As independent wrestling continues to grow in popularity (see: All In and its astronomical windfall), so do the performers on major indy cards, a number of whom would qualify for the Hidden Gems section in their own rights. Notable talents in places like Ring of Honor, IMPACT Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and the scattered indy scene at large have time with WWE somewhere deep in their backgrounds, even if they were just small brushes.
Who would have thought the following 10 wrestlers had a background in WWE? These are certainly fellas you wouldn't normally associate with Vince McMahon et al, but have collected a payday from the Stamford giant before. It looks like no matter who you are, or whatever stage of the game you're at, WWE will get you somehow...
10. Christopher Daniels
For this entry, you have to go back to when the "E" was an "F". Daniels' experience inside a WWE ring dates back to the Attitude Era, at a time when The Fallen Angel began cementing his reputation as one of the most gifted unsigned talents in the United States. In fact, Daniels has appeared on television for WWE, WCW *and* ECW at different times, though it would be Ring of Honor and TNA that would first see the benefit of officially employing him.
Between early-1998 and mid-2001, Daniels made at least seven appearances as weekend squash fodder on WWE programming, putting over the likes of Darren Drosdov, Taka Michinoku, Jerry Lynn, and Too Cool, among others. In fact, in a dark match taped in July 1998, Daniels would wrestle and defeat future four-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Minoru Tanaka. So, uh, when *does* the next WWE Unreleased DVD come out?
9. Joey Ryan
Certainly Ryan wouldn't be permitted within a sponsor-adherent WWE to assault opponents with his sentient genitalia, but that hasn't stopped the prevalent sleazemonger from popping up at some of the company's events. Between 2005 and 2011, Ryan would take part in a handful of WWE events, primarily on the west coast, some of which would see him appear on camera.
On two occasions in 2008, Ryan would have run-ins with Big Show, the more notable of which saw Ryan as one of three local indy guys that each took the fall to Show in stipulation bouts, as part of the Cyber Sunday build-up (more on this one later). Ryan's last appearance for WWE saw him lose a dark match to Bo Dallas in August 2011, though he gained a bit more fame days earlier at SummerSlam when he played an astonished fan during the Mark Henry/Sheamus match that would see the two heavyweights crash through the ringside barricade.
8. Alex Shelley
The recently-retired Generation Next'er trotted the globe over the course of his 16 years in the business, leaving his mark with golden runs in Ring of Honor, TNA, and New Japan. Someone with Shelley's natural charisma and flashy ring work could have been a boon to a brand like NXT, or even 205 Live. In fact, Shelley does have prior WWE experience, albeit brief and not particularly memorable.
Shelley's lone WWE match was filmed in June 2005 for Sunday Night Heat, which would see the future X-Division Champion put over Simon Dean. The match (which came just two days after he worked with Roderick Strong at ROH New Frontiers) was a tryout for Shelley, which obviously did not result in him being hired.
7. Eli Drake
Drake truly has found his calling in IMPACT Wrestling, turning heads with his confident verbal delivery as something of pro wrestling's answer to Morton Downey, Jr. What is sometimes forgotten is that Drake has a history with WWE, namely in NXT, where he was part of the company's developmental program for about a year in 2013-14.
Working under the name Slate Randall, Drake would primarily work in non-televised bouts, taking on the likes of Jason Jordan, CJ Parker (Juice Robinson), Angelo Dawkins, Mojo Rawley, and would even team with talents like Aiden English and Baron Corbin. Drake's time in NXT ended in August 2014, which he partially attributed to an acrimonious and contentious relationship with then-head trainer, Bill DeMott.
Unlike Daniels, this future Addiction member was actually given something of a small push on WWE programming. In early-2005, Kazarian departed TNA, jumping ship to WWE. By mid-summer, Kazarian was placed on the SmackDown brand, though he would never wrestle on the main show. He did, however, enjoy an unbeaten run on weekend show Velocity, looking like the next big thing in the Cruiserweight division.
