Over the last few years, WWE has been on a hiring spree the likes of which we really haven’t seen since the ‘80s. Due to the rise of NXT and the other additional content that WWE has created via the WWE Network, they have a much greater need for a larger talent pool. It also seems that WWE has finally started paying attention to the names on the indie scene and in Japan who are drawing crowds across the world and don’t hesitate to offer them those famous big money contracts.
The question now isn’t whether WWE will hire that big name wrestler that is tearing up the indie scene, but when they will hire them. Now that we’re about halfway through the year, it’s unlikely that WWE is going to hire a ton of big name free agents before the end of 2017. However, there are a few names out there who could certainly still end up on the roster before the year is done. As for 2018, there are a ton of wrestlers out there who fans have been waiting years to see in WWE who might finally debut. These are the eight wrestlers WWE could still sign in 2018 (and the eight they could sign in 2019).
16 2018 - Johnny Mundo
Many of you might remember that Johnny Mundo wrestled in WWE for quite some time under the name Johnny Nitro. He enjoyed a pretty good career there. While Mundo never really achieved as much as a singles wrestler as some thought he might, he was a tremendous tag-team performer who always seemed to be on the verge of a singles breakout. So why did Mundo leave WWE? Well, rumors suggest that it had something to do with the perception that he had some attitude issues about certain booking decisions, as well as the belief that he was...uhh...controlled by his girlfriend, Melina. Whether or not those rumors are true, the result is the same. Mundo was out the door and into the indies. Since then, he’s done quite well for himself in Lucha Underground and other promotions.
It’s not that he’s gotten that much better as a performer, but rather that he’s shown he can make the most out of the opportunity to actually be a main event guy.
We highly doubt that he’s blacklisted from WWE, and Mundo has certainly maintained the WWE “look” and ring style. It would be nice to see him return at some point in the near future.
15 2019 - Matt Riddle
You have got to believe that Matt Riddle is near the top of WWE’s most wanted list. In case you don’t quite recognize the name, Riddle made a name for himself in UFC as a pretty good Middleweight/Welterweight fighter. While never a top-tier competitor, he was a clearly talented athlete who was best remembered for his obvious love of professional wrestling and the way that his passion helped him establish a pretty great fighter persona. Few people were surprised to hear that Riddle decided to become a professional wrestler, but quite a few people were surprised to see that Matt Riddle is a natural-born professional wrestling prodigy. Riddle quickly established a “bro” persona that fits him perfectly and makes it easy for him to go from heel to face. What’s more is that the guy is legitimately talented in the ring.
Think of him as a larger, slightly less versatile Kurt Angle type of performer. While Riddle does have some things to learn, the fact that he’s got the perfect look, the perfect gimmick, skills to spare, and a history as a UFC fighter means that Vince and Triple H will probably snatch him up just as soon as he says “yes.”
14 2018 - Keith Lee
This is a bit of cheat considering that there are many reports out there that indicate that WWE is in the process of signing Keith Lee, but since that gives us an excuse to talk about Keith Lee, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. The sad state of the wrestling industry is that there just aren’t that many great modern big men out there. Maybe that’s because they’re not in quite as much demand as they used to be, but it’s sad that there isn’t a better selection of bigger wrestlers on the indie scene. Even if there was, though, Keith Lee would be one of the best in the business. Now, Lee is closer to “fat” than “muscular,” but don’t take that to mean that he’s not an elite athlete. He is one.
Keith Lee is able to work the kind of power style that guys like Braun Strowman use, but is also able to occasionally bust out a surprising burst of agility when called upon to do so. While we imagine that Lee will spend quite a bit of time in NXT when he arrives, he’s a guy that’s not too far away from being main roster ready.
13 2019 - Will Ospreay
Even if you don’t regularly follow the indie wrestling scene, we’d be surprised if you haven’t heard Will Ospreay’s name mentioned at least a few times in recent years. Every now and then, a kid bursts onto the indie scene and starts making waves by doing some high-flying things that no other wrestler has ever done. At first glance, Ospreay seems to be one of those wrestlers. However, if you watch enough of his matches, you start to realize that Ospreay has more to offer than just some flips.
