Indie Superstars WWE and AEW Should Sign to Full-Time Contracts
To put it simply, 2020 is shaping up to be just as much of a blockbuster year for WWE and All Elite Wrestling as 2019 was, if not more so.
AEW arrived on the scene last year and immediately took the wrestling world by storm. From Chris Jericho to Jon Moxley to almost the entire Elite, the company managed to put together a pretty star-studded roster and wasted no time in delivering well-received shows for their fans.
WWE responded by not only locking in a handful of their top stars (such as AJ Styles and Randy Orton) into long-term deals, but also scooping up more notable names from the independent scene (including Kushida and John Morrison). Of course, both companies' pursuit for talent will not stop in 2020.
Say what you will about WWE signing stars for the sake of keeping them away from the opposition (and that argument can be made), but enough independent wrestlers have done well for themselves in NXT and on the main roster that no aspiring athlete should be questioned for their decision to go there if they so wish.
Meanwhile, AEW has been a breath of fresh air for the year they have been around for. Their roster is still growing, yet it feels like some of their wrestlers don't feel as special as they should.
Both promotions have their faults, but the fact is it's an exciting time to be in the business. With so many different companies to choose from, every wrestler has to be benefiting, specifically when it comes to securing sweet deals with WWE and AEW.
Independent wrestling will continue to thrive and produce phenomenal talent across the globe, but these are the names WWE and AEW should be looking to land in 2020.
There was a time when Jay Lethal was considered to be one of the best professional wrestlers in the world.
That isn't to say he's not in the conversation now, but his stock was higher than it had ever been following his first run as Ring of Honor world champion, which lasted a whopping 427 days from 2015 to 2016. If there was ever a time for him to jump ship to WWE, that would have been it.
Lethal insisted on staying when his contract was due to expire later that year, and he has served as a cornerstone for the company ever since. He went on to win the world title once more in 2018 and is currently one-half of the reigning ROH world tag team champions with Jonathan Gresham.
It has now reached a point where Lethal has done virtually everything he can do in ROH. Once his tandem with Gresham runs its course, it might be in his best interest to explore his options in either WWE or AEW (depending on his contract status, of course).
Lethal has never outright said "no" whenever asked if he'd entertain an offer from WWE, but it may be now or never for him in 2020. If not, surely AEW would love to have him considering the role he had on the historic All In show in September 2018 when he defended his ROH world title as part of the event.
At only 34 years old, Lethal has many more years left in him, but the rest of his prime should be spent in one of the two major companies. The dream matches he could have with either roster are limitless.
Ivelisse Velez was one of the few contestants from the 2011 season of Tough Enough who could have gone places in WWE but didn't, allegedly due to heat with then-trainer Bill DeMott.
Following a short stint in NXT as Sofia Cortez, she was shockingly released from her developmental deal in August 2012. That could have been the end of her run in wrestling, but she chose to continue honing her craft elsewhere.
She signed with Lucha Underground as soon as it started and immediately became a mainstay there. Her trio with Angelico and Son of Havoc was always a treat to watch and made that division a recurring highlight on their shows.
More importantly, Ivelisse had the chance to compete in intergender wrestling and it was actually believable. She looked like a threat against her male counterparts and picked up some important victories along the way.
The end of Lucha Underground in 2018 should have led to a major promotion picking her up, but it has yet to happen.
Despite already being under contract to them previously, Ivelisse tried out for WWE again in 2019 but didn't make the cut. She then popped up in the Casino Battle Royale for the women at AEW All Out later in the year but fell short of victory.
A return to WWE would be well-deserved, but she'd be an even bigger focal point in AEW if she went there sometime soon. Its women's division could really use her charisma, experience and star power.
Many fans are likely more familiar with Jeff Cobb than they may realize, especially if they tuned into all four seasons of the critically acclaimed Lucha Underground series from 2014-2018.
Cobb portrayed the seemingly invincible Matanza Cueto (the storyline brother of Lucha Underground authority figure Dario Cueto) and wore a mask the entire time. However, his move set and unbelievable in-ring prowess were no different then than they are now in Ring of Honor.
Following Lucha Underground's demise, he made the move to ROH in late 2018 and quickly captured the ROH World Television Championship in his debut match for the promotion. He embarked on an unstoppable run for nearly eight months before headlining June's Best in the World pay-per-view for the ROH World Championship.
ROH seems to have cooled off a bit on Mr. Athletic lately, putting him in a random tag team with ROH original Dan Maff. At a time when they could use all the star power they can get, it's a bit surprising they aren't doing more with him at the moment.
Pro Wrestling Sheet reported earlier in January that Cobb is working on a per-show basis with the company, which essentially means he could sign anywhere he wants whenever he pleases. He's apparently content with where he is and has shown no signs of wanting to leave any time soon, but a potential run in WWE or AEW later on in 2020 shouldn't be ruled out.
Cobb is close with Matt Riddle from their PWG days, and the two of them would be a brilliant tandem, assuming the former isn't pushed to the top of the totem pole in NXT on his own.
AEW, on the other hand, is more of his style by being more wrestling-based, not to mention the company's need for more big men on its roster.
Both options sound wildly exciting on paper.
Independent wrestling icon Alex Shelley's recent run in WWE NXT has led to much speculation among fans regarding his status with the promotion.
As of this writing, nothing has been reported about him being under any sort of a deal with NXT. There has been zero indication that his reunion with Kushida on last week's episode was anything more than a one-off (especially since he is booked for a handful of indie shows coming up), but that isn't to say that can't change at some point.
Shelley is best known for his stints in Impact Wrestling, New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Ring of Honor over the years as one-half of Time Splitters with Kushida and The Motor City Machine Guns with Chris Sabin. Both tandems were incredibly successful and captured several championships.
For all the former Impact and ROH talent WWE has picked up since 2015 for NXT, it's shocking Shelley was never among them. It's understandable for fans to fear he would be lost in the shuffle on his own, but now Kushida is a part of the system (and has been largely directionless), a Time Splitters reunion would be ideal.
The NXT tag team division could benefit greatly from Shelley teaming with Kushida again. More importantly, he can finally get his due in WWE after such a decorated career on the indie scene.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a hotter free agent in wrestling right now than Killer Kross.
Most fans got their first look at the 6'4" super-athlete during the fourth season of Lucha Underground when he portrayed The White Rabbit, though it wasn't until he signed with Impact soon after that he really started to make his mark on the industry.
Thanks to alliances with Austin Aries and Moose, Kross was able to generate buzz for himself. He had great matches with everyone he worked with, showed off his impressive agility, and came across as an absolute killer.
After originally signing a multi-year deal with the promotion, he reportedly didn't feel he was getting paid what he was worth and requested his release in May 2019. It was many months before Impact honored his request, and during that time, he was left off the promotion's programming completely.
Although Kross has kept a relatively low profile in recent weeks, it's safe to assume that both WWE and AEW are doing everything in their power to sign him because of his untapped potential. AEW would be a fine landing spot for him considering he was in attendance for their premiere pay-per-view Double or Nothing, but his girlfriend, Scarlett Bordeaux, did join WWE late last year.
Either way, the latest rumor, per Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful Select, is that Kross may not be available for any WrestleMania weekend bookings in early April. That would seem to suggest he's signing somewhere sooner rather than later.
Regardless of where he winds up, any promotion would be lucky to him in its ranks.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.