Great wrestlers are athletes that have achieved success in various wrestling promotions. While wrestling promotions may book certain gimmicks or characters to get over, it is the true intrinsic skill of the athlete that stands out. Their merit in the ring isn’t necessarily measured in wins and losses, but rather recognition by their peers, fans and promoters. For a number of wrestlers, it is not the championships they’ve won that captures the attention of the audience. A wrestler’s greatness is defined by the connection they make with the fan and how that connection grows into an appreciation and respect for what the fan has just seen.
For the athletes on this list, their success is remarkable considering their age. The cliché term that age is just a number proves to be true when considering that a number of wrestlers have achieved greatness under the age of 30. For most wrestlers in their twenties, they are still trying to find who they are and what they will become. But not in these examples. For these performers, their greatness has been achieved by competing all over the world, in various promotions.
For a number of these stars, they have been training in their field since they were thirteen years old. Some of these young men and women are ten-year-plus veterans that have seen success and failure. They have had huge triumphs and crushing defeats. They overcame failures and perceived shortcomings early in their careers. These athletes have gone from being considered good to becoming great and all the while not even hitting the age of thirty.
20. Kimber Lee
At only 25 years of age, Kimber Lee has set the independent world ablaze with her high flying and contemporary skill set in the ring. Debuting in 2011, Lee has achieved great success throughout North America. Her accomplishments include; Delaware Championship Wrestling (DCW) Tag Team Champion, Shine Wrestling Tag Team Champion and one-half of the Women Superstars Uncensored (WSU) Tag Team champions.
She has been trained by independent wrestler Drew Gulak, whom she regularly tags alongside. Her ability to receive incredible amounts of punishment and demonstrate tremendous heart and perseverance cannot go unnoticed. She actively competes as part of CZW and has had long standing rivalries with other females on the circuit, including Candace LaRae. Her versatility in the ring, both in singles and in mixed tag, show her ability to develop and improve. Only in her mid-twenties, Lee’s development will no doubt continue. It will be just be a matter of time before PWI’s 28th best female singles wrestler, 2014, rises further up the rankings.
The most underrated twenty-something on our list is Great Sanada. As an eight-year pro, Sanada has been trained by the best. Osamu Nishimura, Kohei Suwama, Kaz Hayashi and “The Great” Keiji Mutoh are among the wrestlers that have shown Sanada how to handle himself in the ring. He is best known for his work in All Japan Pro Wrestling, where he was the first Gaora TV Champion, a two-time All Asia Tag Team Champion, and a one-time World Tag Team Champion. Sanada is currently competing between two different promotions: Wrestle-1 in Japan and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) in the U.S.
During his time in TNA, Sanada (or The Great Sanada) is a one-time TNA X Division Champion. He is armed with a traditional Japanese strong style set of moves that allows for great mobility in and around the ring. At 27 years of age, he is a prominent competitor, battling the likes of Manik and Tigre, with whom he can demonstrate how talented he is against styles that are different from his own.
18. Sasha Banks
WWE fans are no stranger to this budding female wrestling star. As chants of “We want Sasha” fills arenas, Banks’ growing fame has unquestionably made her the talk of the Divas division in the WWE. Despite some thinking she was an overnight success, Banks’ career has actually seen her actively compete on the independent circuit in the earlier part of her career. She began to develop while competing for the Chaotic Wrestling promotion, where she also began to train. It was during this time that she began to develop feuds, build character and win championships, including the Chaotic Wrestling Women’s championship. In fact, she was the longest reigning women’s champion there, holding the title for an astounding 260 days, and left the promotion while still champion. The title was declared vacant after leaving the promotion.
When she joined the WWE’s NXT promotion, Banks was initially built as a face, but her character certainly evolved. The learning curve in NXT allowed Banks the proper time to grow and develop. Alongside Summer Rae, Banks turned heel and formed the BFF’s (Beautiful Fierce Females). Banks’ influence was evident as Charlotte also joined the faction. Banks eventually rose to prominence in the NXT women’s division, and captured the title by defeating former friend and ally Charlotte in a fatal four way match. Banks held the title for 192 days. She is currently on the main roster and considered a formidable contender for the Divas championship.
17. Ivelisse Velez
Ivelisse has earned a name for herself wherever she has competed. The 27-year-old was first known to a televised audience when she competed under the name Sofia Cortez as part of the WWE’s Tough Enough competition. Her time on the program was cut short, however, due to injury. Ivelisse signed on with the WWE’s developmental territory FCW and was a part of the developmental system when it transitioned to NXT. But she was only just beginning to scratch the surface of her potential while there. It was only after she left NXT that Ivelisse begin to see her potential develop into something more. She joined TNA and competed in their Gut Check Challenge, but didn’t earn herself a contract, though the learning experience allowed her to return to the promotion as part of the One Night Only: Knockouts Challenge.
