The independent circuit is currently booming with success unlike any other time period for wrestlers outside of WWE. There are many wrestlers currently making a living and a few making more money than most of the WWE roster. Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks recently unveiled their Funko Pop figures. All four along with other New Japan stars also have their t-shirts in Hot Topic stores. These seem like little things, but wrestlers outside of WWE landing such important deals is a huge shift. Between NJPW, ROH, Impact Wrestling and various independent promotions, there are quite a few hot names outside of WWE today.
Many of the top name independent wrestlers have tried to get to WWE for many years. However, quite a few wrestlers have appeared for WWE in one way or another. Some had small deals that the average fan doesn’t remember due to the lack of an impact made. Others wrestled matches as enhancement talent. There were a decent number of wrestlers to have interesting appearances at extra talent. We will examine all the stories when it comes to these relevant wrestlers today. These are fifteen wrestlers outside of WWE that you didn’t realize appeared for the company in the past.
15 Kenny Omega
The current work of Kenny Omega has seen him become the consensus pick as the best wrestler in the world over the past few years. Omega has taken his game to another level with classic matches against Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Chris Jericho and many others in New Japan. Fans all over the world have started to view Omega as a huge star with his merchandise being a smash hit in the United States and the United Kingdom.
WWE will clearly want to add Omega to their roster next time he is a free agent given the star power he possesses. There was a rumored interest in him last year when he was a free agent, but Omega already committed to NJPW.
The fact that Omega already worked for WWE is something very few fans are aware of. Omega has stated his dream was always to make it in Japan, but he was not going to turn down a developmental contract back in 2005.
The run in Deep South under WWE’s umbrella disappointed Omega as he spoken out against his time there. Omega stated it was a poor experience with trainers like Bill DeMott abusing power in reprehensible ways. This is one reason why Omega seems content to remain in NJPW rather than jumping back to WWE.
14 Scarlett Bordeaux
The stunning Scarlett Bordeaux is considered one of the most attractive women in the wrestling industry. Scarlett has been in the wrestling business for over five years now. Most know Bordeaux for her time in Ring of Honor in various roles. ROH had her working as a secondary ring announcer behind Bobby Cruise for a couple of years on their touring schedule in certain markets. Scarlett was also a manager for Matt Taven as one of the “Hoopla Hotties.” She still wrestles occasionally for the company.
The wrestling home of Scarlett is AAW Pro in Illinois. Outside of wrestling, she works at the highly successful nightclub known as The Underground. The ultimate goal of Scarlett appears to be joining WWE given her random appearances.
During the last season of Tough Enough audition tapes, her video was one of the few featured on WWE television when putting together a compilation of various aspiring stars.
Bordeaux has also appeared in extra roles with the most memorable being part of the Exotic Express during Adam Rose’s run on the main roster on multiple occasions as one of his Rosebuds. Scarlett clearly stood out as one of the most visually appealing members of the entrance. She was also one of the enhancement talents to get destroyed by Nia Jax.
13 Colt Cabana
The career of Colt Cabana is a great success story for any independent person wanting to make it on their own. Cabana has been a fixture on the independent circuit for many important chapters. The early 2000s saw him ascend with former tag team partner and best friend CM Punk as two of the top names on the free agent market. Cabana landed a developmental contract with WWE shortly after Punk reached the main roster and proved the indie guys could deliver the goods.
Unfortunately, Colt was unable to get a fair shot in WWE and had a terrible run.
WWE kept him in developmental longer than anyone could have expected. Cabana’s eventual call-up to the SmackDown brand saw him work under the name of Scotty Goldman. The character was an enhancement talent within a week or two before losing his spot on television. Most fans today barely have any memory of Colt on WWE television.
This ended up being for the best as Cabana moved back to the independent circuit and started the first weekly podcast hosted by a wrestler. It was a huge hit and created a new field for people in wrestling to make money. Colt also continued working a full-time schedule as a successful independent wrestler. Cabana did make another appearance on WWE television cheering on CM Punk during his iconic moment of defeating John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011.
