It's going to be an interesting time for pro-wrestling fans over the course of the next year. With WWE and NJPW staying afloat at the top of the ranks, the independent scene is starting to heat up, and believe it or not, so is Impact Wrestling, which has had a tumultuous few years - to say the least. With a new TV deal and a new regime doing the best they could with what they've got, Impact is still arguably the number two brand in North America, and that may be because they've got television slots, pay-per-views, and a roster that keeps getting slightly better year after year.
In terms of NJPW, the giant is trying to make waves in the western market, and has already hosted a number of shows in California, not to mention an upcoming show co-promoted with Ring of Honor at Madison Square Garden during WrestleMania weekend. With stars such as Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho and Jay White bridging the gap for fans that do not speak the language, its shows are now easily accessible for all with an English commentary team and features on AXS TV.
WWE is still the number one promotion, and it is always looking to grow, amidst reports that they want to be the only big show in town. With wrestlers having more options that before in terms of jobs, WWE usually snatches up indie talent when it can, as we saw with the signings of multiple UK wrestlers to build the NXT UK brand. However, they aren't strangers to seeing wrestlers leave, and that could mean that a few competitors can be looking for work elsewhere should they choose to take their careers somewhere else.
With that said, let's look at some wrestlers who can be heading to WWE, Impact or possibly NJPW during this upcoming year:
21 WWE - Trevor Lee
You have to wonder why Impact Wrestling didn't make Trevor Lee a bigger star. He was one of their brighter stars these past few years, and despite being unable to break out of the X-Division onto the heavyweight title scene, Lee always put on quality matches for TNA when he was summoned. Also a veteran of the Los Angeles-based and revered Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Lee is said to be heading to WWE, already participating in a tryout and impressing, according to the dirt sheet pundits. If this is true, expect the youngster to turn some heads, as he is as brash as they come, but can also work a technical or high-flying-based style with whoever he is matched up against.
20 Impact - Mike Kanellis
Mike Kanellis may have the best theme song in WWE, and that's all his WWE run is going to be remembered for should he exit the company in 2019. Kanellis hasn't been all that great for WWE, and maybe that's because he doesn't get the right opportunities to showcase his skills. Why he went straight to SmackDown and didn't hone his craft in NXT is a mystery, but he may be able to reintroduce himself in TNA should him and Maria Kanellis be faced with departures in the coming months. They are a good couples act, and considering they have history with both TNA and ROH, don't be surprised if they end up there sooner rather than later - considering the release request reports.
19 NJPW - Hideo Itami
The Hideo Itami experiment has been a huge disappointment in WWE, and the same could be said for a lot of stars that venture off to the States from Japan. WWE can't quite capture the same magic a lot of Japanese wrestlers are known to produce in their native land, and to be fair, it's due to a lot of reasons. Having been mediocre in NXT due to injury issues and quite good in 205 Live, Itami has been with the WWE for nearly half a decade and hasn't broken into the main roster on a permanent basis.
We did see him return to his former home Pro Wrestling Noah for a one-off match a few months ago, and if Itami chooses to leave WWE for Japan, he needs to make his presence felt in NJPW which will cement his legacy in his homeland.
18 WWE - ACH
ACH is soon to be a former ROH, PWG, NJPW and TNA star since he's rumored to be on his way to the NXT grooming service known as the Performance Center. For fans who aren't familiar with ACH's work, his physique is impressive, he's lightning-quick, and he's more than comfortable with taking to the air each and every match. For fans who are impressed with the work of Will Ospreay and Ricochet, they will love ACH, and since he hasn't really been featured permanently for one of those aforementioned promotions, it's easy to see why he hasn't gotten the respect he deserves as one of the best high flyers in the world.
17 Impact - Daisuke Harada
There are going to be some wrestlers on this list that many aren't familiar with, but someone like Daisuke Harada isn't really a stranger to those familiar with the art of puroresu. Harada, who has only really been featured in the United States at Chikara, is one of Pro Wrestling Noah's best talents, currently holding the GHC Junior Heavyweight title. It's his third reign as champ, and Harada has also won the promotion tag title three times as well.
With Taiji Ishimori leaving Impact to become the Bone Soldier in NJPW's Bullet Club, that left a void for Impact's foreign talent, which the company is known for featuring. It may not be while Harada is champion, since title holders don't usually move across the pond to wrestle, but we may end up seeing Harada on U.S. soil once he is ready to introduce fans to his fast-paced, hard-hitting style.
16 NJPW - Kaito Kiyomiya
Another Japanese talent who may not be the most popular among Western fans, Kiyomiya wrestles for Pro Wrestling Noah at the tender age of 22. Drawing some similarities from wrestlers such as Katsuyori Shibata and Kazuchika Okada when it comes to the potential they had at his age, Kiyomiya looks like he has a bright future in Noah, so it is unlikely he will jump ship to NJPW. However, NJPW holds a Best of The Super Juniors tournament every summer, in which wrestlers from multiple promotions lock horns with New Japan talent for the better part of three weeks.
