For years, Rey Mysterio has been held up as the gold standard for high flying pro wrestlers. And really, why wouldn’t he be? Mysterio’s signature blend of innovative aerial attacks that remained effective against any size or style of opponent paved the way for future generations of wrestlers. Plus, despite being smaller than most cruiserweights, he found ways to succeed in multiple promotions overrun with giants – shattering glass ceiling after glass ceiling, and racking up a number of championships in the process.
The fact that Mysterio, who stands at 5’6″ and weighs well under 200 lbs., was able to become a three time heavyweight champion in WWE – a promotion known for taking chances on the biggest and strongest wrestlers, often to the exclusion of all others – cannot go understated. Rey carved out a place for undersized wrestlers in the main event, while helping to make a lucha tinged style part of the mainstream American wrestling landscape.
And yet, for all Mysterio’s accomplishments, acrobatic wrestlers continue to find ways to move the business forward. As impressive as some of Rey’s gravity defying moves are, those following in his foot steps are taking things to the next level – soaring higher and farther, contorting their bodies in even more impressive ways. Though this new crop of risk takers would likely be the first to acknowledge their debt to Mysterio and other forbearers, the fact remains that they’re doing things a young “Rey Rey” would’ve had difficulty even imagining. The 15 wrestlers in this list come from all over the world, and represent the new standard in high flying…at least, until the next generation of acrobats come along.
As Rey Mysterio’s 13-year run with WWE seemed to be winding down, the company found itself looking for another masked luchador who might be able to appeal to Rey’s fans for years to come. They found a potential option on the American independent circuit, in the form of a high flyer named Samuray del Sol. In 2013, the man WWE fans now know as Kalisto signed with the company, and began appearing on NXT not long after.
And with his 2014 main roster debut, Kalisto made a significant impact. He and Sin Cara were quickly in top contention for the WWE tag title, and, by January 2016, he had become a two-time United Stated champion. Beyond wins and losses, Kalisto has been truly innovative in the ring, pulling off high risk moves with seemingly no effort (or regard for gravity). His finishing move, the “Salida del Sol,” is a modified Asai DDT in the vein of the legendary Último Dragón. Kalisto’s version of the move is arguably so impressive that it’s become the new standard. Suffice to say, showing up the pioneering Último Dragón is no easy task. But Kalisto is that good.
14. Matt Sydal
To some casual WWE fans, the man once known as Evan Bourne was an exciting high flyer who suddenly burst on to the nation’s TV screens last decade, only to vanish after a Wellness Policy violation followed by an injury that seemed to sideline him for an unusually long time. But regardless of the unfortunate circumstances behind Matt Sydal’s WWE departure, he had a thriving career before the company, and continues to have one after.
Sydal first put himself on the radar of scouts through his breathtaking aerial tactics in promotions including Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate (particularly with his shooting star press), and he was warmly received by fans of those promotions when he returned to them in 2014. He subsequently made a big splash in New Japan Pro Wrestling, teaming up with Ricochet to capture multiple championships. More than a decade and a half after his in-ring debut, Sydal shows little signs of slowing down.
13. AR Fox
Ever since his 2007 in-ring debut, stand-out indie wrestler AR Fox has impressed audiences wherever he’s gone. Though he stands at 6’0″ tall, he’s incredibly agile and has an incredible variety of moves at his disposal, including a dazzling springboard 450° splash, a shooting star cannonball splash, and the crowd-pleasing “Lo Mein Pain” – which is a springboard moonsault and side slam combination.
From small and large promotions across the U.S., to Mexico, and even Chile, Fox’s unique offensive style has brought him his fair share of championships and critical acclaim. Back in 2013, Fox defeated Sami Callihan in the finals of an eight-man single-elimination tournament to become the first ever EVOLVE champion – a title he’d go on to hold for an impressive 324 days. Most recently, he’s reached a new batch of fans as Lucha Underground’s “Dante Fox.” In June 2016, Fox teamed with The Mack and Killshot to capture the promotion’s Trios championship.
12. DJ Z
It’s with good reason that TNA’s reigning X Division champion (as of mid-November 2016) DJ Z has been such a focal point of the division for the past few years. The wrestler elsewhere known as Zema I on (or Shiima Xion) pulls of a wide array of impressive moves and aerial stunts while often making it look easy. Though he’s got a solid ground game, Z’s certainly not afraid to take a few risks – his signature 630° senton is truly a sight to behold.
In a time period where TNA’s roster has seemed to be in a perpetual state of flux, Z has been a consistently strong performer in the division that many would say is the company’s crowning achievement. But even as he’s performed on weekly television, he’s remained a fixture of live events at various indie promotions throughout the U.S. – particularly in Cleveland’s Absolute Insane Wrestling and Western PA’s International Wrestling Cartel, where he’s held multiple championships.
11. Tony Nese
Currently a prominent member of WWE’s Cruiserweight Division on the Raw brand, Tony Nese is by most estimates experiencing a high point in his career. This consistent major exposure is the culmination of more than a decade in the business, but it’s also not the first time the incredibly agile Nese has appeared on a weekly national TV program – having previously lit up the stage of TNA’s X Division earlier this decade.