12 Taeler Hendrix
Taeler Hendrix is one of the bigger names of women’s wrestlers on the free agent market right now. Most fans recognize her from her stint in Ring of Honor as a member of the House of Truth. The combination of Hendrix and Truth Martini managed Jay Lethal during his rise to the top of the company as the ROH Champion. Aside from managing, Hendrix was one of the few women on the roster to mix it up in the ring.
It seemed likely that Taeler would be a fixture in the Women of Honor division, but she parted ways with the company before the title was made. Hendrix has continued wrestling in various independent promotions with the hopes of making it to a bigger spot in one of the major promotions. The look and charisma of Taeler is clearly impressive on first impression.
WWE liked Hendrix enough to use her on a few occasions. Much like a few others on this list, she was one of the Rosebuds for Adam Rose’s Exotic Express entrance.
Taeler was a Rosebud on multiple occasions in 2014. Shortly after that, she reportedly took part in one of the WWE tryout camps, but a contract did not come her way.
Trent has become one of the top independent wrestlers in the world with success in New Japan, Ring of Honor and PWG. The opportunity in PWG came first and he showed he could hang with the top independent wrestlers. This led to his name value growing and New Japan reaching out to him to become part of their full-time roster going forward as the company started to sign more American names for expansion.
The tag team of Trent and Rocky Romero won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship on multiple occasions in New Japan under the name of Roppongi Vice. Both guys worked well together and was a great asset for the tag division. However, NJPW saw a lot of potential in Trent and recently split the tag team to give him a singles run. The sky is the limit for him moving forward.
Many new fans of Trent have no idea that he was part of the SmackDown roster in WWE many years ago. He teamed with Caylen Croft as the Dudebusters tag team.
Despite having talent, Trent never really had a shot to succeed in WWE as his tag team was removed from television before fans got to knew them. It ended up being the best thing for his career in the long run.
10 Laurel Van Ness
One of the few wrestlers to make a name in Impact Wrestling recently is women’s wrestling star Laurel Van Ness. The talented wrestler was trained by Lance Storm in Canada and has continued to make him proud by progressing as a talent. Van Ness became a fixture in Impact with her unique character losing her mind and wearing a wedding dress after being left at the altar by Braxton Sutter.
The in-ring work and character skills of Van Ness have coincided to make her a respected performer today. She even received the booking on the upcoming anticipated All In show with only so few spots available. Laurel has a bright future ahead of her and many believe WWE will sign her soon. However, she has appeared in WWE before this.
Van Ness played the physical therapist of Daniel Bryan claiming he cheated on Brie Bella with her. This was during the Stephanie McMahon vs. Brie feud. Laurel was selected to have this role, but it wasn’t a very good one.
WWE also brought her in as a replacement on the most recent season of Tough Enough in 2015. While she was eliminated, Van Ness used the exposure to get some momentum going forward on the independent circuit.
9 Frankie Kazarian
Franke Kazarian has had a successful career traveling the world to make a living. Impact Wrestling would become the main home for him with multiple runs in the promotion. From a fixture in the X-Division to a short-term main eventer to a tag team star with Christopher Daniels, he did well in just about every role asked of him. Somehow, he even found a way to make the masked character of Suicide look good.
The current home of Kazarian is Ring of Honor as he continues his tag team work with Daniels. A trio of Daniels, Kazarian and Scorpio Sky all are together as the So Cal Uncensored faction. Kazarian is a veteran at the end of his run meaning WWE likely won’t be calling him any time soon. Most fans forgot that he did work for WWE at one point.
Kazarian landed a contract back in 2005. Under the moniker of “The Future” Frankie Kazarian, he joined the main roster on Velocity. Victories over the likes of Paul London, Funaki and Scotty 2 Hotty in his first few weeks made fans believe he would be a top star in the Cruiserweight division.
However, Kazarian was surprisingly fired less than a month into his main roster run. Reports indicated he refused to cut his hair upon WWE’s request and it led to his release from the company.
