10 Non-WWE Wrestlers You Should Know About
Don't tell anyone, but we're secretly in the middle of a wrestling boom outside WWE. Here are the wrestlers who should be on your radar.
You might not see it, but professional wrestling is going through quite a boom period in 2017. Sure, WWE’s ratings might be slipping and it seems like the product is suffering due to creative issues, scripted promos, and other things, but on a global spectrum, professional wrestling could not be hotter than it is now.
New Japan Pro Wrestling (the second biggest wrestling promotion in the world) has been dazzling audiences with its product and with its recent trip to Long Beach earlier this month, it’s slowly creeping up on becoming legitimate competition to WWE – the first since WCW went out of business. Not to mention the explosion of talent coming from the United Kingdom, the increased success of Ring of Honor, the rebranding of TNA to Global Force Wrestling, and the incredible matches put on by the guys in other promotions like Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Evolve, Smash Pro Wrestling, and others.
Most casual wrestling fans in the United States are only familiar with WWE, which is understandable considering it’s a global media conglomerate and the biggest promotion for the last 30 plus years. But any fan who wants more out of the business of professional wrestling should do themselves a favour and take the time to check out some of the other incredible non WWE talents out there taking the wrestling world by storm. I’m Richard from Cultured Vultures and these are the top 10 non WWE wrestlers you should know about.
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Hiroshi Tanahashi: the current IWGP Intercontinental Champion (his second reign) and a former seven time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Tanahashi was instrumental in New Japan’s rise to being the second best wrestling promotion in the world over the last seven years.
Tetsuya Naito: The leader of the infamous Los Ingobernables de Japon and a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, former IWGP Intercontinental Champion, 2013 G1 Climax winner, and 2016 New Japan Cup winner. Naito is another guy who helped put New Japan on the map with one of the most intriguing characters in New Japan today.
Christopher Daniels: The “King of the Indies,” Daniels has established success in the former TNA and ROH. Most recently he became the oldest man (at 47 years old) to win the ROH World Championship, and the fourth man ever to be an ROH Triple Crown Winner.
Kota Ibushi: Arguably one of the top up and comers in Japan, Ibushi would be a name WWE fans will recognize, having made it to the semifinals of the inaugural WWE Cruiserweight Classic. However, Ibushi has already made his mark, having incredible matches with Kenny Omega in DDT Pro Wrestling.
He’s a three time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, a former IWGP Junior Tag team Champion (with Omega), a Best of the Super Juniors winner in 2011, and the winner of the New Japan Cup in 2015. Most recently he was announced by New Japan for the 2017 G1 Climax, presumably placing him as a heavyweight for the first time in his career.
10. Matt Riddle
A former MMA fighter who was fired by UFC after testing positive for marijuana in 2013, Riddle made the switch to professional wrestling and made his debut in February 2015. Since then, Riddle has become one of the more popular acts on the independent circuit, winning many championships and winning fans over as well. His “King of the Bros” gimmick is something that fans eat up, whether Riddle is playing a babyface or a heel, and he’s produced incredible matches across the world, despite only having wrestled for about two years.
He’s worked for Evolve, PWG, PROGRESS, and many other top name promotions and has the accolades to prove it. He won Evolve’s Style Battle Tournament in 2016, he’s a former Progress Atlas Champion, the current WWN Champion, as well as earning two awards from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in 2016 for Rookie of the Year and Most Improved. The sky’s the limit for Riddle, who still has many good wrestling years left in him.
9. Will Ospreay
One of, if not THE best high flyer in professional wrestling today, Ospreay grabbed the eye of professional wrestling fans worldwide after his awe-inspiring match with Ricochet in the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament in 2016. Since then the young Englishman has been doing what he can to make it for himself, winning championships and tournaments across the globe.
Let’s go through the list: Ospreay’s a former Progress Champion, a former ROH Television Champion, he won NJPW’s Best of the Super Juniors in 2016 (and made it to the finals again in 2017), and two of his matches have received five stars from wrestling guru Dave Meltzer (vs. Kushida back in June of this year and a six man tag in September of last year). Ospreay continues to ply his craft today and will only get better at what he does. The mesmerizing thing about this: he’s only 24-years-old.
For the last couple of years, the “best high flyer in the world” argument has really become a two horse race between the previously mentioned Ospreay and “the Future of Flight” Ricochet. Making his professional wrestling debut in 2003, Ricochet has been plying his craft and churning out fantastic matches along the way. He’s wrestled everywhere: ROH, NJPW, Lucha Underground, Dragon Gate, Evolve, WhatCulture Pro Wrestling, Revolution Pro Wrestling, PWG, and countless others, while winning championships in damn near every promotion.
He’s a two time Lucha Underground Champion (as Prince Puma), the IWGP Junior Tag team Championships twice with Matt Sydal (the former Evan Bourne in WWE), the Best of the Super Juniors in 2014, PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles winner in 2014, as well as winning the Wrestling Observer Newsletter award for Best High Flying Wrestler in 2011, 2014, and 2015. He definitely lives up to the moniker of “the Future of Flight” and his plans to conquer the wrestling world will only continue to be our reality at this rate.