With the Young Bucks now gone, and a few other competitors having made their way to WWE over the past few years, someone like Kiyomiya could be featured, especially since he recently won Noah's Global League in 2018.
15 WWE - Shane Strickland
A former Evolve champion and MLW wrestler, Shane Strickland has had a very successful 2018, where he brought forth intensity in his matches and looked like the standout product he could always be. A match with Matt Riddle received much praise in the wrestling world earlier this year, and considering WWE has ties with the indie promotion, Strickland must certainly be on WWE's radar. He's the perfect talent to join NXT and be groomed for WWE success, considering NXT is a wrestling school and Srickland will have to work on a few adjustments to truly adapt to the WWE style the promotion expects all their wrestlers to master.
14 Impact - Dolph Ziggler
You may think this is a step down for Dolph Ziggler, and it's hard to believe this will happen, but reports are circulating that Ziggler has sent in a request to be released from the juggernaut that is WWE. This isn't the first time that Ziggler has been in the news in terms of leaving WWE, yet this time, WWE may not opt to renew the former champion's contract. It is believed that WWE offered him a backstage role, which he declined. With all the news about AEW, you'd think that Ziggler may want to go there, yet until that company establishes itself, Ziggler could move to Impact and become the top guy in no time. He would have a lighter work schedule, and he would be on TV a lot more than he is as of late. Plus, TNA have working partnerships with other promotions, so this would be a big plus for him.
13 NJPW - Daisuke Sekimoto
Another big star in Japan is Daisuke Sekimoto, who has actually wrestled against a handful of current WWE stars in the past, including Keith Lee, Walter, and Hideo Itami, to name a few. Sekimoto took place in a Lion's Project show in 2018, making his NJPW debut against Shota Umino. Sekimoto, who is loyal to BJW (the promotion known for insane death matches that have happened over the years), has the body of an Adonis, and he looks like the type of guy that Vince McMahon salivates over. The former Zero-1 wrestler may show up for another Lion's Project later this year, or better yet, in a tournament such as the G1 Climax or in the World Tag League as a surprise participant.
12 WWE - Will Ospreay
He's currently a NJPW star but if there's anything we know about WWE, it's that nobody is truly untouchable if the New York company wants to hire them. Ospreay is a former IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion, and he'll have his hands full with Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 13 in a dream match for the ages, but after that, what's next for him? Being arguably the best high flyer in the business today, Ospreay would be a huge signing for the WWE's NXT UK brand, instantly becoming its biggest star should the Aerial Assassin join the big league. It's only going to be a matter of time before Ospreay joins WWE, and it all depends what else he wants to accomplish (perhaps a move to heavyweight in New Japan) before he moves out west.
11 Impact - Mikey Nicholls
WWE recently let go of NXT star Mikey Nicholls, better known as Nick Miller of tag team TM-61. While they kept his partner Shane Haste (Shane Thorne), it resulted in the end of a popular tag team that went by the name of The Mighty Don't Kneel in Pro Wrestling Noah. Nicholls was granted his release due to wanting to spend more time with his family in Australia, so it doesn't look like he's going to want to return to the ring any time soon. However, once he gets the itch to go back to competing, there's a good chance he will return to Noah where he and Haste were very popular, and on top of that, Noah has a working partnership with Impact. That means Nicholls could show up for Impact every little while for a big PPV or some television episodes.
10 NJPW - Bandido
While WWE did have some serious talks with Bandido about joining them just a few months ago, it seems the enigmatic luchador could be turning up in New Japan sooner rather than later. Bandido just signed a deal for Ring of Honor, after it was forced to rebuild with the exits of Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks and Adam Page. Since Bandido is now an ROH star, that means that he could be featured for New Japan since they have a working relationship and usually have NJPW stars compete on ROH shows and vice versa. Bandido could very well be working the G1 Supercard show in NYC come April, and we may also see him in either the G1 Climax or Best of Super Juniors (depending on his weight) tournaments in the summer.
9 WWE - Timothy Thatcher
If you're familiar with the UK or Germany's wrestling scene, you probably know of Ringkampf. The stable, led by WWE-bound Walter, excels in traditional wrestling and adapts more of a Pancrase style. Timothy Thatcher, a member of the group, has also held titles in Evolve and is a regular at PWG, among many other promotions. He works incredibly stiff, and doesn't care how pretty he or his work looks. He really is old school. Now that Walter has joined WWE, it would be interesting to see Thatcher follow suit, since another member of the group, Axel Dieter Jr., now wrestles for the NXT UK brand as Marcel Barthel. Also, an alumnus of the group is on WWE's main roster - Alexander Wolfe of Sanity.
