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When Cody Rhodes decided that he would be better off wrestling outside of WWE than in it; a lot of fans viewed it as a leap of faith. Would Cody, who had never wrestled outside of WWE, be able to succeed in the unforgiving land of independent wrestling? More than a year later, it is safe to say that Rhodes' gamble has paid off; he has been tagged as the franchise player for Ring of Honor, established his name in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and has had no problem finding independent promoters willing to meet his asking price.
Rhodes wasn't the first talent to ask for his release from WWE; and he may not even be the most successful. Over ten years ago a young wrestler from Winnipeg grew disgusted with the way he was being trained in Deep South Wrestling, WWE's developmental territory, and left the organization. Today, Kenny Omega is arguably the most successful American or Canadian wrestler outside of WWE since "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. Other stars, such as Rey Mysterio, Alberto Del Rio and John Morrison, have had no problem getting bookings and are all making a good living as wrestlers without working in WWE.
Not everyone is so lucky though; Ryback left WWE with big aspirations of being a huge draw on the independents, but has not made an impact and only garners headlines through shoot interviews and his social media accounts. Like Rhodes, Jack Swagger was seen as a good wrestler who maybe wasn't utilized to the best of his abilities inside WWE; but has struggled to get over on the independents. While the grass may always seem greener, for some wrestlers working outside of the bubble that is WWE is harder than others.
Last week, Neville reportedly decided that he had had enough and walked out on WWE, no-showing several dates. The story right now is the talented high-flyer is awaiting his release for WWE, and once his no-compete clause expires will be ready to take bookings. It is likely that Neville will aim to pattern his post-WWE career like Rhodes, catching on with some of the larger promotions and carving out a role for himself in the blossoming independent wrestling picture, as well as in Japan, or perhaps Mexico.
Not every star can be Rhodes, but if a WWE talent is upset with their current position in the company, is it reasonable to expect success as a true independent?
Obviously, it depends on the individual talent. Neville seems like a great candidate to achieve success on the independents, mainly because he has already done it. As PAC, Neville became a star working in England, as well as for Dragon Gate in Japan and Dragon Gate USA, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. While Neville didn't achieve tremendous success in WWE; his stock didn't drop in the minds of hardcore fans, who still see him as a great in-ring performer capable of performing spectacular feats of athleticism. As soon as fans first heard about Neville's expected departure, they began imagining dream matchups for him with talent ranging from his old rival Ricochet to Kazuchika Okada.
To me, it seems like the two main motivating factors for talent leaving WWE are creative opportunity, and money. Typically, wrestlers on the lower end of the card in WWE are given little creative direction and even less focus on television to showcase their talent; and while the independents have a smaller potential audience than WWE, for a wrestler interested in presenting their talent to fans, it is superior to WWE. A guy like Neville was probably never going to be allowed to have an epic, 25 minute match that tells a story and works fans into a frenzy. On the independents, he can have that kind of match seven days a week if he chooses.
The other factor, money, is much more difficult to assess. At face value nothing can touch what WWE pays top talent, and if a wrestler is working frequently on PPVs and has featured merchandise, they can make a lot of money. The other bonus is that even if a wrestler isn't making huge money, being in WWE presents the potential opportunity to do so. Jinder Mahal was going nowhere, until all of a sudden he was WWE Champion and making main event money; simply by being in WWE. If Mahal had stayed on the independents, he never would have been in the position to suddenly be making big time money. I was speaking with someone a couple of weeks ago and they were talking about how dead Bray Wyatt was and how time on the independents could really benefit him; however it would seem financially foolish for Wyatt to do so. Wyatt may not be a hot character, but he is featured on nearly every PPV and is unlikely to make that kind of money outside of WWE.
Money can also be determined by a wrestlers' personal attitude. Rhodes began his run on the independents by travelling all over the globe and working for numerous promotions, before inking a long-term deal with ROH that also allows him to compete in PWG and in NJPW and CMLL. A guy like Ryback, who demanded a lot of money from independent promoters (and at first did get a lot of bookings) was more selective in who he worked for, and while he was able to make a lot of money for the shows he was booked on, he never garnered the reputation on the independents that Rhodes did.
Recently, a new potential option for talents struggling to make their mark in WWE has been presented. Like Rhodes, Drew McIntyre was someone who was brought into WWE and given a substantial push, yet several years into his time in the company, he was working in a dead-end gimmick and looked to have little future in the company.
After getting his release, he rebuilt his image working in companies ranging from small independents in his native UK, to Impact Wrestling, to PWG and EVOLVE. Despite years of looking like a preliminary guy in WWE, McIntyre had re-emerged as a top talent. Due to his is apparent progress, WWE decided to bring him back into the fold and gave him a big push on NXT, and he surely looks destined for the main roster within the next year. In addition, he has been publically applauded by WWE management, for leaving the company and working extra-hard to establish himself as a talent that needed to be in WWE. For a guy like Neville, it isn't unreasonable to suspect that he may be back in WWE in a couple years.
Although there is no major American company that can offer talent big money and a platform seen by millions of people, independent wrestlers can still make a name for themselves beyond the shadow of WWE. While no one can deny that major success in WWE will grant a talent more fame and fortune than anywhere else, the fact is those positions are limited to a handful of talent and many more are left on the outside looking in. If a wrestler is properly motivated to make a difference in wrestling without relying on the heightened platform, there is no telling what they can achieve. With wrestling evolving and the internet and social media giving a greater following to promotions outside of WWE, it is reasonable to suspect that the best is yet to come. If Daniel Bryan becomes an active wrestler outside of WWE next year; or if NJPW continues to make inroads in the United States (and the two are potentially related); talent will have a chance to shine outside WWE on a grander scale since the closure of World Championship Wrestling more than 15 years ago.
