The indie revolution in the WWE Universe is in full swing. Gone are the days of the “homegrown” stars, the failed football stars or bodybuilders, plucked from obscurity because of their physique and molded into elite level WWE Superstar. While they will still find their way to the Performance Center, the WWE landscape is more full of former indie stars, like AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Samoa Joe than they are the likes of Mojo Rawley or Roman Reigns. The WWE has finally realized that the time spent developing on the independent circuit is vital schooling and essential experience in gaining not only fan bases, but work ethics and skill sets. But while the men’s divisions of the WWE have been embracing it for years, since the success of such pioneers as CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, the women’s division has been lagging behind. But that is all about to change, especially in WWE’s “underground” brand, NXT.
For over a decade, WWE’s women’s division became a division worthy of it’s moniker – Divas. Mostly fitness or swimsuit models, with the occasional cheerleader or professional dancer worked in, the women of the WWE’s roster for the majority of the past decade has been ripe with ridicule and lambasted for its inauthenticity and inability to take any of their storylines – or their performers abilities – seriously. Enter the Women’s Revolution of late 2016, and suddenly the women are getting the respect they deserve. Headlining major WWE pay-per-views and episodes of Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live, and being redubbed WWE Superstars – like their male counterparts – instead of Divas. All of this is largely in part to the groundwork of such former indie wrestlers like Beth Phoenix, Melina, Natalya, AJ Lee, and Paige, and bolstered by the addition of new recruits from NXT itself.
But unlike the male indie stars that have been brought in, WWE never seemed to go after the biggest names in women’s indie wrestling. Sure they briefly flirted with Awesome Kong at her peak – a short lived run as Kharma – but the indie stars they did bring in on the women’s side were never as big as their male counterparts. Sure, NXT brought in some indie wrestlers to fill up their women’s division. But Sasha Banks, formerly Mercedes KV of Chaotic Wrestling, Bayley (Davina Rose in Shimmer and Shine), Emma (Tenille Tayla, of Shimmer and ECCW) and Becky Lynch (Rebecca Knox, from various UK indies), while talented hands, were never truly considered the cream of the crop as far as women’s indie darlings went. Sure, they’ve all since blossomed into bonafide household names for WWE fans, but the women’s division of the WWE – or more specifically NXT – never truly targeted the women who were the biggest draws on the indie circuit. Until now.
The Women’s Indie Revolution Will Be Televised
When Japanese sensation Kana came to the WWE in 2015, it was the first time WWE had gone after one of the indie’s top names. For years, Kana was one of Japan’s top female performers, working with JWP, Pro Wrestling Wave, Pro Wrestling Zero-1, DDT, AJPW, Reina Joshi, and NOAH. Her stable, Triple Tails, featured the Shirai sisters, Io and Mio – Io Shirai has since gone on to huge success with Stardom, where she is now considered the top female performer in Japan. Kana had also made waves in the US as part of Shimmer’s early days, as well as in CHIKARA. In 2015, she jumped to the WWE under the name Asuka and has since gone on a two year winning streak that has resulted in her dominating as the NXT Women’s Champion. With their first true indie star firmly established in NXT’s women’s division, it was only a matter of time before more came in.
Ember Moon, The Iconic Duo and Nikki Cross
Athena, the wrestler who would become better known to the WWE Universe as Ember Moon, was well on her way to becoming one of the women’s indie circuit’s top stars, cutting her teeth in such promotions as Shimmer, Shine, and Women Superstars Uncensored (WSU), as well as such other promotions as AAW and AIW. She signed with the WWE in 2015 and Ember Moon debuted this past June as the new face to challenge Asuka.
Just before Athena joined NXT in late 2015, the WWE signed a pair of exceptional women’s wrestlers out of Australia, KC Cassidy and Jessie McKay. McKay spent seven years in Shimmer, with stints in Shine, Ring of Honor, CZW and CHIKARA, while Cassidy was just scratching the surface in the States with Shimmer and Shine after years with Australia’s Pro Wrestling Women’s Alliance (PWWA). In NXT, Cassidy became Peyton Royce and Jessie became Billie Kay, used primarily as enhancement talent until the two former PWWA rivals were paired together as The Iconic Duo in October of last year, rising quickly as two of the companies top heels in the Women’s Division.
Another relatively new face is Toronto, Canada’s Aliyah, who competed on the indie circuit under the name Jasmin Areebi for such promotions as Ohio’s AIW and her hometown’s SMASH and Squared Circle Wrestling (SCW). She’s recently joined forces with Ember Moon and Liv Morgan in the fight against The Iconic Duo.
