It has been said that popularity isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. In the case of these 10 wrestlers, popularity for them is slowly growing. Their collective achievements and skill in the ring are only matched by the aspirations to succeed in a very rich profession. For some their recognition is already apparent. Whether it was competing on the independents in North America, competing in Japan, Mexico, Canada or Puerto Rico each of these athletes have spent time developing their craft. To some there isn’t anything you may not already know about them. 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, but some have been competing for over ten years making a name for themselves.
What is fortunate for some of these wrestlers is that they have recently been signed by the WWE and fans will become privy to these names on a regular basis. For these 10 wrestlers, they all have something in common; not that they haven’t been heard of, but rather they haven’t been heard from enough. Over the course of this article, familiarize yourself with these talented men (and one woman) from all over the world. For these selections, fans of popular larger promotions may not have the accessibility to watch them compete. Take a moment and explore this collection of stars and they will show why they may just be wrestling’s best kept secret, but thankfully the secret is out.
10. Candice LeRae
Best known for her work on the North American independent circuit for promotions including PWG and CZW, LeRae is a firecracker in the ring. With an incredible combination of aerial maneuvers and mesmerizing looks, LeRae is tougher than some men. She is one half of the reigning PWG World Tag Team Champions with Joey Ryan, as The World’s Cutest Tag Team.
As a thirteen-year pro, LeRae doesn’t receive the credit she deserves. She has competed against both men and women and through it all became stronger. Her accomplishments over her career include; Alternative Wrestling Show (AWS) Women’s Championship, Dreamwave Wrestling Tag Team Championship (also with Joey Ryan), Family Wrestling Entertainment (FEW) Women’s Championship, and Fighting Spirit Pro Wrestling (FSP) Tag Team Championship. Her rivalries against the likes of Kimber Lee and Cherry Bomb have showcased what women’s wrestling will look like moving into the next decade. At 29 years old, LeRae is capable of stealing the show.
9. Sebastian Suave
Suave’s development and recognition on the independent circuit has grown by leaps and bounds. He was initially trained at Squared Circle under Rob Fuego and received subsequent training from Silver King with the AAA promotion in Mexico, Gran Apache with Star Gym in Mexico and Ikuto Hidaka with Zero-1 in Japan. However, it is his longstanding relationship with Tyson Dux that stands out above all. Since he made his debut in 2006, Suave has faced the likes of former WWE wrestlers such as Paul London, Brian Kendrick and former ROH world tag team champion Chris Hero.
As a prominent part of the Smash Wrestling promotion based out of Toronto, Suave has achieved great success as one half of The Overdogs. The tandem initially consisted of him and Josh Alexander, but then became both he and John Greed. He has also competed for other Canadian independent promotions like C4 Wrestling and Border City Wrestling.
For all of Suave’s accomplishments, they didn’t come without setbacks. He was slated to compete in Mexico, before suffering a torn MCL. Despite this, Suave has earned a name for himself competing during dark matches for such promotions as Ring of Honor, Dragon Gate USA, Chikara and CZW.
He is branching out and truly testing himself with competition from around the world. His technical and strike based combination in the ring has made him a pleasure to watch. He is highly regarded by his peers, and he offers more than simply a quality in ring product. He is also able to develop fluent and effective promos, making him one of the best wrestlers you may have never heard of, but now won’t forget.
8. Biff Busick
He was trained by former WWF wrestlers Lance Storm and Sho Funaki, earning immediate credibility by being associated with two men who have certainly established a name for themselves. While a great deal of information about Busick‘s early career isn’t documented, he has been active on the independent circuit for almost twelve years. Busick first competed for CZW (Combat Zone Wrestling) in the fall of 2012. When he started there, he immediately joined a faction known at the time as The Front. Over the past couple of years he has garnered a great deal of exposure with CZW, competing in several events and tournaments guided by the promotion.
Busick’s following has also developed as he has competed for Evolve as well. When he first appeared at Evolve 23 he won a four-way elimination match which allowed him to advance in that promotion’s Style Battle tournament. Busick has also competed for PWG within the previous year. While he didn’t win in his debut, he did earn a great deal of respect and admiration, facing another independent veteran in former Ring of Honor World Champion Roderick Strong.
His activity on the independent circuit has also earned him notoriety north of the border, as he has become quite successful with the Smash Wrestling promotion, a key member of The Fourth Gunn heel faction in that promotion. The 29-year-old, Busick has certainly made a name for himself in the time that he has been in the wrestling industry. He continues to achieve on the independent circuit and is someone wrestling fans should make every effort to look out for.
