If you are only a fan of WWE, you may not be aware that some of the best wrestlers in the world have spent very little (if any time) on the WWE roster – the independent wrestling scenes in Canada, the United States and Europe are booming and full of incredible talent that can do it all. From daredevil high-flyers, to in-ring technicians to power-house performers, there are wrestlers that are seemingly future World Champions should they ever enter WWE. As we have seen from wrestlers like Finn Balor and AJ Styles, it is possible for wrestlers with independent wrestling pedigree to achieve great success in the WWE machine, however there are still some very talented wrestlers out there who has yet to shine on either RAW or Smackdown (let alone WrestleMania).
Perhaps it is an issue with the money that WWE offers them? Or maybe the well-known hectic WWE travel schedule is not appealing to some wrestlers who can make great money while staying closer to home? Or even in some cases, perhaps a wrestler has spent time in WWE in the past but did not like the environment enough to contemplate a return? Regardless of the case, it takes a lot of “intestinal fortitude” to turn down Vince McMahon when he offers you a contract to sign, but there are numerous examples of wrestlers who has done just that for one reason or another. Given the list of some of the most spectacular wrestlers in the world below, I hope we get to see some of them in WWE one day because it would cross a lot of dream matches off the list of many fans.
15 Kota Ibushi
When WWE announced the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016, I was beyond excited as a wrestling fan – some of the greatest matches I have ever seen in my life were held under the Cruiserweight banner in WCW, and I could not wait to see WWE feature some of these match styles in their own way. My level of excitement only peaked when Kota Ibushi was announced for the tourney, who's certainly one of the best wrestlers in the world today, but has only spent a cup of coffee with WWE, by his own choice.
A native of Japan and a “renegade for hire” who bounces between many different promotions across the world but mainly residing in Japan’s DDT Pro and New Japan Pro Wrestling promotions, Ibushi has made a name for himself with his mixture of both high-flying and martial arts, which has garnered him two five-star matches from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Ibushi’s stay in WWE was only during the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, and following his entry into the semi-finals after a critically acclaimed match with current champion Cedric Alexander, many sites reported he had signed a deal with WWE, but Ibushi himself stated that while he was offered many different deals, he did not sign because he doesn’t “wrestle for the money”, and that he didn't enjoy WWE’s environment.
Despite turning them down so publicly, Ibushi was invited back for another one-off appearance during this year’s Dusty Rhodes Classic tournament, so it appears that his relationship with WWE is still in good shape.
When he isn’t making waves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Drax (no spoilers on Infinity War, please), Batista is well remembered for his career in WWE where he became a multiple World Champion and WrestleMania main-eventer, and was one of the most popular wrestlers on the mid-late 2000s. Batista has since transferred away from wrestling due to his budding film career, but still keeps tabs on the business and was allegedly even recently in talks with WWE to participate in the WrestleMania 34 angle featuring Ronda Rousey, but talks fell through. Apart from this, there was another offer that WWE made to Big Dave but he turned it down – they offered him a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, but he was not interested.
Batista is almost 50 years old, but turned down a Hall of Fame ring to keep his options open for another potential WWE return.
Batista has been very vocal about the fact that he wants to end his wrestling career with a match with Triple H who he considers a mentor in the business due to their time spent teaming and feuding together. The question of Batista’s box office drawing ability as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy is not a question, but are wrestling fans still looking for a Batista return at this point? Perhaps it would've been better for him to accept his place in the Hall of Fame, but I suppose the lure of another wrestling run was too much for him to consider it.
13 Brian Cage
On paper, Brian Cage has everything possible to be a prime-star in WWE – his six-foot-tall, 265 lbs frame is enough to make Vince McMahon salivate, his move set ranges from power moves to high-flying moonsaults and he has more charisma than most wrestlers his size. With a look and work rate reminiscent of Scott Steiner in his prime (minus the bad attitude), Cage is currently one of the most sought-after wrestlers on the independent wrestling scene today, spending a lot of his time with Pro Wrestling Guerilla and Lucha Underground, before inking a full time deal with Impact Wrestling in 2018. Prior to being listed as a big star, Cage spent time in one of WWE’s original developmental territories, FCW, in 2008 but was released before getting a chance at the main roster. How would someone who has spent time with WWE before not sign a deal when asked again?
Well, it all comes down to how you treat people – even people who look like machines want to be treated nicely. Cage has stated that his time in FCW was less than pleasant, and he didn't like the micro-managing that took place for his matches and promos, which means he's not looking to be tied down by a WWE contract due to their booking style. Cage is able to continue wrestling his unorthodox style on the independent scene without the hassle of WWE’s management, while also making spectacular money so he does not see the purpose in signing with them right now.