TLC appears very much to be a one match show. For years, the PPV has been built around several stipulation matches; a ladder match, a tables match, a chairs match, and the main event has typically been a TLC match. That concept has been scrapped in favor of one TLC match as the main event and no other stipulation matches on the card; which is fine by me because as I wrote during my preview for SmackDown's Hell in a Cell, the less pre-determined match stipulations we have, the better.
Beyond the lack of other stipulation matches; an overwhelming amount of the top talent in the company is in the main event, leaving the rest of the card pretty dry. Unless you really want to see Bray Wyatt wrestling in drag, there isn't a whole lot to see beyond the main event. This has to be the first PPV in a while that the world title, tag title, and secondary title, is not being defended at all. In that sense, TLC really does feel like a loaded episode of RAW and not really a PPV-level event.
That being said; the main event should be fantastic and is going to be the match that makes the show good or bad. They are going to get a ton of time and since there are no other ladder, or table matches on the show, they will have free reign to do whatever spots they can come up with. With eight men in the match; guys can take huge bumps and lay down for a while to sell them; while the action continues elsewhere. There is really no reason to expect this match won't be great, and could easily end up being the best WWE match of 2017.
I was a little lukewarm on The Shield reuniting; part of me thinks it is lazy booking to go back to the exact same concept that got over once; and companies have been ruined by relying too heavily on groups to carry the product for years at a time. That being said, so far the reunion has been a big success. If the goal was to get Roman Reigns cheered, or at least booed less voraciously, then so far so good. I think more importantly, all three members feel like bigger stars since they reunited as the crowd is much more lively for all of them. Dean Ambrose in particular, feels so much more like a star and reminds people that at one time he was seen as the franchise player in the group.
Part of the reason I think The Shield is so over is that they were never really beaten and forced to disband; they were destroyed by Seth Rollins. The unit feels more important because they still are an invincible force that was never jobbed out and dismissed, which happens to most groups. That being said, the result of this match is probably going to be a loss for them. Considering the 5 vs 3 advantage the heels have, it is a loss that shouldn't damage them at all. Although The Shield is a money item for WWE; I don't think they should have them go over their tag team champions, their Intercontinental Champion, and their top heel. Even if Kane does the job; it would still be a blow considering they had a huge numbers advantage and couldn't get the job done. Booking 101 tells you that the babyfaces will fight valiantly but be overwhelmed by superior numbers; giving the heels a needed victory and the babyfaces an excuse for losing that if done correctly, would actually get them more over than if they had lost.
From a curiosity standpoint, the Finn Balor vs Bray Wyatt match is probably the second most-anticipated match on the card, but for all of the wrong reasons. This is set to be the formal introduction of Sister Abigail; Bray's alter-ego and god only knows how this is going to go. The track record of Wyatt's abstract elements has not been good; from the insects at WrestleMania, to the House of Horrors match. I can't imagine Sister Abigail being awesome, the only question is just how bad this will be. The worst part is that Balor is being dragged down into the feud with Wyatt and having to sell his preposterous character and mannerisms makes him look almost as bad. The Demon battling Sister Abigail makes me think this match is going to look like a bizarre superhero battle that ends up being one of things that make wrestling fans look bad for watching such a farce.
One of the few title matches on the show is Alexa Bliss vs Mickie James for the Women's Championship. James has been underutilized since her return, even though she still looks like she is in her prime and knows her way around the ring. I don't really care for the storyline as WWE should probably avoid marketing certain people as "old" even if it is for heel heat; especially because none of it has been particularly clever. James (38) is younger than a lot of the viewing audience; and she is younger than John Cena, AJ Styles, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Tamina, Bobby Roode, Matt and Jeff Hardy, Sheamus, among other talent on WWE's roster. I do think James has been good in her promos selling the idea she is trying to turn back the clock and win one more championship.
The other women's match on the main card is Asuka's main roster debut against Emma. With James getting the title shot and Emma being featured weekly, WWE is trying to increase the depth of the women's division on RAW, which has trailed SmackDown's depth despite RAW being three hours longer. Emma is talented enough to warrant a spot on RAW; but it will be tough going against Asuka because the goal here should be for Asuka to dominate and look like a super big threat to Bliss and the rest of the division. It could get ugly for her.
The second title match on the card is the Cruiserweight Championship match between Kalisto and Enzo. Kalisto surprisingly won the title from Enzo on RAW; which by the looks of it seems like something WWE did to get back at Neville, who was originally supposed to be in the match but walked out of the company before it took place. Considering 205 Life has been built around Enzo and now he has his heel posse to back him up, I don't suspect Kalisto to have a particularly long reign.
The last match on the card is Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher vs Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann. From a technical standpoint this should be good; but the crowd doesn't get into cruiserweight matches, certainly one that isn't for the title. With most of the top talent in the main event, it could open the door for a match like this to steal the show because they could have more time to work, but they will be fighting an uphill battle.
Must Watch Matches:
Will Ospreay vs KUSHIDA: **** - NJPW King of Pro Wrestling
Tomohiro Ishii vs Tetsuya Naito: ****¼ - NJPW King of Pro Wrestling
EVIL vs Kazuchika Okada: **** - NJPW King of Pro Wrestling
Eddie Edwards vs Naomichi Marufuji: **** - NOAH Great Voyage in Yokohama