7. Matt Cross
Cross’ success hasn’t come overnight. The thirty-four-year-old is a well-seasoned wrestler who has seen a great deal of success on the independent circuit. What is of note as it applies to Cross was that back in 2011 he was part of the cast of the fifth season of the WWE reality program Tough Enough.
Debuting in 1999, Cross was quite open about his appreciation for the ECW promotion as he was an active backyard wrestler at the age of 18. His achievements in the ring are complimented by a tremendous amateur gymnastics career where he won medals in both the rings and vaults for the Junior Olympic Games.
Cross’ career has been an evolution. He initially competed under the M-Dogg 20 moniker and now competes under two separate personalities. While competing on the independent circuit, he is Matt Cross. However, when he performs for the television program/promotion Lucha Underground he competes under a mask and is known as Son of Havoc. It was said that his character reflected the straight edge lifestyle and culture that CM Punk also advocated as part of his character for a period of time.
Cross has travelled all over the world, and has earned great success competing for such notable independent promotions as Combat Zone Wrestling. Despite not winning the promotion’s title, he was an active participant whose matches within the company would not be forgotten. Cross has also seen success as part of Ring of Honor promotion. While he may have not captured any titles while he was there, he has competed against notable Ring of Honor alumni Austin Aries and Davey Richards. If a chance to see Cross compete for a local independent promotion is available, don’t hesitate to see him, you won’t be disappointed.
6. Drew Gulak
Gulak is remarkable in that he manages to combine an old school look with a new school feel in the ring. He has actively competed for such notable independent promotions as CZW, PWG, Dragon Gate USA, Chikara and Evolve. During his time with CZW, it was a story about two separate careers. In the earlier part of his career, he achieved tag team success with Andy Summer, winning the CZW world tag team championships. Once the team separated, Gulak achieved singles success, capturing the CZW Wired TV championship. His title rein lasted a remarkable 429 days.
Gulak’s character in CZW is that of a political leader/activist, protesting ethical issues regarding violence and the treatment of officials. While this suggests a face-like quality, Gulak’s actions, in a promotion known for over the top violence, made him a heel, especially considering the self-righteousness of his views. This has provided Gulak opportunities to participate in clever angles that allowed his character to develop.
His feud with fellow independent wrestler Nick Gage took a real-life spin. The State of New Jersey made public that it was seeking Nick Gage as a suspect in a bank robbery; he later turned himself in and was sentenced to five years in prison. Gulak spoke about how he felt justified by these turn of events, and went on to mock Gage by aligning himself with Gage’s former manager Dewey Donovan, taking him on as his “Personal Title Belt Transporter” and “Investment Management Specialist.” Clearly the bank robbery and investment management tie-in was very fitting. Very rare that a character is as flushed out on the independent circuit, but in the case of Gulak, his success with the character, along with his ability to have stand out matches, have served to have him stand out among the rest.
5. Johnny Gargano
At 27 years of age, Gargano continues to light the independent wrestling world on fire. His appearances have been on both the grand and small stage. He has competed for such independent promotions as Chikara, and Pro Wrestling Guerilla. Add to that he has competed for major promotions such as Ring of Honor, TNA and even WWE.
The Cleveland, Ohio native began competing as early as the age of 8! He joined the Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling school to develop his skills, and trained under notable wrestlers such as J.T. Lightning and Josh Prohibition.
Early in his career he defined his style of wrestling as being a hybrid of British chain wrestling, Lucha Libre and Puroresu, or what he called “Lucharesu.” While his time in TNA and WWE consisted of tryouts and competing in dark matches, he can still list that experience on his resume, and it has no doubt served him well. His appearances with Chikara have been irregular, but it was at this time that he used social media to stir the proverbial pot within the promotion. After taking part in the 2010 King of Trios tournament, he wrote on his Facebook page that he “liked the team F.I.S.T but believed there was a weak link within the team.” This resulted in members pointing the finger at one another, causing there to be strife amongst the group.
Today, Gargano is an active member of the Evolve and Dragon Gate USA roster. His ability to move throughout North American seamlessly clearly demonstrates the self-proclaimed “Johnny Wrestling” has the ability to adjust to any ring he is competing in.
4. Chuck Taylor
The buzz about Taylor is quickly beginning to grow. He has actively been competing in such independent promotions as Chikara, Evolve, Dragon Gate USA and PWG. Taylor now also competes as part of GFW, which is run and operated by Jeff Jarrett. Taylor first began training at the age of 15, and began competing with Chikara, becoming a part of The Kings of Wrestling team. Although young in age, Taylor is not new to his profession. Taylor has defeated the likes of current independent and mainstream stars Neville and Ricochet. He has also competed actively with Chikara, achieving championship success and being given opportunities to win championships such as the Chikara Grand Championship.