12 The Young Bucks
Yes, you read that correctly – the WWE has offered The Young Bucks a contract to work with them before even though the relationship between them is sour.
Quite possibly the most popular tag team on the wrestling scene, The Young Bucks have infamously never spent time in WWE before, but have still managed to market themselves as huge stars as a result of their wrestling abilities.
The Bucks are a huge draw anywhere they work, and were among the first wrestlers to prove that you can make a living in professional wrestling without working for WWE if you market yourself properly.
Unfortunately for the Bucks, part of that marketing caught the attention of WWE when they began to brand shirts with the Too Sweet catchphrase made famous by the nWo during their time in WCW, which caused WWE to slap a cease and desist letter on them to stop using the phrase. Not to be deterred from making money, the brothers capitalized on the opportunity and made a best-selling shirt with a Cease and Desist logo, mocking WWE for their attempt to silence them.
Following all of this, WWE reportedly reached out to The Young Bucks to do motion capture work with them for their upcoming WWE 2K19 game – an offer which they quickly turned down and stated very simply on Twitter, “Yes, we said no.”.
11 Tommy Dreamer
If you were not a fan of the original ECW, then you may not be aware of how much Tommy Dreamer has contributed to professional wrestling. Known as either the Innovator of Violence or the “heart and soul of ECW”, Dreamer is one of the most unlikely (but most loveable) characters in wrestling history, and has built a great career for himself in ECW, WWE and on the independent scene. Due to Dreamer’s name value and his following among former ECW fans, he was one of the many wrestlers who was contacted while WWE was planning for their brand split in 2017, but denied the contract. Considering that Dreamer is nearly 50 and had just appeared for WWE in 2015 during a feud with The Wyatt Family; so why would he reject their offer?
For the uninitiated, Tommy Dreamer runs his own promotion called House of Hardcore (am homage to the short-lived ECW training school) which has begun to garner some serious success and recently signed a television deal with Twitch.tv, giving the company more exposure. It's no secret how passionate Tommy Dreamer can be about his wrestling projects and his love for his promotion led to him not signing a contract with WWE.
When asked about him turning down the contract, he said "I can't give up my own company and I can't give up on my own dreams and I don't want to ever be competition with WWE. I just want to show an alternative product.”. Best of luck, Tommy!
10 Kenny Omega
There are only a few independent wrestlers out there who have the stones to turn down a WWE contract when they come calling you (and they are all on this list), but to turn WWE down on more than one occasion takes some serious confidence. Meet Kenny Omega, who is widely considered to be one of the best wrestlers in the entire world, and has turned down WWE contract offers on three different occasions.
Omega’s body of work speaks for itself, as he is one of the corner-stone wrestlers of New Japan Pro Wrestling and has participated in some of the greatest wrestling matches of the past five years.
While he has been making waves in Japan since 2008, Omega did have a stint in FCW in an attempt to become a WWE mainstay, but ended up resigning as a result of feeling creatively stifled in the WWE environment. Omega said in an interview that "I felt like any attempt to show my personality was sabotaged in a way a little bit” and that he did not feel creatively fulfilled in the environment.
WWE officials probably didn't think twice about letting him leave, but once they saw the performances he was doing in Japan, they surely wish they could've had him back.
WWE has allegedly reached out to Omega multiple times to sign him, but he has refused each time as a result of his previous feelings during his time in FCW. If he ever did sign, Omega would likely be treated like a star similar to AJ Styles’ arrival in WWE, but he's perfectly content with changing the face of wrestling while based in Japan.
9 Bad Luck Fale
From one member of the infamous Bullet Club stable to another, the WWE seems to have a hard time signing the well-treated wrestlers from New Japan Pro Wrestling. As one of the original founding members of The Bullet Club, Bad Luck Fale has achieved some considerable success in NJPW, participating mainly in six-man tag team division. While perhaps not the most well-known wrestler of the stable, Fale is certainly in a great position as a member of The Bullet Club and feels fully secure in his role as the group’s enforcer.
According to Fale, he was offered a WWE contract in mid-2015 while the group was gaining popularity but decided to stay with New Japan. WWE is clearly very interested in signing some of the key Bullet Club members, as evidenced by them signing Finn Balor (formerly Prince Devitt), Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson in one swoop, but Fale was one of the members to decline their contract. While some of the other members of the roster had previous wrestling experience in the United States, NJPW was one of the first promotions to take a chance on Fale as a performer and has earned his loyalty as a result, which means he didn't entertain jumping to WWE even for a second. While it's fully possible he could say yes if they asked in the future, he has made his position clear at this time – he is NJPW for life.
