Ever since besting WCW in the Monday Night Wars over a decade ago, WWE has become the only game in town for wrestlers from all around the world, and while this often gets them leverage when it comes to contract negotiations, there are some performers who have decided to make a name and a solid living for themselves outside of Vince’s world, whether they left or had never entered into that land of the giants. This meant that Vince McMahon could often hand pick the guys to work for him who he believed fit the mold of what he sees in a superstar, and left many independent talents who should have been stars in the company to fend for themselves on the independent scene.
However, over the past number of years, with the help of the improving influence of Triple H and the success of NXT, we have seen several independent standouts (Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Neville) make their way to WWE, as well as some performers who were famous for their time in TNA (AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Sting, Austin Aries), which in WWE was a major negative for a performer. The fact that WWE is now opening its doors to more independent talent is no doubt a good sign for the future of the company, especially with the pushing of the ‘new era,’ as more of a focus has been placed on in-ring ability instead of look.
Although this has been the case, there are still many performers in Japan, Europe, Australia, Mexico, North America and anywhere in between who have not performed for WWE, whether it be because of existing contracts, differing contract needs, inexperience or simply because of poor timing.
The following list outlines the 12 best wrestlers who have not yet performed for WWE under a contract (i.e. they haven’t wrestled consistently on WWE TV, meaning developmental deals or dark/tryout matches do not count in this situation).
23 Pentagon Jr.
While he is one of the newest wrestlers on the American wrestling scene, Pentagon has exploded on the first 2 seasons of Lucha Underground, becoming a cult hero with the believers in the Temple, with his meteoric rise culminating at Ultima Lucha in a brutal hardcore match with his master, Vampiro. He has also competed in PWG’s annual Battle of Los Angeles, and is as popular outside of the Temple than he is in it, with fans attracted to his ‘zero fear’ attitude and in ring tenacity, making him one of the better performers who WWE have not yet signed to their roster.
21 Motor City Machine Guns
While competing in TNA for years, the team of Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin made up one of the most offensively innovating and smoothest teams in recent wrestling memory, the Motor City Machine Guns, and after going their separate ways, teamed up again recently in ROH, showing that the magic of their prime years in TNA is not gone. A lengthy WWE run is not probably now given the age of the men, but they are still amongst the very best tag teams in the world, and individually are both incredible in ring technicians, making it all the more confusing as to why Triple H and the WWE haven’t snatched them up to bolster the NXT or main roster tag team division.
19 Marty Scurll
There is perhaps no better heel on the European independent circuit currently than “the Villain”, Marty Scrull, which he has combined with a fantastic technical ability to become one of the brightest young talents to come out of Europe in recent memory. As he is quite young in his professional career, there is no doubt time for him to make his way to NXT, but as of now he remains one of the true stand out heels on the independent roster, and has shown an amazing chemistry with many top tier talents in every promotion he has worked with, showing that in ring prowess against guys like Will Osperay, Zack Sabre and AJ Styles, he no doubt has a bright future ahead of him.
17 Kyle O’Reilly
One of the most intense technical wrestlers in the history of indy wrestling, O’Reilly has made a name for himself, working his way up from PWG and smaller promotions, to dominating both individually and with Bobby Fish as ReDragon in ROH and NJPW. He has won several accolades, like being a 3 time ROH World Tag Team champion with the aforementioned Fish, he was the 2013 winner of PWG’s BOLA and at the age of 29, in the prime of his career would be a perfect fit in either NXT or the main roster, as his character is one which could be built upon, and the intensity and technical prowess he possesses would lend itself to the new era in WWE, focused heavily on wrestling talent.
15 The Briscoes
Perhaps one of the most unique tag teams in history, the Briscoes have a unique look and an amazing in ring skill set which would suit itself to a WWE run, but they have remained loyal to Ring of Honor, still with the company 14 years after competing on their first ever show. While the time may have passed on a significant WWE run, which would have been possible when the company was severely struggling in the tag team department, they remain one of the best teams on the independent scene, and have done everything it is possible to do in ROH, both as a team and singles competitors, and will go down as the greatest tag team in the companies history.