While he was in PWG, Taylor defeated the likes of El Generico, which was one of the more storied rivalries of his career. He also competed as one half of a tag team with Trent Barretta against The Young Bucks for the PWG World Tag Team Championships. Despite not winning the championship, he has earned notoriety around the world. Taylor competed in Gabe Sapolsky’s Evolve Wrestling’s first show, gaining a place on the roster. As part of a tag team with Johnny Gargano, Taylor captured the first ever Open the United Gate Champions as part of Dragon Gate USA. This young and charismatic talent has certainly earned a name for himself. He now competes on a much grander scale as part of Global Force Wrestling’s roster once again working alongside former tag team partner Trent Baretta.
3. Rich Swann
Swann had wrestling aspirations as early as the age of 14. His desire to pursue wrestling as a career came with a great deal of tragedy early in his life, but his perseverance with the aid of family has helped make Swann the wrestler he is today. After training for three years, Swann debuted in the ring in 2008.
Swann has competed for Dragon Gate, Dragon Gate USA, Chikara, CZW and PWG. In the past he has incorporated the importance of money into his character, such as calling himself Rich Money and being billed from Moneyville. This was intended to be emblematic of his confidence in himself early in his career.
He began to really cut his teeth early on facing other notable independent stars in Combat Zone Wrestling. Over the span of about five years, Swann achieved a great deal of success, primarily as a tag team wrestler. He teamed with Ryan McBride and formed the “Irish Driveby” a clever name based on their characters. His time in CZW was spotted with prolonged absences early on. It had been reported that he was spending a great deal of time in Japan, and his time with Dragon Gate while also working with CZW reflects that.
His time with both Dragon Gate and Dragon Gate USA continues today, where he has captured both singles and tag team championships. Swann has also been a part of a couple of stables during his time in Dragon Gate. His first being that of Ronin, while alongside Chuck Taylor and Johnny Gargano, and then the faction Junction Three. Swann continues to travel North America and Japan working to improve himself both inside the ring and on the mic.
2. Trent Baretta
Baretta is among the most highly regarded wrestlers in the world. His time in the ring has seen him compete in promotions such as the WWE, TNA, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor and Global Force Wrestling. Despite competing for all these promotions, Baretta still doesn’t receive the recognition by fans that he deserves. Several wrestlers have sung his praises, and his time competing all over the world has allowed for continued growth and development. Baretta is one half of the tag team Roppongi Vice, alongside ring veteran and tag team specialist Rocky Romero. During their time in the ring together, Baretta and Romero have captured the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team championship.
Baretta initially was part of the WWE’s developmental promotion FCW. Despite being a solid singles wrestler, Baretta has seemed to thrive as part of a tag team. He was booked as one half of the tag team The Dude Busters. It was during this time that he and partner Caylen Croft would capture the FCW Tag Team Championships. In fact, a great deal of Baretta’s career early on was spent with the WWE and their developmental system. His career accomplishments and match ups during this time saw him feud with notable WWE wrestlers such as Curtis Axel, Goldust and Tyson Kidd. But it wasn’t until his time with the promotion was completed that he achieved greater success competing for different promotions. In TNA, Baretta earned acclaim as he competed in a tournament to determine a new X Division champion. Although unsuccessful capturing the title, Baretta has proven that success will follow him wherever he lands.
1. Marty Scurll
Much like his tag team partner Zack Sabre Jr., Scurll is well travelled throughout the United Kingdom. He is skilled well beyond his years. Scrull has had a role in the development of a number of wrestlers, most notably Sabre Jr. He actively competes in UK promotions Frontier Wrestling Alliance, All Star Wrestling and International Pro Wrestling. He is one half of the popular tag team Leaders of the New School alongside Sabre. He has faced talent from Japan and the United Kingdom, including former TNA champion and current GFW champion Nick Aldis. One of Scrull’s career highlights was facing English wrestling star Doug Williams. Scrull and Sabre Jr. captured the IPW:UK tag team championship in the fall of 2009; in what was considered a match of the year type confrontation against then champions The Thrillers, each team gave it their all.
Scrull has also captured the British Cruiserweight Championship defeating Sami Callihan, who now competes as Solomon Crowe in NXT. He has pursued championships with PROGRESS wrestling promotion and captured the British Heavyweight Championship for another English promotion, defending the championship against a who‘s who of talent such as Shelton Benjamin, Davey Richards, Rocky Romero, Kevin Steen (Owens) and Ricochet. Audiences in North America may be familiar with Scurll’s time with TNA as he competed in the promotion’s British Boot Camp. It would be great for fans in North America to see what he can do on a regular basis, and just why he is one of the best wrestlers you probably didn’t know about.