We are witnessing a sea change in professional wrestling. When Triple H took over the helm of NXT some were predicting it as the end for independent wrestling. While independent wrestling would still always exist, they imagined NXT taking the place of Ring of Honor and cornering the market on all the top developing talent. NXT has been an undisputed success, but it has not seemed to hurt the independent scene one iota. For one thing, NXT is actually working with independent promotions such as Evolve in the USA and Progress Wrestling in the UK. Ring of Honor (ROH) is stronger than ever, not to mention the success of other promotions such as Pro Wrestling Guerilla (PWG), Game Changer Wrestling (GCW), and a resurgent Impact Wrestling. Add to that the continued success of Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) and Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide (AAA) in Mexico, Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw) in Germany, Revolution Pro Wrestling in the UK, and the absolute juggernaut that New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is becoming, and it’s clear that wrestling hasn’t been stronger globally in at least 18 years.
But the real game changers have been All In --the biggest independent wrestling show ever-- and the ROH/NJPW show set to take place in Madison Square Garden during WrestleMania weekend. MSG has been hallowed ground for the WWE and even though they rarely run televised events there now due to financial reasons, MSG has been the spiritual home for three generations of McMahons. So what will Vincent K. McMahon do now? Will he flood the market with money and try to buy up all the hot non-WWE wrestlers?
20 Headed To WWE: Taya Valkyrie
With the WWE pushing more and more special events and possibly introducing more all-women PPVs, they'll need to keep adding depth to their roster. One name out there that could bring something new to the table would be Taya Valkyrie. She's really emerged as one of the better female wrestlers around the world and her imposing look and dominant in-ring style could lead to some very interesting feuds in WWE. Having her in NXT would be a good start, as the WWE will likely call up more female names to the main roster soon and will need to replenish the division there.
19 Won't Sign: Cody
It’s probably not fair to say that the WWE won’t even try to sign Cody. They’ll probably do something. After all, if Vince is worried about All In and the G1 Supercard in MSG, then the best way to undercut the selling power of events like that is to simply gobble up the members of the Being the Elite (BTE) YouTube show.
Cody and the Young Bucks ran All In themselves, so clearly they’re on Vince’s radar.
But having already been with WWE for so many years and leaving them as the bit part character of Stardust, Cody has really managed to elevate his stock. He values his creative control and has all but confirmed he’s not going back any time soon.
18 Headed To WWE: WALTER
WALTER’s reputation is now as big as he is. The 300-plus-pound Austrian has steadily gained worldwide recognition for his stature, his working style, and his brutal chops. There are several reasons why WALTER might not go to WWE; he’s well entrenched with wXw where he’s a trainer, he’s the current PWG champion and the current Progress champion.
But all those attributes just make him more appealing to the WWE. WALTER would be a perfect replacement for Lars Sullivan on NXT after Sullivan gets called up to the main roster. Furthermore, WALTER’s ability as a trainer ensures that he provides value to NXT beyond his work as performer, much like Kassius Ohno. Lastly, with NXT trying to expand into various markets around the globe, WALTER is an ideal candidate to headline a continental European branch of NXT.
17 Won't Sign: The Young Bucks
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase is famous for saying, “Everybody’s got a price”. And that’s probably true. If Vince McMahon drives dump truck after dump truck of money to the homes Matt and Nick Jackson, they’ll eventually say yes. But frankly, for the WWE to sign the Young Bucks and Cody, they’ll have to pay more than they’re worth. Cody and the Bucks are worth more to the independent wrestling scene than they are to the WWE. The BTE guys have already pledged to stay together and they love and value the creative freedom they have. There’s no way the WWE could make enough money off of them to justify the huge amount it would cost to bring them in.
16 Headed To WWE: Moose
Moose was one of many independent wrestling stars to feature on All In. But it was perhaps telling that he was only in the “Over Budget Battle Royal” and played just a bit part in that match, as well.
It seems as though Moose’s star has dimmed just a little since his career first took off with ROH and then with Impact Wrestling.
Having said that, even if his career has stalled a wee bit, it’s not as though he’s on the decline. And he has one big thing in his favor: his size.
We all know Vince McMahon is a body guy and Moose definitely has a body that stands out. His muscular frame and NFL background are perfect for WWE.
15 Won't Sign: Kenny Omega
For anybody who watches WWE and NJPW, it’s impossible not to fantasize about the matches Kenny Omega could have in the WWE. But, much to the dismay of all the fanboys (and fangirls) out there, Kenny Omega will almost certainly not sign with WWE in 2019. Maybe in 2021, possibly even in 2020. But as part of BTE, he’ll look to stick with Cody and the Young Bucks for now. Furthermore, Omega is the IWGP Champion and will likely keep that title well into 2019 as New Japan tries to solidify a foothold in America. It’s just implausible to think that the WWE would pay Omega enough to forego all that.
