Professional wrestling has taken on a weird, new paradigm in which not every independent performer wants to be in the WWE.
Why would someone want to wrestle in smaller venues in front of a smattering of people instead of taking their talents to a more lucrative gig in front of thousands of screaming fans?
Two reasons: leverage and creative control.
A lot of indie stars have realized that they are better off making a name for themselves on the circuit, where they have control over their merchandising, their character, and their schedule.
For certain stars, like Ring of Honor Tag Team champs The Young Bucks, it’s all about timing. As they said on the Edge and Christian’s podcast:
I think for us if we did sign right now, we’d probably be lost in the shuffle. And we’re so, so, so appreciated right now, like, by the companies we wrestle for. Like, we’re pushed to the top, we’re in the main events, we pretty much get whatever we want creatively. Like, we’re doing our own angles at this point … it would be hard to walk away from all that.
It’s that kind of freedom that the more corporate WWE tends to stifle, and many indie performers fear they’ll be kept in a box and never get over in the WWE Universe.
There are also independent stars who have become so popular amongst the fans that they can wait for better offers from the WWE instead of the normal entry-level NXT contracts, contracts that would net them far less money and relegate them to the NXT performance center in Orlando where they are essentially re-taught and repackaged to meet WWE standards. It’s what is called “learning the WWE way,” and it’s rare that anyone is sent to the main roster straight out of the gate anymore.
Whatever the motivation, the reality is that many indie stars are following in the footsteps of wrestlers like Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and even Shinsuke Nakamura, all of whom spent many years on the indie circuit before starting their WWE careers later on in their lives.
But it’s also a reality that the WWE has the most money, and will continue to draw the top indie talent to its roster. It just might take a little longer than the McMahons are used to.
So who will be the next big WWE signing? Will it be one of the most entertaining performers in the biz in Ricochet, a.k.a Prince Puma? His contract is coming to an end with Lucha Underground and you have to believe he will be one of the most sought after free agents on the market. Ricochet will get a ton of money thrown at him and it would be surprising if the WWE doesn’t at least reach out.
Below, we look at the biggest names in independent wrestling and sort out which one(s) will find their way to the WWE/NXT ring between now and the end of next year.
INDIE WRESTLING STARS: ODDS TO SIGN WITH WWE/NXT BY 2019
- Ricochet: 2/3
- Matt Riddle: 3/2
- Angelico: 3/1
- Jack Evans (Angelico’s tag team partner): 3/1
- Ivelisse: 4/1
- Kenny Omega:4/1
- Magnus (Nick Aldis): 17/3
- Io Shirai: 9/1
- Rosemary: 9/1
- Christina Von Eerie: 19/1
- Velvet Sky: 19/1
- The Briscoes: 25/1
- The Young Bucks: 50/1
- Kazuchika Okada: 100/1
- Will Ospreay: 100/1