Wrestlers are human beings, yes. They’re athletes, artists, demigods, or however you choose to describe them. At the end of the day, from the Red Rooster to Dean Malenko, from Abadon to Rhea Ripley, they’re all human beings. We all throw around the “I’ve invested in [insert name here] stock” in conversations about wrestlers before. Whether it’s someone who’s just broken through or someone that didn’t really pan out how we thought they would, it’s purely an emotional investment. They’re words of support. No actual currency is laid down.
Unfortunately, we can’t invest in a wrestler’s “stock.” We can’t invest in recruits from a WWE Performance Center or a New Japan Dojo. There’s no wrestler stock market, and there’s no Wrestler Wall Street (patent pending), but for the sake of this column, it’s real, OK? It’s just outside Parts Unknown. It operates off the grid. It’s an underground, cash-only operation. It’s as closed-off if not more so than the professional industry itself is—or, was.
Here are nine wrestlers wherein you should get in on the ground floor.
1. Jade Cargill
In her early AEW career, Jade Cargill is undefeated. Her first win came in a match where she teamed with career 52.7% free throw shooter Shaquille O’Neal to beat Red Velvet and AEW EVP Cody Rhodes on Dynamite last month. That means the time to invest in Cargill stock was yesterday.
Three years ago, when all I cared about was wrestlers’ workrate, I would’ve groaned at a super-athlete/body-builder coming into a promotion. Through growth and maturity as a fan has come along with the realization that when you’re a a legend in the making, it doesn’t really matter if you’re the eighth best worker on the roster. The Rock’s working punches weren’t shit-hot, but the reaction that the Rock would get in 2000 was like a filled movie theater seeing Captain America pick up the Mjollnir.
Jade Cargill has a physique that I could never, ever achieve; she’s turns heads, she owns the room a soon as she walks in, and she’s got an unbelievable work ethic. I have no reason to believe that Jade Cargill isn’t going to become both the AEW World Champion and the biggest star in the whole company, or maybe even in wrestling. That’s how high I believe her ceiling is. Even though Tony Khan is a novice booker, a possible concern to some, you still must invest. She’s a #1 draft pick—just like her tag team partner was.
2. Shota Umino
His first round New Japan Cup match with Hiroshi Tanahashi made us pay attention to him, but his time under Jon Moxley’s wing made us fall in love with him. Umino is charismatic, gifted inside the ring, and obviously a future superstar.
His last official wrestling match was in mid-March last year while on excursion in the United Kingdom. I’ve been led to believe he’s returned to Japan since Uncle COVID came to visit. Umino has been hailed by many as “future ace,” a prediction, if you will. I see this as less a prediction and more of a spoiler.
There’s a lot to consider when projecting the future of young Umino; the NEVER Openweight Championship already weirdly feels below him, for example. Could he win the IWGP United States Championship? Quite possibly! Could he win it from his big brother, Jon Moxley? I doubt it. Could he win the IWGP Heavyweight or AEW World Tag Team Championships with his big brother Jon Moxley? It’s hard to say, but I lean towards “no,” though it’d be a ton of fun. Could he someday be the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion? It’s impossible to know, but it feels impossible to say “no,” too. He’s 23. The current champion Kota Ibushi is 38, even though he looks eight years younger. Shota Umino will be 38 in 2036. Who is Shota Umino in 2036? Who is he in 2026? We’ll never know, but he’s probably going to be a top dog in New Japan. But the time to invest is right now.
3. Steph De Lander
Is this my Australian bias talking? Sort of, but if you watched SDL work, you’d be asking me where to sign. I wrote about the last PWA Black Label card I attended, where she lost to Sam Osborne (another Aussie worth keeping tabs on), and I was impressed even before she stepped through the ropes. She’s tall, charismatic, and can command the room with ease. Her work is great for her level of experience. She stood out on a roster of numerous diamonds in the Sydney rough.
