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Over the last three years I have published a yearly installment that highlights some of the best indie talent from around the world. The goal is to showcase top names that would make welcome additions to WWE, and previous names that have appeared on the list include Uhaa Nation (Apollo Crews), Biff Busick (Oney Lorcan) and Johnny Gargano, all of whom have been signed by WWE. With the company aggressively signing indie talent and always looking to add more names to NXT, all the top names on the independent scene have a real chance at being signed.

I think before we get into the list we should talk about what an indie specifically is. To some, any company that is not WWE is considered an indie. For the sake of this article, I am putting a rule down that a company that pays their employees a full-time contract and not a per-appearance deal cannot have any of their talent listed on this list. If WWE really wants to sign one of those talents even they will have to likely wait for their contracts to expire with their current employer. That disqualifies talent from TNA, ROH, AAA, CMLL, NJPW and NOAH, almost everyone else is fair game.

Matt Riddle

Riddle has only been wrestling for 18 months but has already made a name for himself on the independent seen wrestling for EVOLVE. Riddle is a former MMA fighter and is best known for delivering one of the most devastating knockouts in MMA history on an episode of The Ultimate Fighter to Dan Simmler. After failing to win on The Ultimate Fighter, he had several fights for UFC but ultimately was released from the company and decided to pursue a career in professional wrestling, training at the venerated Monster Factory in New Jersey.

Riddle has shown a terrific proficiency in wrestling and despite his lack of experience has already become one of the more popular wrestlers in EVOLVE. He wrestles in fight shorts and bare feet just like an MMA fighter, and he relies mainly on strikes and submissions during his matches, making his work unique for EVOLVE, which relies a lot on high-flying wrestlers. He has also shown some solid charisma, gotten a catch phrase (mainly just saying "Bro" after every sentence) over with the audience and has seemed to grasp the entertainment aspect of wrestling as well as he has grasped the wrestling side of it.

In an interview in October, Riddle mentioned that it was actually WWE who was instrumental in getting him signed to EVOLVE. WWE has shown an appreciation for EVOLVE's product and has been rumored to be using them as a de-facto development brand used to test talent before signing them to NXT. One would think that WWE has been impressed with Riddle's development in EVOLVE and it seems like a slam dunk that he would be signed to NXT within the next year or so.

James Raideen

Raideen is probably not that well known to most American fans because he has made limited appearances stateside. On paper, the former student of the Dudley Boyz has a lot of the things that WWE likes in talent. First and foremost, he has a great look. At 6'5" 260lbs he has a natural physique and can move around well in the ring. He has some natural charisma, although his lack of work in the US, where promos are extremely important even on the independent scene, have probably hurt him in that regard.

Raideen has gotten a lot of polish wrestling in the pacific, both in his native New Zealand and in Japan. In Japan's Pro Wrestling Zero1 promotion he has found a lot of success, winning the prestigious Fire Festival (Zero1's version of the G1 Climax) in 2013 and also holding the Zero1 World Heavyweight Championship for 238 days during 2013-2014. At 25 years old he already has a lot of working experience and is probably one of the better pure power wrestlers in wrestling today. Add to the fact that he is from New Zealand and WWE should see a good opportunity in signing Raideen.

Toni Storm

Two New Zealand products in a row? Through in the emerging Jay White, who works for NJPW and ROH and Bad Luck Fale and it looks like we are headed for a Kiwi golden age in wrestling unseen since the days of Pat O'Connor. Storm is the youngest person on this list at 20 years old, but she has been wrestling actively since she was 15 years old and has a lot of experience. After starting out in Australia and New Zealand, Storm has relocated to the United Kingdom and quite possibly has been the most well-traveled wrestler on the independents in 2016, which is a big claim indeed.

Spending time in Japan and England, but also working for promotions in Germany, Australia, France, Spain, Northern Ireland and Finland, Storm has developed into one of the better technical wrestlers in Europe and might be the best prospect in all of women's wrestling, regardless of promotion; plus being easy on the eyes doesn't hurt either. She recently began working for Stardom, the largest all-women's promotion in the world and captured their version of the world title from veteran Io Shirai. She hasn't made it to the United States yet; but she is coming sooner rather than later.

Big Daddy Walter

The big Austrian has become a staple for Westside Xtreme Wrestling, the largest promotion on the European Continent. Like many European wrestlers, the 28 year old is well traveled, having wrestled all over the continent as well in Japan for Zero1 and in the United States for Combat Zone Wrestling. He was trained by NJPW star Tomohiro Ishii and it is reflected in his wrestling style, which is harsh and brutal, his signature moves being a powerbomb and a sinister lariat.

Walter, who has been wrestling since he was 17 might actually be a more intriguing prospect if you throw in his partner Robert Dreissker. Together they are known as The AUTsiders (get it?) and although they haven't teamed with each other much in the last year or so, their combination of size and punishing style could be intriguing to WWE, like The Ascension but actually taken seriously.

Jeff Cobb

Cobb is better known to fans of Lucha Underground as Monster Matanza Cueto, and after a non-descript career on the indies, Cobb has broken out into being one of the best wrestlers on the West Coast. Cobb, who is from Hawaii, actually represented Guam at the 2004 Olympics in Athens in Freestyle wrestling. He began wrestling professionally in 2009 and spent a while working in Hawaii before catching a big break in 2015 when he was chosen to be the Matanza character in Lucha Underground, winning the Lucha Underground Title in his debut match.

While the Matanza character has been a boon to his career, his future in WWE will likely rely on being Jeff Cobb. A breakthough for him came earlier this year when he had an excellent match against Chris Hero at a Pro Wrestling Guerilla show, proving that it wasn't just the strong booking of the Matanza character that would make him successful. At 34 Cobb is fairly old, but his size (5'11" 260lbs) combined with his athleticism and his ability to sell his opponents offense makes him a throw-back style wrestler. He reminds me a bit of Rusev, although he isn't quite as big, but he makes up for it by being a very good mat wrestler. The uncertain future of Lucha Underground could free him up to be signed by WWE in the next year or so.

Must Watch Matches:

Each week I will be recommending matches I have watched over the past week, complete with their original star rating.

Katsuyori Shibata vs Katsuhiko Nakajima-NJPW G1 Climax 26 Day 4 :****1/4

Michael Elgin vs Tetsuya Naito-NJPW G1 Climax 26 Day4: ****3/4

Michael Elgin vs Kenny Omega-NJPW G1 Climax 26 Day 8: ****1/4

Tetsuya Naito vs Katsuyori Shibata-NJPW G1 Climax 26 Day 8: ****1/4

SANADA vs Naomichi Marufuji-NJPW G1 Climax 26 Day 11: ****1/4

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