The hiring policy of World Wrestling Entertainment has changed somewhat in recent years. In days gone by performers who had made a name for themselves in promotions outside of WWE had practically made themselves unemployable in the process, as the myth prevailed that Vince McMahon was only interested in stars that his company could create. Men such as AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Homicide and Low Ki were consistently passed over in favour of the John Heidenreich's and Sylvan Grenier's of this world.
The good news for hard-working independent wrestlers worldwide is that times have most certainly changed. The last couple have years have seen wrestlers like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode and a whole lot more get signed by WWE despite being stars in their own right. Independent success is no longer an obstacle to making it to WWE.
Despite this, there are some wrestlers out there who are better off staying away from the corporate machine that is WWE. Vince McMahon-land is no longer the only option for a wrestler trying to make ends meet, as the wrestling industry is as healthy as it has ever been, and there is success to be attained all over the world. Here are 15 wrestlers that will benefit from staying away from WWE.
15 Brian Cage
On first glance it may seem as though Brian Cage is the perfect WWE superstar. The 6ft, 250 lb. machine from California has arguably the best physique outside the WWE today, a man seemingly chiselled out of stone with muscles in places most people don’t have places. Cage also happens to be terrifyingly athletic, capable of performing moves a man of his bulk has no place even attempting.
It all looks like a true can’t-miss deal on paper, but Cage need only look at the issues faced by Apollo Crews over the last 12 months. The man formerly known as Uhaa Nation is from the same school as Cage, a musclebound giant capable of incredible feats of athleticism, and whilst he seems like the WWE’s wet dream the company has done a terrible job of booking him. The creative team has basically pushed Crews in front of the audience and assumed his obvious skills would be enough to get him over. They assumed wrong.
Brian Cage should be wary of this same treatment and stick to his Mexican commitments, where he is treated like the star he is.
14 Michael Elgin
Speaking of big men capable of impressive athleticism, Michael Elgin is another who would be wise to stay clear of WWE. Just a few short years ago the Canadian was one of the most talked-about names outside of WWE, on course with an ROH World Championship and a career-making reign. Everything went a little sour for Elgin soon after however, questionable comments combining with a lack of commitment leading to many saying his days in wrestling were done.
He may be injured as of writing, but Michael Elgin’s career has come full circle over the past 12 months. Big Mike went from being a hot product to an afterthought and all the way back again, on the back of some incredible performances in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Elgin and New Japan have been a match made in heaven, and Big Mike’s matches with Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito and EVIL this year are further proof for that pudding. He’d be mad to consider moving.
13 Colt Cabana
Colt Cabana has already had one ill-fated run with WWE, why would he bother going back for a second shot? Colt is a truly legendary figure on the independent wrestling scene, and if there was an indy wrestling Hall of Fame the Chicago native would be a first ballot choice. Cabana also hosts the ‘Art of Wrestling’ podcast, a talkshow so successful that if Colt were to hang up his boots this weekend he would more than likely be just fine.
There’s also the small matter of Cabana’s continued legal tangles with WWE. Cabana is the co-defendant in a lawsuit filed by WWE physician Christopher Amann over comments made by CM Punk on the Straight Edge Superstar’s infamous Art of Wrestling appearance back in 2014. Cabana wrestling for WWE at this point is beyond unlikely, and if he were to return the smart money would be on a reprised Scotty Goldman and more jobbing for Colt.
12 Tomohiro Ishii
If you aren’t a keen follower of Japanese wrestling, Tomohiro Ishii may well be the best professional wrestler in the world that you have never heard of. The 40-year-old Stone Pitbull has been New Japan Pro Wrestling’s most consistent performer over the past few years, putting on Dave Meltzer-rated five star matches with Kazuchika Okada, Katsuyori Shibata and Tomoaki Honma. His style of wrestling isn’t for everyone, but you’ll struggle to find a performer with a better grasp on what they bring to the table.
It is that style that pretty much guarantees that Ishii and WWE would be a terrible mix. Ishii matches aren’t for the faint of heart, bruising battles that see two men beat the ever-loving tar out of each other until one man can no longer get up. WWE is unlikely to make a move for the 40-year-old anyway, but Ishii would almost certainly be watered down by the decision-makers in Connecticut.
