RAW Deal: The 2017 wrestling watchlist

Joe 'the Grappler' Marsalis
RAW Deal: The 2017 wrestling watchlist
Find out which wrestling stars are primed for a breakout year in 2017 from across the indy scene to NXT

Last week, I gave out my wishlist for the world of pro wrestling in the spirit of Christmas. While the things on that list remain a fantasy until they’re actually fulfilled, let’s take a look into the tangible future that’s right in front of us.

Like any sport nowadays, the human future of pro wrestling is easily discerned by taking a look at who’s taking the “minor leagues” (quotation marks because I use the term loosely) by storm. Wrestling fans who only watch WWE have their knowledge limited to who the official WWE narrative touts as the best young prospects—even when initiatives by people like Triple H have begun to make the company more inclusive to the independents (by way of things like the Cruiserweight Classic and the upcoming UK Championship Tournament)—but we can come up with a list of who’s going to be a bigger deal off the top of our heads.

So I’ve put together a quick list of five names wrestling fans should be watching out for. A few of these names will be coming from within the WWE itself, while one of them is someone more than a few people are already familiar with, but all of them have one thing in common: they’re sure to be bigger stars in 2017 no matter where they are. The only qualification needed is that they’re not mainstream in the intuitive sense of the word—meaning they shouldn’t be household names yet. Unfortunately, that means a name like Cody Rhodes doesn’t qualify, even though he’s well on his way to making himself a big name outside the WWE. No worries, though, as these five people are worth the hype.

Without further ado, let’s begin:

 

Ricochet

Okay, I know what you’re thinking—you’ve already heard of Ricochet, thanks to that viral GIF of him and high-flying opponent Will Ospreay in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament, or you’ve already seen him at work as Prince Puma in Lucha Underground. Hell, you might even be thinking that Will Ospreay should be in this spot, because he’s the less popular name.

I feel you there, but hear this: between the two of them, Ricochet has a bigger upside. Ospreay’s athleticism and daring high-flying and acrobatics is undoubtedly amazing, but as long as he prefers to do those things just for the sake of being visually breathtaking, he won’t yet be a complete wrestler. There will come a point where fans will deem Ospreay’s showstealing as straight-up unbelievable. While Ricochet is a party to the same thing, he seems a little more malleable than Ospreay, plus he’s got a look that is also far more marketable.

And, okay, maybe this is cheating, but WWE’s already taken a great interest in Ricochet. It’s only a matter of time until he comes into the fold because he’s no longer with Lucha Underground (semi-spoiler), and once he steps in, you know WWE would be willing to build around him, barring a terrible injury. If not that, then NJPW should also be taking a good look at making him an anchor for their own Junior Heavyweight division. I predict that 2017 is going to be his year, regardless of which major promotion he’ll be in.

 

Matt Riddle

UFC fans already know who Matt Riddle is, but for those who don’t, here’s a quick summary: this Ultimate Fighter contestant and erstwhile UFC fighter is the next Kurt Angle.

Yes, we’ve already got Chad Gable who currently is the next Kurt Angle in the WWE, but if there’s anyone who’s more poised to replicate Angle’s singles success in pro wrestling, it’s Riddle. Like Angle and Gable (and to an extent, Charlotte), the former MMA fighter has taken to pro wrestling like a fish to water in only around one year in the business. He’s as green as anyone with a minimum of experience in the business is, but you’d never know it from watching his matches in promotions like EVOLVE Wrestling. 

It certainly helps that he’s got an amateur wrestling background, but amateur wrestling doesn’t exactly prepare you for the mental requirements of pro wrestling; the proficiency Riddle’s shown there is what makes him amazing. I’m actually pretty confident that he’ll be in the NXT system by the end of next year, as he’s actually officially targeted by the WWE, and his EVOLVE contract allows him to leave that promotion when the bigger company comes calling.

 

Nikki Cross

To anyone who’s been watching NXT for the past few months, you already know Nikki Cross as the only female member of new stable Sanity, and there’s a reason why she’s there.

The main concern when it comes to training female wrestlers down in NXT is that many of them need a lot of time and experience to make pro wrestling natural to them. Only relatively few, the ones who’ve spent a lot of time honing their craft outside WWE, work as smooth as pros are supposed to—girls like Charlotte and Sasha Banks are up on the main roster putting on good matches and inspiring the youth, but it can’t be denied that they still feel half-baked as pro wrestlers.

And that’s even more notable when you compare them with two girls down in NXT right now. One of them is the current NXT Women’s Champion, so there’s no need for Asuka to be on this list. The other one is Nikki Cross, who’s been doing this for a while, and you can tell by the way she wrestles. Go watch that match I’ve linked up there and watch how much she stands out in her debut match. She’s the lone female member of Sanity because in a stable full of capable workhorses led by a renowned veteran in Eric Young looking to dominate the scene, every member needs to be able to pull their weight. 

I expect Asuka vs. Nikki Cross, Nikki Cross vs. Mickie James, or Nikki Cross vs. Ember Moon or hell to be a women’s division headliner sometime next year.

 

 

Jeff Cobb

Jeff Cobb as himself would virtually be unknown without the power of the internet, because the man most fans know better as the Monster Matanza Cueto is one hell of an athlete (probably why he calls himself Mr. Athletic). 

For those who aren’t familiar with his work, Cobb is a wrestler built in the same mold as Apollo Crews: able to both wrestle a powerhouse and high-flying game with all aplomb. The only difference is that Cobb seems to understand his talent and managed to marry the two styles better than Crews has—his finisher, called Tour of the Islands, is quite the athletic showcase. Go look it up, I’ll wait.

He’s successful as Matanza in Lucha Underground, but expect his stock to skyrocket and eventually get targeted by bigger promotions without his mask on. He’s already taken his Lucha Underground cred and used it to get spots in more notable indy events, such as PWG’s annual Battle of Los Angeles, and if one of the big three or four companies are any smart, they’ll try to snatch him up. Of course, Lucha Underground isn’t going to give him up easily, but he can only go so far as the Matanza character.

 

The Authors of Pain

Bet you didn’t see this one coming, did you?

Where most “smart” fans will see a couple of green hosses (that’s “big wrestler” in business parlance) who seem to be getting a big push too soon, I see a future legendary tag team that, ironically, throws it back to the old school in the way they wrestle. Perhaps Akam and Rezar may not be great wrestlers on their own yet, but their initial string of necessary squashes down on NXT already shows two important things: they understand how to wrestle as a tag team with their individual skillsets and styles, and more importantly, they have chemistry.

Neither man has to be a wrestling savant as long as both of them understand how to help each other out in the ring. You can argue that the biggest match of their career so far, where they won the second annual Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic up there in NXT Takeover: Toronto, was because of TM61’s experience, but check out any episode of NXT they appear in and you’ll see that their squash matches are a joy to watch. They play their role and execute all their moves smoothly, and the Takeover match proves that they’ve got the ability to hang in there and also more than pull their weight in the ring (most big men are content to do less and make the most of their few high-impact moves, which isn’t wrong, but has become formulaic).

They’re still pretty young in their career, but with more seasoning and a few tweaks to the gimmick and overall appearance and they can emerge as a top tag team when and not if they get called up to the main roster. As long as they book the Authors of Pain correctly over the course of their career, there’s no reason why they won’t eventually end up a Hall of Fame-worthy team decades down the road. Because if Braun Strowman was able to get his own renaissance, why can’t these guys? – Rappler.com

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Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring Mellow 94.7 DJ and PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer and Wrestling God Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! This week, Stan, Ro, and guest co-host Renzo give out this year’s annual awards on the last show ever to be recorded at the Mellow studios!

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