Some could argue that Seth Rollins is irreplaceable. The “Architect” of The Shield and prodigal son of The Authority, Rollins, 29, is already a staple of WWE television. His loss is ground-shattering to the company moving forward. WWE was already crawling on the floor trying to rebound from the loss of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, and now they’ve lost the new face of their brand.
But wrestling is nothing if it’s not resilient. The business has survived steroid trials, murder-suicides, deaths in the ring, and more. Between the ropes, it’s survived changing styles, cultures, and personalities as well as numerous untimely injuries, such as Rollins’ torn ACL and MCL.
There’s a lot of talent outside the WWE. Some of the names below are familiar to casual wrestling fans, but most of them are not. Still, these are men who, if given the opportunity, could fill the void left by the former Tyler Black. All are champions in their own right, and each would bring a fresh take to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Here are 10 Non-WWE Wrestlers Who Can Replace The Injured Seth Rollins.
10 Jay Briscoe
When Jay Briscoe first showed up in the early days of ROH, he was known as a tag team specialist. With his brother Mark by his side, the Briscoes developed themselves into one of the most memorable teams of their generation. Not satisfied with the perennial Tag Team Champion reigns, Jay Briscoe soon became one of the most dominant ROH World Heavyweight Champions in the promotion's history.
In a streak where Jay went undefeated for two years, he weeded through all of ROH’s greats, past and present. The list of his defeats is impressive, sure, but the way his character developed is what made Jay stand out among the crowded pack. He’s great on the microphone and his character is believable because well, it’s who he is. Add to this a great look and the ability to tell a meaningful story in the ring, Jay Briscoe would be a solid Heavyweight Champion in any promotion.
9 Bobby Roode
Another wrestler who began as a tag specialist, Bobby Roode is as versatile as they come. He could play heel or face, wrestle solo or team, and still maintain credibility. While not as great a talker as Rollins, he’s not terrible either. Roode is a solid workhorse who can make anybody look great in the ring, and that’s what being a champ is all about.
If time tells us anything, it’s that Roode is also a loyal company man. He’s been with TNA through all of their peaks and valleys, through the good times and the bad. He’s not incredibly young, but he could still get the job done for a few solid years. And the recent jump of his former Beer Money teammate James Storm to NXT is hopeful that some of the TNA stink has worn off. Roode, when used properly, could be a believable champion who fans would love to either cheer or boo.
8 Pentagon Jr.
This is the controversial pick. Many people may not even know who Pentagon Jr. is. It’s also doubtful that he speaks English. But with the right manager, maybe Vampiro, Pentagon Jr. could really shine on American television.
On the first season of Lucha Underground, Pentagon Jr. showcased his immense talent of characterization. Everything he did on the screen seemed believable, although it was with a supernatural undertone. His character was frightening, and a completely different style heel than Rollins. But where Pentagon Jr. truly shines is in the ring.
The business is in his blood, as his entire family including his father and brother, have wrestled. His younger brother, Fenix, was equally impressive on Lucha’s first season. But Pentagon Jr. is in a class all his own. As Heavyweight Champion, he could build a character who fans would beg to see his comeuppance.
As a former football player, Moose is an incredible physical specimen. He towers above the ring and most of his opponents in ROH. But unlike other big men, Moose can move in between the ropes. His size doesn’t limit his ability to put on great matches. If anything, Moose’s size helps him to stand out among the pack.
The independent wrestling circuit is full of smaller guys who wouldn’t get a fair shot in WWE. Unlike his peers, however, Moose understands that Ring of Honor is not his ceiling. He could have already jumped to the WWE, but he’s enjoying his time and learning his craft in one of America's most competitive organizations. Moose would be an asset to any company he works for. He’d also make a believable opponent for Brock Lesnar.
6 Kazuchika Okada
“The Rainmaker” is not unfamiliar with wrestling in America. He spent some time in TNA early in his career, after training down in Mexico. While he’s not Shakespeare, Kazuchika Okada can speak English to some degree. This gives him a leg up. Another leg up is his size. Okada is taller than most Japanese wrestlers who’ve come stateside.
But Okada was horribly underutilized in TNA. Since returning to NJPW, the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion developed into one of the top champions in the world. Very few wrestlers alive today can put on matches as good as Okada. Where Okada excels above all else, however, is the character. Every move he does in the ring is a further establishment of his Rainmaker persona. Just imagine him standing at the WrestleMania ramp with Okada dollars “making it rain” in the arena.
