Over the past few years, the WWE has signed a remarkable amount of elite independent wrestling stars. Since Bryan Danielson signed a WWE contract in 2009, a parade of some of the most well-known independent wrestlers have signed with the WWE. The group includes Chris Hero, El Generico, Tyler Black, Jon Moxley, Sara Del Ray, Claudio Castagnoli and more.
The signing of such well-known talent is viewed as a significant departure from the WWE's normal developmental patterns. Long known for hiring the "bodybuilder" types and inexperienced performers to stock up their developmental, the change is being credited to Triple H, who now wields the majority of the power when it comes to the developmental aspect of the WWE.
Just like in any pro sports league, whether it be the NBA, NFL or MLB, strong drafting and player development is the key to long-term success. In the previous 3-5 years, the WWE has been criticized for failing to develop fresh main-event level talent to carry the company in the future. A large amount of jacked-up wrestlers with little background previous the WWE have failed to resonate with the WWE audience as much as the company had hoped. Even stars currently getting top billings such as Ryback and Sheamus can only be classified as moderate successes at best. It was obvious that a change in development was needed, and it appears that HHH is dedicated to making that happen.
A major concern for most fans is that while the WWE could sign an extremely talented performer, using that talent correctly is a whole different story. These fears can easily be justified, as the WWE has a long and disappointing history of mis-using performers at every level on the card. The good news for fans should be that in recent years, the WWE has shown a strong commitment to using certain performers to the best of their abilities.
I had previously written about how CM Punk defied what the WWE typically endorsed as a top superstar. A better example than Punk might actually be Daniel Bryan. On paper, Daniel Bryan should have never been successful in the WWE. He defined everything the WWE did not like about a performer. Woefully undersized, pale as a ghost and untested microphone skills would not be things that the WWE heads have in mind when they think of the next World Heavyweight Champion. Despite all that, Bryan showed everyone that in-ring ability, potent charisma and a solid catchphrase can get you over with the WWE fanbase, no matter what the possessor of those skills may look like. The success of Bryan may have opened to door for other talented indy stars to get a good look from the WWE.
Another important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of WWE developmental is that so far they have done a very good job of bringing up new wrestlers at the right times. Last year, few could doubt that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were ready to be big-time performers in the WWE. However, they remained in NXT for quite some time. Why? Because creative had nothing for them. Instead of just bringing them up, dumping them on Superstars and giving them a bland gimmick, the WWE took their time waited for the perfect moment and idea to introduce them with. Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero) is ready for the WWE and fans are clamoring to see him wrestle weekly on TV. But until the WWE comes up with a solid idea to introduce Ohno, it is probably better for him to remain in NXT.
If I have a complaint about how NXT is being run it is that they are rarely mentioned on WWE TV. Current NXT Champion Big E. Langston appears on almost every Raw, Smackdown and PPV, yet how many casual fans would even know that he is the champion? How could it hurt Langston to walk around with NXT belt when he is with AJ and Ziggler? If he had the belt with him at all times, it would help make more of an impression on the fans about how legit this guy is as a competitor. I also don't think it would harm the WWE to perhaps have an NXT World Title match on ppvs. Unless you subscribe to Hulu Plus, or scrounge around on the internet to find NXT videos, you wouldn't really have any idea what is going on with the brand. If they had an occasional match when a majority of the audience is watching, then they would have a better chance of raising interest in the brand.
Lastly, I would like to take a look at some independent stars that may be making a splash in the WWE soon. These wrestlers may not be the best the indy circuit has to offer, but there character, build or charisma are things that the WWE could be interested in.
Michael Elgin: Powerful Ring of Honor star burst onto the scene with a humongous 2012 in which he wrestled intense matches with ROH stalwarts Davey Richards, Kevin Steen and Roderick Strong. Will need more seasoning on the microphone before making the jump to the WWE, but the Canadian star is only 25 and looks to be locked into a main event spot in ROH.
Mike Bennett: Has recently been in talks with the WWE and even received a tryout match in 2012. Passable in-ring skills are boosted by a great body and solid charisma. Fiancé of former WWE Diva Maria.
Saturyne: Masked women's wrestler is already a fan-favorite in CHIKARA despite only making her debut in late 2011. Works an interesting lucha libre style that has the potential to be very successful in the WWE if booked properly.
Kenny Omega: Well-traveled veteran has popped up everywhere from New Japan to Ring of Honor. Looks and wrestles like Dolph Ziggler. Capable of performing as a gutsy face or a dastardly heel, Omega has worked in an exciting tag team with New Japan star Kota Ibushi in the past few years.
Ricochet: Dragon Gate regular is friends with PAC and could join the WWE if PAC becomes a big star. Spectacular high-flyer who's Double Rotation Moonsault might be the most exciting move in wrestling today. Only 24 years old.
AR Fox: Currently holds the CZW TV Title and wrestles regularly for Dragon Gate USA. Like Kofi Kingston, Fox has good size for a high-flyer and possess untapped charisma. Also holds the CZW Light Heavyweight Title and DG USA Tag Titles.