The world of professional wrestling contracts is unlike any other sport. In most sports, when an athlete gets “signed”, it typically happens for a season or on some sort of tryout basis. In the NFL, a lot of big name signings happen in the offseason, when students come up from the NCAA, hoping to make it big in the pros.
The world of pro wrestling doesn’t have anything like that. There is no college circuit, no traditional training grounds for competitors to hone their craft. While some people might consider things like Ring of Honor or Pro Wrestling Guerilla or even Combat Zone Wrestling or Major Wrestling League to be the NCAA of pro wrestling, that comparison doesn’t hold up under any sort of scrutiny. Wrestlers constantly get better deals to switch promotions and wrestle for a different promotion, and some people consider promotions like PWG and ROH to have some of the best pro wrestling in the world. Even further, the WWE is not always considered the pro circuit by wrestlers. There are many great wrestlers who will never appear on McMahon television, or, if they make an appearance, they are not likely to sign a contract, like Jushin Liger and Zack Sabre Jr.
All of this is to say that the WWE is not the be-all and end-all for everyone. Even more so, some wrestlers have left the WWE for a lucrative career on the independent circuit. Others may soon be switching so-called “indie promotions” for some reason. These are some of the wrestlers who are expected to change promotions soon.
20 O'Shay Edwards - ROH
While he may be a relatively unknown name to most fans of major promotions, The Big Bad Kaiju is reported to be heading to Ring of Honor. Edwards is a beloved wrestler in the south, as he is based out of Atlanta, Georgia. The Last Grown Man of the Southeast has also held many championships in regional promotions, including both the main championship and the tag team championship in Pro Wrestling Ego. Silver Tongue Edwards has claimed that he wants to wrestle for every promotion at some point, even eventually heading towards the WWE. If reports of the former APW Global Champion going to ROH are true, it is a great first step for him.
19 Tyler Breeze - AEW
While predicting a move like this would have been crazy even only a couple of years ago, when Tyler Breeze and Fandango were super over as the Fashion Police, it is looking more and more likely that Breeze may be headed to AEW. While his relationship with guys like Cody and The Bucks might not be as well known as some of the relationships that The Elite guys have with other WWE talent, Cody did recently reach out Tyler Breeze on social media about the possibility of forming a union for wrestlers. Considering how poorly Breeze has been treated on the main roster, he could definitely make a big splash by signing with AEW.
18 Mike Kanellis - ROH
A report in the middle of January insinuated that Mike and Maria Kanellis (as they are known in the WWE) asked for their release from the company. While Maria Kanellis took to social media only a few days later and explicitly denied these claims, she only denied the claim that she asked for her release, not saying anything one way or the other about her husband. However, Mike and Maria were expected to host a WWE Network, “Power of Love Collection”, special around Valentine’s Day 2018, but the special has since been cancelled. While initial speculation stated that Mike Kanellis might have been interested in AEW, new reports suggest he wants to return to his former home of Ring of Honor.
17 Kay Lee Ray - WWE
Kay Lee Ray is known as one of the best independent female wrestlers in the British scene today. She has wrestled for promotions like ICW, Ring of Honor, and Defiant Wrestling, just to name a few. It appears that some of her fellow TNA British Bootcamp stars may have gotten in her ear, as she is now headed to the WWE, where many of the Bootcamp stars now call home, like Mark Andrews, El Ligero, and Noam Dar. Currently, the NXT UK division is in need of female talent to compete on the level of the Women’s Champion Toni Storm, so Ray will be a welcome addition to the WWE.
16 Chris Brookes - FCP
Chris Brookes is a man that has been speculated to head to the WWE for at least a year, if not longer. However, it seems that he has found a new home: Fight Club Pro. FCP have recently announced their planned return to Japan, and Brookes’ Twitter profile contains his name in katakana characters, typically an indication that a Western wrestler is working in Japan. More clues on Brookes’ Twitter hint at Brookes joining FCP fully, as his pinned tweet shows clips of a match featuring Brooks and WWE’s Akira Tozawa at a Fight Club Pro show from the beginning of January 2019.
