Can you believe we are already in March? The early part of the year tends to be most enjoyable as a fan of professional wrestling. It is the time of year that gives us Wrestleania season and Wrestle Kingdom. It gives us reason to be happy, as well as reasons to complain. But once the two biggest annual wrestling events are out of the way, what do we have to look forward to for the rest of the year? As a Lucha Underground fan, there will be no Ultima Lucha Cuatro this year to get me through September. Yes, we will have the yearly Summerslam event, as well as plenty of ROH and NJPW shows to look forward to, with a sprinkling of PROGRESS and other similarly sized shows to enjoy. But what do we do once the mammoth sized shows are out of the way? We continue watching as much pro-wrestling as possible; discovering new feds and stars along the way – stars who will no doubt play their part in future Wrestlemanias and Wrestle Kingdoms. What you are reading is a compiled list of indie stars from every continent (with the exception of Antarctica) whom you absolutely must look out for in 2018.
Africa – Angelico
Angelico is a 30 year old, high-flying star from Johannesburg, South Africa and is most recognised for his work in AAA and Lucha Underground. Angelico makes this list because of his relative young age; his outstanding aerial prowess and the fact Ultima Lucha Tres appeared to tease what could be a breakout feud for the South-African star with Johnny Mundo. If this feud goes ahead in the next season of Lucha Underground, Angelico might just be able to break away from being known as a tag team (or trios team) wrestler and establish himself as a respected and talented singles star.
Asia – Io Shirai
Is it mad to include someone on a list of potential breakout stars who has been named the best female wrestler of the year three times (Tokyo Sports: 2015, 2016 and 2017) and is considered as being such by fans, fellow wrestlers and critics outside of Japan? Probably. But the fact is, Io is only 27 years old – meaning she is only going to get better. If Io manages to avoid anymore serious injury (she has had notable issues with concussions and her neck, costing her a WWE contract) and continues to strengthen her name, there is no doubt that she could potentially become the greatest female wrestler in terms of in-ring ability ever. The current Wonder of Stardom and Art of Stardom champion stands out as one to look out for this year.
Australia – Tenille Dashwood (Emma)
The wrestler formerly known as Emma is perhaps one of the most frustrating on this list. On the 29th October 2017, Tenille Dashwood’s five year stint with the WWE came to an abrupt end. Why was it frustrating you ask? During the latter period of Emma’s run, it was sometimes easy to forget that she is an extremely talented woman. If you were to go back and watch/re-watch NXT Arrival’s Paige vs Emma match, you would quickly see what I mean. Emma should have really been everything the WWE was looking for. She is an extremely attractive young woman with bags of charisma – and with all the in-ring ability you could hope to expect from such a young prospect. During her time in NXT (particularly her first stint), she was one of the most over stars on the roster. When the infamous phone case incident took place and she was released from her contract, she was quickly rehired due to popular demand. This coupled with her odd booking could have quite easily killed her chances of success in WWE, but she then reinvented herself as a brilliant heel – often referred to as “Evil Emma” in contrast to the bright and fun “Dancing Emma” gimmick. She has been picked for this list because she is quite simply too talented to fail on the independent circuit. She is going to prove to be a big hit in Ring of Honor’s “Women of Honor” division and could walk into any company she wants to as one of the biggest female names outside of WWE. This isn’t the last you have heard of Tenille Dashwood and her breakout year could quite possibly be 2018.
Europe – Will Ospreay
Europe – much like Japan – is currently witnessing a pro-wrestling boom and almost anyone from Europe with a pair of wrestling boots could have made this list, such is the amount of top quality European pro-wrestlers at present. It can often feel as though Will Ospreay has already had his breakout year. His polarising series of matches with Ricochet throughout 2016 can make it easy to think of 2016 as his breakout year. However, it is just as easy to forget that Ospreay is only 24 years of age and only made his debut six short years ago – meaning that he isn’t even close to reaching his full potential as a professional wrestler. He is a star that when you see him live – much like I did at a Five Star Wrestling event in January of 2016 – you immediately think to yourself “this guy is going to go places” and for the past couple of years, one of those places has been New Japan Pro Wrestling – where he has established himself as a key member of the NJPW roster; winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in the progress. “The sky is the limit for Will Ospreay” is a sentence which would only work if he didn’t fly through it so gracefully.
North America – Keith Lee
Keith Lee has it all. He has freakish strength; great promo skills – coupled with bags of charisma – and agility that no man his size (6’3, 332 lbs) should be capable of having at his disposal. It also now appears that he is in possession of the final ingredient required to have a true breakout year: a WWE Developmental contract. Keith Lee is certainly someone that fits the bill for what Vince McMahon looks for in a WWE superstar and it is only a matter of time before we see him tearing it up inside a WWE ring.
South America – Diego (Guanchulo)
And last but not least is Chilean DDT Pro-Wrestling star Diego Guanchulo, now known simply as Diego. Diego is perhaps the least well known on this list, a result of the lack of a well documented South American independent scene (at least to those of us from outside of South America), but that certainly does not make him the least talented. Indeed, there are are numerous videos available to the internet which showcase his talent and arsenal and if you follow Japan’s DDT Pro-Wrestling, you’ll be aware of just how good the 30 year old former five time Ironman Heavymetalweight Champion is, both as a comedic and serious grappler. It looks as though Diego might be finished with DDT, having returned to the Chilean independent scene, but that does not mean we have heard the last of the South American.