De Lander just signed with WWE, now on her way to the infamous Performance Center. While NXT has stunk quite a bit lately, there’s no denying that they feature premier talent that De Lander could work with. Wrestlers like Io Shirai, Mercedes Martinez, Candice LeRae, and Ember Moon are among those who will help SDL get much much better. Hopefully it won’t be too long before NXT tours again, as she’ll need ther ring reps to improve while also trying to avoid getting lost in the shuffle.
4. Ricky Starks
On paper, Team Taz is awesome. If I was trying to get someone to check out wrestling, or if I had to show them photos of some wrestlers that look like a bunch of DUDES, I think Team Taz would be one of the photos I’d show to try and convince them. I’d even show the videos of the Taz’s promos.
I love these guys as a group. Brian Cage is probably my least favorite, though, because I’m not a fan of the whole “Mr. GMSI” thing, but he looks impressive, and is perfect for the group. His work is sound too. Hook has a great presence as a hoodlum kid as well as a great name and even if he’s 70% as talented as his father he’s definitely someone to watch for the future. I want to feature Will Hobbs on my next WWS column—look at me abbreviating it like its a household name—so I won’t step on that right now, but I’m all in on Mr. Willy Hobbs.
But Ricky Starks is my favorite in this group. He’s perfect for Team Taz: While Cage and Hobbs are the jacked ass-kickers, Starks plays the slimy heel, who appropriately oozes charisma. He might have more sauce than anyone in wrestling right now. Ever since I first saw him on NWA Powerrr, I knew he was special. I don’t know if Ricky Starks will ever be the AEW World Champion, but he will absolutely be a main event player in due time. I hope for the sake of his value that he doesn’t go to WWE because losing that authenticity, that “Stroke Daddy” persona, it would hurt him. That said, he’s someone who is such a great talker that I think he would even make the horrid WWE promo-verbiage sound believable. Ricky Starks challenging Adam Page for the World Championship at Full Gear in 2022? Anyone?
5. Clark Connors
I’ll briefly talk about New Japan Strong: Despite having zero audience, despite having a smaller budget than that of WWE’s or even AEW, it’s still my favorite weekly wrestling show right now. They don’t have a massive roster, but quality outweighs quantity on Strong.
Clark Connors is my favorite wrestler on the show. He’s got so much fire, he’s so intense. He reminds me of a young Chris Benoit and Dynamite Kid, just with so much more charisma. Among his classmates from the LA Dojo, Karl Fredericks and Alex Coughlin, Connors has always been the one that’s stood out to me. I wanted him to win the Young Lion Cup, but it was clear that New Japan was (and still is) more behind Fredericks as top star of this group and a serious main event guy in the future. I’m going to make a bold prediction and say that I think Connors will surpass Fredericks in the New Japan ranks eventually. This isn’t a knock against Fredericks, someone I’m a fan of and impressed with more every time I see. Connors just presses the right buttons. Connors is all business, an incredibly aggressive wrestler who is incredibly fun to watch, so, then, aggressively reach into your wallet and invest in C².
6. Raquel Gonzalez
Reina Gonzalez was a college basketball player that signed with the WWE Performance Center in October 2016. She participated in the Mae Young Classic tournaments, she was on NXT television sparingly. That was Reina Gonzalez. A 6-foot former collegiate athlete. Reina wasn’t exactly a standout in NXT . . .until Reina became Raquel.
Raquel appeared under her new name for the first time at NXT Takeover: Portland, one of the last great wrestling cards pre-pandemic. She interfered in the street fight between Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai, slamming Nox onto a table from the top rope. This was when Raquel Gonzalez became the Diesel to Dakota Kai’s Shawn Michaels. The table didn’t break, though, but fortunately the bump looked brutal for Nox.