8 Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels' in-ring career has some of the most storied accomplishments in the history of professional wrestling, including numerous Match of the Year candidates and the first WWE Grand Slam – including a win of the WWE Tag Team, European, Intercontinental and World Championships in his career – in WWE history, which has given him possibly the most storied career in professional wrestling history, all bundled with his Hall of Fame induction following his WrestleMania XXVI Career versus Streak match with The Undertaker. What has Shawn Michaels not accomplished in his career? An appearance at The Greatest Royal Rumble.
As reported by X-Pac on his podcast, there were numerous former WWE stars tapped on the shoulder to participate in WWE’s inaugural Saudi Arabia event this year, including none other than HBK himself who turned down an appearance, even though this event was historical in nature.
Michaels has been one of the few wrestlers to actually remain retired from all in-ring competition following his on-screen retirement (unlike his fellow Texas native Terry Funk who has retired approximately 86 times), and has only made guest appearances, and didn't want to break his retirement promise by accepting WWE’s invitation. Perhaps it's better that his legacy remain intact and that he no longer competes in WWE – who knows, maybe he would have tripped on the way to the ring like Titus O’Neil!
7 Zack Sabre Jr
Other than Kota Ibushi, there was one other name that appeared on the roster list for the Cruiserweight Classic which made independent wrestling fans very excited, and that was none other than the winner of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter award for “Best Technical Wrestler” for the past four years, the Technical Wizard, Zack Sabre Jr. For those that not familiar with Sabre Jr. and are fans of technical wrestling, you are in for a real treat. Well, unless you were looking forward to seeing him in a WWE ring, because he has made it clear that he is not entirely interested in signing with WWE.
Sabre Jr.’s career has led him across the world in a short time, with appearances state-side for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, a home in European promotions like Westside Xtreme Wrestling in Germany, and a current contract with New Japan, and he's entirely happy with this hectic schedule because it sends him across the world. Despite being pegged as a favorite to win the tournament, his refusal to sign likely cost him from being the winner of the Cruiserweight Championship, as well as an opportunity to participate in WWE’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament, which he was notably absent from despite being one of the UK’s brightest wrestlers.
When asked about his decision not to sign with WWE, he stated “It would like asking a musician, ‘Why didn’t you sign with the biggest record label?’ I’m just concerned with being the best professional wrestler I can be… it was really just a personal choice. This is my path.”
Perhaps we will see Sabre Jr. in WWE one day, but WWE also doesn't forget being slighted very easily.
6 Sonjay Dutt
One of the most unsung and biggest workhorse wrestlers to be involved in Impact Wrestling since its inception is Sonjay Dutt, and his high-paced matches have been a feature in the company’s X-Division for over ten years, proving his longevity in the business. Dutt’s resume is not incredibly full with championship wins, but he has remained a consistent performer over the years who always delivers, so it makes sense that WWE would tap him on the shoulder to move to the WWE Performance Center in early 2016.
Despite being an active wrestler for close to 20 years, Dutt turned down WWE in favor of not uprooting his family to Florida to work in the Performance Center. Dutt’s current freedom as an independent wrestler sends him all over the world with his bookings, but he's always able to travel home to his family without having to move them with him, allowing stability for his daughter. Family is obviously incredibly important to Dutt, and he made the right decision for himself. Unfortunately, following turning down WWE, he suffered an Achilles heel injury during a match with Impact Wrestling which has sidelined him for the majority of 2018, but he has found a new home behind the commentary table in the meantime. At Dutt’s age, I’m not sure how many more times WWE will come calling, but as long as he's happy with his decision he should enjoy the rest of his career.
So many calls were made by WWE during their brand split to former employees that it's difficult to keep track, but one wrestler who was very outspoken about the amount of offers they receive is MVP. As a very active user on Twitter, MVP does not hesitate to boaster if he is experiencing success. Just like Tommy Dreamer, MVP was also tapped to appear in WWE following the brand split, but it didn't transpire into anything as he was more interested in pursuing his career on the independent scene.
It's fully possible to make a living on the independent scene without WWE’s help, especially for a former WWE wrestler who can afford to charge additional stipends for appearances.
MVP has not appeared for WWE since 2010, with the exception of a one-off appearance during RAW’s 25th Anniversary where he appeared briefly during an in-ring segment. When asked if he will ever be open to a WWE return, MVP expressed interest down the line, and made a great statement about how he feels about WWE -“I have nothing but respect for Vince and WWE but it’s kind of like that really hot girlfriend that you used to date and everyone was into.” Perhaps one day he will be Ballin’ in WWE again, but right now he is happy where he is.