She’s currently the rabid dog of SaNiTy, but before she was Nikki Cross, she was international women’s indie star Nikki Storm, a tough as nails Glasgow girl who called ICW home, but who became an international force with stops in Shimmer, Stardom, Shine, WSU, JWP, Pro Wrestling: EVE, and more. Her impending feud with Asuka over the NXT Women’s Championship is a critical turning point for the women in NXT. With Asuka more than likely heading to Raw or Smackdown in the coming months, Cross could just be the woman to take the NXT Women’s title off her, passing the torch of women’s indie wrestling domination to the next class of women in NXT.
The New Class
And while those four are front and center right now in the hunt for Asuka’s NXT Women’s title, there’s even more waiting in the wings of the Performance Center, getting ready to be unleashed into the women’s division. And they just may be the highest women’s indie wrestling pedigree they’ve brought in yet.
CHIKARA’s Princess from Suplex Kingdom, Kimber Lee was part of the huge contingent of women’s indie stars signed at the beginning of the year, that included all the names in this lower list. The first women in pro wrestling history to capture a major promotion’s top prize (she won CHIKARA’s Grand Championship in 2015), Kimber Lee is a product of CZW, and has spent her six year career cutting her teeth in CZW, Shimmer, Shine, WSU and CHIKARA, not to mention travels around the world. An intergender specialist, she can keep up with the roughest that come her way. While she’s had a few brief enhancement matches on NXT already, she’s by no means properly introduced to the NXT Universe. Yet.
Another CHIKARA favourite, the volatile punk rock anarchy of Heidi Lovelace has finally landed on NXT, where she’s already exciting the crowds at NXT Live Events. She had a brief look by the WWE years ago – back when Divas were still a thing – but her path to the WWE is a lot clearer now, after huge runs in Shimmer, CHIKARA, Beyond and Stardom.
Crazy Mary Dobson
Crazy Mary Dobson was an women’s indie sensation for years, bringing her unique style of crazy to places from Juggalo Championship Wrestling (JCW) to Shimmer to Ring of Honor. She signed in the fall of last year, along with Tommy End and Big Damo (now Aleister Black and Killian Dain respectively). She’s been used sparingly so far since her joining the roster, so far as an enhancement talent under her real name, Sarah Bridges, but chances are that’s just a foil until NXT creative is ready for her proper debut (keep in mind that Ember Moon wrestled as an enhancement for months under her real name, Adrienne Reese, before Ember Moon debuted).
Auckland, New Zealand’s Evie was part of the squad with Kimber Lee and Heidi Lovelace that signed with WWE earlier this year, following a 9-year career on the indie circuit, from Australia’s PWWA to Japan’s Stardom, with stops in Shimmer and Shine along the way. She once held the Shimmer Tag Team Championship with fellow signee Heidi Lovelace.
Andrea the Amazon
A nine year veteran of the women’s indie circuit and beyond, Andrea has worn many monikers over that time. Trained in 2007 by Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley at the Team 3D Academy, she debuted as Betsy Ruth, heading to Germany’s wXw. In 2010, she appeared in TNA under the name Rosie Lottalove (she was a much larger woman back then) before retiring in 2012. After two years of rigorous training, a new and improved Andrea The Amazon emerged, taking no prisoners as she became a dominant regular in Shine. She recently finished up her commitments with Shine and will be starting up with NXT soon at the Performance Center.
This Welsh youngster is only 22 years old, but she’s already taking the women’s indie world by storm. She’s already a veteran of such UK promotions as Progress, Southside, British Empire Wrestling and more, and was the inaugural Women’s Champion for WCPW. She’s had stints in Shimmer in the US and recently completed her first tour of Stardom in Japan. While she’s yet to report to the Performance Center yet – reports seem to indicate she may start closer to the planned WWE Women’s tournament – there’s no doubt Newell will make an impact when she finally hits NXT.
With WWE’s proposed international women’s indie tournament coming to the WWE Network this summer – a women’s version of last summer’s successful Cruiserweight Classic – expect the WWE to target more and more of the top women in the indie circuit. Some of them – like Santana Garrett, Tessa Blanchard, Leva Bates and Rachael Ellering – have already worked enhancement matches in NXT, so are clearly on WWE’s radar. Others, like Candice LeRae, have inside connections – LeRae is married to current NXT Superstar Johnny Gargano.
So while the NXT Women’s division may seem to be a little stagnant right now, with many longing for the Glory Days of the Four Horsewomen in NXT, be patient. Because with the crop of women from the world’s women’s indie circuits now setting their sights on the WWE – as well as the reverse – it won’t be long until NXT boasts their strongest women’s division yet.