Pro wrestling, to those who know it, is a life bending phenomenon. No matter how good or bad it is, we tune in for the monthly pay per views, every Monday night for Raw and find the shows our favorite indie or foreign wrestlers are on, like Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. We stay up late, we watch too long, we invest in the characters, but most importantly, we invest in the wrestler themselves. This is my first time writing a formal-ish piece on professional wrestling, but this is my blog and I tend to review the things I watch on here. In 2015, I've really expanded my wrestling habits to more than it even was a few years ago. WWE Raw every week still (no matter how dreadful). NXT is now a must watch show that it wasn't a few years ago. ROH PPVs can be fun, while NJPW has some of the best matches you'll ever see. We also now have the superb Lucha Unerground, with the best combination, I think, of action, drama and overall storytelling. But like with any other sport, that's right sport, fight me, you have to look at the younger generation of stars that we will continue to watch for years to come. Like Le'Veon Bell, Dez Bryant, Mike Trout or Anthony Davis, pro wrestling has lager than life figures that equate to the young talent of these traditional sports' mega stars. So instead of me giving you a big list of "Best Shows" or "Best Matches" or the like, I want to run down four of the younger stars, below 30 years of age and why they're keeping the future of professional wrestling looking bright. The New Day (as well as Seth Rollins, just missed my top four, but I can assure you, that New Day does indeed rock.
26 years old
Active since April of 2008
NXT Women's Champion (current)
Pamela Martinez, or as you probably know her, Bayley, has taken NXT by storm. NXT is WWE's minor leagues, so to speak, and it has exploded in popularity over the past two years. But even with big name stars like Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens setting up shop there for periods of time, I always go back to Bayley. You'd never know Bayley is a wrestler with her bubbly and infectious personality. But take a look at her life and you'll know she was born to do this. Growing up she wrote essays and poems in school, musing that one day she would hit the big stage. She worked her way through indie promotions, including Big Time Wrestling and Shimmer, from 2008 to 2012, before catching her big break with WWE.
In late 2012 she was signed by the WWE and then debuted in January of 2013 on the NXT roster. A far cry from the headband wearing woman we know now, she was trying to cultivate a luchador persona that never panned out. Later that year, in her television debut, she adopted the name Bayley and fought in a losing effort to current WWE main roster Diva (and first ever NXT Women's Championship), Paige. She evolved he character further in a first round tournament loss to Alicia Foxx, where her fandom cost her the match. It wasn't until that September that she won her first match, a tag team match, alongside Charlotte (another current main roster Diva and daughter of Ric Flair).
From there on out we can trace Bayley's journey to being one of the best young wrestlers trough a feud with Sasha Banks, who was with Summer Rae as the BFFs (Beautiful Fierce Females), Emma and Dana Brooke as well as bouts with Charlotte and Becky Lynch. Coming full circle, we're at present day. Two months removed from Bayley winning the NXT Women's Championship, from Banks, at NXT TakeOver Brookyln. We're also two weeks removed from Bayley defending said title against Banks in a 30 minute Iron(wo)man match at TakeOver Respect. Arguably the two most memorable and emotion filled women's matches of all time. TakeOver Brooklyn proved that WWE "divas" are indeed capable of main eventing shows. While TakeOver Respect proved that if you give them the main event spotlight, they will deliver a match of the year worthy bout.
Bayley and Banks are the polar opposite of each other. Bright and cherry vs boss and chastising. Bayley character has endeared and engrossed us all over he past year. We've watched her become a legitimate threat in the division she is now the queen of. Instead of just being the fan-girl, she's now the one throwing Bayley to Belly hug-plexes. She'll hug you, but she'll also pin you. Her wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men, her bracelets and now her championship belt. Bayley has proven to be an endearing force in and out of the ring.
Ricochet / Prince Puma
27 years old
NJPW / Lucha Underground
Active since 2004
Lucha Underground Champion, Lucha Underground Aztec Warfare, NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 2014
Sadly, for the most part, I did not know about Ricochet, real name Trevor Mann, until I started watching Lucha Underground last winter and was introduced to Prince Puma. In the first month of --me watching-- Lucha Underground season one, Puma had great matches with Johnny Mudo (as most people know him, John Morrison or Johnny Nitro). Impressive, I decided to look into the back log of his career.
Ricochet has wrestled everywhere. You name the indie promotion, he's been there. Pro Wrestling Guerrllia, Chikara, Dragon Gate (though that's technically not indie), Evolve, etc. He amassed championships and titles wherever he went, but it wasn't until NJPW in 2013 that people began to really notice him. By the time 2014 rolled around, he had won the Best of the Super Juniors tournament and was ready to be one of the biggest stars of El Ray's Lucha Underground.
From the start, you could tell that Prince Puma was going to be a fixture at the top of Dario Cueto's Lucha Underground promotion for the whole season. He won Aztec Warfare to become the inaugural champion and continued to hold and defend the title throughout the rest of season one. Having stellar title matches with Johnny Mundo, Mil Muertes, Hernandez and Drago throughout season one, Puma proved that despite his size, he was there to compete. Mundo and Puma had a match of the year contender with their Iron Man match for the title. While during Ultima Lucha, Muertes and Puma put on a show stealing match that left us all patiently waiting for season two of Lucha Underground.