14 Headed To WWE: Tama Tonga
This one might seem a bit out of left field, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Tama Tonga has a tough look and excellent stage presence. His father is WWE alum Haku (aka Meng) and his brother, Tonga Loa, was formerly employed by WWE (as “Camacho”). Furthermore, WWE is believed to have previously enquired about him and Tama also likes to trade insults with Roman Reigns on Twitter. (They’re likely good friends.)
And it makes sense for Tama to jump ship now. His new BCOG stable has not gone over too well. His work rate is not at the high level of New Japan main eventers and he has upset the company by attacking a fan and littering on the Tokyo metro. The Guerillas of Destiny just might be destined for the WWE.
13 Won't Sign: Kazuchika Okada
No. No. No. Definitely not happening. Forget about it. Kazuchika Okada is not coming to the WWE. Nor is Tetsuya Naito, nor Tomohiro Ishii, nor any other big star from New Japan. While it makes sense for both the WWE and Tama Tonga to work together, there’s no sense in any of the big stars from Japan moving.
Okada is very well remunerated by New Japan and Naito, et al. probably aren’t too far behind.
And with Hideo Itami, Asuka, Shinsuke Nakamura, Akira Tozawa, Kairi Sane, and Io Shirai, the WWE has more performers from the land of the rising sun than they know what to do with.
12 Headed To WWE: Mercedes Martinez
The biggest mystery around Mercedes Martinez is why she hasn’t signed an exclusive WWE contract already. She competed in the first Mae Young Classic and advanced all the way to the semifinals. She is now in the second Mae Young Classic and, at the time of writing, has advanced to the second round. In between, she has appeared on NXT television a few times.
At 37, it’s possible that the WWE thinks she’s too old for a full-time contract, but that doesn’t seem likely. Martinez is in excellent shape and has plenty of more years in her if she wants. Once she completes any outstanding dates she has for Shimmer Women Athletes, look for Martinez to sign on properly with NXT.
11 Won't Sign: Viper
Viper is a familiar wrestler who has performed for several promotions, most notably Insane Championship Wrestling, World of Sport Wrestling, and World Wonder Ring Stardom. WWE fans would recognize her as Piper Niven as she performed in the 2017 Mae Young Classic and reached the quarterfinals.
Viper is the only 2017 quarter-finalist not to have appeared at least once more on WWE television. It’s not clear if she turned down the WWE or the other way around. Viper is a big woman, weighing at over 200 lbs, so it’s possible the WWE only wants one female giant, that being Nia Jax. But Viper would be on NXT for a good while before moving up to the main roster and, besides, there are plenty of big men on the roster. It’s odd.
10 Headed To WWE: Mark Haskins
A while ago, NXT was on a mission to gobble up all the big indie stars. But eventually, those stars have to advance from NXT to the main roster.
Because WWE is making so much money from TV revenue now, they don’t have to cut wrestlers for financial reasons. As such, their main roster has become bloated and NXT is getting there, too.
However, where the WWE does need guys is for their new NXT UK brand. Mark Haskins has made a name for himself in North America, but he’s an even bigger deal in his native UK. He has worked for Progress for five years now and since they have a relationship with NXT, it’s likely Haskins will be brought into the WWE fold soon.
9 Won't Sign: Zack Sabre Jr.
One British star the WWE won’t be signing is Zack Sabre Jr. Although, at this point, ZSJ is more of a New Japan wrestler than a British one. New Japan clearly sees big things for the slight technical wrestling wizard. They wouldn’t let him leave without a fight.
But more to the point, ZSJ had his chance to sign with the WWE and declined. He was a semifinalist of the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016 (along with Kota Ibushi) but he clearly didn’t like whatever full-time offer they floated his way. Looking at how 205 Live has turned out, Zack probably made the right decision. And that probably irks WWE.
8 Headed To WWE: Chelsea Green
Chelsea Green is no stranger to the WWE. She participated on the 2015 season of Tough Enough. But she actually had appeared on Raw back in 2014. Do you remember the Stephanie McMahon - Brie Bella feud when Stephanie paid off Daniel Bryan’s physical therapist to claim she was having an affair with Bryan? Or had you successfully forgotten that? In which case, sorry for bringing it up, but Green was the physical therapist.
