WWE has been the undisputed number one professional wrestling company since the downfall of World Championship Wrestling. It’s arguable (though not indisputable) that WWE has always been the number one professional wrestling company, dating back to its time as the World (Wide) Wrestling Federation. Countless wrestlers have stated their time in other promotions was a stepping stone to hopefully someday make it to World Wrestling Entertainment.
One argument that even the most ardent WWE supporter will not be as quick to make is that Vince McMahon is great at building stars from scratch. One of Vince’s greatest strengths has been his ability to take already great talent and take them to the next level. Steve Austin was “Stunning” years before he became “Stone Cold.” Ricky Steamboat was breathing fire for years in the Mid Atlantic area before he went up north to become “The Dragon.” Roddy Piper, the Road Warriors, and Curt Hennig (Mr. Perfect) were all major stars before Vince signed them. Even Hulkamania ran wild years before Hulk Hogan had his big WWF run. There has been homegrown talent like John Cena, but Cena is more the exception than the rule. For every Rock that gets over huge with all fans, there is a Roman Reigns that spurs debate over what “being over” even means. For every Brock Lesnar, there is a Bobby Lashley.
Since 2001, Vince has not had the same pool of talent to raid from that other wrestling federations had previously provided him. That’s not to say there isn’t any, though: Ring of Honor has had strong talent go through its doors. TNA (or Impact, or GFW or whatever its calling itself this week) has also had some big names. WWE even has its own developmental league to groom the stars of tomorrow, NXT, which has provided some main roster talent over the years. But the biggest contributor over the past few years may be a small independent promotion in Southern California called Pro Wrestling Guerilla.
Disclaimer: This is neither a comprehensive list nor an indictment against Vince McMahon. This is simply proof that PWG is better than NXT.
Daniel Bryan: Years before starting the Yes! Movement in WWE, Bryan Danielson was recognized as the best wrestler in the world. In a shortened career filled with iconic moments, some of his best are in PWG. Danielson held the PWG Championship on two occasions.
CM Punk: Though he did not have the same impact in PWG that Danielson had, Punk was involved in some big matches, including a dream match with Samoa Joe (more on him later.) Punk never had a pipe bomb moment like he did in WWE, but his charisma was on full display.
Seth Rollins: Rollins was in his early 20’s during his PWG stint, but he was already showing his vast potential. As Tyler Black in the Age of the Fall tag team with Jimmy Jacobs (currently a writer for NXT), Rollins was one half of the PWG Tag Team Champions.
Kevin Owens: Kevin Steen is a PWG legend. His years long rivalry with El Generico was a highlight of many PWG events; their tag team was just as great. Before holding the United States and Universal titles in the WWE, Steen won the PWG World and Tag Team Championships on multiple occasions.
Sami Zayn: Zayn has never competed in a PWG ring, but his style is reminiscent of El Generico. Generico was a masked luchador who retired to run Los Angelitos de El Generico, his orphanage in Tijuana. During his time in PWG, Generico captured the PWG World and Tag Team Titles, along with winning the DDT4 Tag Team Tournament and the Battle of Los Angeles.
Samoa Joe: Samoa Joe may be on his way to becoming the next Universal Champion. Joe did not hold any titles during his time in PWG, but in competed in many memorable matches. His matches with Super Dragon were standouts.
AJ Styles: AJ has been nothing but phenomenal since debuting at last year’s Royal Rumble. AJ has put on a string on great matches. His reward? He gets left off of the Summerslam poster. AJ is a former PWG Champion.
Other PWG alumni currently in the WWE include Cesaro, Neville, and Akira Tozawa.
Kyle O’Reilly: Currently in NXT. O’Reilly has a more mat based style that is submission oriented. O’Reilly can use some time in NXT to develop a character and work on his promo skills. O’Reilly is a competent worker who held the PWG title for seven months.
Adam Cole: O’Reilly’s former partner in Future Shock may be the most complete wrestler not signed by the WWE. Cole has a great look, is charismatic, is awesome on the mic, and can go in the ring. Cole holds the record for the longest PWG Championship reign at 538 days.
Young Bucks: Dave Meltzer’s favorite tag team have already earned their place in wrestling history. The Bucks have been the Wrestling Observer Tag Team of the Year the past three years. They have held the PWG Tag Team Championships four times (a record), with their longest reign being 631 days (another record). Matt and Nick Jackson are only missing a WWE run to cement their legacy.
Pro Wrestling Guerilla does not have a television deal. They do not put on IPPVs. They don’t even tour. But what they do have is the best wrestling in the United States. In 2016, only four matches were rated the full five stars by Dave Meltzer. Three were in New Japan, the other was in PWG. Over the years Pro Wrestling Guerilla has provided WWE with lots of main event talent. Next month, PWG will hold their annual Battle of Los Angeles tournament. The question is not if any of the 24 entrants will make it to the WWE, but which ones?