Ricochet or Prince Puma, however you know him, has the great combination of speed, athleticism and ring knowledge to be at the top of wherever he's at. His 630 senton stands out as a finish to a match as well. It was reported that before Lucha Unerground season two was announced, WWE was interested in signing him. So that speaks to how highly he is regarded, since WWE has been scooping up a ton of the top indie talent in the past year. Luckily for us, we will get to see the conclusion of his feud with Mil Muertes next season and then who knows, maybe Ricochet will end up on the big stage at some point.
27 years old
Active since August 29, 2004
3x IWGP Heavyweight Champion (current), 2x G1 Climax (2012, 2014) and New Japan Cup 2013
Much like Ricochet, I've only begun to take notice of Kazuchika Okada (and a lot of other non-WWE wrestlers) this past year or so. The Rainmaker as they call him in NJPW has been tearing it up for years now in Japan and we're finally getting to see the beginning of the best of his talent. He was trained by Ultimo Dragon and spend his first year in NJPW, before leaving for a year to Total Nonstop Action (TNA) in 2010 for a year. In 2011 he returned to NJPW to begin working his way toward his first major event wins.
Anyone who's kept up with NJPW these past two years has seen him grown, even just over the course of these past 10 months. If you're like me, you took notice of NJPW this year on January 4th when Wrestle Kingdom 9 aired. Live commentated by Jim Ross and Matt Striker, the show, from top to bottom, set the standards for the PPVs in 2015.
In a losing effort to obtain the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at the event, Okada and then champion Hiroshi Tanahashi delivered a main event that has stood up as one of NJPW best main events of the year. After the loss to Tanahashi, Okada began to breakdown and throughout the spring battled Bad Luck Fale. After vanquishing him, he began to challenge the new IWGP champion, AJ Styles. The two have had a terminus series of matches ever since. Both singles matches, tag matches and matches for the IWGP title. Over the summer at NJPW's Dominion 7.5 in Osaka-jo Hall, Okada finally put Styles down for the one, two, three and began his third IWGP Heavyweight title reign.
With his unmistakable charisma, his hard hitting style in the ring and a look that really does set him apart, Kazuchika Okada is going to be a major player in NJPW for years to some. His dropkick, if you have not seen it, please look it up, is a thing of beauty. The Rainmaker reminds me a lot of a young Randy Orton. Dripping with talent and eager to rise to, and stay at, the top. We'll all be lucky to watch him continue to reign as a champion in Japan for a long time to come.
23 years old
WWE / NXT
Active sine August 8, 2010
Chatoic Women's Wrestling Champ, IWE Women's Champion, NXT Women's Championship
I have been watching Sasha Banks, real name Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado, ever since she first debuted on NXT in late 2012. She grew up a pro wrestling fan, idolized Eddie Guerrero and as soon as she could, began her training to become a wrestler. While she didn't have the prototypical look of a WWE "diva," she seemed like she had what it took to break the mold. She was good on the mic, good in the ring and even just an inkling of talent can go a long way, especially when you factor in that she was a month shy of turning 21 when she debuted. I went back to look at some of her pre-WWE stuff, it showed that she had the raw talent of someone destined to be the best at where ever she ended up.
Much like Bayley above, Sasha lost in the first round of he inaugural NXT Women's Championship tournament and essentially never looked back. She started off by being beaten by Paige in a NXT Women's Championship match, mostly due to the behest of Summer Rae to prove herself. A few weeks later, Banks beat Bayley with Summer Rae at ring side. After the match, Sasha anointed herself "The Boss" and soon formed the BFFs with Summer Rae. Throughout the year, the BFFs took down Bayley, Emma and Paige. That November, after the BFFs defeated Charlotte and Bayley in a tag match. Afterward, Charlotte turned on Bayley and aligned herself with the BFFs.
2014 rolled around an Banks and Charlotte (without Summer Rae) began a feud with Bayley. Eventually Banks and Charlotte split up. The two, alongside Paige, Becky Lynch and Bayley begin to have matches with each other. Eventually Charlotte and Banks began a feud for Charlotte's NXT Women's Championship. Banks lost two straight NXT TakeOver matches to Charlotte, to close 2014.
Finally, we come to this year, 2015, the year of The Boss. At the first NXT TakeOver event of the year, Rival, Sasha defeated Becky Lynch, Bayley and Charlotte to finally claim the NXT Women's Championship. Over the course of the year she successfully defended the title against Charlotte, Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch. Heading into NXT TakeOver Brooklyn, after a stellar set of promos and lead up to her title defense against Bayley, the fruit of Banks' hard work came to fruition. In losing effort to Bayley, the two put on a show stealing match in front of the largest NXT crowd ever for the NXT Women's title. Then a few weeks ago, the duo topped themselves, and quite possibly had match of the year at NXT TakeOver Respect, the aforementioned Iron(wo)Man match.
Dare I say, but Sasha Banks may be the best overall wrestler currently in the WWE. Yes this is a roster with Rusev, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe on it. Banks oozes the charisma and venom it takes to be a top heel. She also backs it up with some of, if not the best, wrestling among the divas. Though you could argue Becky Lynch or Bayley are close. Sasha Banks is only 23 years old, she's recently been called to the main roster and is still undefeated in singles matches since being called up. It's only a matter of time before The Boss is giving everyone Bank Statements from the top of the main roster.