It is, excuse the pun, a new day in World Wrestling Entertainment as of the spring of 2016. The WWE has gone out of the way to bring in talents and performers who have, in the past, been ignored by the company. AJ Styles, who made his name working in companies such as Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and Ring of Honor, is going to be part of WrestleMania 32. Shinsuke Nakamura will make his official debut working for the WWE when he faces off with Sami Zayn at the NXT Takeover: Dallas show. Austin Aries is also scheduled to wrestle at the NXT Takeover event that may end up being better than WrestleMania when all is said and done.
Such signings, along with the acquisitions of Kevin Owens, Zayn, Samoa Joe and others seem to indicate that the WWE is as interested in the independent scene as the company has been since the 1990s and the days of the “Attitude Era.” Raiding New Japan Pro Wrestling for talents such as Styles, Nakamura, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and others is a solid start for the WWE, but the company could complete several other noteworthy transactions before the end of 2016. Such proposed deals could help build up the main WWE roster, and they could also allow NXT to turn into a true touring brand on its own.
10. Jay Lethal
It has long been rumored that at least some within the WWE have shown interest in acquiring the services of Jay Lethal, who is serving as the ROH Champion as of the posting of this piece. Lethal is in his wrestling prime in that he is a veteran of the business who is still physically able to pull off tremendous spots and tell intriguing stories in the ring. We read and heard about the WWE invading NJPW and grabbing four big stars from that company. ROH is, logically speaking, next on the list, and starting with Lethal makes all kinds of sense for the WWE.
We can see some of you out there rolling your eyes at this one. Our response to those reactions is simple: Is there any way those of you who have seen the two men in action can say that Moose would not be as good as Mojo Rawley, if not better? Both have football backgrounds. Moose is already used to working a different character than that of a guy who is “hyped,” which would already be an improvement for the NXT brand. It is possible, of course, that Moose would never make it on the main roster. If one is to believe older rumors that the WWE was scouting Moose, he could make for a smart signing in 2016.
This is a signing that apparently almost happened in 2015 if rumors are, in fact, accurate. Reports in December of last year claimed that Angelico, who works in Lucha Underground and AAA, and also Jack Evans were both approached by the WWE. One would have to assume that both were offered gigs with NXT. NXT is seemingly on the verge of losing multiple stars such as Sami Zayn, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe at some point between the start of spring and the beginning of fall. A signing such as Angelico could help bolster that brand, but only if the WWE makes him a solid financial offer.
7. Will Ospreay
The first thought one may have upon seeing the name of Will Ospreay on this list could be that Ospreay would need to bulk up and add some muscle before he was given a contract by the WWE. All would do well to remember that Ospreay is, when compared with others who are working in the WWE, still in the infancy of his career. A great athlete who is in his early 20s, Ospreay could, if given the proper training and time, develop into a top star for NXT and maybe even on the WWE main roster. The WWE should not, after all, look for only established stars to sign in 2016.
6. Prince Puma
The man who goes by Prince Puma in Lucha Underground is better known as Ricochet on the independent scene. It was reported in the spring of 2014 that Ricochet had actually received a tryout at the WWE Performance Center, but he was not signed for a variety of reasons. It is not a stretch to suggest that Ricochet is not just some high-flyer who can only performer aerial moves. Ricochet/Prince Puma is a talented worker, one who would make NXT better. The concern would be that Ricochet would become just a guy once he was called up to the WWE main roster, but that bridge could be crossed at a later time.
The argument could be made that Ivelisse should already be a member of the WWE roster as of the spring of 2016. Ivelisse previously had a working relationship with the WWE, but she and the company parted ways in 2012 before Ivelisse began working on the independent scene and later for companies such as TNA Wrestling and Lucha Underground. The assumption has been made that Ivelisse was one of several workers who were allegedly mistreated by former trainer Bill DeMott. DeMott left the company in March 2015 after he was accused of misconduct, harassment and bullying. We’d like to see Ivelisse have another chance in the WWE.
4. Brian Cage
Did the WWE miss out on Brian Cage? Maybe, but that wrong can be righted before the end of 2016. Cage, who has the bodybuilder physique that is supposedly coveted by some who work for the WWE, was released by the company back in September 2009, but Cage has since gone on to find his feet working for Lucha Underground and in AAA. It seems, because of what has happened during WrestleMania season, that the WWE is on the verge of giving Ryback yet another push. Ryback has only been so much in the company in the past, and Cage could, all things considered, be a better option.
3. Taya Valkyrie
Taya Valkyrie has a resume that should interest WWE scouts. Valkyrie has a great look that could help make her a star in NXT and also on the main WWE roster. She was trained by former WWE wrestler Lance Storm. Storm still has a positive relationship with the WWE, and several of his students have impressed and been signed by the WWE. Valkyrie has shown that she can hang in AAA, and she has also been featured on Lucha Underground. The NXT women’s division is going to need an influx of talent in 2016. Valkyrie could be a shot in the arm for that portion of the brand.
2. Young Bucks
It seems as if it is a matter of “when” and not “if” we will be seeing the Young Bucks in NXT if not on WWE programming in 2016. Finn Balor, AJ Styles, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson are all signed by the WWE, and the WWE continues to tease that the company is going to push its version of “Bullet Club” or “Balor Club.” The Young Bucks have shown that they can get over just about anywhere they work. SI.com did a feature on that tag team in March 2016, and the Bucks made it clear during that interview that they still have eyes on the WWE. Bring the Bucks home where they belong, WWE.
1. Kenny Omega
There are so many directions that the WWE could go if the company chose to sign the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega before 2016. The company could keep the trio together as “The Elite.” There could be one large faction, or we could see a Balor Club versus Bullet Club feud. News of Styles, Nakamura, Gallows and Anderson joining the WWE understandably excited fans, but there is something missing without the Young Bucks and Omega being included. We can all hope that it is just a matter of time before we are seeing Omega and the Bucks working underneath the WWE umbrella.