Top 10: Indie Cruiserweights for the GCS by Jerry Whitworth
Announced in just the last few weeks, the WWE Network will be hosting the Global Cruiserweight Series, a tournament of wrestlers at or below 205 lbs. beginning July 13th. Featuring 32 entrants from around the world, the event will span ten weeks. Obviously, the combined WWE and NXT roster lacks the pool necessary to fill all 32 slots which means the GCS will be groundbreaking in bringing in freelance, independent performers for a tournament (reminiscent of the Super J Cup and Best of the Super Juniors). WWE will likely supply about fifteen entries, namely Stardust, Kalisto, Neville, Xavier Woods, Tyler Breeze, Austin Aries, Manny Andrade, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Hideo Itami, Chad Gable, Enzo Amore, Rich Swann, Christopher Girard, and Johnny Gargano. Thus, the company will require nearly twenty outside wrestlers to fill tourney blocks. There are, of course, limitations. It’s unlikely WWE will be able to secure talent from companies like NJPW, TNA, ROH, and CMLL which are arguably its biggest pro wrestling competitors (albeit distant competitors). However, promotions like Evolve and Chikara could likely supply performers and there may even be a chance of bringing in AAA (who supplies much of Lucha Underground’s roster) as the Mexican promotion is in documented financial problems of late (though, LU agreements might cause issues for making this happen as LU reportedly met with WWE previously to seemingly toxic results). Should AAA (the third biggest wrestling promotion on the planet) become a viable option, this could mean the addition of the likes of Rey Mysterio Jr, Fénix, Pentagón Jr, Drago, El Hijo del Fantasma (King Cuerno on LU), Aero Star, Jack Evans, and Angélico. Lets then take a look at what wrestlers could likely emerge in the GCS.
Indian-American wrestler Sonjay Dutt has performed for over fifteen years working in promotions like TNA, ROH, CMLL, Chikara, PWG, CZW, Pro Wrestling ZERO1, and GFW competing against such names as Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, John Morrison, Último Dragón, Justin Gabriel, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, Jay Lethal, Christopher Daniels, and Alex Shelley. Just looking at the kind of talent he made a career competing against, you can easily see how Sonjay could find a spot not only in the GCS but perhaps a place in NXT if the fans take to him. Using a high-flying style often attributed to cruiserweights, Sonjay has more than paid his dues and has the career path (and championship history) to demonstrate a built-in audience that should make the performer a shoe-in for the tournament. Having been around the world, performing in many of the top promotions on the planet, Sonjay could certainly be a huge breakout in the GCS tournament.
When it comes to high flyers on the American independents, few carry the recognition of AR Fox. Competing for approximately the last nine years, Fox would actually undergo some of his training in WWE’s developmental FCW (which would become today’s NXT) before moving on to such notable promotions as AAA, ROH, Chikara, PWG, Evolve, CZW, and GFW. Nothing short of a phenomenal talent, Fox is likely best known for his years working within the Evolve family of promotions and it’s rather surprising given his abilities that he hasn’t caught on yet with a larger audience (as other performers with similar level of talent became big in NJPW and Lucha Underground, though reportedly Fox was close to emerging in the latter but the promotion allegedly couldn’t afford to bring him on). The GCS could be the kind of stage that will bring AR Fox to the next level to shine his star in a place he more likely deserves.
A relative newcomer amidst many of the seasoned talents in this list, Matt Riddle offers an intriguing position to emerge for the GCS. An MMA competitor since 2008 likely best known for UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter 7, Riddle expressed an interest in pro wrestling and going to WWE in 2014 where he was told instead to receive training through and booking in Evolve (which has seen an emerging relationship with NXT). Since then, Riddle has competed in several promotions but mostly within Evolve winning the promotion’s Style Battle tournament this year defeating Tracy Williams in the final round. Riddle competing in the GCS means several things: adding variety relying on an MMA style over high-flying, adding broader appeal from the MMA audience (along with his built-in fanbase), and can test to see if he’s ready to move up to NXT.
“The Villain” Marty Scurll is a British wrestler plying his trade for over a decade making a name for himself in America in recent years performing for TNA, PWG, CZW, and GFW. Well versed in the British style of wrestling, Scurll is no stranger to American and high-flying techniques adding a unique dimension to his product. Part of what can be viewed as a British invasion of performers in the States alongside the likes of Zack Sabre Jr. and Will Ospreay, Scurll has several layers to his art where he’s not only well versed inside the ring, he also has a personality that transcends it where he can easily control the sway of the audience to either hate, love, or laugh at him. For this ability alone, Scurll should be a viable option to enter the GCS with his mat skills an added bonus that will undoubtedly raise the stock of his personal promotion.
Arguably the top British wrestler on the independent scene today, Zack Sabre Jr. is a highly skilled performer and athlete that undoubtedly has an air reminiscent of Daniel Bryan in his presentation and art. Having emerged in such notable promotions as Pro Wrestling Noah, Chikara, PWG, Evolve, and CZW over his twelve year career against the likes of Daniel Bryan, Jushin Thunder Liger, Ricochet, Taka Michinoku, AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly, Adam Cole, and Pentagón Jr, Sabre is a world traveled commodity waiting to make it big. Arguably one of the busiest performers today having to juggle travel between Japan, UK, and the States, Sabre has all the tools for joining the WWE main roster let alone NXT should he emerge in the GCS. Honestly, it would be rather bizarre if Sabre doesn’t emerge in the GCS given his career path thus far.