It became clear just how legit Raquel really is when she pinned NXT Champion Io Shirai in the WarGames last year, and now she’s set to challenge Shirai for the Championship at the upcoming NXT Takeover in Tampa. I think Gonzalez will win, and I think she’s going to be a dominant NXT Champion. She’s only 30, and she could definitely spend a couple of years in NXT working with more experienced wrestlers, improving before the main roster actually needs her rather than prematurely taking the title off her and shoving her into the mix of RAW and/or SmackDown. I see Raquel Gonzalez becoming a serious superstar over the next ten years, barring any injuries or trainwreck booking. Buy in now.
7. “Jungle Boy” Jack Perry
This should be an obvious one. I have read about some negativity throw his way him by some, and I feel the sole reason for this is the crowd he hangs with. It’s Jurassic Express that’s holding Jungle Boy back right now. I’m don’t mean to shit all over Marko Stunt and Luchasaurus, but I just think that Jungle Boy has too much potential as a legitimate star that’s being wasted in a novelty act. How seriously are casual fans going to take the dinosaur-man? How seriously will they take the child-sized Mark Stunt running around the ring? As a singles wrestler, Jungle Boy could be a heartthrob babyface for teenagers. He has Hollywood looks and happens to be son of a famous Hollywood actor. He’s the prototype white meat babyface.
Perry is also just 23, and I’d like to think that at some point he will wrestle under his birth name. I think he could be a future World Champion in AEW. His best stuff has been on his own as a singles wrestler. His match MJF at the 2020 Double or Nothing, the 10-minute draw against Chris Jericho in late 2019, those are good examples of how much more he can do on his own.
By investing in Jungle Boy, bank on him eventually breaking away from the Jurassic Express, bank on him wrestling as Jack Perry, and bank on an already-great who will only get better.
8. Danny Limelight
It was a toss-up between both members of Team Filthy, between Limelight and Chris Dickinson, but I gave the edge to the younger guy. Danny Limelight has been another standout on New Japan Strong, plus he’s had some impressive showings on the AEW Dark shows, as well as the one Dynamite appearance he had. The former Marine is a great wrestler and has serious charisma, and whichever company he ends up calling home will gain a serious new asset.
I’d like to eventually see the entire Team Filthy group mix it up in Japan with the rest of NJPW’s roster, and, moreover, I’d love to see Danny Limelight compete in the Best of Super Juniors tournament. With Hiromu Takahashi out with an injury, and with no clear ace at the top (sorry, Despy), it feels even more so that the Junior Heavyweight division is lacks star power. Limelight would be a fresh addition to the BOSJ field, for sure. If he were to sign with the WWE, I wouldn’t love his chances, though being ex-military wouldn’t hurt his case for being seen as a potential star. While I think his future is most promising with NJPW, I feel it more likely he’ll sign with AEW, where he wouldn’t stand out as much. Either way, though, I’m investing.
9. Tyler Bate
Now, I never watch NXT UK. I’ll watch something on the show it if it’s raved about, otherwise, there just aren’t enough hours in the week.
Tyler Bate, however, is someone I have time for. Another young and incredibly talented guy, he already has a great resumé of big-match performances, like the 2017 UK Championship match in Chicago where he dropped the title to Pete Dunne, or the matches with partner Trent Seven against the Undisputed Era, where they traded the NXT Tag Team Championships, or the classic where he challenged Walter and had a 40+ minute saga of a match. His last big match was the tag team dream match with he and Trent Seven against Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa at the 2020 Worlds Collide event in Phoenix. Bate already has a serious catalog of bouts for his age.
Bate is 24, so he still has well over a decade of prime years left. As soon the pandemic ends, WWE needs to get this guy back in the United States and straight up to the main roster. I can’t see them bringing up Bate without a stint in NXT, though, but Bate is already so good, and we’ve seen that he’s a main event guy as he’s proved himself in the aforementioned matches. I see a future superstar in Tyler Bate, and I hope Vince McMahon does, too. I want to see Bate vs. Rollins, Bate vs. Reigns, Bate vs. McIntyre, even Bate vs. Styles. When he is able to return to the States, his career will skyrocket. This guy is a future WWE Champion, in the right hands.