She has competed for Shine Wrestling, a prominent women’s promotion in the United States, and captured the Shine Championship. In the process, she defeated such notable names as Leva Bates (who competes as Blue Pants in NXT) and Serena Deeb, who previously worked for WWE. She has also competed against the likes of current TNA knockout Mia Yim and Ring of Honor’s Maria Kanellis. Velez is now an active member of the Lucha Underground roster. She worked alongside Son of Havoc and Angelico to capture the inaugural Lucha Underground Trios Championship. Despite losing the title, Ivelisse’s star is bright, as she is one of the most talented wrestlers in the world.
16. Nick Jackson
As one half of the Jackson brother tandem, Nick and his brother Matt have achieved success all over the world, under the tag team moniker The Young Bucks. Matt and Nick Massie reside in Southern California, and are currently competing for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), where they are the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, their second reign. Their popularity in North America has risen due to their involvement with Ring of Honor (ROH) along with other American promotions, in particular Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG). Earlier in their careers, the brothers competed in Total Nonstop Action (TNA), under the ring names Max and Jeremy Buck under the team name, Generation Me
Among the Bucks championship accomplishments, they have won the Chikara Campeones de Parejas, Dragon Gate USA‘s Open the United Gate Champions, ROH’s World Tag Team Championship, been three-time PWG World Tag Team Champions, and are the only team to win PWG’s annual Dynamite Duumvirate Tag Team Title Tournament on three separate occasions (2009, 2011 and 2013). At one point during 2014, they held the ROH World, PWG World, and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships
15. Trevor Lee
While Trevor Lee may not be known to some, he has certainly moved up the ranks of stand-out wrestlers under the age of thirty. At 22 years of age, Lee has been an active competitor for several wrestling promotions in the United States. The promotions that he has worked for are quite notable; they include Global Force Wrestling, PWG and, most notably, TNA. Despite achieving great success as a tag team wrestler, Lee has notable singles wins over other wrestlers on this list including Cedric Alexander, and former ROH World Champions Michael Elgin and Adam Cole. But a wrestler isn’t simply acknowledged for what he has achieved; it should also be noted about what opportunities he had presented to him.
Earlier this year he competed for the PWG World Championship against Roderick Strong. While he may not have won the match, to be in a position to compete for that title at such a young age says a great deal about how Lee is perceived in the ring. Earlier this year, Lee debuted for TNA alongside former WWE wrestler Brian Myers, now wrestling as Curt Hawkins, and the team was defeated by the, then TNA World Tag Team Champions The Wolves. A week later, Lee and Myers defeated The Wolves for the title. While their reign was short-lived, it doesn’t diminish that Lee continues to achieve success at such a young age. The best may still be yet to come for Trevor Lee.
This lanky South African wrestling star has made a name for himself competing for such promotions as Triple A in Mexico and Lucha Underground in the United States. He began his career developing under a promotion in Africa which was partially owned by WWE Hall of famer Booker T. He has certainly evolved from his first time in the ring. He joined the WWP (World Wrestling Professionals,) which was quite popular in both his native South Africa and India, and still competes for the promotion still from time to time. He travelled all over Spain, and began a connection with the lucha libre style while with the Nu Wrestling Evolution. He lost more than he won, but that isn’t how he should be measured. It is his skill and dedication to his craft that has allowed him to grow and develop. The Toryumon promotion was where Angelico called home for a few years, and it was there that he competed against the likes of Satoshi Kajiwara, and Juventud Guerrera. He has competed in Mexico for a number of years.
Although developing his craft as a singles wrestler, he has become renowned as a tag team wrestler, competing alongside Jack Evans; the tandem are actively working with each other as they travel the North American independent wrestling scene. Angélico first appeared for Lucha Underground this past January as part of a 4-way Elimination match against Brian Cage, Aero Star and Argenis. He was also one third of the inaugural Trios champions, alongside Ivelisse and Son of Havor. His high flying style and willingness to sacrifice himself has shown the world that Angelico he has just begun to hit his stride.