Just listen to these accolades: IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, ROH Television Champion, two time Best of the Super Juniors winner. All accomplished by KUSHIDA in the span of a month. Thus is how much trust those in NJPW have for “the Time Splitter.” A five time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, a two time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Champion with Alex Shelley (as “the Time Splitters”), a two time Best of the Super Juniors winner (in 2015 and 2017), Super J Cup winner (2016), the man really backs up his whole “Ace of the Junior Division,” shtick. His Best of the Super Juniors Finals match with Will Ospreay got a five star rating from Dave Meltzer. Fans have applauded his consistency in big matches, his athleticism, and his ability to be an all-around top babyface and underdog in a world where it’s quite difficult to get over as such.
6. Zack Sabre Jr.
You only need to listen to multiple time world champion Daniel Bryan when he says, “Zack Sabre Jr. is the best wrestler in the world regardless of weight class” to immediately be impressed with the man. A man who’s regarded as a technical wizard, he’s currently the Evolve Champion, and just wrapped up his first reign as PWG World Champion at a whopping 489 days. He’s the current RevPro British Heavyweight Champion (in his second reign), and he’s won the Bryan Danielson Award for best Technical Wrestler from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter for the last three years.
Casual WWE fans might remember his starring role in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, where he had tremendous matches with Drew Gulak, Noam Dar, and Gran Metalik before bowing out in the semifinals to the Mexican luchdaor. He made his debut in NJPW in February of this year as a heel and was announced for the 2017 G1 Climax, a tournament where he will continue to dazzle us with his incredible submissions and holds.
5. Marty Scurll
Nobody is on this list can touch the character work of Marty Scurll. Stuck working his “Party Marty” gimmick in his native England, Scurll underwent a transformation into the iconic “Villian” character we see fans clamouring over, no matter if he’s working face or heel. His in-ring work is as sound as they come and his facial expressions are amongst the best in the business. He even managed to get a move as basic as a Crossface Chicken Wing not only over to be a legitimate finish again, but one of the highlights of his act.
Scurll joining Bullet Club at the beginning of the year is still one of the hottest stories of 2017. He’s a former ROH Television Champion, a two time PROGRESS Champion, and he won the 2016 Battle of Los Angeles. Now he’s in Bullet Club, the sky’s the limit for “the Villain,” who’ll be looking to continue causing a spot of bother all over the world.
4. Cody Rhodes
Ever since he left WWE in mid 2016, Cody Rhodes has established an incredible name for himself on the independent scene. He dazzled fans in 2016 with matches against Kurt Angle and Zack Sabre Jr. to name a few, then joined Bullet Club at the beginning of 2017 and established a new gimmick as “the American Nightmare.” To cap it all off, a little over a year after he left WWE he won the ROH World Championship from Christopher Daniels in June – the first world championship held by a Rhodes in 31 years.
Most recently Cody had a match in the main event of NJPW’s G1 Special in Long Beach against Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship that was regarded as one of the best matches of the year. At this rate, the Grandson of a Plumber will only see his stock continue to rise as the months go by and by the time WWE comes calling his name again, he’ll be a genuine superstar.
3. Kazuchika Okada
The guy over in New Japan, there is no better Japanese wrestler out there than Kazuchika Okada. The current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, in his fourth reign (at 396 days), he was pushed to the moon (Jinder style) back in 2012 upon returning to NJPW. He almost immediately defeated then stalwart Hiroshi Tanahashi for his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
He adopted a new persona called “the Rainmaker” and proceeded to blow people away with incredible matches on a regular basis, able to adapt to just about any style brought to him by his opponents. His most recent matches with Kenny Omega this year broke Dave Meltzer’s rating system, getting the first 6 and 6.25 star matches in Wrestling Observer history. As New Japan continues to grow as a top wrestling promotion in the world, Okada is their face of the franchise, their Lebron James, and will continue to be that for years to come.
2. Kenny Omega
The only reason New Japan Pro Wrestling didn’t completely go into panic mode when AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, and Shinsuke Nakamura left for WWE at the beginning of 2016 was because they knew they could rely on guys like Kenny Omega. Omega stepped up on a totally different level in 2016, taking over as the leader of Bullet Club, winning the IWGP Intercontinental Championship in February, the NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag team Championship with the Young Bucks twice, and becoming the first non-Japanese wrestler to win New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament in history in August. This in turn led to his IWGP Heavyweight Championship match against Kazuchida Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 and his rematch at Dominion in June. Both were regarded as some of the greatest matches of all time. He turned that into becoming the inaugural IWGP United States Champion, and it shouldn’t be long before he tastes world championship gold.
1. The Young Bucks
Imagine being an American professional wrestler and making an incredible living for yourself without having ever stepped foot in WWE. A couple of years ago that seemed impossible, but nothing’s impossible for Matt and Nick Jackson, better known as the Young Bucks.
The real life brothers are quite possibly the best tag team in the world today. Their matches with the Briscoes, Roppongi Vice, and the Hardys are works of art. Their merchandise has been flying off the shelves for years, and they’ve been winning tag team championships across the globe from southern California to Japan to England.
The brothers are six time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag team Champions, three time ROH World Tag team Champions, and four time PWG Tag team Champions, just to name a few. They’ve been an anchor in Bullet Club for the last couple of years, seeing the stable rise to heights never seen before, and seeing their merch numbers grow with it. Even people who aren’t huge wrestling fans have heard of the Young Bucks, and at this rate, the brothers might go down as one of the greatest tag teams of all time.