Considering the events that have occurred during the past year in WWE, it's fair to say that a new generation has taken grasp of the mainstream wrestling world. From the addition of new title belts, the influx of talent and promotion in the women's ranks, along with the consistent growth of NXT, the entire WWE landscape has been on the rise for quite some time. The personnel that makes up the current roster has a lot to do with this fact, and they all have had different experiences that got them there along the way.
As is typical in the world of professional wrestling, many of the current WWE names started out in various promotions, and had varying degrees of success while they were there. Some of these organizations were WWE-sanctioned, and some weren't, but they all served the same purpose of development for young talent, who one day hoped to step inside of a WWE ring. That goal was ultimately achieved, and it's because of the resumes they had beforehand. Some of them wrestled around the world, and some only stayed in a few small promotions, but they were good enough to qualify for the WWE ranks.
Ranked below are the top 15 stars of the New Era, and where they were before joining WWE.
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15 Dean Ambrose
Ambrose bounced around some lower level Indy promotions in the mid-2000s, before getting a shot with the renowned ultraviolent CZW promotion in 2009, where he actually ended up winning their Heavyweight Title. From there, he spent time with Dragon Gate USA, which employs much more of a high-flying in-ring approach. This versatility on the part of Ambrose allowed him to ink a deal with FCW in 2012. He was only there for a short time before moving up to the main roster, and the rest it history. Ambrose worked his way up the ranks in a traditional manner, paying his dues in the Indy scene for almost a decade before getting a shot with a WWE-related territory. A tried and true method, it paid off for Ambrose, and his multiple title runs within WWE.
14 Becky Lynch
Lynch's journey has been a bit more typical for a professional wrestling talent. Starting in 2002, she was trained by the NWA UK Hammerlock promotion, and has wrestled all over the world through Europe, North America and Japan. Some of her main stops have included the likes of One Pro Wrestling, ECCW, and the International Women's Grand Prix in Japan. By the time she arrived with NXT in 2013, Lynch was already a seasoned veteran, and her ring savvy presence is a confirmed asset to the burgeoning women's division. World traveled a wrestler as she is, the stage is never too big, and she's showing that poise on the main WWE roster right now.
13 Baron Corbin
Corbin can add his name to the long list of wrestlers, who also played professional football. Real name Tom Pestock, he spent several years in the NFL as an offensive guard with the Colts and Cardinals, and was also an accomplished boxer, winning a regional Golden Gloves championship. His athletic base allowed him to sign a deal with NXT in 2012, and has surpassed expectations, making his way to SmackDown in 2016. With a power-base in-ring style, Corbin is a natural fit in WWE, and is a true underdog success story within the industry. Still at a relatively young age 32, he still has several prime years left, and looks to make the most of it with the main roster.
12 Seth Rollins
Rollins may be pound-for-pound, the best young talent under the WWE watch right now. This isn't surprising, considering his success in ROH as Tyler Black, which won him the approval of wrestling fans all over the world. Possessing great in-ring ability, but also the character and mic skills that can transition to the mainstream, he's been a force ever since he arrived in WWE in 2012. He's worked his way up to multiple title-wins, and is truly one of the biggest premier stars in the company. With a strong Indy resume to his credit, he took the best aspects of his past career and applied them to his time in WWE. The result is the emergence of a top star, and one of the biggest names in the sport today.
11 Finn Balor
Residing from Ireland, Balor has had a long tenure in the world of wrestling. He began with NWA UK Hammerlock, and quickly rose up the ranks, impressing many along the way. He also has extensive experience in NJPW, where he turned into a certified star, winning the prestigious IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title on three different occasions. In his early career, he went under the name Fergal Devitt, and wouldn't change it until he arrived in NXT in 2014. Signing a wrestler that exhibited such dominance on the international scene was a great move for WWE, and showed their willingness to expand in their talent acquisition. Balor is currently up on the main roster, but is suffering an injury he received at SummerSlam, and will return to action a little later down the line.
When Rusev immigrated from Bulgaria to become a professional wrestler in the United States, he had to start from the bottom up. Trained at the Knokx Pro Wrestling Academy, his first stint came with the VPW promotion based out of California. The time spent there allowed him to join WWEs developmental territory FCW, which was soon after rebranded as NXT in 2013. Rusev's look, gimmick and wrestling style was tailor-made for WWE, so it isn't a surprise that he didn't need a long time to receive notice from talent scouts. Making his debut with the main roster in early 2014 at the Royal Rumble, he looks to be a mainstay in WWE for the long term, representing a more traditional style than what is typically seen nowadays.
Bayley is one of the most consistent stars in the women's division, and started her wrestling career in 2008, when she began training with Big Time Wrestling, based out of California. She worked for the promotion for four years until 2012, but also wrestled for NWA Championship Wrestling From Hollywood, and Shine Wrestling, which gave more credence to her resume. She finally made her debut for NXT in 2012, spending an additional four years of development there, before making her way onto the Raw roster in the Summer of 2016. Another example of the many years of development paying off, and WWE receiving yet another reliable contributor to the women's division. Bayley looks to be a mainstay for years to come.