What separates him is the way that he increases the general speed of a match and forces people to up their game in order to keep up. Actually, there are only a few guys in WWE that could probably keep up with him when he’s moving at full speed.
Despite that, Ospreay has to be someone who is one WWE’s radar. Even has a high-flyer, he’s better than most people on the WWE roster, but he really could be a modern Jeff Hardy in the sense that he could elevate himself into a main event player. The only problem is whether or not Ospreay is willing to give up his lucrative indie paycheck and join WWE.
12 2018 - The Briscoe Brothers
We know, we know...there have been rumors about the Briscoe Brothers joining WWE ever since the Briscoe Brothers established themselves as one of the best indie tag teams out there. The Briscoes seemingly embody everything that WWE wants in a tag team. They’re actually brothers, they’re incredibly talented singles wrestlers, they’ve got a tremendous gimmick, and they can put on a great match with just about anyone. However, the Briscoes come with some baggage. Notably, they have a habit of making some comments that wouldn’t really fit into the increasingly PR friendly world of WWE. That, and the pair’s seeming lack of interest in joining WWE, has seemingly kept them from actually jumping ship in recent years. So why would that change this year? Well, for the first time in a long time, the Briscoes current contract status remains something of a mystery.
We know that they signed ROH contracts in 2017 around the same time as Kyle O’ Reilly, Bobby Fish, and Adam Cole, who you might notice have all since joined WWE. It’s entirely possible that the Briscoes have finally decided that now is the time to join WWE and get that part of their career done before they’re out of their prime.
11 2019 - Travis Banks
WWE fans who aren’t familiar with the name Travis Banks are probably about to become familiar with the kid once he participates in the 2018 UK Championship tournament. Before that happens, though, let’s share a few words about one of the most exciting young wrestlers on the UK professional wrestling scene. Actually, Banks didn’t really burst onto the scene until a few years ago when he seemingly appeared out of nowhere and began putting on some great matches. Banks is perhaps best described as a blend of William Regal and a young Daniel Bryan. He hasn’t quite figured out how to put all of his skills together, but he’s an incredible crisp wrestler that can transition from technician to brawler with apparent ease. What’s more is that he’s a gifted in-ring storyteller that is able to adapt to a variety of opponents. It’s entirely possible that he’s going to be ranked among the best overall wrestlers in the world sometime in the next few years. While he’s not quite in “WWE shape,” we do think that someone at the company is going to realize the kid's potential and ensure that he spends his prime years as part of the NXT/WWE roster.
10 2018 - Marty Scurll
Marty Scurll is in an odd position at the moment. Anyone familiar with Scurll knows that he’s one of the best heels in the business today. Hey, there’s a reason that they call him “The Villain.” What separates Scurll from the other heels in professional wrestling is that he doesn’t seem worried about being the “cool heel.” Instead, he is the cool heel and he just finds a way to make the persona work while still managing to genuinely upset fans.
Scurrl is a pure in-ring storyteller that always knows how to keep the crowd invested. On top of that, he’s good in the ring, has a great look, and has really honed his persona in recent years.
Despite all of that, he’s not a guy that is currently “the guy” in any major indie promotion at the moment. We can’t imagine why that is the case, unless every company is pretty sure that Scurll can sign a WWE contract whenever he wants. While it’s entirely possible that “whenever he wants” happens in 2018, there is a very good chance that Scurll ends up being one of the last big NXT signings of 2017. In any case, he’s not being booked to do too much on the indies at the moment.
9 2019 - Mayu Iwatani
In case you didn’t know, WWE has reportedly signed Io Shirai; one of the absolute best female wrestlers in the world. She’s expected to become the anchor of NXT’s female division and play a role similar to the one Asuka played for the promotion. Actually, if Io Shirai isn’t the best female wrestler in the world, then it might just be her former opponent, Mayu Iwatani. There’s a very good chance that you’ve never really seen a female wrestler quite like Iwatani. She’s primarily a striker whose kicks, knees, and punches are among the most convincing and violent in all of professional wrestling. Watch one Iwatani match, and you’ll immediately appreciate just how much potential she has as a WWE performer. So why didn’t WWE sign her instead of Shirai? Well, Shirai is slightly more well-rounded, and there are some who argue that WWE might not think that Iwatani has the right “look” for WWE.
