It has been said that popularity isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. For these 10 wrestlers, popularity is slowly growing. We previously identified who could be considered the best wrestlers that weren’t well known, and now we’ve identified this next group of wrestlers. For some, recognition is already apparent, whether from competing on the independents in North America and the United Kingdom, to stealing the show in Japan. Each of these athletes have spent time developing their craft, some developing it for so long, that it’s a shame they haven’t received enough acclaim in North America.
For others, it is an introduction into the careers of wrestlers who have yet to appear on a global scale, but are on the verge of breaking through that ceiling. They are far from overnight sensations, as some have been competing for over a decade.
What is fortunate for some of these wrestlers is that they will be competing in the WWE’s Cruiserweight Global Series on the WWE Network. However, these 10 all have something in common: not that they haven’t been heard of, but rather they haven’t been heard about enough. Over the course of this article, familiarize yourself with these talented men from all over the world. You may not have the accessibility to watch them compete, but take a moment and allow yourself to explore this collection of stars and they will show why they may just be wrestling’s best kept secret. Thankfully, the secret is out.
10. Naomichi Marufuji
While wrestling fans know that Triple H competes on occasion while holding the on-screen role of the Chief Operating Officer, Marufuji manages to go one step further. Marufuji is the only person on this list that was appointed the Vice President of a promotion while being an active competitor, holding that role with the Pro Wrestling Noah promotion in Japan. He is not only the current Vice President, but a former three-time GHC Heavyweight champion. While his achievements in Japan alone should be recognized, he didn’t rest on his laurels, and as part of a cross promotional exchange challenged then ROH World Champion Bryan Danielson, and competed against the likes of Samoa Joe and Nigel McGuinness during his time in North America. Marifuji is a talent that wrestling fans in North America should make an effort to seek out.
If you haven’t heard the name Tariq Ghani, then you are truly missing out. A former trainee of Squared Circle in Toronto and Lance Storm’s Storm Wrestling Academy in Calgary, Tariq is one of the best kept secrets on the independent wrestling circuit. His career began in October 2009, and he hasn’t looked back. He can be seen competing for Ontario based promotions such as Smash Wrestling, Destiny Wrestling, Superkick’d and C*4. Tariq has faced some of the best of the best, including current ROH stars Michael Elgin, Roderick Strong and Moose, and former ROH and NXT star Chris Hero. His success is also in the company he keeps; he was part of the notorious Fourth Gunn faction with current NXT stars Johnny Gargano and Biff Busick, and is part of All Black Everything with Jade Chung. He has captured titles with several promotions, using a striking style.
8. “Speedball” Mike Bailey
Ottawa, Ontario native Mike Bailey has competed under a number of different monikers in his 10 years in the wrestling business. He uses an incredible array of kicks and punches to get the audience’s attention, and his high flying and technical striking style has seen him compete all over North America. He is described as a “natural talent…that doesn’t necessarily look like a wrestler.” During his time in PWG, EVOLVE and other indies in the US, he certainly garnered a reaction from the audience. He captured titles in the C*4 wrestling promotion, including becoming one half of the C*4 tag team champions with Kevin Steen, who wrestling fans will know as Kevin Owens. Bailey is armed with an incredible set of moves including his shooting star knee drop finisher. The future continues to look bright for this up and coming Canadian wrestler.
7. Mikey Whiplash
Born in the Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, England, and currently residing in Glasgow, Scotland, Whiplash is among the most popular and successful wrestlers in the United Kingdom. Whiplash’s dedication and commitment to wrestling isn’t just relegated to what he has been able to do for promotions such as All Star Wrestling and Progress Wrestling – he has taken on the role of owner and promoter of an all-female promotion, as he owns and operates Fierce Females. He’s been wrestling for over 15 years, and while many haven’t seen his contributions it doesn’t mean they aren’t notable. While it may be a shame that he has competed primarily in the UK, that doesn’t mean his in ring accomplishments are any the less noteworthy. Whiplash is just as dedicated to making those around him just as good in the ring as he is, regardless of his role.
