NXT may officially be the development territory for WWE but since becoming its own televised show on the WWE Network, it has bred a life of its own. Now with bi-monthly TakeOver specials and global tours, NXT is undeniably its own product and given its wide and rabid fanbase it has fast become one of the absolute hottest wrestling organizations on the planet today.
Many of WWE’s biggest and brightest current superstars have gone through NXT including the likes of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Enzo and Big Cass and The New Day’s Big E and Xavier Woods. And that is far from all of them.
Not that making it to the main roster is even the only sign of success with NXT anymore. Due to its popularity and touring schedule, NXT itself is filled with stars of its own that it has attracted from around the world such as Finn Bálor, Samoa Joe, Bayley, Austin Aries, and recent super acquisition Shinsuke Nakamura.
But with talent being promoted to the main roster at a fast rate, who should William Regal, Triple H, and NXT be looking at from the world of professional wrestling? There are plenty of talented individuals working in the various promotions around the world, here are our 15 picks who should be on WWE’s radar. There is only one rule, they cannot have worked for WWE before (not including as local enhancement talent or extras) meaning the likes of James Storm and Drew Galloway are out, as are the unofficial NXT members such as Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Rich Swann, and Blue Pants.
Here are the Top 15 Independent Wrestlers from around the world Who Should Be In NXT.
15. The Young Bucks
Matt and Nick Jackson are one of the most successful tag teams on the planet. They undeniably have a dedicated set of fans but a large part of their success comes from their prominence in the Bullet Club faction. With WWE having recently acquired AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows – as well as already having original leader Finn Bálor – the group are bound to have a large presence in 2016 in the WWE.
The duo are also custom made for merchandising opportunities and not just because of their Bullet Club association. Their ring attire includes bright colored tassels and their usage of legendary phrases even breeds an instant familiarity with audiences who currently don’t know the brothers.
Thanks to The Elite’s recent spoof t-shirt they even have a feud set up with current WWE Tag Team Champions, The New Day on Twitter.
Yujiro Kushida may only be 5’9 and 192 pounds but he is a talent WWE needs to take a serious look at. With 10 years in the wrestling business under his belt, Kushida is very experienced in the squared circle. He is a three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and won the Best of the Super Juniors tournament last year. Furthermore, he is an accomplished tag team competitor as well having teamed with Alex Shelley as The Time Splitters the past four years, winning the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championships twice.
Kushida has plenty of crossover appeal as well, and not only for the Japanese and internet wrestling fan bases. He is undefeated in Mixed Martial Arts competition, adding a legitimacy to his offense and its influence in his style can help target the UFC audience.
13. Michael Elgin
‘Unbreakable’ Michael Elgin isn’t the necessarily the biggest man in wrestling but he is an undeniable powerhouse. He has seen success in both America and Japan, most notably in Ring of Honor where he is a former World Champion and the only two-time Survival of the Fittest winner.
Elgin is a bit of a rarity in that he is an experienced big man who is a talented in-ring performer who additionally hasn’t been in either WWE or even TNA, so for many fans is an unknown. Vince McMahon loves a big man but so many need manufacturing from scratch by hiring a bodybuilder or NFL player. Here is one fully built and very talented, NXT would shape him to be ready for WWE’s main television product.
12. The Briscoe Brothers
If you are unfamiliar with the independent wrestling scene, most notably ROH, your default Briscoes may be Gerry and Jack but since 2000 there have been a different duo making their name.
Jay and Mark Briscoe have been one of the best tag teams anywhere in wrestling for over a decade and nearly joined WWE in 2009 with the deal only falling apart due to WWE taking a “cosmetic” distaste to the southern team. But with WWE having recently taken a step back from this fickle attitude, the door is once again open to this blockbuster signing and WWE even approached them last year but ROH offered a higher sum to re-sign. WWE should really reconsider and put up the required money.
11. Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushi is one of the elite cruiserweights in wrestling today. Ibushi is a very talented competitor but also possesses a lot of charisma and looks like the stereotypical superstar. His 12 year career has seen him become a decorated champion in his home country of Japan, primarily with the DDT and New Japan promotions.
He is currently a freelancer in Japan and was seated at ringside during NXT TakeOver: Dallas so this swoop could merely be a matter of time. There is, after all, the WWE Global Cruiserweight Series coming in July.
10. Zack Sabre Jr.
If talking about top cruiserweights in the world, one man who cannot be overlooked is Zack Sabre Jr. He is touted as one of the hottest wrestlers on the independent circuit and has himself faced many other men who have once held that title before going on to WWE including Finn Bálor, Sami Zayn, and Daniel Bryan.
Sabre has already been announced as a British entry for the WWE Global Cruiserweight Series but hopefully the company will capitalize and he will be in NXT some point this year.
There are many wrestling fans who consider Ricochet to be the best high flier around today and it is a difficult claim to argue against but he certainly shouldn’t be written off as nothing more than that. Ricochet is talented with his leg offense as well as a variety of impressive transitional maneuvers.
He has proven himself across many top independent promotions around the world, including Dragon Gate, New Japan, and PWG. He also wrestles in Lucha Underground under the name Prince Puma where he was the first man to win their top championship.
He actually had a try out with WWE two years ago and was turned down due to a perceived full quota of high fliers in NXT at the time but strong rumors have resurfaced recently that WWE might finally be ready to approach him after presumably seeing the mistake they made.
