Ever since the WWE took a dip in the emerging indie explosion with the Cruiserweight Classic last summer, a 32-competitor knock out tournament that drew primarily from the indie circuits (of the 32 wrestlers, only Rich Swann, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa were under WWE/NXT deals going into the tournament, although 16 more would gain contracts, with most filling the new WWE Cruiserweight Division), fans have been clamouring for the WWE to do another tournament showcasing some of the indie’s premier talents. And last November, the first rumblings of the next one emerged, a 32-woman tournament of the best indie females in the world. The WWE finally confirmed the WWE Women’s Tournament on in April of this year and over the past few months, the WWE has been stockpiling some of the indies top stars, presumptuously to debut or compete in the tournament.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE TOURNAMENT
Well, it was confirmed by the WWE on it’s own website that the WWE Women’s Tournament will indeed feature 32 competitors, in the same format as the past year’s Cruiserweight Classic. The WWE claims it will feature competitors from 17 countries for this international showcase, but it’s not sure if these are performers from said countries or if they’re people of heritage from the US or Canada (in the CWC, Noam Dar was billed from Israel instead of his homeland of Scotland, The Bollywood Boyz were listed from India, when they’re Canadian, and TJ Perkins from the Phillipines when he’s American).
This past week, during the WWE’s Conference Call with it’s board, more details emerged as well, that indicates some target dates to pencil into your DVRs. Like the CWC, it will be filmed entirely at Winter Park’s Full Sail University, the home of NXT. The rounds will all be pre-taped like the CWC as well, beginning in July, with a live special on the WWE Network on Tuesday August 29 for the live finale. Incidentally, that’s a Tuesday, so there’s a very good chance that the Women’s Tournament may replace 205 Live on Tuesdays after Smackdown Live. It would give the Network a 2 month hiatus reason for the show as it decides whether to relocate it, reboot it, or scrap it all together.
THE INCOMING RECRUITS
Since late summer of 2016, presumably around the time the WWE had decided this was going to go ahead, the WWE have been actively recruiting some of the indie circuits top female indie stars. And while some, like Heidi Lovelace, have made their way to NXT television (where she’s been repackaged as Ruby Riot and in the main event picture already), most have either been used sparingly as enhancement under the real names (like Sarah Bridges/Crazy Mary Dobson and Kimberly Frankele/Kimber Lee) or have yet to appear on television. This may indicate that for some, the WWE wants to hold them to debut in the tournament, then introduce them after – like what they did with Jack Gallagher, Noam Dar, TJ Perkins and the rest of the 16 CWC candidates they signed to contracts. There’s likely to be a few that sign one off deals for the tournament and end up getting signed after their performance (like Cedric Alexander after his Kota Ibushi match).
Last November as the rumours began, we made a list of 32 women we thought had a realistic shot at making this tournament. We compared actual availability (those under long term deals with Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor or elsewhere were eliminated from eligibility) and selected our 32 candidates. That article has become one of the most read articles here on Last Word on Pro Wrestling – and one of the most commented on. While the bulk were unanimous agreeance, everyone had their own 10 names that differed from ours. Which is a testament to the massive surplus of amazing women’s wrestlers around the world right now. Not one of the comments on the original article was a bad choice, and were all as legitimate as the 32 we’d selected.
Here’s a quick run down of the indie stars they’ve snatched up since last Fall as well as NXT enhancement talents that could be making their debut (or official NXT repackage for television) with this summer’s WWE Women’s Tournament (NOTE: Two indie stars they did sign recently have since made their debuts and are actively in storylines, so chances of them appearing are slim at this point. In fact, they’re currently feuding with each other, Ruby Riot and her adversary, Nikki Cross/Nikki Storm, who only just arrived in NXT last November). We’ll start with the sure fire locks before adding a few highly probables (and one 50/50).
While her running mate Heidi Lovelace got her NXT makeover first, Kimber Lee has been working with some of the greener developmentals at NXT Live Events, while also performing some enhancement roles on NXT television under her real name, Kimberly Frankele. As NXT history has shown us, while enhancement they use real names before getting their proper push gimmick (Ember Moon competed as Adrienne Reece for months before getting her current character). The former CHIKARA Grand Champion has a lot in her wheelhouse and this tournament could be an enormous platform for her to show her skills off on before making the jump to NXT television as a regular performer.
CRAZY MARY DOBSON
We’ve barely seen hide nor hair of Crazy Mary since she joined the Performance Center last fall. She’s competed briefly in enhancement roles (under her real name Sarah Bridges), but she hasn’t been fully unleashed yet with the abandon and mayhem of her indie persona. To be fair, she was out with injury for a while, and she has been working NXT Live Events. Much like Kimber Lee, at this stage, saving her for the tournament could do her the world of good.
