for his talent and business savvy, WWE also shouldn’t ignore his wife, Brandi Rhodes. She’s a more than competent in ring performer, and has worked particularly well in a managerial role to her husband and friends in recent months.
Additionally, as Eden, Rhodes was an underrated performer for WWE, where she was used on main roster television mostly as a ring announcer. Rhodes generated original video content online that was compelling, original, and most of all demonstrated her ability to think outside the box and work hard to succeed. All of these elements would make her a more than worthy party to bring back into the WWE fold.
6 Male: Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega has been the talk of hardcore fans for years now, in particular for his efforts working for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Following in the footsteps of no lesser talents than AJ Styles and Finn Balor, Omega became the leader of The Bullet Club, and put on the commensurate great matches that come with that role. Some would go so far as to say Omega has been the very best in ring worker in that spot. He was successful enough to draw Chris Jericho to New Japan for a dream rivalry.
Moreover, this year Pro Wrestling Illustrated placed Omega atop its annual PWI 500 ranking of the 500 best wrestlers working today.
Omega was in the WWE developmental system before, where he went overlooked and under-utilized.
Today, he may have some leverage in negotiating if he were to sign again. Omega’s talent has proven him worthy of special consideration.
5 Female: Allie
Allie is a veteran of the independent wrestling scene who rose to prominence in Impact Wrestling, particularly for her work as the top face in their women’s division and her oddball alliance with Rosemary. At the end of the day, Allie represents about everything WWE could hope for in a signee. She’s skilled in the ring, she has the kind of looks WWE is traditionally drawn to, and she’s proven herself across a period of years and different contexts.
While the women’s scene is crowded at the top for every WWE brand, Allie could be a nice addition to build up in the background, who could reasonably be ready to step into a featured role whenever the company needs her.
4 Male: James Storm
James Storm is one of the best established home grown talents out of Impact Wrestling to have never officially signed with WWE. The Cowboy did work a handful appearances for NXT in between Impact stints. As a seasoned veteran whose highly skilled, has good size, is over with indie fans, and has tremendous experience working with fellow Impact alumni like Bobby Roode and AJ Styles, he could make a solid signee.
Storm would fit the NXT scene nicely. Moreover, if called up, it could be intriguing to see if WWE would revisit the old magic of the Beer Money tag team between him and Roode that was instrumental in getting both men over at a higher level.
3 Female: Su Yung
Su Yung is a unique figure in women’s wrestling for not only her advanced skills in the ring, but her occult themed gimmick. She actually was under a WWE developmental deal in the early 2010s, but has since garnered more and more experience, and done particularly well working for Impact Wrestling as a lead heel over this past year, feuding with Allie and Rosemary.
The name of the game at this point for women’s wrestling in WWE needs to be diversification to make sure that talents aren’t only fully competent, but can stand out from the pack.
Yung would be one of the most intriguing signees possible from that perspective.
2 Male: Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho is, of course, not a new face to WWE, as he has been involved with the company off and for nearly two decades, has won multiple world championships, and is one of the mot instantly recognizable and credible active guys to WWE fans today.
Over the least year, however, Jericho has spent most of his time in wrestling working with New Japan Pro Wrestling, including fiery rivalry with Kenny Omega and a reign as that promotion’s Intercontinental Championship. He went so far as to appear at the All In indie PPV, and the latest rumors suggest he may work a stint with Impact Wrestling.
While WWE remains above any sense of competition from other wrestling promotions at this time, Jericho is one of a handful of big enough stars to conceivably generate a sense of competition against them. It’s in WWE’s interest to make sure it’s clear Jericho is, first and foremost, a WWE guy sooner than later.
1 Female: Mercedes Martinez
Mercedes Martinez is one of the most widely respected figures in indie wrestling from the last fifteen years, who has traveled across smaller promotions and worked with a variety of women who would go on to become bigger national stars. She got a bit of her just desserts with her inclusion in both Mae Young Classic tournaments, where she was accordingly treated like a veteran and a credible threat to win.
In her late 30s, Martinez isn’t a long term investment signee for WWE. However, as a player coach, who might eventually transition fully to a trainer role at the Performance Center, she has a lot of merit as someone WWE should aim to sign.