15 Viper - WWE
Viper is a woman that is not entirely unknown to WWE audiences. Under the name Piper Nevin, Viper competed in the Mae Young Classic 2017, only losing to the 2018 winner Toni Storm in the third round. Like her World of Sport alumni Kay Lee Ray, Viper is expected to officially sign with the WWE in early 2019. Viper is from Scotland, and is a name that is already known to many fans of UK wrestling, as she has competed in multiple promotions across the UK. Due to her popularity, Viper may also follow the same thing predicted for Kay Lee Ray, which is a strong run in NXT UK.
14 Sasha Banks - AEW
When thinking of wrestlers in the WWE who are unhappy with their current position in the company, Sasha Banks is not the first name that comes to mind. However, a recent report has suggested that Sasha Banks’s recent push, culminating with a title match against Ronda Rousey at the Royal Rumble, was done in order to keep Banks happy, as there is a fear that she, along with many other wrestlers, are unhappy with their position in the company, and the WWE is currently in fear of losing many of their top stars to All Elite Wrestling. However, a title match may not be enough to keep Banks under contract with the WWE once her current contract expires.
13 Angelico - WWE
Angelico is a wrestler who very much follows the new indie, high-flying style, as evidenced by his performance in AAA and Lucha Underground. In mid-January, Angelico made an appearance for Progress Wrestling. This was a big deal for two reasons: This was his first major appearance since departing Lucha Underground, and Progress Wrestling has a well-known relationships with the WWE. Angelico has been vocal about his desire to work with the WWE, and the WWE would be more than happy to snatch another big name off of the independent circuit, shrinking the pool of talent for AEW to sign from.
12 Zack Ryder - AEW
Zack Ryder is perhaps one of the biggest if not the biggest missed opportunity for the WWE. Without any help from the WWE corporate machine, Ryder got himself over, with his merchandise selling out at live events and chants of “We want Ryder” on shows that Ryder wasn’t even booked on. Currently, the speculation is that the seeming reunion of the Edgeheads, the former name of the tag team of Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins, was done to appease Zack Ryder, as he is just one more of the wrestlers signed with the WWE who are unhappy right now. If this Edgeheads reunion is only a short-term plan, Ryder may be headed to AEW.
11 Austin Theory - WWE
Austin Theory is one of the most promising young talents in the world of wrestling. At only 21 years old, Theory has already competed against some of the biggest names on the independent circuit, like Fred Yehi, Trent Barretta, and Joey Janela. In February 2018, Theory had a WWE tryout and the man that he defeated at WrestleMania Axxess, Marcel Barthel, is currently signed with the WWE and competes in NXT on a fairly regular basis. Theory is the current Evolve Champion, which is a good sign that he might be signed to the WWE shortly, as former Evolve Champions Drew Galloway, Kassius Ohno, and Matt Riddle are all former signed with the WWE.
10 Matt Cross - AEW
At the All Elite Wrestling rally in Jacksonville in January of 2019, some big names were announced, including Maxwell Jacob Feinstein, also known as MJF. At All In in 2018, MJF competed in the first match on the main card in a losing effort against Matt Cross. Cross is well-known wrestler to almost every wrestling fan, as he also wrestles in Lucha Underground under the name Son of Havoc. As MJF was signed by AEW, they also likely wish to sign the man who defeated him. While Cross is currently wrestling exclusively for Lucha Underground, it is unknown whether he has signed a contract for a 5th season, so AEW could be his new home.
9 Brian Cage - WWE
Brian Cage has actually worked for the WWE for a year under the name Kris Logan, but he worked mostly in FCW, as this was around a decade ago. Since then, Cage has made quite the name for himself, wrestling for notable independent promotions, like TNA, Lucha Underground, and Pro Wrestling Guerilla, just to name a few. In January 2018, Cage signed a contract with Impact Wrestling, which is where he currently wrestles, but WWE definitely has an interest in Cage. He has the look that Vince McMahon loves and the independent notoriety that the hardcore fans love. When Cage leaves Impact, he will be headed to the WWE.
8 The Revival - AEW
During their run in NXT, The Revival consistently tore the house down in their tag team title matches, notably the two-out-of-three falls match at TakeOver: Toronto against #DIY, a match that many fans dubbed the WWE match of the year. It's sad to see a team like Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder not only getting lost in the shuffle, but actually actively being jobbed out and put in “Lucha House Rules” matches against the Lucha House Party. Dash and Dawson have been very vocal backstage about wishing to leave, and the “FTR” printed on the back of their trunks signals that The Revival are headed to AEW as soon as possible.