8 Impact - Big Cass
The former WWE big man will not return to that promotion, and although you should never say never, it's not going to happen any time soon. Cass needs to work on a few things, and while he is hitting the independent scene and improving, he is still one of those guys that promotions don't want to pass up due to his size and looks. While he wasn't great in the ring, he has the power to change that now that he is away from the grueling WWE schedule. It was always expected that someone like Cass would show up in the Impact Zone, and if he is willing to take his career seriously in the next few months, that could be a done deal with the Impact brass.
7 NJPW - PAC/Neville
Neville is working in Dragon Gate right now, and has recently signed for the new AEW promotion, which means he's a little tied up. With no plans to return to WWE, Neville could continue his dominant run as a junior heavyweight and prove he is the best in the world in that weight class. While NJPW and AEW aren't going to work together right at this moment, it remains a possibility, and someone like Neville could show up for one-offs in Japan and compete in the Super Juniors tournament. It would be a win-win situation for both promotions, since AEW gets extra exposure by having Neville there, and New Japan profits off the guaranteed barnburners Pac would have against some of its talent.
6 WWE - John Morrison
He's got a half dozen of names that he could go by, yet WWE fans know him best as John Morrison. The Impact wrestling standout has become a household name for Impact fans, and the quality of his matches has improved drastically over the past decade. WWE is apparently interested in bringing Morrison back, just like they have done with EC3, a former Impact World champion that honed his craft after being released by WWE. There's no word on if Morrison wants to return, or if there's an offer in place, but something tells us that Johnny Impact will likely want a lot of money to return. Plus, he's a top guy in Impact and also works in Mexico, so who knows if he's going to want to give that up for the rigorous WWE schedule.
5 Impact - Jonathan Gresham
When it comes to up and coming talent in ROH, you never really know who is going to be staying or leaving. Dozens of wrestlers have left ROH over the past few years for a number of reasons, which include booking disputes, wanting to perform elsewhere, and even the desire to show the world that they are better than being a mid-carder. Jonathan Gresham is one of those gems that ROH can't afford to lose, yet they may not be able to keep him if they don't give him a top spot in the near future.
While he has been with the company for a while and grew into a technical powerhouse, someone like Gresham may want a broader reach when thinking about his future, and if WWE don't snatch him up, Impact has more opportunities when it comes to TV and PPV.
4 NJPW - Naomichi Marufuji
Marufuji is a legend, and someone who hasn't really eclipsed his status in Japan over in the United States. He has been on Impact television in the past, but it's not like he had a huge run with any singles titles or a big feud that fans caught on to. He competed in Japan's G1 tournament a few years ago, and now that Kenny Omega's future is in doubt and NJPW is rebuilding, so it wouldn't be surprising if Marufuji either enters the G1 yet again in 2019, or comes to help the good guys in the feud against the Bullet Club - which happens to be the main tussle in Japan between the Club's new leader Jay White and Okada. Marufuji is a joy to watch when wrestling, and for fans that aren't familiar with his work, there is plenty to go around on YouTube if you want to familiarize yourself.
3 WWE - Dalton Castle
With Juice Robinson starting a new faction in ROH, it looks as if he will be on top in that company in the distant future. They definitely need new blood and with their recent signings, ROH seem to be on the right foot following the departure of the Elite. One wrestler who may also leave ROH is Dalton Castle, who has apparently impressed officials over at WWE. Castle is very charismatic, and he's got a amateur wrestling background which allows him to possess sheer strength in the ring.
ROH has gotten behind Castle as the top guy in the past, but with Jay Lethal now the current champion and the measuring stick for all in that company, it's hard to imagine that Castle will be on top once again any time soon. He should be expected to join WWE sometime later this year.
2 Impact - Dana Brooke
When Dana Brooke arrived in NXT, she was green but looking at her physique, it was evident that she had the body and muscle that the promotion notoriously seeks in competitors. Brooke jumped to the main roster quite quickly, but has failed immensely in garnering any sort of praise and hasn't had a really good match against anyone. While she may be suited best for a role as a valet who could also bring forth a beating on anyone, if Brooke should leave WWE this coming spring, the only place for her to continue her wrestling career would be the Impact Zone. Brooke wouldn't want to work the indies and travel around the country more so than landing somewhere with a WWE feel, even though the brand is miles ahead of Impact in terms of, well, everything.
1 NJPW - Shinsuke Nakamura
While there aren't any plans for WWE to give up on Shinsuke Nakamura, you have to think that his time may be running out in the promotion. Not too far away from his 40s, Nakamura has had maybe one or two great matches in WWE, and apart from winning the 2018 Royal Rumble and a forgettable United States championship run which ended courtesy of Rusev, Nakamura should be looking to return home to NJPW in 2019.
It feels as if WWE has no idea what to do with him and his heel turn has been very underwhelming. Nakamura is a legend in New Japan, and should he become bored with WWE, there are plenty of dream matches in Japan to keep him motivated to continue his career, including bouts against Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito, Jay White, and his former stablemate, Kazuchika Okada.