7 of the best wrestlers outside the WWE
WWE is not the be all and end all of the wrestling world. Vince McMahon's company may well be the market leaders and the undisputed top of the industry, but this is not to say that other smaller promotions are not also in possession of some superbly talented athletes.
This article will introduce, to those who may not watch wrestling aside from WWE, 7 wrestlers who are right up there with the best in the world. Part 2 will follow next week, featuring 7 other world class professional wrestlers.
All over the globe, there are wrestlers working day in, day out, at the absolute pinnacle of their game, in front of crowds that are a tiny fraction of the size that WWE events attract. These men deserve recognition too.
It should be noted that those wrestlers, who have made any appearance on any kind of WWE programming this year, have been omitted. For this reason, Del Rio, Rhodes and others who have recently left WWE are not listed.
#7 Adam Cole
As current Ring of Honor World Champion, Adam Cole is flying. Contracted to both ROH and NJPW, he recently became a member of Bullet Club, the fabled Japanese stable, which should tell you all you need to know about his standing in the wrestling world.
His highly impressive skill-set has led him to become one of only three men, to hold the ROH Title more than once.
Despite his sub-six-foot frame, Cole looks acts and wrestles like a far larger man. He just seems so natural on the mic and in the ring, and during this period in wrestling history, where talents constantly go further and further out of their comfort zone to get a crowd reaction, this is no easy task.
#6 Drew Galloway
The first of two ex-WWE wrestlers on this list, Galloway has totally reinvented himself, after leaving Vince McMahon's company, and has gone on to become one of the most sought after stars in the entire business.
A former TNA World Heavyweight and WWE Champion, among many other achievements, Galloway is undoubtedly one of the best big-man workers in professional wrestling. At 6'7, he's a truly massive man but possesses the athleticism of someone half his size. His Claymore finisher really is a thing of beauty.
By far one of the most popular guys on the TNA roster, Galloway is a proven draw. Drew is becoming more popular by the day, which leads us to wonder just how high he could reach if his potential is realised.
Hard to imagine that this is the same man, who under his WWE name, Drew McIntyre, comprised one-third of the genuinely horrible 3MB act, which also included Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal.
#5 Jay Lethal
Jay Lethal has come a ridiculously long way, since his days portraying a Randy Savage impersonation gimmick, on TNA. His latest run in Ring of Honor has allowed him the opportunity to show he can draw fans, play a top heel and run with the top title in the company.
He did all of those things, and more, with style. Lethal is the definition of a complete wrestler, with the ability play nearly any sort of character and get the fans to react. His in-ring work is excellent, too, to the point where it's sometimes difficult to remember that Lethal is only 5'10.
There have been rumours of Lethal moving to WWE in the past. However, when you look at how successful he's been in Ring of Honor, over the past few years (held the ROH World Title and ROH Television Title concurrently for 427 and 598 days respectively), Lethal should be in absolutely no rush to leave Ring of Honor.
He's a star there, and he'll only get better.
#4 Kazuchika Okada
Wrestle Kingdom 10, way back in January of this year, played host Kazuchika Okada's biggest career moment to date. In the main event, in front of 25,000+ people, Okada defeated his longtime nemesis Hiroshi Tanahashi in a match, which earned a prestigious 5-star rating from Dave Meltzer. Oh, and successfully defended the IWGP World Heavyweight Title.
Okada is NJPW's biggest star at this moment, and when you take into account the very average beginning that his career had, that's an absolutely incredible fact. Armed with an outstanding character and a finisher that has been protected brilliantly, he's one of the best-booked characters anywhere in professional wrestling.
A horrendous 2010 run in TNA, as Okato almost ruined everything. But, determined not to fail, he returned to NJPW, created the "Rainmaker" persona that has brought him so much success, and the rest, as they say, is history. At just 26 years old, it's scary to think how good he could be in 5 years time.
#3 Kenny Omega
There's nobody quite like Kenny Omega, anywhere in wrestling today. WWE try to portray men like Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton and Luke Harper, as unhinged, but none of them come close to Omega in this respect. Omega is one of the most unpredictable, entertaining men in the business.
Since assuming the role of Bullet Club leader (beating down AJ Styles and kicking him out of the club in the process) at the start of 2016, Omega's stock has soared to unprecedented heights. His victory in this year's G1 Climax tournament has ensured he gets a title match in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 11 (NJPW's version of WresteMania).
Having been stuck in NJPW's junior heavyweight division before, this year has seen Omega morph into one of the company's top stars. He was even a double champion earlier this year, holding the IWGP Intercontinental Title and the NEVER Openweight 6 man Tag Titles (with the Young Bucks) at the same time.
Heavily courted by WWE over the past few years, he has elected to remain in NJPW and become a huge star.
#2 Young Bucks
The Young Bucks may be a very bold choice for such a high spot on this list, but nobody can deny the impact they've had on the business. Matt and Nick Jackson have been pioneers in proving the concept that a professional wrestler can make a good living, without having to go to WWE and dilute their character.
Multiple time tag team champions in a vast array of promotions, they currently star in NJPW and Ring of Honor, where they continue to impress crowds around the world with their innovative offence and second-to-none in ring chemistry. No tag team in the world can play the crowd like the Young Bucks can.
Their insistence on super kicking everybody in sight, their flamboyant attire, the way they shamelessly borrow certain elements of their act from the NWO and the ridiculously inventive finishing moves they've created, are just a few reasons why the Young Bucks are one of wrestling's hottest acts.
#1 Matt Hardy
Put simply; Matt Hardy is the best wrestler outside of WWE today. If this list were based solely on in-ring ability, Hardy would be nowhere to be found, but it regards every aspect of the art of professional wrestling. I made much of the Drew Galloway's reinvention, but what Hardy has done this year is on another level.
"Broken" Matt Hardy is one of the best, most entertaining characters, not just in professional wrestling, but anywhere on TV.
People often forget that wrestling isn't just about the in-ring action. It's not merely a case of reeling off consistent five-star matches; it's about engaging the audience, conveying a story and leaving the crowd wanting more. Matt Hardy can do all of this, at a level far beyond anybody else currently wrestling outside of WWE.
His 2016 run alongside "Brother Nero" Jeff Hardy has been the most whacky and entertaining of his entire career. In an era where many proclaim that kayfabe is dead, Hardy is its last bastion of defence. He never breaks character. Ever. In a recent podcast interview with Chris Jericho, he stayed in character for an entire hour.
That shows the level of dedication that Hardy puts into his work currently. He's never been the most technical in the ring or had the loudest personality, but his transformation into Broken Matt has elevated him to the top of his game and the top of wrestling, in the minds of those who appreciate the character development and storytelling.
Carry on just as you are, Matt.
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