Though Nese didn’t make it past the second round of this summer’s Cruiserweight Classic, he made quite a splash. Despite being significantly more muscular and stronger than most competitors in the tournament, Nese pulled off a variety of dazzling moves with a cool ease – from an array of kicks and dives to his patented 450° splash. There’s a good reason Nese has been a champion in promotions such as Dragon Gate USA and Pro Wrestling Syndicate, and it won’t be at all surprising if a WWE Cruiserweight title run lies in his not too distant future.
The Welsh high flyer Mark Andrews (known to his fans as “Mandrews”) may only be 24 years old, but he’s already been thrilling fans with his high risk offense for a decade. And even prior to winning the second season of TNA’s reality competition British Boot Camp in 2014, he’d already competed for major promotions in both the U.K. and the U.S., including Progress Wrestling, Insane Championship Wrestling, and CHIKARA. Andrews has also made appearances in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, competing in the promotion’s annual Battle of Los Angeles tournament in both 2015 and 2016.
But enough about his resume, the really impressing thing about “Mandrews” is what he can actually accomplish between the ropes. He can hit a standing moonsault like it’s nothing – even a corkscrew version. He’s got a flipping Stunner variation that puts a whole new spin on a classic move. Plus, his shooting star press is up there with just about anybody’s. Though he’s yet to capture a championship in TNA, he did win CHIKARA’s 2015 Rey de Voladores (“King of the High Flyers”) tournament. Bright days appear to be ahead for this young wrestler.
9. Aero Star
While American audiences are just finally catching up with Aero Star, thanks to Lucha Underground’s weekly TV show, fans of Mexico’s Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA) have been hip to the abilities of this masked luchador since his 2006 in-ring debut. His exciting move set, full of various hurricanranas, dives, and splashes, has put Lucha Underground’s audience squarely in his corner. Though he’s yet to win a major singles championship, he has worn the promotion’s popular Trios title.
But achievement is nothing new to Aero Star, who won AAA’s 2008 “Alas de Oro” (or “Wings of Gold”) tournament, besting some of the world’s best high flyers and ultimately defeating Jack Evans in the finals. In 2010, he captured the company’s prestigious Antonio Peña Cup. And in 2016, he won CHIKARA’s Rey de Voladores, a tournament whose past winners include Sami Zayn, Kota Ibushi, and Too Cold Scorpio. Though he’s not yet a household name in the U.S., this is one wrestler whose potential is only limited by his opportunities.
8. Cedric Alexander
Even before his most recent achievements, Cedric Alexander’s outstanding in-ring oeuvre merited him a spot on this list. One half of the Ring of Honor tag division staple C & C Wrestle Factory (with Caprice Coleman), Alexander perfected a combination of power moves and aerial attacks that have made him a thrill to watch. After five years of showing his stuff in ROH, Alexander announced that he was leaving the company this past spring. It wasn’t hard to see what his next move might be, as Cedric quickly made his presence known to WWE fans as one of the stand-out performers in the Cruiserweight Classic.
Following an astounding match with Kota Ibushi, which the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer rated 4.5 out of 5 stars, fans gave Alexander a standing ovation, and no less than Triple H came out to congratulate him on his performance. Before too long, it was announced that Alexander would be a member of Raw’s new Cruiserweight Division, and he’s continued to draw adulation from fans ever since.
One of the most promising high flyers in all of pro wrestling, the 25-year old Fénix has already made a significant impact in multiple countries. Back in 2013, he became the inaugural AAA Fusión Champion and, earlier this year, he earned the distinction of being the first ever triple crown champion in Lucha Underground history (capturing the Trios championship after previously holding the company’s heavyweight championship and Gift of the Gods title).
The real life of brother of sometimes rival, sometimes tag partner Pentagón Jr., Fénix has floored audiences in the U.S., Mexico, and Japan with his signature corkscrew senton and Spanish Fly (moonsault side slam), among other moves. Teaming up with Aero Star and Drago, he won CHIKARA’s prestigious King of Trios tournament in 2015. With all he’s achieved so far, Fénix’s youth bodes well for him to have a highly successful future, full of big league name recognition and a wealth of championships. He’s got all the tools…he just needs a slightly bigger audience.
6. Kota Ibushi
He’s just now on the cusp of becoming a household name for American audiences, due to his recent performances in WWE, but Kota Ibushi has been thrilling fans worldwide with his patented blend of fierce strikes and crisp aerial attacks for more than a decade. And while his ability to strike opponents helped propel him to the semi-finals of the inaugural Cruiserweight Classic, Ibushi’s high flying arsenal cannot be understated. His Golden Star Press (a corkscrew 450° splash) is truly a thing of beauty, and his takes on the Phoenix splash and the shooting star press are among the best in the business.