One of the most exalted cruiserweights in the history of professional wrestling, Último Dragón is the record holder for the most decorated wrestler in history at one time carrying ten separate titles including belts from WCW, NWA, and, in a roundabout manner, WWE (as the Light Heavyweight Championship was in NJPW’s possession at the time meaning Dragón was a WCW and WWE champ at the same time before WWE absorbed WCW). Having wrestled in almost every notably promotion over his almost thirty year career including WWE, WCW, NJPW, AAA, CMLL, and AJPW, Dragón was a standout among standouts having been one of the top competitors in WCW’s cruiserweight division which was arguably the glue that held WCW together in the Monday Night Wars when wrestling was more popular at that time than in its entire history. The impact of Dragón and fellow cruisers like Rey Mysterio Jr, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Jushin Thunder Liger, Dean Malenko, Psicosis, Billy Kidman, and Juventud Guerrera in WCW is felt in a massive way today as it changed the industry where smaller competitors arose in such large quantities that they flood most of the world’s promotions (making the GCS such an exciting concept). Dragón is one of a handful of these competitors still active today making him someone who must be high on the list of viable performers for the GCS adding a massive amount of credibility and prestige to the tournament.
Arguably the most well known cruiserweight in the history of pro wrestling, the impact of Jushin Thunder Liger on the sport likely can not be measured. In Japan alone, Liger is like a wrestling god comparable to an amalgamation of Hulk Hogan and Superman. A living legend, Liger would come to America and compete in WCW where he was an early entry in the massively popular and influential cruiserweight division setting the tone for a new page in the promotion’s history as it entered the Monday Night Wars. Liger still competes today in NJPW where the prominence he holds in Japanese pop culture permits him the ability to hold a position in Japan’s top company but the freedom to work freelance in any American promotion he desires, including WWE when he competed at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn (arguably the most critically acclaimed NXT show in the brand’s existence thus far). The addition of Liger to the GCS would further help establish the event as groundbreaking, historic, and credible by having this modern day icon compete against the best in the world.
When WCW was building its brand by creating a Cruiserweight division that would inspire for decades to come, WWE tried to enter into the frenzy with a Light Heavyweight division that sadly underperformed as much of the world’s top talent was already in WCW forming its midcard. While there were some notable entrants (Tajiri and Histeria/Super Loco/Super Crazy made it big in ECW, Devon Storm/Crowbar went to WCW, Águila/Papi Chulo became Essa Ríos, and Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor formed the popular tag team Too Cool), the closest to a breakout star was Taka Michinoku who won the Light Heavyweight championship and held the title for ten months. Arguably one of the best high-flyers on Earth at the time, Michinoku was saddled with a comedic angle with the stable of Kai En Tai (whom the wrestler already teamed with in Michinoku Pro and ECW) for three years before returning to Japan as a huge star. Founding the school and promotion Kaientai Dojo, Michinoku formed a brand from his exposure in America to develop his own company and became a superstar in promotions like NJPW, AJPW, and Pro Wrestling Noah. While Último Dragón and Jushin Thunder Liger are considered living legends in the sport, the prominence of Michinoku in WWE needs to be taken into account and should be celebrated as an entrant in the GCS as a link to WWE’s past. As an aside, one can hope if Xavier Woods were to meet Taka Michinoku in the tourney, it could feature some play between the New Day and Kai En Tai (as Sho Funaki already has an ongoing working arrangement with WWE today, Dick Togo and/or Mens Teioh would just have to be brought in).
One of the best wrestlers performing today, Kota Ibushi has been a busy man to say the least in the past few years spreading himself between promotions D2T and NJPW. Undoubtedly a rising star in the wrestling world who has not even come close to the levels he’s likely to achieve, Ibushi very recently made the unprecedented move to become a free agent while it appeared he was positioned to be moving into a prime position within NJPW (Japan’s biggest wrestling promotion and the second biggest wrestling promotion on Earth). While chances are he will still ascend in NJPW, this development frees up the almost twelve year veteran for the opportunity to possibly come to WWE (who has already acquired Japanese megastars like Hideo Itami and Shinsuke Nakamura), if not at least for the Global Cruiserweight Series. While Ibushi entering the GCS will be nothing but a positive addition to the tournament (being one of the most popular cruiserweights working today), it could be a massive boon for the WWE Network which only became available in Japan last month. If Ibushi is available and willing to participate in the GCS, one would almost have to assume he’s guaranteed to emerge.
Due in large part to the impact of the cruiserweight division in WCW, the wrestling industry has changed as smaller performers have flooded promotions and altered the landscape likely forever. With this in mind, where cruiserweights have become a dominant competitor type in the world market, arguably the most in demand athlete of this build is Ricochet. Having competed the last twelve years in promotions like NJPW, Lucha Underground, Chikara, PWG, and Evolve against the likes of Rey Mysterio Jr, Kevin Owens, John Morrison, Cesaro, Neville, Justin Gabriel, Sami Zayn, Jushin Thunder Liger, Taka Michinoku, Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, Apollo Crews, Kenny Omega, Roderick Strong, Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Kota Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr, AR Fox, Michael Elgin, Rich Swann, Johnny Gargano, Pentagón Jr, Drago, El Hijo del Fantasma, Aero Star, and Fénix (with a match scheduled against Último Dragón next month), Ricochet has fought the best and beaten the best in virtually every ring save the WWE. Ricochet would tryout for the WWE in 2014 and despite reportedly being immensely impressive there with NXT talent being blown away by his abilities, he was allegedly looked over because too many NXT performers of his size were already on the roster at the time. Since that time, Ricochet reportedly entered into a seven year contract with Lucha Underground where he can seemingly perform for other companies but it would prevent his acquisition by WWE for its roster. It’s likely this contract could pose a problem but there maybe just enough wiggle room to see Ricochet perform in the GCS.
Honorable mentions: Rey Horus, Matt Cross, Drew Gulak, “Speedball” Mike Bailey, Tracy Williams, T.J. Perkins, Andrew Everett, Shynron, Jigsaw, and Chuck Taylor.