7 Shane Strickland - WWE
Shane Strickland, also known as Killshot and Lt. Jermaine Strickland in Lucha Underground, has been on the WWE’s radar for years. After losing his mask in a match against Son of Havoc, Strickland seemingly left Lucha Underground for good. While Strickland was a frequent competitor on MLW Fusion, he has reportedly made his last appearance for the company. Many fans thought that this meant that he was headed to NXT, but Strickland announced on social media that he was a free agent in mid-January 2019. However, even though he did not jump straight from MLW to NXT, Strickland is expected to be signing with the WWE shortly.
6 Darby Allin - WWE
While Darby Allin may be an unknown name to many WWE fans, Allin is quickly gaining popularity with fans on indie wrestling. In his short time on the independent circuit, Allin has wrestled the likes of Matt Cross, Brian Cage, TJP, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly, just to name a few. While this may not mean much to many, Allin has also been allowed to wrestle current WWE superstars Velveteen Dream, Roderick Strong, Mustafa Ali, and Kassius Ohno while all four were under contract with WWE. Additionally, Allin lost to all four men, so this shows a willingness to work with the WWE, a trait that makes him a very attractive prospect.
5 AJ Styles - AEW
One year ago, the idea of AJ Styles leaving the WWE would have been unimaginable. He was WWE Champion and he was heading into a high-profile match with Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania. However, the landscape of not only the WWE but the wresting world as a whole has changed drastically. Daniel Bryan has returned to in-ring action, and Styles has admitted that he would like to work fewer dates in the future. Also, Kenny Omega, the man who would go on to lead the Bullet Club when Styles left, is likely to sign with AEW, and the draw of wrestling fewer shows with people he enjoys working with could be enough to sway him.
4 Kushida - WWE
Kushida is one of the most charismatic wrestlers in NJPW. Not only is he charismatic, but he also has a character, which is something that a lot of struggling mid-card talent in the WWE lack. Kushida has expressed interest in the WWE in the past, and this year, at Wrestle Kingdom 13, Kushida lost his IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to Taiji Ishimori. Following that loss, Kushida officially announced that he was leaving NJPW. While neither side have officially announced any contract signing or offers, due to Kushida’s desire to work with the WWE and the WWE wanting to scoop up more talent, Kushida is expected to sign with the company soon.
3 Shinsuke Nakamura - NJPW
Like AJ Styles, the idea that Shinsuke Nakamura would leave the WWE was unthinkable this time last year. Many thought that he was set to win the WWE Championship on the grandest stage of them all against one of his good friends in a bout that was sure to be one of the best of the year. However, Styles would go on to defeat Nakamura multiple times, squandering any momentum that Nakamura earned in his first year on the main roster. The rumor in late 2018 was that Nakamura was approached by NJPW about a return, and Shinsuke said he would consider if it the money's right. His contract expires fairly soon.
2 Kota Ibushi - AEW
In 2018, Kenny Omega heavily teased a move to the WWE, but he said that he chose to stay with NJPW because he had unfinished business. Namely, Omega said that he wanted to wrestle Kota Ibushi. 2018 saw the reunion of the Golden Lovers, with Omega and Ibushi even teaming up to promote NJPW’s involvement in the Fire Pro Wrestling World video game. Ibushi went on to appear in the main event of All In as a part of the “Golden Elite”, teaming with Matt and Nick Jackson. Omega is likely to join his friends in AEW, and his friendship with Kota Ibushi means that Ibushi might sign as well.
1 Brock Lesnar - UFC
Last year, when Brock Lesnar was set to face Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans, every WWE fan thought that this would be Reigns’s crowning moment, the moment where someone would finally slay The Beast and bring the Universal Championship to television every week. However, Roman lost to Brock. Then, Brock came back and won the rematch at Crown Jewel. While many fans are worried about Brock staying on past WrestleMania 35, the swerve value of having Brock stay with the WWE only really works once. Additionally, Lesnar re-entered the USADA testing pool in 2018, a sign that he is ready to make his UFC return.