Anyway, it might seem that the WWE just don’t see “it” in Green, but I think it’s more a matter of timing. Green impressed as former Impact Knockouts Champion Laurel Van Ness. She also has a strong social media presence and she has good character work. It’s only matter of time before the WWE finally sign her.
7 Won't Sign: Jay Lethal
If Vince feels provoked by the G1 Supercard at MSG, he might well decide to try to kneecap ROH’s momentum by buying up their top stars. The BTE guys don’t appear to be in play as we’ve already discussed, so who could Vince get if he wants to hurt ROH? Why not the current ROH Champion Jay Lethal?
It may make sense on the surface, but the more you think about it, the less likely it seems.
Lethal has been wrestling for 17 years and the WWE has never appeared to be interested before. Frankly, if they know Lethal at all it's probably just for his Randy Savage impression.
6 Headed To WWE: Pentagón Jr.
Whether you call him Pentagón Jr., Pentagón Dark, or Pentagón EL 0M, he has really made a name for himself. He has held the top title in AAA, Lucha Underground, and Impact Wrestling. He has done about as much as he can outside the WWE and he might be tired of always having to change his name for trademark reasons, so getting a new WWE name and ditching the rest might appeal to this dynamic luchador.
From the WWE’s perspective, they are always looking to find a new Hispanic star and Pentagón Jr. can draw in Mexico and America. Pentagón Jr. is believed to be 33 years old (his identity is not a matter of public record) so the WWE should sign him as soon as his Lucha Underground deal is up.
5 Won't Sign: Jeff Cobb
Jeff Cobb is best known for his work with PWG and Lucha Underground (as Matanza). The former Olympic amateur wrestler is incredibly agile and athletic for a big man. But so is Keith Lee, and Lee just signed with NXT. It’s not like the WWE to sign two wrestlers with very similar body types/gimmicks at the same time.
Cobb is also 36 years old, so the WWE might not see a huge upside in him.
But from Cobb’s point of view, he has a bright future outside the WWE. With Lee gone, Cobb now can hold all the spotlight as the athletic big man. But perhaps more importantly, Cobb has started to work some dates for New Japan where many think he could be a perfect fit.
4 Headed To WWE: Fénix
Fénix (aka Rey Fénix) seems to be on almost every independent show out there at the moment. That’s on top of his dates in Mexico for CMLL and AAA (where he is the AAA Mega Champion). Furthermore, he just headlined All In, so what’s his impetus to leave? Well, it’s money. And though he’s probably making plenty of it right now, nobody can pay what the WWE can, and they want a Hispanic star bad.
Fénix is the younger brother of Pentagón Jr. and they often work as a tag team. The two would be an outstanding tag team on NXT and would be over instantly. How they’d do on the main roster is another proposition as we’ve seen Vince and his creative team mishandle that transition plenty of times.
3 Won't Sign: Hangman Page
As mentioned above, Cody, the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, and Hangman Page have made a pact to all stay together. It’s possible they’ll all go to WWE, though that is unlikely for reasons detailed above. But Hangman Page might face the strongest temptation. Triple H and Vince will look at Page and see a star. He’s got a good luck, he has a great physique, he’s very athletic, he’s only 27, and he’s tall enough.
And Page, unlike the other BTE members, is not yet a main eventer. He could really be tempted. But even if fidelity to The Elite does not keep him from signing, New Japan probably will. Japanese fans were clearly impressed with Page during the G1 Climax tournament and they look to have big plans for him there.
2 Headed To WWE: Marty Scurll
Look at the names in the BTE “pact” above. Notice any name missing? Why wasn’t Marty Scurll included in the pact? Perhaps it’s because Scurll’s contract is the only one that does not end this January (according to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter). Or maybe there’s something more to it.
At All In, Scurll’s match with Okada went overtime. Maybe as little as one minute or perhaps as many as 12. Scurll was also not in the ring during the closing speeches.
Maybe that’s all innocent coincidence. Maybe not. We do know that Scurll is dating Deonna Purrazzo who has just signed with NXT. Whenever Scurll’s contract with ROH does end, expect the WWE to make a big offer.
1 Won't Sign: Tessa Blanchard
Tessa Blanchard is the biggest female star on the American indies. While all the women at All In impressed, Blanchard stood out as the one with the most stage presence and charisma. She has a great physique, good character work, and a historic pedigree. That's everything the WWE wants.
So why isn’t she with the WWE? She competed in the 2017 Mae Young Classic and has appeared on NXT television. Maybe the WWE decided they didn’t really want her. Maybe Blanchard decided she didn’t want the WWE. Regardless, Blanchard has made herself a star. She is the current Impact Knockouts Champion and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.