Nicknamed "The Future", Kazarian would win matches over Nunzio, Scotty 2 Hotty, Funaki, and Paul London throughout July and August 2005. Around the time his win over London aired, it was announced that Kazarian had been released from the company. Reportedly, Kazarian asked for his release, due to there being no real plans to do something with the Cruiserweights. Rather than potentially bump his head on the ceiling ad nauseam, Kazarian secured his release and returned to the indies, before coming back to TNA a year later.
5. Trent Barreta
Whether he's "Bereta" or "Trent?" or whatever other monikers he's employed, the real-life Greg Marasciulo has broadened his horizons over the past several years, hitting up New Japan, TNA, and Ring of Honor alike. Unlike previous names on the list that have had small bites at the WWE apple, Barreta was actually a main roster performer for some time, even if he didn't always pop up with much prominence.
In late-2009, Barreta, alongside Caylen Croft, showed up in the dying days of the ECW brand using the name The Dude Busters. When ECW went out in February 2010, the two migrated over to SmackDown, where they would feud with both The Hart Dynasty and the duo of Curt Hawkins and Vance Archer. Barreta even scored a win over Drew McIntyre on SmackDown in January 2011. Barreta would also take part in the early days of the new NXT brand, working with the likes of Kassius Ohno and Leo Kruger (Adam Rose) before being released by the company in January 2013.
4. Brian Cage
Just taking a gander at the musculature of Mr. Cage, and you wonder why he's not occupying a spot on WWE's roster today. I mean, how is he *not* in WWE? A certified powerhouse with a varied moveset and deceptive agility is the sort of commodity Vince McMahon could surely get behind. At one time, he was under WWE's employ, but it was some time ago.
In June 2008, Cage was signed to WWE's then-developmental group Florida Championship Wrestling, where he would quickly change his name to Kris Logan. In his time there, Cage worked with future main roster regulars like Tyson Kidd, Justin Gabriel, Alberto Del Rio, and Bray Wyatt, even briefly winning the group's Tag Team Championships alongside Gabriel. While working on a new "Night Claw" persona in the late summer of 2009, Cage was released from FCW, after which he returned to the indies in short order.
3. Eddie Edwards
At one time, it seemed as though Die Hard and his American Wolves tag team partner Davey Richards were destined for a lengthy stay in NXT. In the summer of 2013, their Ring of Honor contracts expired, and the two took part in a WWE tryout camp, which they were said to be the standouts of. However, come January 2014, Edwards and Richards popped up in TNA with an immediate babyface push.
The two competed in one match for NXT, losing a non-title bout to The Ascension in November 2013. For the match, they assumed the name of The American Pitbulls, with Edwards going by John Cahill and Richards as Derek Billington (an obvious play on Tom "Dynamite Kid" Billington, due to some similarities between the duos).
2. Kenny Omega
WWE themselves have noted their previous connection with The Cleaner, uploading a match pitting Omega against Cru Jones from 2006 to the Hidden Gems section of the Network. At the time, Omega was taking part in then-WWE developmental wing Deep South Wrestling, which he would depart from around the time the match with Jones made air.
Omega worked for the group for about 10 months between October 2005 and August 2006, during which time he wrestled the likes of Heath Slater, Vladimir Kozlov, Matt Striker, Mike Knox, and others. Omega would later be critical of Deep South's management and trainers, though he would claim to have learned a lot while under the tutelage of Dave Taylor during their brief time together.
1. The Young Bucks
Looking at the Bucks when they were Generation Me in TNA at the start of this decade, you'd never guess that (obvious talent aside) they would be the stars that they are today, especially without WWE's marketing machine at their backs. Their hard work and keen instincts have taken them a long way in this business, and the fact that they've reached their current heights *without* WWE is truly impressive.
But their paths have indeed crossed. Matt Jackson wrestled a handful of times for WWE in 2008, losing to the likes of Chuck Palumbo on SmackDown, as well as Big Show (in a last man standing match, as part of the same deal that Joey Ryan was involved in). Matt, along with brother Nick, appeared in parody as Triple H and Shawn Michaels on an episode of ECW in the fall of 2008, where they were trounced by John Morrison and The Miz. Three years later, the two had a tryout match shortly after SummerSlam 2011, around which time Booker T publicly made claims that the Bucks had disrespected him backstage.