That being said, we don’t think that WWE’s invasion of Japanese talent is going to end anytime soon, and if they really want to have all the best female wrestlers in the world working for their company, then they will likely sign Iwatani at some point.
8 2018 - Michael Elgin
Not too long ago when Ring of Honor was going through a bit of a transition phase, a guy named Michael Elgin came into the company and stole some headlines by participating in five star classics. However, Elgin’s fire proved to burn a bit too bright, and he kind of fell off the radar for a bit after his hot start. Recently, though, Elgin has been spending more and more time in Japan where he has established himself as a kind of modern in-ring monster. While Elgin doesn’t regularly put on all-time classic matches, he’s proven that he’s one of the better power wrestlers in the world and a guy that is capable of working with smaller opponents quite well. So why hasn’t he already signed with WWE? That’s a good question. Some people think that Elgin might look a little too much like a regular guy to really be on WWE’s radar as a must-have prospect. Others say that he just isn’t that special of a performer. However, we think that he has enough going for him to ensure that Elgin will sign with WWE at least for a little while. That signing could take place as early as 2018.
7 2019 - Yujiro Kushida
While WWE isn’t always big on giving athletic guys big pushes as singles stars, that doesn’t mean that they’re not looking for flipping cruiserweights to fill some gaps on the roster. Still, if you’re a flippy wrestler on the indie scene, then you know that you’ve really got to distinguish yourself in some way in order to get the call from Vince and company. While Yujiro Kushida isn’t really the absolute best wrestler in the world, he does offer something that not a lot of flippy wrestlers can offer; years of experience.
Kushida has been wrestling in Japan for years and is seen by many as the cornerstone of Japan’s lightweight division.
Given that 205 Live seems to be sticking around for the foreseeable future, we imagine that WWE might be interested in having a bonafide lightweight veteran on the roster. Kushida isn’t the only option to play that role, but he’s certainly one of the best. Whether he will actually ever join WWE is something that only Kushida knows, but we imagine that WWE could offer him a big enough contract and the chance to do something new. We can imagine Kushida spending the last few years of his career making that sweet WWE money.
6 2018 - Chuck Taylor
Those that have followed the indie wrestling scene in recent years know the name Chuck Taylor. He’s not the best looking guy (sorry, Chuck), he’s not the biggest guy, and he’s not the best technical wrestler, but he is one of the most entertaining professional wrestlers in the world. We suppose you could call Taylor a comedy wrestler, but that’s not really what he’s going for. Yes, Taylor is the guy responsible for the infamous “grenade” spot that you’ve probably seen on the internet, but Taylor really is a solid pro wrestler who so happens to not have a problem working some goofier spots. That’s a character that WWE has utilized in the past, but they haven’t really had a guy like Taylor on the roster in quite some time. Actually, they’ve never really had a guy with Taylor’s full-range of talents on the roster.
We don’t know what Taylor’s long-term prospects are so far as a main roster spot goes, but you could put him in NXT right now and have him serve as the perfect midcard performer. We think this might finally be the year that WWE pulls the trigger on that Chuck Taylor signing that fans have been asking for.
5 2019 - Hiromu Takahashi
Some people have criticized New Japan Pro Wrestling for failing to focus on homegrown stars in recent years. While wrestlers like Okada are still tearing up the top of the roster, there’s no clear plan in place for what happens when the current top guys suddenly stop wrestling. Well, one of the more exciting young guys that NJPW have on the roster is Hiromu Takahashi. Takahashi made his NJPW debut back in 2010, but his first few years with the company weren’t exactly remarkable. It wasn’t until Takahashi went overseas that he really started to understand what it takes to be a complete modern pro wrestler. NJPW seemingly realize the extent of his talents as the booked him to win the Best of the Super Juniors tournament just this year. That seems to indicate that NJPW think that he has a future in the company. Whether or not WWE realizes it is the real question. WWE have been poaching more and more talent from NJPW in recent years, but they’ve waited until that talent has established itself in the company. How long until they start going after some of the company’s biggest stars before they can help solidify NJPW’s future?