Nixon Newell just finished up her final indie show last weekend in the UK and she reports to the Performance Center this coming week.
Much like Newell, Evie also finished up her indie commitments in the past two weeks and will be joining Newell at the Performance Center next week.
One of SHINE’s top performers in 2016, Andrea made the jump to the WWE with Kimber Lee and Ruby Riot earlier this year. She hasn’t appeared on television yet, but she’s been working as Lana’s “Diesel” at NXT Live Events (under her real first name, Mary Kate) as Lana prepares to debut on Smackdown Live as a singles wrestler. It’s unlikely she’ll jump straight to the main roster to debut with Lana (although not entirely out of the question) and a preview of her power in the tournament is the best way to show her stuff.
Kairi made her announcement to the fans that she is leaving Stardom.
Rumoured for months and months, Stardom’s ace performer announced her departure from Stardom this week and will also be heading to the Performance Center next week. If I was a betting man, I’d pick Kairi Hojo vs Kimber Lee in the finals.
She finally made her WWE debut this past week as part of the #1 Contenders Battle Royale for the NXT Women’s Championship, although sadly they didn’t televise her entrance (according to live reports, she received the loudest pop of them all). Her husband, Johnny Gargano, is one of NXT’s top stars, so she’ll have no problem getting into the company. Whether this debut is the signal she’s signed on or just happened to be in the area for scouting for the tournament is yet to be fully confirmed.
Apart from portraying AJ Lee in the WWE Studios co-production with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on the Paige family story film, Trinidad is also engaged to WWE Superstar Austin Aries. She just recently appeared on NXT, scouting Andrade Almas during his Kassius Ohno match, so it appears she may have found her in. She is very likely to get a shot at the tournament.
Over WrestleMania weekend, WWE put on a PROGRESS showcase at WWE Axxess. Reports out of the weekend suggested that the PROGRESS performers who competed where being scouted for the WWE UK show. One such performer was Toni Storm, considered by many to be one of the best women’s performers today. She just left PROGRESS and if she was indeed scouted for the UK show, showcasing her first in this tournament would be a great idea for exposure to the North American audience who may not be familiar with this Australian superstar.
Tessa has had multiple enhancement matches with NXT over the past few years and with her dad a WWE Hall of Famer (Four Horseman Tully Blanchard), it’s not far fetched to assume she’ll get a spot in the tournament.
Like Tessa, Ellering has a WWE Hall of Fame dad and has also been used in the past for enhancement matches. She also appeared this week in the #1 Contenders Battle Royale, which may be WWE’s subtle way of getting her name back in your head before the tournament.
She’s the indie wrestling circuit’s biggest sweetheart and she’s made her way onto WWE, NXT, Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling television in the past year. She even portrayed Luchadora initially on Smackdown Live. She may go out first round, but she’s almost guaranteed a spot in the tournament.
Another top global star, tearing up Shimmer and Stardom, Santana Garrett has done a few jobs in NXT as well. If they don’t lock her up soon, Impact Wrestling will probably go after her full time (she recently appeared at their One Night Only PPV), as one of her best friends, Chelsea Green, works there as Laurel Van Ness.
Shirai is the 50/50. While her Stardom partner in crime Kairi Hojo has officially left Stardom and is headed to the Performance Center as we speak, Shirai is still in clouded speculation land. She did attend a WWE tryout a month ago but so far there’s been no word how it went.
Four names that recently became available include to former TNA Knockouts and two former Women of Honor. With the changing of the guard at Impact Wrestling and their contracts expiring, two former members of the Dollhouse – Jade and Marti Belle – departed the company. Jade is a former Knockouts Champion, but has returned to her indie name of Mia Yim. Both are talented performers, and could easily see themselves appearing in the tournament and sticking around.
Just as Women of Honor was gaining its own momentum, two of it’s original ladies left Ring of Honor all together. Veda Scott left at the end of 2016 and just this April, Hendrix announced her own departure. Both are talented performers who would be an asset to the tournament. One small detour may be that Hendrix’ real life boyfriend, Joe Coleman, has been working for Impact Wrestling the past few weeks, so there’s a chance she may opt to join with him instead.
Regardless of the 32 names that make up this list, the talent pool currently at their disposable is already remarkable, especially considering we’re still not far removed from there being a Divas Champion. And Jillian Hall.
So who else do you think is realistically available and will be in it? Let us know in your comments.