4 James Storm
NXT has made a point of featuring potential signees on television before their first appearance in the ring in order to hype them up to fans – Drew McIntyre was shown in the crowd at NXT TakeOver: Orlando, EC3 was shown in the crowd at TakeOver: Philadelphia, and former Impact Wrestling Heavyweight Champion (and Beer Drinking Champion) James Storm appeared on two separate live events for NXT without being under contract. What does James Storm not have in common with the other two wrestlers on this list? Well, he didn’t stick around beyond those events and chose not to sign with NXT.
At the time of Storm’s appearance in 2016, it was very unlike WWE to bring in a non-contracted performer and feature them on television, as it's essentially like giving them free exposure without giving them a potential benefit, however it seems as though giving him television time prior to officially signing him was done to incentivize Storm into signing on with NXT. However, it didn't pan out and Storm returned to Impact Wrestling shortly after his NXT appearances.
When interviewed afterwards, Storm revealed that this was due to him wanting to continue building his family and relocating to Florida was not a good decision at the time. However there were many conspiracy theories that he was sent there by TNA Management to spy on WWE. While this does seem silly, it has never actually been disproven. Perhaps The Cowboy was playing “The Spy” at the time?
3 Will Ospreay
WWE’s focus on the Crusierweight Division has been inconsistent to say the least since they brought it back in 2016. While things are now getting back on track with names like Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali as the cornerstones of the division, WWE is still actively looking to inject more talent. One name that was tapped was The Aerial Assassin Will Ospreay, who has been making waves on the British wrestling scene due to his incredible acrobatic ability, which received worldwide attention during his 2016 Best of the Super Juniors tournament match with Ricochet, which divided the wrestling world. Some thought the match was an incredible display of athletic ability, while others thought it was far too choreographed (and according to Vader, looked like a “gymnastics routine”). The question is, will we ever see this style of match in WWE?
Well, according to Ospreay he's not looking to join the WWE roster despite being offered a contract already. As he revealed on a Talk is Jericho podcast, he loves his tours with New Japan and would not interested in leaving the promotion that allows him full freedom during his matches and has also made him a household name in wrestling. Ospreay is only 25 years old and has a very bright future ahead of him, so if he continues to catch WWE’s eye then it's fully possible we will eventually see a Ospreay versus Ricochet match on WWE television.
He spits in the face of people who do not want to be cool, but he also allegedly spits on WWE contract offers – well, not literally at least. Another wrestler who was contacted during WWE’s purge of talent during their recent brand split who also denied coming back to the company when offered a contract. Carlito has not appeared for WWE since 2010 due to multiple violations of the company’s Wellness Policy, but after showing good behavior and growing a good body of work on the independent scene WWE attempted to welcome him back.
Carlito has always been outspoken and not afraid to comment on if he was getting what he felt he deserved, and apparently he didn't feel what WWE was offering him in terms of financial compensation was worthy of his talent.
Couple this with the fact that his brother Primo and cousin Epico are currently sitting out the rest of their WWE contracts as a result of not being pleased with their creative direction, and it was likely a very easy decision for Carlito not to sign with the company. Carlito always showed lots of promise in the ring, but always came off as slightly “lazy” during his time with WWE, so not having him back is not necessarily the biggest loss for the fans, but who knows if the door has been permanently shut. If it has, then that’s not cool!
If you have never heard of WALTER before, you're missing out. He is just beginning to make waves on a large scale in wrestling since transitioning to taking bookings in the United States, as this native of Austria has only taken European bookings since he debuted in 2007. However, now that he has received exposure from his time in Evolve and Pro Wrestling Guerilla – where he was recently crowned their new World Champion – WALTER has shown the world what he can do. With an impressive six-foot-four frame and an unorthodox body-type combined with hard hitting power moves and strikes, fans have taken notice of this powerhouse and are starting to get behind him.
Allegedly, WWE also started to take notice of him and offered him a contract, but WALTER has been very coy in discussing how things are progressing. Considering that he was recently booked as PWG Champion and is continuing to take independent bookings across the world, the rumors that he turned down WWE seem to be true. The red tape around signing an international talent is quite extensive, as work Visas and citizenships come into question which makes the process very difficult – if WALTER is gaining enough traction and money as a wrestler without WWE’s help, but does not need go through the bureaucratic issues of signing with them, then perhaps he is better off with his current schedule. For me, I just think about a match between him and Brock Lesnar and I can’t help but wish that he would sign!