4 2018 - Jeff Cobb
There are a few wrestlers out there who, in a different era of WWE, would have been signed by the company just as fast as Vince McMahon could write them the biggest check that they’ve ever seen. Some of those wrestlers are old-school type performers who exemplify the best of the days of Southern wrestling, and some of them are just people with great, over-the-top gimmicks. Then you have the bodybuilders. WWE used to snatch up bodybuilders as quick as they could, but they’ve seemingly demanded that modern wrestlers have a larger range of motion than the bodybuilder wrestlers of old. Well, Cobb is the best of both worlds.
Known as Mr. Athletic, Cobb is the rare kind of performer that can lift a 300 lb man over his head and then hit them with a moonsault.
So far as in-ring talent goes, he’s about as well-rounded as they come. The only problem is that Cobb isn’t the best promo in the world and that Braun Strowman is probably a more intimidating monster wrestler. Still, we think there’s a good chance that WWE will add him to the collection soon and try to develop him rather than let other companies enjoy his talent.
3 2019 - Zack Sabre Jr.
When WWE announced the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, many wrestling fans rightfully assumed that the entire event was an elaborate way to get Zack Sabre Jr. over with WWE fans. For years, Zack Sabre Jr. has been ranked as the best technical professional wrestler in the world. Now, usually, when you hear about a gifted technical professional wrestler, you start thinking about guys like Daniel Bryan. Sabre Jr. is different. He’s a guy that rarely gets off the mat and prefers to tie his opponents into knots rather than pin them. There hasn’t really been a wrestler that does what Sabre does and does it quite as well. That’s why everyone was shocked that Sabre didn’t win the cruiserweight tournament or immediately sign with WWE immediately after the show was over.
Later, we learned that Sabre Jr. preferred to stay on the indies for another couple of years while he finished some career goals. We don’t know exactly what those goals are, but considering how popular Sabre Jr. has been on the indie scene, we can’t imagine there is a lot left for him to do. It feels like Sabre Jr. will come to WWE at some point, and we think that point might be 2019.
2 2018 - Dalton Castle
Dalton Castle is a bit of an enigma. He’s not the best technical wrestler in the world, he doesn’t cut a mind-blowing promo, and he doesn’t wield some kind of unbelievable physique. What Dalton Castle has is one of the absolute best gimmicks in professional wrestling. He’s been described as a kind of modern wrestling Liberace. He is an incredibly flamboyant performer who has managed to turn what is seemingly a simple gimmick into a top spot in Ring of Honor. Castle’s entrances and mid-match character moments alone are worth the price of admission. He’s a guy that people have been waiting to see in WWE for years despite the fact that WWE has traditionally struggled to find something for such performers to do (look at Tyler Breeze).
However, Castle might just be a special enough overall performer for him to buck the trend of WWE not knowing to do with a great gimmick beyond the first week or two. Even if that’s not the case, Castle will certainly pop the crowd at NXT events for as long as he’s in the promotion. Given that Castle seems to be at the end of his Ring of Honor run, we think he’ll come to WWE before long.
1 2019 - Tetsuya Naito
If you’re a top wrestler in New Japan Pro Wrestling at the moment, then it has to bother you slightly that you’re not Kazuchika Okada. Until further notice, Okada is the top guy in NJPW and will be until he basically decides he doesn’t want to be the guy anymore. That means that if you’re not Okada, your chances of rising any higher up the card than “guy that can maybe beat Okada” are few and far between. That’s roughly the position that Tetsuya Naito is in. For quite a few years, Naito has been one of the best performers in a company full of brilliant performers.
Not only is he a truly special in-ring worker, but his heel gimmick is about as good as it gets. However, there’s little chance that Naito is going to be the top guy in NJPW.
Because of that, there’s a chance that he might decide that it’s better to take his talents elsewhere and see if he can rise a little further up the rankings. It’s hard to imagine NJPW without Naito, but there is no way WWE wouldn’t make him an offer, and we think that he might just take it when they do.