Ibushi’s agility, coupled with his willingness to take risks when necessary, has already catapulted him to tremendous success in various promotions – racking up numerous championship wins in New Japan, DDT Pro Wrestling, and even the United States (he won CHIKARA’s Rey de Voladores tournament in 2009). Now, with high profile appearances in the Cruiserweight Classic and on NXT, it seems that he may ready to make a major run in WWE sooner than later. If he does sign on full-time, the sky is the limit for Kota Ibushi.
5. Young Bucks
Though they’re divisive amongst some in the internet wrestling community, the Young Bucks are unquestionably one of the most charismatic and athletically gifted tag teams in the business today. The current Ring of Honor tag champs, brothers Nick and Matt Jackson have also worn gold in many of the world’s most popular promotions, including Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, DDT Pro Wrestling, Dragon Gate USA, CHIKARA, and New Japan.
And their success can’t just be attributed to their notorious “Superkick Parties,” either. The Jacksons are infamous for adding a little extra flair to their moves just to get reactions out of fans – busting out synchronized 450° splashes, perfectly choreographed moonsaults, and of course their famous Meltzer Driver, which is a tag team spike piledriver with a completely gratuitous somersault assist. This past September, that move’s namesake bestowed the rare honor of a five star match on one of the Young Bucks matches – recognizing a particularly jaw-dropping six-man tag bout at PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles where the Jacksons teamed up with Adam Cole to face Matt Sydal, Ricochet and Will Ospreay.
4. Rich Swann
Baltimore Maryland’s Rich Swann has worked long and hard for every opportunity he’s had, beginning his in-ring training at the impressionable age of 14. Drawing influence from the best aerial tacticians of wrestling’s 1990s boom period, Swann has (like many of the other wrestlers on this list) incorporated a variety of tried and true moves but made them decidedly his own. His five-star frog splash is up there with any of the legends who’ve previously used that move, while his standing 450° splash is something very much of this generation. But with Swann, the devil is really in the details – the myriad ways he’s able to dodge, counter, and bewilder opponents through flips, twists, and turns set him apart from the rest of the pack.
Prior to signing a contract with WWE in late 2014 and making a slew of well received appearances on NXT, Swann had already taken the grappling world by storm. He’s held titles for EVOLVE, Dragon Gate, Full Impact Pro, and U.K. promotion Revolution Pro Wrestling, among others. Now a full fledged member of WWE’s burgeoning Cruiserweight division, Swann is connecting with fans on the big stage, and seems to have a very bright future ahead of him.
3. Will Ospreay
Along with several of his fellow countrymen, Will Ospreay is helping to put the U.K. at the forefront of the pro wrestling landscape. A preternaturally gifted high flyer, Ospreay has earned every bit of his nickname “The Aerial Assassin.” Back in May of this year, he made the world take notice by defeating Ricochet in New Japan’s 2016 Best of the Super Juniors tournament – a match that raised the already extremely high bar for the annual competition. He went on to win the tournament at the age of 23, making him the youngest Best of the Super Juniors in the event’s nearly three decade history.
Ospreay continues to attract attention in the U.K., U.S., and Japan. He came in at #16 on the 2016 PWI 500 – the annual list by Pro Wrestling Illustrated of the top 500 wrestlers in the world – despite not winning a championship in a major promotion. His stellar in-ring performances, aided by a blatant disregard for the effects of gravity, have done a great deal to enhance not just Ospreay’s own reputation, but that of British wrestling as a whole.
The man formerly known as Pac, and now known to WWE fans as Neville, has been drawing looks of disbelief from audiences for more than a decade now. And, despite missing four months of action earlier this year due to an injury, he shows very few signs of slowing down. Despite having a much smaller stature than WWE scouts have traditionally sought out, Neville made a pretty persuasive case for himself through his amazing in-ring performances in the U.K., Japan’s Dragon Gate, its American cousin Dragon Gate USA. Once he began making appearances on NXT, it was clear the company had something special on its hands.
Neville is sometimes referred to as “The Man That Gravity Forgot,” and with good reason. Just take a look as his effortless hurricanranas, breathtaking moonsaults, and of course his signature finishing move, the Red Arrow. But the former NXT champion isn’t just fun to watch. Indeed, he’s arguably played a major role in clearing the way for a new kind of WWE wrestler – not just high flyers, but cruiserweights of all styles and stripes.
He’s already been mentioned several times on this list, due to his work with some of the world’s greatest aerial artists, but there really can’t be too much said about Ricochet. The winner of PWG’s 2014 Battle of Los Angeles tournament, three time winner of the Wrestling Observer’s Best Flying Wrestler award, and the #15 ranked talent in the 2016 PWI 500, Ricochet has shocked and awed fans and critics alike with his speed, agility, and charisma.
Apart from winning a bevy of championships in promotions like New Japan and Dragon Gate (both the Japanese and American organizations), Ricochet has connected with a national television audience as two-time Lucha Underground champion Prince Puma. His signature 630° senton splash never fails to draw gasps from live crowds, and his double slip moonsault simply has to be seen to believe. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a future where Ricochet doesn’t become one of the biggest stars in the wrestling business.