13. Mark Andrews
At 23 years of age, TNA’s Mark Andrews is experienced well beyond his years. He spent a number of years on the independent circuit competing for promotions such as NWA Wales and NWA Hammerlock. While the promotions may not be household names to North American audiences, Andrews’ notoriety in the UK was massive. He began competing at the age of thirteen and achieved a great deal of success during his time there. Andrews greatest success early in his career came during his time with the PROGRESS promotion. While there he earned acclaim for his matches against the likes of Will Osprey and Xander Cooper. As part of the ATTACK! Pro Wrestling promotion, Andrews had very diverse roles with the promotion; he was heavily involved in the creative direction of the company.
While Andrews has earned notoriety to North American audiences through mainstream promotions such as TNA, he has also earned recognition competing for such notable independent promotions within the United States as Chikara and Pro Wrestling Guerilla. Andrews was first seen to a televised audience as part of TNA’s British Boot Camp in the fall of 2014. His success throughout the tournament eventually earned him a TNA contract. He debuted for the company after coming in from the crowd and showed support for fellow UK wrestler and winner of the British Bootcamp Rockstar Spud. Andrews incredible move set and aerial assault is only matched by his experience honing his craft.
Fenix, who is only 24 years old, began competing in Mexico after joining Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA) in 2011. It was there where he became the first ever AAA Fusión Champion in March of 2013. Through his working relationship with AAA, he was given the opportunity to compete for the California-based Lucha Underground promotion towards the end of 2014. Among his accomplishments in this new promotion, was to become the first ever Gift of the Gods’ Champion. The title certainly has influence, and is similar to WWE’s Money In The Bank briefcase. He has also competed in Japan for Pro Wrestling Noah and Pro Wrestling Wave.
His real name is not a matter of public record, as is often the case with masked luchadors in Mexico, where their private lives are kept a secret from the wrestling fans. His connection to wrestling legends such as Blue Demon Jr and Mil Muertes, certainly make way for continued exposure through the country of Mexico. Fenix’s wrestling lineage also traces back to his father, who competed as Fuego, and his brother who wrestles under the wrestling monikers Pentagón Jr and Niño de Fuego. The intrigue and mystery around Fenix continues to grow with the development of this tremendous young talent.
While on the independent circuit, Benjamin Satterley competed under the ring name Pac. He has earned notoriety recently competing under the name Adrian Neville as part of WWE’s NXT brand. During his time in the promotion, he is a two-time NXT Tag Team Champion. His first reign saw Neville become one-half of the inaugural NXT tag team champions. He is also the longest reigning NXT champion, holding the title for a record 287 days.
As an eleven-year pro, Neville continues to innovate no matter where he is and who he is in the ring with. While North American fans have become familiar with the “The Man That Gravity Forgot,” his achievements across the pond are where the story of Neville begin. His wrestling career first took flight in the northeast of England, and once established in the United Kingdom in RQW and One-Pro, he began to compete for an Italian based promotion known as Nu Wrestling Evolution, along with brief stints in PWG, ROH, Chikara and Dragon Gate. It was while he was in Dragon Gate where he captured the Open the Brave and Triangle championships. He is a former PWG World Tag Team Champion, and winner of PWG’s inaugural Dynamite Duumvirate Tag Team Title Tournament.
At 27 years of age, Albert C. Hardie Jr. has earned notoriety all over the continent under his ring name ACH. He is currently signed to Ring of Honor (ROH) and has also worked for promotions such as, All American Wrestling (AAW), Chikara, Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW,) Dragon Gate USA (DGUSA) and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG). While he hasn’t captured championships in any major promotions, he has received accolades in various independent promotions across North America. His high-flying and innovative style is done with such grace it’s impossible to ignore how entertaining he has been in the ring.
His independent accomplishments include; All American Wrestling (AAW) AAW Heritage Championship and AAW Heritage Championship Tournament, Anarchy Championship Wrestling (ACW) Heavyweight Championship, High Risk Wrestling (HRW) High Risk Championship, Metro Pro Wrestling (MPW) Central States Champion, National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Central States Heavyweight Championship, NWA Lone Star Junior Heavyweight Championship, New School Federation (NSF) Central Texas Championship, NSF Heavyweight Championship and the World of Wrestling (WoW) Cruiserweight Championship.
Despite not capturing a title in Ring of Honor, he has been put into high profile matches against the likes of reDragon and AJ Styles, providing him valuable experience within the promotion.
9. Cedric Alexander
Over the course of 2010, Alexander mostly wrestled dark matches for ROH. In 2011 he started performing for ROH on a regular basis after he formed a tag team called the C&C Wrestle Factory with Caprice Coleman. That team competed against Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, two seasoned and experienced tag team and singles competitors. It is like a solo competitor where fans can really see how Alexander has thrived in the ring. His feud in 2014 with Rodrick Strong and the Decade truly showed that the company had faith in him. He hopes to build on that momentum moving into 2015. He recently faced off with long-time ROH veteran Matt Sydal.