11 Katsuyori Shibata
Sticking with New Japan Pro Wrestling, it is becoming more and more apparent that Katsuyori Shibata’s days in the doghouse are over and main event superstardom awaits. For years now New Japan fans have clamoured for Shibata to get a serious headline push, and after much stopping and starting it looks as though 2017 may very well be the year those fans get what they want. Shibata recently regained the NEVER Openweight Championship from EVIL, and a marquee title defence at Wrestle Kingdom awaits.
If you’ve seen a Katsuyori Shibata match then you know full well why he should stay away from WWE. Shibata matches are stiffer than a mountain corpse, full of strikes that practically shudder through the screen. Whilst imagining Shibata going full-bore against someone like The Miz is quite fun, it simply would not be allowed to happen. Shibata would be toned down, and Shibata would lose what makes him so wonderful.
10 Zack Sabre Jr.
At the beginning of the year WWE announced its first Cruiserweight Classic tournament, and from that moment on many people began to fantasy book it as a means to get Zack Sabre Jr. into the company. Zack was indeed a participant in the competition, but would eventually fall in the semi-finals to losing finalist Gran Metalik, a decision made due to Sabre’s unwillingness to sign a full-time WWE contract. Zack hasn’t been seen in a WWE ring since.
Zack Sabre Jr.’s performances in the Cruiserweight Classic were exactly what one would expect from the man, but they failed to get over as much as hoped with the Full Sail crowd. Zack is a technical wizard inside the ring but his ability is centred on that prowess as opposed to intangible charisma and presence. It is immensely difficult to be successful in WWE without those intangibles, and whilst Sabre Jr. may well have them they are not the things that make fans love the Brit on the independence scene.
9 The Briscoe Brothers
For years and years, Jay and Mark Briscoe have been rumoured to be on their way to WWE. Such a move would make a whole lot of sense, as there is little left for them to accomplish outside of the major league. The brothers from Delaware are eight-time ROH World Tag Team Champions, and have also won gold in NJPW, CZW, Pro Wrestling Noah and many other places. In truth, the only places left for them to go are WWE or TNA.
WWE has certainly picked up its game when it comes to tag team wrestling in the past 12 months, and there are plenty of dream matches waiting for Dem Boys there. Many fans would pay good money to see The Briscoes go up against American Alpha, The Club or The New Day, but the truth is those same fans wouldn’t be seeing the Briscoe Brothers that they know and love. The reckless rednecks would be watered down to the point of being unrecognizable, and that would spell doom for them both.
8 Kyle O'Reilly
Kyle O’Reilly is another that seems destined for NXT and WWE sooner rather than later, but more so than most he is the type of performer that could well become one of the biggest stars outside of the clutches of Vince McMahon. Simply put, Kyle O’Reilly’s ceiling is much higher outside WWE than it is within it. Despite the changes in outlook over the last few years it is still rare for someone under 6ft tall to get a fair crack of the whip in the company, no matter how good they are between the ropes.
The revamped Cruiserweight Division may well be exciting for fans, but the truth is that it is creating a limit to what certain talents are now capable of within WWE. Kyle O’Reilly would almost certainly be shunted into this group, with the purple championship the best he could aim for. Outside of WWE he is already a former PWG World Champion and ROH Champion-in-waiting, and 2016 has seen him move up to the heavyweight division in NJPW. There is no ceiling for KOR outside of WWE.
7 Chris Hero
Another who had a short stint in WWE that didn’t quite work out, Chris Hero has arguably been one of the top three professional wrestlers in the entire world over the last couple of years. You would be hard-pressed to find a performer more versatile or more consistent than the former Kassius Ohno, who has proved that he can have world-class matches against technical wizards, stiff brawlers, lucha flyers and all the rest.
The internet is full of judgmental comments about Chris Hero and his weight, but the truth is that as long as he continues putting in the performances we now expect from him then his body style matters not one jot. The problem there is that such things still do matter in WWE, and it is unlikely that Hero would fare any better now than he did a couple of years back. Chris Hero needs to continue as the king of the indies.
6 Pentagon Jr.
Lucha Underground has been a breath of fresh air in the professional wrestling world since its arrival in late 2014. The show has catapulted a number of names into the pro wrestling stratosphere, and none more so than a miffed ninja skeleton that loves nothing more than breaking arms. Pentagon Jr. is that man of course, and he has been the most popular Lucha Underground performer from pretty much the very beginning of the show.