13 Will Ospreay
At just 23, Osperay has already become one of the most talked about high fliers on the entire independent scene, tearing it up in his home Britain, PWG in North America, and now New Japan Pro Wrestling, he has perhaps the most potential and brightest future of any wrestler in the world. He has had stand out matches with Ricochet, Zack Sabre, AJ Styles, Kazuchika Okada, and the list goes on, and is no doubt destined for WWE with a long career ahead of him (it is also interesting to note than in a recent call, Triple H name dropped Osperay when mentioning the Cruiserweight Classic, a sure sign that he is well and truly on the radar of WWE).
11 Adam Cole
The newest member to Bullet Club, an independent main stay for years, Adam Cole is often mentioned by his indy counterparts who are in WWE now (Kevin Steen, El Generico, AJ Styles) as one guy from ROH who should definitely be the next to make the jump to WWE, but with his recent inclusion in the hot faction Bullet Club, fans may be waiting several more years to see him in NXT. Cole is a professional inside and out of the ring, and has the look, charisma and wrestling ability needed to be a big player in WWE, and although they have not come to a deal yet, after his career heads to Japan with Bullet Club, there is no doubt he will aim to join his friends in WWE.
9 Zack Sabre Jr.
The best technical wrestler on the planet, Sabre is indeed headed to WWE in the summer to compete, and no doubt star in the Cruiserweight Classic, he spent over a decade on the independent circuit honing his craft alongside the best performers the world has to offer, will no doubt make his presence known when he finally arrives. Although not the typical cruiserweight, like Osperay or Ricochet, Sabre can entertain even the most casual crowd with his amazing technical & submission offense, and his appearance will hopefully open the door to the plethora of British talent that is laying in wait.
7 Jay Lethal
The current ROH World Champion has expressed his admiration for WWE, even working with some of its big names in TNA like Ric Flair, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles, and is one person who is constantly on the radar of WWE, due to his ability as both a heel and a face, and a spectacular in ring ability, which allowed him to hold the ROH World and TV titles simultaneously. While many thought he would never wrestle for WWE due to his attachment to TNA, the introduction of the aforementioned characters into WWE opens the door for guys like Lethal, Roode and Eric Young, and hopefully when his ROH career is done, Lethal may find himself in the WWE, where he would become a valuable asset to whichever brand he performs for.
5 Kenny Omega
One man on this list who has competed in WWE developmental is Kenny Omega, but he was let go when management did not think he fit the mold of what a superstar should be, and Omega has worn that proudly in the decade since, standing out for his unique look, character and in ring ability, leading him to be one of the top draws in NJPW, and the head of both Bullet Club and the Elite. If the talk from his side is correct, he has since turned down several contracts from the company, continuing to be one of the best wrestlers in the entire world, feeling that his freedom and character are more important to him on the indy scene than in WWE, where he would no doubt be forced to change, so here is hoping that Omega and the Young Bucks continue to be as entertaining as they can be, inside and out of the ring as the Elite for the near future.
Perhaps the most athletic and jaw dropping performer in the history of wrestling, Ricochet is a veteran of over a decade, and has been wowing audiences on the grand stage of Lucha Underground and NJPW for the past several years, making the move to WWE to compete with many former independent talent a dream for the majority of fans. These fans thought their dreams had come true when he was rumoured to compete in the upcoming Cruiserweight Classic, but instead turned down the opportunity to compete in the Best of the Super Juniors, leaving the wider WWE audience in suspense of his eventual debut, which will hopefully happen in the coming years to even further establish NXT as the superior WWE brand.
1 The Young Bucks
Despite a WWE try out after their failed TNA run, the Bucks have almost become known for making a great living outside of Vince’s company, working every promotion they can until they became the best tag team in the world, eventually becoming part of Bullet Club, and the hottest draw in the history of independent wrestling. With the recent additions of Karl Anderson, AJ Styles and Luke Gallows to the WWE roster, as well as former Bullet Club mate Prince Devitt (Finn Balor), many have speculated that a WWE move for the two would be a perfect move for their careers, but while they may find some success in WWE, they are headlining shows currently for ROH, PWG and NJPW, and the two of them may find that hard to leave for an unknown in the WWE.