While there is no clear indication of where his character may be headed, it is safe to say that he has skill well beyond his years. At 26 years of age, Alexander has captured titles in various promotions. His accomplishments include; Premiere Wrestling Federation (PWF) WORLD-1 Heavyweight Championship, Premiere Wrestling Xperience (PWX) Heavyweight Championship and Innovative Television Championship, Pro Wrestling EVO Heavyweight Championship and a two-time WrestleForce Champion. While Alexander will continue to develop in his thirties and beyond, it was in his twenties where he first developed and became a force to be reckoned with.
8. Michael Elgin
At 28 years of age, the Unbreakable One has quickly made a name for himself competing all over North America, with two promotions in particular. During his time in PWG he captured the PWG World Tag Team Championship. As a current regular in ROH, Elgin captured the promotion’s World Title. He is currently challenging for the ROH title again, and will continue to hone his craft against other international stars such as Samoa Joe. His size, strength and agility has also contributed to his success throughout his near fifteen-year professional career.
Born Aaron Frobel, he was trained by Canadian independent wrestling star Tyson Dux, and debuted with his current ring name. By the age of 16 he was already competing regularly on the independent scene. His career has seen him compete for CZW, World League Wrestling (WLW) and Alpha-1 Wrestling. It was during his time with the Independent Wrestling Association Mid-South where he won the IWA Mid-South Strong Style Championship. Elgin’s Canadian roots have also seen him compete and capture various championship for now-defunct independent promotions such as Blood, Sweat and Ears, and Great Canadian Wrestling.
7. 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. Sabre Jr. is a former NWA United Kingdom Junior Heavyweight champion. A product of the NWA-UK Hammerlock promotion, he first began to train at the age of 14. As technically sound as anyone you’ll find anywhere in the world, Sabre Jr. uses a substantial array of wrestling holds and strikes. His admiration for the Japanese style of wrestling is apparent when he is in the ring. He is currently one half of the tag team the Leaders of the New School, alongside fellow UK wrestler Marty Scurll. He is a multi-time tag team champion both in Japan and the United Kingdom. Sabre Jr. has faced everyone from El Generico (who many claim now competes as Sami Zayn as part of the WWE’s NXT brand,) Jimmy Havor and former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan.
As a world travelled wrestler, Sabre Jr. has competed in the UK, Japan and United States. He currently spends the majority of his time between Pro Wrestling Noah in Japan, and PROGRESS Wrestling in the UK. A number of wrestlers, including TNA’s Mark Andrews have praised their early training and development under Sabre Jr. Sabre Jr. also won American indie promotion PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles for 2015. It is only a matter of time before mainstream audiences become aware of this incredible talent.
6. Kyle O’Reilly
Born Kyle Greenwood, O’Reilly has competed for several independent promotions. Of those promotions, his greatest prominence was in Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerilla. In ROH, as part of the reDragon tag team alongside veteran Bobby Fish, O’Reilly is a three-time World Tag Team Champion. During his time in PWG, O’Reilly captured the promotion’s world championship and the 2013 Battle of Los Angeles.
The British Columbia-born wrestler was trained by Davey Richards, a former ROH World and Tag Team champion. The 28-year-old has captured titles throughout North America, and in New Japan Pro Wrestling. His accomplishments include; Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling NWA Canadian Junior Heavyweight Championship, High Risk Wrestling (HRW) Tag Team Championship , Pro Wrestling Prestige (PWP) Tag Team Championship, and NJPW IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
As a fifteen-year professional, O’Reilly is as talented in the ring as he is on the mic, and can play a comedic role when given an opportunity. However, do not make any mistake as O’Reilly is lethal in the ring, and, being under thirty, his best is still yet to come.
5. Seth Rollins
The 29-year-old former WWE Tag Team Champion and Money in the Bank contract holder is a stand out in the ring. While at WWE’s developmental territories Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) and NXT, he was the first-ever NXT champion and was the first ever FCW Grand Slam Champion, capturing the FCW Heavyweight and FCW Tag Team Championships. While on the independent circuit, and in ROH, Rollins competed under the name Tyler Black and captured ROH’s World Championship, and was a two-time World Tag Team Championship. While in PWG he alongside Jimmy Jacobs, captured the World Tag Team Championship. His accomplishments are quite extensive in his twelve years of active competition.