Would Pentagon Jr. be a success in WWE? It is difficult to doubt, as the man has a presence that seems to transcend that of his lucha brethren. But those baying for Pentagon to be let loose in WWE are forgetting that Pentagon simply wouldn’t be allowed to be let loose in WWE. WWE is a family-orientated product after all, an angry ninja skeleton breaking arms and piledriving people into fire just isn’t going to happen.
5 Will Ospreay
Will Ospreay has had an incredible year. The young Brit has become one of the hottest properties in professional wrestling, wowing crowds in the UK, the United States and especially over in Japan where he won the 2016 Best of the Super Juniors. The Aerial Assassin is still only 23 years old, and 2017 may well end up being an even bigger year for Ospreay than 2016.
On the less positive side rumours continually swirl around regarding Ospreay and his body, how his style of wrestling is almost certainly going to lead to burnout. Combining this style with the WWE schedule would be borderline insanity, and whilst he would be in the hands of the best medical team in wrestling the extra travel and wear and tear would eventually be too much. Ospreay would be best served staying away from WWE for a few more years, putting together a truly iconic body of work and guaranteeing himself a stronger spot for his eventual rise to superstardom.
4 The Young Bucks
The Young Bucks are the number one tag team in the professional wrestling world today. The brothers Jackson have piled up the championship belts over the past few years, accumulating titles quicker than they’ve sold t-shirts and boy have they sold t-shirts. Matt and Nick Jackson have become a brand, a bigger entity than merely an incredibly talented tag team. The Young Bucks brand is as much to do with what happens outside the ring as it does what goes on inside the ropes.
How much of that brand would be compromised by joining WWE? Well, all of it one would presume. The Young Bucks have worked immensely hard over the last few years to establish themselves, and jumping to WWE at this point would almost constitute an abandonment of that hard work. Sure, many fans would love see the Bucks take on American Alpha, The Revival and others, but the duo are a vital drawing tool outside of WWE. There is simply no need for them to head to WWE.
3 Kazuchika Okada
The list of wrestlers than TNA dropped the ball with is as long as the day, and there is no more glaring example of this than their treatment of Kazuchika Okada. Since returning to NJPW in 2011 Okada has made TNA look very silly indeed by becoming the heir to Hiroshi Tanahashi’s throne, replacing the Once in a Century Talent as the Ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
The current IWGP Heavyweight Champion has said himself that he has no intention of signing with WWE in the near future, and rightly so. Okada is still just 29 years of age, and is about to headline his third Wrestle Kingdom event in a row. New Japan has made him a star, and if handled correctly there is no reason Okada can’t continue being the number one guy in Japan for another decade. Shinsuke Nakamura has been a success so far in NXT, but would Okada really want to give up headlining the Tokyo Dome in favour of squashing Buddy Murphy on TV?
Of all the names on this list, Ricochet is the one most likely to end up in WWE in the near future. The man known as Prince Puma on Lucha Underground has consistently hinted at making the jump on social media, and if betting websites took bets on such things you wouldn’t be getting very interesting odds. The 28-year-old is dating the daughter of a WWE Hall of Famer and lives with current WWE performer Apollo Crews. It all seems like a done deal, right?
But would it be the right deal for Ricochet? He has never truly committed to any one company, taking his freelance position very seriously and working the dates that he wants when he wants to work them. It takes a lot of hard work to get into such a position when freelancing, would Ricochet want to give that up to become another cog in the corporate machine? Not to mention a corporate machine that isn’t doing his housemate justice and has a history of booking high flyers poorly?
1 Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega is on the verge of the biggest moment of his professional wrestling career. On January 4, 2017 he will challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship inside the Tokyo Dome, months removed from becoming the first gaijin winner of the NJPW G1 Climax. The smart money would be on him defeating Okada and rising to the top of the mountain, an incredible achievement for the man who made the decision to remove himself from the WWE system and seek success on the other side of the globe.
Omega may well be on the cusp of something truly special. If he decides to continue in New Japan then he could well end up becoming the most iconic gaijin in the nation’s history. It seems strange to posit, but a move to WWE would be a big risk for Kenny Omega, a risk that could see him lost in the shuffle. Many will retort that cream rises to the top, but very often the powers-that-be in WWE will decide what the cream is.
Kenny Omega would be best off staying away from WWE and continuing along his current path to legendary status in Japan. Much like the other names in this article, WWE’s loss is professional wrestling’s gain.