8 Mandy Leon
Mandy Leon is currently one of the faces of the Women of Honor division in ROH. The role of Mandy has seen her a part of the division for quite some time as Ring of Honor experimented with different ways to start it. Leon would often take part in the pre-show dark match on most shows against other talented ladies on the independent circuit.
The recent interviews from Mandy have seen her declare she wants to be a part of ROH for the foreseeable future. Considering how long she’s been with the promotion, Leon wants to be a part of the division growing now that it is finally here. However, her great look did provide her some opportunities in the WWE bubble.
Mandy had a couple of appearances on WWE television as one of the Rosebuds for Adam Rose’s Exotic Express entrance.
She always stood out with a great look that caught the attention of the viewer. Leon even took part in a WWE tryout camp at the Performance Center. WWE tested her skills in various ways, but the two sides did not reach any agreement for a contract. Leon likely will not be on WWE television any time soon unless her relationship with ROH falls apart.
7 The Young Bucks
The Young Bucks are arguably the top wrestlers in the industry today outside of WWE. Despite not having any contracted stints in WWE, Matt and Nick Jackson found a way to make themselves legitimate superstars in the wrestling industry. The brothers always had talent, but promotions always overlooked them until they landed a spot in New Japan. Upon joining the Bullet Club, the Young Bucks caught fire and have never looked back.
Matt and Nick have held tag team gold in just about every relevant independent promotion in the United States. Their role in the Bullet Club in recent years have seen the faction, New Japan, ROH and other wrestlers working with them reach new peaks no one could have predicted. The Young Bucks are happy making huge money on their own schedule, but many fans want to see them sign with WWE at some point.
There have been a few instances of the Young Bucks being on WWE television in the past. One memorable segment featured Matt and Nick playing weak versions of Triple H and Shawn Michaels in a segment where The Miz and John Morrison beat them up.
It is humorous to think of the Bucks playing DX considering the crotch chops would become part of their act on the indie scene. Matt also appeared in a Last Man Standing Match with Big Show where he was destroyed. If we ever see the Young Bucks in WWE again, it will likely be in a bigger role.
6 Joey Ryan
The success of Joey Ryan has been staggering in recent years. Following over a decade of experience, Ryan finally started to become a big name with a couple of controversial gimmicks. His inter-gender tag team with Candice LeRae saw both reach their peak on the independent circuit as a top drawing duo. Joey and Candice had a couple of classic matches with the Young Bucks and won the PWG Tag Team Championship together.
Ryan also started doubling down on using a sleazy character that delivered sleazy moves in the ring. One of his moves went viral following a match in Japan that made his name even bigger. Platforms like ESPN and Sports Illustrated discussed it when looking for content the next day. The past few years have been kind to Joey as he no longer is seeking a WWE contract. Ryan even purchased his own home recently after making huge money on the independent circuit.
However, WWE did have a few chances to sign him.
Joey appeared on WWE television quite a few times as an enhancement talent or an extra. Mark Henry, Big Show, John Morrison and Super Crazy are just some of the wrestlers to face him on WWE shows.
One somewhat memorable moment saw Ryan seated ringside reacting in awe when Sheamus and Henry had a dangerous spot in front of him.
5 Alex Shelley
The wrestling career of Alex Shelley has been a success, but he could have been a far bigger star. Shelley showed promise from a young age when making waves in Ring of Honor. The fact that he was able to hold his own against the likes of Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk proved his overall excellence. Shelley would land a contract with TNA where he primarily worked in the tag division and X-Division.
The work of the Motor City Machine Guns tag team with Shelley and Chris Sabin was ahead of its time. Both guys have unfortunately dealt with injury issues and lost a step along the way. Shelley and Sabin are still delivering solid work in ROH today, but they are no longer the elite level performers they once were. That makes it even more depressing that we never got to see someone like Shelley have a WWE run.
Shelley did appear on WWE television in the past. Simon Dean faced an unknown Shelley in 2005 on an episode of Sunday Night Heat.