5 Ricochet/Prince Puma
Prince Puma was the easy standout from Lucha Underground’s first season. While much of the roster had established themselves in Mexico or other nationally-televised promotions, Puma was a relative newcomer for most. His reign as the company’s first Heavyweight Champion provided a guaranteed level of quality for every championship match.
But Puma did not come from a vacuum. In fact, under the name Ricochet, he has quite a track record in Japan and the Indies. NJPW is arguably the world’s top wrestling promotion after WWE. Ricochet won the promotion’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament in 2014 and just walked away with the 2015 Super Jr. Tag tournament victory on Nov. 7, 2015.
More than a high-flyer, Puma/Ricochet puts on incredibly deep and compelling matches. Consider him somewhere between Finn Balor, Low-Ki, and AJ Styles. Younger than all three, his presence could be felt for years to come. Let’s hope it’s under the bright lights.
4 AJ Styles
If this list was written several years ago, AJ Styles would hold down the number one spot. Sure, he’s never been incredibly talented on the microphone, but “The Phenomenal One” is so good that you can ignore it. Out of all the American wrestlers who’s never had a shot in the WWE, Styles is the most disappointing. Especially considering he’s approaching the twilight of his career.
But time hasn’t worn down Styles very much. He’s continued to perform at his “phenomenal” levels during his ongoing work with NJPW and ROH. Some would even say he’s had the best matches of his career since parting ways with TNA and going to Japan full time. If guys like Samoa Joe can get to NXT, anything is possible. Let’s hope Styles gets the chance before time runs out. One run as WWE World Heavyweight Champion would be enough to cement his legendary career.
3 Shinsuke Nakamura
“The King of Strong Style” is perhaps the most charismatic man on Earth. This is what happens when you fuse Michael Jackson with Eddie Guerrero. Daniel Bryan considers Shinsuke Nakamura the best wrestler on the planet, and many agree. Consider that Nakamura also has the MMA credentials to back up his incredible persona.
While the IWGP Heavyweight Championship is the highest prize in NJPW, in recent years their Intercontinental Championship has shared some of its honor. Due to the prestige that Nakamura brought the belt, the Intercontinental Championship even replaced the IWGP belt as the main event attraction at Wrestle Kingdom a couple years back. Nakamura is the complete package, and very little needs to be said about how much value he could bring to the WWE.
2 Adam Cole
Adam Cole, Baby! Consider that the former one-time ROH World Champion and number 9 on the PWI’s Top 500 List of 2014 is only 26 years old, and you’ll see that Cole’s future is very bright. A lot can be said about parallels that exist between Rollins and Cole. If somebody had to literally fill Rollins’ shoes, Cole is a perfect candidate.
If given the chance, Cole could grab the ball and carry it as far as needed. He’s got all of the components that make a wrestler great: he knows how to tell a story in the ring, he shines on the mic as both a good and bad guy, and he looks like he knows what he’s doing. It’s as if HBK left one of his gloves backstage in a ROH locker room and Cole walked up and slipped it on. Perfect fit.
Rollins was compared to Shawn Michaels just recently on Monday Night Raw. If Prince Pretty doesn’t grab that mantle anytime soon, then it’s lying in wait for Cole to come scoop it up.
1 Jay Lethal
Excuse any Jersey-bias, but Jay Lethal is the best champion in wrestling today. As the current ROH World Heavyweight Championship (up until recently holding the belt concurrently with the World Television Championship), he’s still underrated in the wrestling world. He’s stellar in the ring, but he’s grown into one of the best talkers in the business.
In the TNA, Kevin Nash once insisted that the X-Division stars do more to develop their personality. After a bogus competition, Lethal was rebranded by Nash into “Black Machismo.” This over-the-top parody of “Macho Man” Randy Savage gave Lethal an opportunity to experiment and develop his ability on the mic. Then a storyline where Lethal impersonated Ric Flair to the legend’s face opened the door to a new voice.
If you watch his current promos in Ring of Honor, you find hints of both Savage and Flair in his tone and mannerisms. But Lethal has grown well-beyond his impersonations of past. He’s a unique character who’s got everything a wrestler needs for success. Many an ROH PPV were purchased solely on the back of a promo given by the “Greatest First Generation Wrestler.”
As of the time of this writing, both the WWE and TNA Heavyweight titles are vacated, which means that Lethal is the only active World Champion in America. No man is more deserving.