8. Kazuchika Okada
New Japan saw something big in Okada from an early age and they were right to do so. Initially a junior heavyweight, Okada was faced off against some of the company’s top stars and despite losing, began to make a name for himself with crowds. The company took a big risk though and sent him to work for TNA for a year to hone his craft and fulfill his potential. His exposure there was limited but he clearly learned something about character as he returned to Japan under the reinvented ‘Rainmaker’ persona and has become one of the top heels in the country.
A three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Okada is a hot property and New Japan knows it. Following WWE’s talent raid earlier this year the promotion offered him a five-year contract worth 200 million yen so WWE may have missed the boat on this incredible talent.
The team of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly are not newcomers per se but they only rose to prominence a few years ago when uniting as the team reDRagon. Despite only being together a short amount of time the two have already racked up an impressive five tag team championship reigns between Ring of Honor and New Japan and earned quite a reputation among the internet wrestling community.
Fish may be getting on in years but he is trained in MMA and this compliments the younger O’Reilly perfectly. This duo even offers WWE an interesting quality from the beginning. O’Reilly has strong singles potential that he has displayed in PWG and so being the younger man he can breakout from the team when WWE inevitably decide to break up some teams or Fish retires.
6. Bobby Roode
The Canadian is considered one of the few TNA originals that remained with the company even throughout its troubles, so it came as quite a shock when earlier this year he announced his departure. Many have said WWE should have swooped for Roode a decade ago and made him a future star but that isn’t to say his value is gone. At 39, Roode still has a lot he can offer, especially to the NXT brand.
He can come in like Samoa Joe and be used for star power for the brand while helping develop some of the greener, younger talents while providing WWE with a guaranteed ready call-up if and when they need one. Alternatively, he could reform his beloved Beer Money, Inc. team with James Storm if both men end up in NXT as is still expected at some point. Roode in particular seems a sure-fire case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, having been ringside during NXT TakeOver: Dallas and all reports suggesting the two sides are in negotiations.
5. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Tanahashi is the probably the biggest star in New Japan and the only seven-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion ever. He also holds the record for the most successful defenses in any single reign.
Tanahashi is an undeniable talent that could add an international flavor to WWE in the same vein as Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka currently are. His experience could additionally be very beneficial to developing talents in an aspect to wrestling that they will not get from the very narrow approach of the WWE Performance Center.
Unfortunately it is doubtful WWE could secure a full deal with him due to him being a lifer with New Japan and his sour experience in TNA may have caused him to turn his back on the U.S.
4. Christopher Daniels
There is a reason why many know Christopher Daniels as ‘The King of the Indies’. Many will know him from his 12 year on-and-off tenure in TNA where he was a multi-time X-Division and tag team champion. Many others will also know him from his numerous stints in ROH where he has been one of the company’s top heels since its very inception.
Due to his work all over the globe at pretty much any independent company you can name, Daniels is one of the most decorated wrestlers of all time with over 50 wrestling championships or tournament successes. In fact, Daniels has even had a brief stint in both WCW and WWE – although the latter was a masked enhancement deal when he was first learning the trade, so we are discounting it from the original stipulation.
Daniels is a proven success at all levels of a wrestling card and in any role. As a singles performer, tag team wrestler, stable member or leader, face, heel, comedic character – Daniels can literally do it all. And despite being 46 years of age, he can still go as well as anyone inside the squared circle and can be utilized for any purpose and pass his experience on to the developing talents within NXT at the same time.
3. Jay Lethal
Only one company appears to have truly spotted the talent of Jay Lethal. Ring of Honor have championed him since his beginnings in the Special K group under the name Hydro and has progressed throughout the company capturing every singles honor under their banner. He is currently the reigning World Champion and one of the hottest talents in professional wrestling today.
Lethal hasn’t just proven his worth in ROH though, he had a lengthy run in TNA where he proved he can hang with the best of them – most notably a fantastic feud with one of the greatest of all time, Kurt Angle.
Like Daniels, Lethal can perform in all aspects of wrestling but at only 31, he also has youth on his side. WWE are crazy for not having signed him years ago but it would be thoroughly nonsensical to continue to ignore this crown jewel.
2. Adam Cole
Vince McMahon talks about the indefinable ‘It Factor’ and in Adam Cole you have a man who you can instantly see has ‘It’. The man looks like a movie star and is a talented wrestler to boot. It just seems a natural move for WWE to sign the 26-year-old star in the making.
He has mostly made a name for himself in Ring of Honor, first as one half of Future Shock and later The Kingdom but, to WWE’s misfortune, he is now set to become a major player on the face of independent wrestling as he recently became AJ Styles’ replacement as the head of the Bullet Club stable.
Cole’s new alignment may have ruled out any deals in the short-term but WWE want to be watching his contract very, very carefully.
1. Kenny Omega
Ask any wrestler who has worked in Japan and one name will always get mentioned – Kenny Omega. The Bullet Club member and New Japan star is lorded by his peers and with good reason. Charismatic and infinitely talented, Omega is a man who should be on the radar of anyone who has even a passing interest in professional wrestling.
For those who do not know Omega, he is the living embodiment of the saying “he could wrestle a broom.” This can be said with such confidence because he has essentially done just that. The Canadian once had a championship match against a blow-up doll that was better than some of the matches taking place in WWE currently. He also had a match against a nine-year-old girl that was so good it made national headlines and went viral across the internet.
It would difficult for WWE to secure Omega but they should do everything they can to do so.
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