8 Sami Zayn
Before he signed with NXT in 2013, Zayn was a certified star all over the world, under the ring name of El Generico. With his faux-lucha gimmick, he performed in the likes of PWG, CHIKARA, ROH, as well as Japan over a ten-year period. This run rivaled that of any Indy star of the time period, and made enough of a name out of Zayn to get the call from WWE. In the end, it was another good acquisition of talent by WWE, though it probably should have happened a few years earlier than it actually did. Zayn is a great in-ring talent, and has plenty of charisma with the right character. He should be in WWE for years to come, and is one of the most recognizable presences in the wrestling world today.
7 Cass & Enzo
Cass & Enzo are actually an exception to the rule, because they started out as a team in NXT, and didn't have any prior experience with any other promotion. They debuted in 2013, and since have become one of the best up-and-coming tag teams in the industry. With an uncanny mixture of mic skills, and in-ring prowess, they blend entertainment and wrestling ability seamlessly, hence the short transition time between their initial debut, and making their way up to the main roster on the Raw brand. They're due for some big success in the next year, and are also a testament to NXTs ability to create homegrown stars for WWE, having plenty of success in that regard.
6 Roman Reigns
Spending several years in the NFL and CFL before making the transition into professional wrestling, Reigns was always an impressive athlete, playing his college football at Georgia Tech before turning pro. He debuted in FCW during 2010 on the weight of his football career, and developed quickly. This isn't a surprise, considering he is part of the Anoa'i wrestling family, and is the cousin of Yokozuna, The Tonga Kid and Rikishi. He made his main roster debut in 2012, and has been a mainstay on the roster, and a main event star during his run. Next to all-time greats and renowned names like Goldberg and Ron Simmons, Reigns is one of the most successful previous football players to transition into the mainstream wrestling universe. He'll likely be around a WWE ring for a long time in the future.
5 The Club
Comprised of AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, the club is a stable formed in 2016, based off of the Bullet Club, popular in NJPW and ROH. Gallows had been involved with various WWE developmental territories in the mid-2000s, as well as having a brief stint on the main roster. Anderson has wrestled all over the major Indy promotions as well in Japan, spending time with ROH, PWG, and NJPW. Styles has his own laundry list of experience, which we'll get to a little later. Together, the three of them have an incomparable track record, and look to show why they're three of the most renowned talents in the industry today. Combining the three of them is a well-executed creative move by WWE, putting the true top talent in the company on a big stage.
4 Sasha Banks
Banks paid her dues in Chaotic Wrestling, as well as NECW from 2010 to 2012, before making her debut with NXT. After finding success there, she found her way onto the main roster. She's one of the top women's talents in the world, and has convincingly won the women's title in every promotion she's ever competed in. That's no small feat, especially the resurgence that the women's ranks have shown all over the world in the past few years. Her quick development is a testament to her quality in-ring ability, and WWE should do everything they can to keep her for the upcoming years, where she'll be a necessary asset within the division. Overall, she accomplished her goal of making it to the WWE, in half the amount of time it would take most other wrestlers who get the call.
3 Kevin Owens
Owens was a big-time star on the Indy circuit, before he made the big-time in WWE. Teaming with El Generico, as well as being active in singles competition, he made his mark on ROH, PWG, and CZW, having success everywhere he went. It's clear he belongs in WWE however, with his mic skills and overlooked wrestling ability, he's a perfect fit for the New Era, and everything it encapsulates. Owens is the current WWE Universal Champion, and is spearheading the title's relevance in the WWE landscape. He's an important piece to the roster moving forward, and should have ample opportunity to prove himself even more in the coming years.
2 T.J. Perkins
One of the foremost Indy stars of the past decade-plus, Perkins is finally getting his shot on the biggest stage. For years, after debuting in 2001, he was a central part of PWG, NJPW, ROH and TNA, and is now getting the chance to produce the same classic matches in a WWE ring. After winning the WWE Cruiserweight Classic tournament, wrestling some of the top talent in the world, he put everyone on watch as the new Cruiserweight Champion, the first since the title has been revived. Now he's a fully fledged WWE talent, and the sky really is the limit right now. With a host of new wrestlers to compete against, Perkins best years may just be ahead of him, and that's saying something considering the quality of work he's done elsewhere.
1 A.J. Styles
The signing of Styles to the WWE roster in 2016, was probably rivaled only by that of Ric Flair in the early-90s, in terms of magnitude. Seriously, like Flair at the time, there's really nothing that Styles hasn't accomplished in the wrestling world since the late-90s. He's dominated everywhere; TNA, ROH, Japan, and just about every Indy promotion he's ever set foot in. He was the cream of the crop, the best free agent talent in the world, and WWE was able to lock him up. Not surprising, because this was really the last place he had left to prove something in. He's been a massive star everywhere else, producing main event material for years, and is now achieving that within the WWE ranks. When it's all said and done, he'll go down as one of the best ever to step inside of a ring.
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