6. Ethan Page
Page’s and ascent in the independent ranks is staggering. Self-trained, but finely tuned by Michael Elgin, Page has been competing for 10 years, earning #AllEgo a huge following in the Southern Ontario area and beyond. One of his greatest qualities has been his ability to talk, and it only adds to his overall appeal. He has faced some of the biggest names in the wrestling industry and learned from each and every one of them. Whether it was while facing Cesaro, Kevin Owens or Luke Harper, Page has earned his stripes on the independent scene. He has captured several championships during his time in the ring. As part of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Page captured one half of their tag team championship, and is a former Alpha Male champion as part of the Alpha-1 Wrestling promotion. There is no telling what Page will achieve at this rate.
5. Jimmy Havoc
Havoc is currently cutting his teeth competing in the United Kingdom for the likes of NWA UK Hammerlock, and previously Progress Wrestling. He trained alongside the likes of Prince Devitt and Zack Sabre Jr. He first earned notoriety with Progress as fans gravitated towards him while he was a face. What is remarkable about Havoc is that he was the longest reigning Progress Wrestling champion, holding the title for an astounding 609 days. It was a title reign that was more than any previous Progress champion’s reigns combined. He recently appeared in TNA, with his sights set on Rosemary of The Decay faction. He competed on a few occasions with TNA, and one hopes that he will be able carry on with the promotion in North America. He resembles a punk rocker with hair and style resembling that of punk band The Misfits.
4. Tommy End
Earning notoriety all over the world, particularly the United Kingdom, this Dutch wrestler is a true stand out to keep an eye on. At 31 years of age, it appears this popular Progress Wrestling competitor only continues to get better. He has competed for several notable promotions including Revolution Pro Wrestling, Chikara, Combat Zone Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. He has an extensive background in multiple disciplines of the martial arts including kickboxing, and has stated that kickboxing is the biggest influence on his style. End has held championships for several promotions and yet is still considered relatively unknown. He is not only a student of the sport, but a teacher as well as he shares his kickboxing knowledge with those around him. We can safely say, if you’ve seen his work and what he can do, he’s arguably the best kept secret in the industry.
3. Kota Ibushi
One of the brightest young stars in Japan is none other than Ibushi. A stalwart in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ibushi captured the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, and was one half of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champions with Kenny Omega. At 34 years of age, Ibushi is just starting to blossom. Ibushi has faced some of the greatest wrestlers in the world including El Generico, Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura and Prince Devitt, who now competes as Finn Balor on the WWE’s NXT brand. He’s one of the best kept secrets in Japan, but that doesn’t mean word isn’t beginning to get around about this talented young star. His high-flying aerial assault is remarkable to see, and something North American wrestling fans may want to look at if the opportunity presents itself.
2. Zack Sabre Jr.
Sabre Jr. may not be well-known to mainstream fans in North America, but he has created quite a name for himself in the United Kingdom. A product of the NWA-UK Hammerlock promotion, he first began to train at the age of 14. As technically sound as anyone, Sabre Jr. uses an array of wrestling holds and strikes. Only 28 years of age, he is having success in North America as well. He first began training in 2004 and appears to be getting better as time goes on. He is currently the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla champion, and is a multi-time tag team champion both in Japan and the United Kingdom. He has faced everyone from El Generico (who many claim now competes as Sami Zayn,) and Jimmy Havoc to Finn Balor and Daniel Bryan. Fans are encouraged to check out his work at their earliest opportunity.
1. Will Ospreay
Ospreay’s growth and development over the past few years had been remarkable. Whether competing for Progress Wrestling, Revolution Pro Wrestling or NWA: UK Hammerlock, in singles or tag action, his work is undeniable. A number of today’s wrestlers will often point to the level of competition in the UK as being something to look out for. He has met a number of other talented wrestlers on the independent scene, including Ricochet and Rich Swann, along with the late Kris Travis. Ospreay has also had incredibly competitive matches against the likes of Zack Sabre Jr and current WWE superstar Apollo Crews. Ospreay has recently earned a great deal of notoriety for his match up against Ricochet as part of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament.