2016 was a huge year for the world of professional wrestling. Everyone talks about the WWE happenings, but the industry has grown with wrestlers in other promotions making waves. TNA and ROH both saw ups and downs, but they managed to continue on throughout the year with their television deals intact. Both promotions have brand recognition that gives an alternative for wrestlers leaving the WWE or aspiring to find work elsewhere. PWG and Evolve Wrestling are two of the best independent promotions in the industry today with some of the best matches to take place all year allowing them to grow.
Lucha Underground is still on El Rey and trying their best to put out a unique presentation of wrestling. New Japan and the various United Kingdom promotions have changed the game completely with large followings. Wrestlers are traveling all over the world to improve their reputation despite not working for the biggest company. Some wrestlers have stood out more than others with standout performances and noteworthy accolades all year. We’ll look at the most successful stories of those currently working their way to the top of the wrestling mountain. These are the top fifteen wrestlers that had incredible years outside of the WWE.
15 Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes' independent wrestling career has only been going on for a couple of months now, but it's been a huge success thus far. Rhodes requested his release from the WWE after being wasted away on the sideline as Stardust. WWE let him leave and he has started the next chapter of his career. Rhodes made headlines by releasing a list of the names he wanted to wrestle outside of the WWE. Kurt Angle, Mike Bennett and Chris Hero were a few of the wrestlers he’s already checked off the list.
14 Lio Rush
The cycle of independent wrestling sees new stars made every year. WWE signs many of the top names on the market and they're eventually replaced by the hungry talent waiting for an opportunity. Lio Rush has emerged in 2016 as someone to pay attention to. At just 22 years old, Rush is already a hot independent name with the potential to become a significant star for a long time.
Ricochet has been a top star on the independent circuit for many years now and 2016 was arguably his best year. His international popularity grew thanks to his profile in New Japan Pro Wrestling rising. Between his singles success in his memorable match against Will Ospreay and his tag team work with partner Matt Sydal early in the year, Ricochet added a lot to the Japanese promotion.
12 Adam Cole
Ring of Honor has made Adam Cole the face of the company for the past few years and 2016 was no different. Cole returned to the top of the mountain by defeating Jay Lethal to win the ROH World Championship for the second time in his career. Shortly before the big win, Cole joined the Bullet Club to add another credible name to the New Japan faction that also appeared in ROH.
11 Jeff Cobb
The momentum from Lucha Underground’s first season has dampened as the year went on. We at least still get some compelling television and one of the standout talents is the monster Matanza. As the mysterious masked big man, Matanza does a great job keeping up with the fast talent in Lucha Underground. The man to portray Matanza is Jeff Cobb.
10 Jay Lethal
Jay Lethal represented ROH as their World Champion for the first half of the year. His body of work and professional demeanor made him a highly respected champ. Lethal delivered noteworthy matches against Lio Rush, Kyle O’Reilly and Jay Briscoe before ultimately losing his belt to Adam Cole. The feud between Cole and Lethal was one of the better rivalries in ROH all year. Lethal’s intensity helped convince the fans into treating it like a huge match.
9 Marty Scurll
One of the biggest ascensions on the independent wrestling scene in 2016 has seen Marty Scurll become a fixture in many promotions. Scurll’s “villain” character is highly entertaining and has earned him bookings in the United States all year. The various matches to take place in Evolve and at WrestleCon during WrestleMania 32 weekend saw Scurll gain several new fans that helped his career skyrocket.
8 Matthew Riddle
A rare case of a former UFC fighter entering the world of professional wrestling is actually taking place outside of the WWE. Matthew Riddle ended his mixed martial arts career with the hopes of becoming a crossover star. WWE were the ones to help broker a deal that saw Riddle start wrestling for Evolve Wrestling towards the end of 2015.
7 Tetsuya Naito
Tetsuya Naito has been a fixture in New Japan for many years but it wasn’t until 2016 that he hit his stride. Los Ingobernables de Japon is the faction led by Naito and has seen his role evolve into an entertaining villain. Naito does every dirty trick in the book and treats no one with respect. The Japanese star is a legitimate main eventer that fans are invested in finally after all his hard work.
6 Drew Galloway
Drew Galloway's career truly blossomed when he left the WWE. 2016 was proof of this with him achieving new accolades. Galloway won the TNA World Championship in March, defeating Matt Hardy for the honor. TNA allowed him to hold the title for three months and he did a good job despite the internal controversy that always goes down in the company.
5 The Young Bucks
The Young Bucks signed an exclusive Ring of Honor contract to cut down their dates, but still had an exceptional year. Matt and Nick Jackson worked in ROH, New Japan and PWG dominating the tag division of all three promotions. The Bucks started the year as the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champions in New Japan and recently won the belts back likely to close the year with the gold.
4 Zack Sabre Jr.
Zack Sabre Jr. technically wrestled for WWE this year, but he did not sign with the company. Sabre was handpicked to participate in the Cruiserweight Classic due to his success on the independent wrestling scene. The British star has thrived on the independent circuit in the United Kingdom with consistent greatness in Progress Wrestling and RPW. North American promotions took note of his technical wrestling skills and it took his career to the next level.
3 Chris Hero
Chris Hero has been among the best wrestlers on the independent circuit for the better part of the past decade, if you take away the time he spent in WWE developmental. WWE never viewed Hero as a performer that could succeed in their company and we’re all better for it. Hero returned to the free agent market a couple of years ago to make the most of his new beginning.
2 Will Ospreay
At the young age of just 23 years old, Will Ospreay saw his star shine bright in 2016. Most consider him the best high-flying wrestler in the world today for his outstanding body of work all year. Ospreay has been a standout in the United Kingdom for quite some time, but his introduction in new promotions changed everything this year.
1 Kenny Omega
The biggest star outside of the WWE in 2016 has to be Kenny Omega. New Japan suffered when A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura left for the WWE at the beginning of the year. Omega used this as his opportunity to take a bigger role in NJPW. The company unofficially replaced Styles with him as the leader of the Bullet Club. Omega then made history on numerous occasions.
New Japan’s first ever Ladder Match took place when Omega and Michael Elgin had a match for the ages. Omega continued to move up the rankings as the first ever non-Japanese wrestler to win the G1 Climax tournament. His incredible in-ring skills and overall talent made him the new breakout star in NJPW to make up for the talent loss. Omega is currently scheduled to challenge for the IWGP Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 2017 in the main event of the biggest non-WWE show of the year. We may see Omega actually find a way to top his year as the best wrestler outside of the WWE.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!