WWE often used Heat as a test to see how independent wrestlers would do in an essential tryout match. Shelley had a decent performance in a 5-minute match, but he was unable to land a WWE contract. TNA signed him shortly afterwards and he spent most of his career there.
4 Jimmy Jacobs
The career of Jimmy Jacobs has gone in many directions over the years. Ring of Honor was his home for most of his in-ring career with quite a few memorable matches against the likes of Austin Aries, Kevin Owens and BJ Whitmer. Jacobs clearly had a lot of potential with tremendous character skills. He led the Age of the Fall faction which started the career of Seth Rollins.
Jacobs never received a contract as a wrestler for WWE due to being one of the smallest wrestlers on the scene. WWE did however come calling for a spot on the writing team. Jacobs was hired as a writer due to his experience in wrestling and his education in the field. Many wrestlers loved working with him during his time in WWE. Chris Jericho has revealed Jacobs was the only writer he wanted to work with before Jacobs was fired.
Most fans are aware that Jacobs was a writer in WWE, but he had other on-screen appearances in the past. Jacobs worked a few matches as a local enhancement talent, including one against Eddie Guerrero where he won by DQ. Another role saw him serve as another Rosebud for the Exotic Express during Adam Rose’s main roster run.
3 Silas Young
Another current Ring of Honor star to have a surprising past in WWE is Silas Young. The status of Young today has seen him as one of the wrestlers under a full-time ROH contract. ROH clearly has a lot of confidence in Young as he is the ROH TV Champion right now. The company is attempting to build a feud between Young and Austin Aries as one of the bigger angles.
Young is a veteran of the sport that worked for many years before finally landing a contract with ROH. His current gimmick of the Last Real Man has been his bread and butter as many people in Ring of Honor love it. Young seems content ending the prime years of his career in ROH with a credible role. In a surprising twist, Silas did have a past in WWE on multiple occasions.
WWE used him as a local talent to put over The Miz on an episode of the ECW television show in 2007.
Young landed a developmental deal with WWE in 2010 trying to get enough momentum to have a role on the main roster. The closest he would come to it is losing another match in an enhancement role against Luke Gallows on Superstars.
2 Kenny King
Kenny King has been making his name in the wrestling industry for over a decade. The “Pretty Boy Pitbull” is currently a fixture in Ring of Honor. King recently had a ROH TV Championship reign end at the hands of Silas Young. In addition to being a former ROH TV Champion, King also was one half of the ROH Tag Team Champions with Rhett Titus in All Night Xpress.
Many will remember King from his run with Impact Wrestling as a former X-Division Champion. King had a feud with Rob Van Dam that stood out as his most memorable feud in the company.
However, the veteran has had some experience in the WWE world that most fans wouldn’t remember. King was actually part of the second ever Tough Enough competition.
The second season featured King being one of the finalists getting to the season finale. Unfortunately, he fell short and missed out on a contract when WWE went with two ladies as Jackie Gayda and Linda Miles won the contest. King continued wrestling on the independent circuit and ended up getting a spot in ROH many years later. He is clearly one of the most successful Tough Enough contestants given how long he has been able to have a wrestling career.
1 Eli Drake
Impact Wrestling has been criticized for consistently going after failed WWE talent. Many of their poor signings have been wrestlers past their prime that had a role on WWE television in the past. The fact that any presence in WWE impressed Impact management was a huge issue. However, Eli Drake is one signing that was an exception to the rule. Most fans had no idea who he was due to not being featured on the main roster.
Drake signed with Impact and has become one of their bigger stars. As a former World Champion, Drake clearly is someone the important people backstage believes in leading them. Unlike the other poor signings, Eli is in his prime and had something to prove rather than just coming to Impact in hopes of collecting a fat paycheck based on prior success.
The past work of Drake in WWE took part in developmental under the name of Shaun Ricker working dark matches in NXT.
However, he did manage to have a few forgettable appearances on WWE television years prior to being signed. Drake was an enhancement talent against Big Show and Cryme Tyme. Unfortunately, he was never able to make it in WWE as a member of the main roster.