He is currently viewed as an upper midcard/main eventer with the WWE. His match against Brock Lesnar and John Cena as part of Royal Rumble 2015 proved that Rollins is capable of headlining a main event against these two established stars. His performance alone during that match up caused many to stand up and take notice of what he could achieve. As the former Money in the Bank title holder, he had the opportunity to cash in his chance to win the title at any moment and cash in the contract he did at WrestleMania, capturing the WWE World Heavyweight championship. This late-twenties star will continue to shine in the future. Despite being injured, Rollins’ in-ring prowess unquestionably stood out amongst his peers and his body of work still puts him among the greatest wrestlers that have yet to hit the age thirty.
4. Adam Cole
At 26 years old, the sky is the limit for Cole. He has only been wrestling professionally for seven years, but in his short time in the ring, Cole has competed for such notable promotions as PWG, CZW and ROH. In each of these promotions, Cole has received accolades for his work and captured various titles. His accomplishments include; CZW World Junior Heavyweight Champion, PWG World Champion, ROH World Television Champion and ROH World Champion.
When he first joined ROH, his clean cut look had a very all-American feel to it. However, his recent heel work has certainly turned heads, as he is revered by fans the world over. He has had epic battles with Kevin Steen, Michael Elgin and Jay Briscoe. He is to be commended in taking his change in character and running with it. As part of The Kingdom faction alongside Matt Taven and Michael Bennett, Cole’s cool, calm and surprisingly sadistic nature is what stands apart from others in ROH. One such example was the verbal abuse he administered to Elgin’s wife, and the stapling of a sign to the forehead of Jay Briscoe in a particularly gruesome encounter. Cole is a star on the rise and is only halfway through his twenties.
3. Kazuchika Okada
At 28 years of age, “The Rainmaker” appears to have the world on a string. He is currently in his third reign as the IWGP Heavyweight champion with New Japan Pro Wrestling. Initially trained by Japanese legend Ultimo Dragon, he has been competing for almost 11 years. Okada spent the earlier part of his career competing in Mexico, before returning to Japan and making NJPW his home promotion in mid-2007. During the earlier part in his career he competed as a junior heavyweight.
In 2008, Okada moved up to the heavyweight division, but initially met with minimal success. He also competed briefly with TNA from 2010-2011, against other prominent names that have competed for both NJPW and TNA such as Alex Shelley and the Young Bucks, Matt and Nick Jackson. However, it has been since his return to NJPW that he has seen his rise to prominence.
He has faced prominent names in not only NJPW, but in Ring of Honor during several cross promotional events. As a cascading waterfall of money descends upon Okada, his entrance to the ring is about as majestic as they come. His Rainmaker clothesline is a greatly heralded move. At 6’3″ and 230 lbs, Okada’s size and mobility are among his greatest attributes.
2. Apollo Crews
As a pro for only six years, Crews may be the best kept secret in some wrestling circles. He gained prominence on the independent circuit after he broke through in 2011, when he was signed by the Dragon Gate USA promotion.
He stands 6’0″,240 lbs., and is armed with a move set that includes a finisher called the Uhaa Combination, which is a combination Gorilla Press followed by a standing moonsault followed by a standing shooting star press. To say this is impressive is an understatement. He manages to combine power with a high flying aerial assault. He shows a special sense of adaptability in the ring by being able to maneuver around opponents that are both bigger and smaller than himself.
Nations’ accomplishments include; capturing the Dragon Gate Open the Twin Gate Championship, Full Impact Pro FIP Florida Heritage Championship, Great Championship Wrestling (GCW) Heavyweight Championship and Preston City Wrestling (PCW) Heavyweight Championship. He has recently signed a contract with the WWE. At twenty-seven years of age, Nation only appears to be scratching the surface of his potential. He appears to be a dominant force moving into his thirties and beyond.
While under a mask, this incredible talent has risen to prominence as Prince Puma of the Lucha Underground promotion. But he also competes outside the promotion under the ring name Ricochet.
At 26 years of age, Trevor Mann has seen success all over the world. He is currently wrestling in the Japanese promotion Dragon Gate and its American extension Dragon Gate USA, where he is a former Open the Freedom Gate Champion, Open the Dream Gate Champion, Open the Dream Gate, Open the Brave Gate, Open the Twin Gate, Open the Triangle Gate and Open the United Gate champion. Dragon Gate has obviously been where he has achieved a great deal of success.
Ricochet also wrestles for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), where he captured the 2014 Battle of Los Angeles, and has previously wrestled for Chikara, where he mainly worked under a mask as Helios, and New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he won the 2014 Best of the Super Juniors tournament. His accomplishments are quite extensive, and illustrious at such a young age. It will be interesting to see what else he will be able to achieve before the age of 30.
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