As we all look at the calendar and see that another year is upon us, it means that it is also time for one of my yearly traditions. If you've been following my work, both here at Fightful and at other sites before this, you already know what the "30 Under 30" list is all about, but for those that are new to things, let me break it down for you.
I look at the world of professional wrestling and I craft my list of the 30 names who I feel have the biggest and brightest futures in the business. The only catch is that they have to be under the age of 30 when January 1st of that year happens.
I won't say that I watch every little bit of wrestling from every little corner of the planet, but I feel that I watch enough to feel the pulse of things. My previous lists have always included people who would go on to achieve big things, whether that means signing with WWE, winning World Titles, or other means of advancing their careers tremendously in the year I mentioned them.
As always, my list goes in order from oldest wrestler to youngest wrestler, so don't get all worked up because someone is listed ahead of someone else.
Now that we've gotten all that out of the way, let's get started with this year's list.
Kento Miyahara (Born on February 27th, 1989): This is far from the first time I've mentioned Miyahara in one of my articles, as I've been on his bandwagon for a long time now. One of All Japan Pro Wrestling's top stars, he had himself another successful year, winning the company's Tag Team Titles (with Yoshitatsu), as well as winning the company's Triple Crown Heavyweight Title twice, where he is the current champion. The only reason that he isn't getting more publicity and exposure is that New Japan gets almost all the major attention for what is going on in that country's wrestling scene. As it is, All Japan's "Ace" will continue to be praised by those who know the deal. Here's to hoping 2019 is the year his name finally crosses into the mainstream, or at least as far as a wrestler from Japan that isn't under NJPW contract can get into the worldwide mainstream.
Juice Robinson (Born on April 10th, 1989): Each and every time I talk about Juice Robinson, I can't help but be amazed at how far he's come as an in-ring performer since he was in NXT. It really can't be stressed enough how boring CJ Parker was to watch, but in his three-and-a-half years with New Japan, he looks like he could he one of the company's breakout stars of the future. 2018 saw Robinson win his first title with New Japan when he became the IWGP United States Champion by defeating Jay White at the G1 Special In San Francisco. Even though his title reign was slightly less than three months long, it really put him on the map. So much so, in fact, that Robinson would go on to win the belt back from Cody Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Rhodes at New Japan's version of WrestleMania, Wrestle Kingdom. If Juice continues to improve in the ring like he has been, it could only be a matter of time before he rises even higher with New Japan. Either way, it says a lot about how NXT is as far as developing talent versus merely collecting the independent scene's biggest names.
Nikki Cross (Born on April 21st, 1989): Every now and then, you'll see someone in wrestling who puts their absolute all into the character they're playing. Maybe it's something close to their real life persona, and maybe it isn't, but they pour their heart and soul into what they're doing. That is what I feel is true whenever I see Nikki Cross. If you watch her wrestle, cut promos, or even perform in some sort of backstage segment, you'd believe it wholeheartedly if someone told you she was actually insane. To make it even better, not only does she come across as out of her mind, she also seems to be having the time of her life. She has the little touches and subtleties that help make her character work excel. With her departure from NXT, either Raw or (preferably) Smackdown is going to gain someone that is different than any other woman they have going right now.
Bayley (Born on June 15th, 1989): You know, it wasn't that long ago when Bayley was viewed as the "female John Cena" with how big a star she could be and how much of an impact she could have on the young girls in the WWE Universe. While she hasn't always been on the receiving end of the best and most consistent booking, Bayley continues to be one of WWE's biggest and most over women. With the addition of Women's Tag Team Titles on the horizon, there is an opportunity for more women to actually have some attention paid to them by the company's writers. Bayley's on-off-on-off-on-off-on again pairing with Sasha Banks looks to be one of the favorites to win those titles, which could be what Bayley needs to get back on track. It's hard to believe, but it has been almost two years since Bayley last held a title as a member of the WWE roster. This could be another big year for her, though.
Joey Janela (Born on July 3rd, 1989): WrestleMania used to be a one-day event. Then it became a weekend-long event. These days, WrestleMania has become a week-long event, with other promotions from all corners of the planet coming to town to take advantage of all the wrestling fans that are in that year's host city. In recent years, one of the week's most highly anticipated events has been Joey Janela's Spring Break, where Game Changer Wrestling basically gave Janela all the booking power. He would give us the wild combination of indy stars, stars from the 90's, and an uncensored party. He was quickly becoming one of the brightest minds in the business, perfectly crafting shows that his audience would want to watch. That might be enough for him to be included here, but with the recent news that Janela will be a member of the All Elite Wrestling roster, that makes his future even brighter. It has already been said that Janela's signing with AEW will not prevent him from hosting Spring Break events in the future, so now, you'll be able to see his career continue to grow behind the scenes as well as see his career reach new peaks as an in-ring performer with all eyes on AEW.
Adam Cole (Born on July 5th, 1989): Wherever Adam Cole goes, title victories are soon to follow. He was one of the most decorated independent wrestlers of the last decade, and then he signed with WWE, where he has already won the NXT North American Title and was an unofficial member of the NXT Tag Team Champions while Undisputed Era went through their initial after-Bobby Fish and before-Roderick Strong phase. Honestly, I'm surprised that he hasn't won the top title in NXT yet. I thought that 2018 was going to be his year for that, but 2019 is another strong candidate. The only thing that could stop him from being the top guy in NXT for another calendar year would be a main roster call-up, either for him as a solo act or Undisputed Era as a group.
Nick Jackson (Born on July 28th, 1989): What more needs to be said about Nick Jackson of the Young Bucks? He's been a part of 34 title reigns in promotions all over the world. He's made more merchandise money in the last couple years alone than most WWE acts will see in a lifetime. He's an Executive Vice President for All Elite Wrestling, as well as being one of their top in-ring talents. He has helped to change the face of non-WWE wrestling, and if AEW is anywhere near as successful as many hope it will be, he could be helping to change the face of wrestling, period, forever. Even if AEW doesn't reach the heights you would like to see, Nick and his brother have put themselves in a position to be successful any and everywhere they go. They'll continue winning titles. They'll continue selling shirts. They'll have a bright future for as long as they want.
Cedric Alexander (Born on August 16th, 1989): For the last couple years, I've been saying that Cedric Alexander is a Cruiserweight that could step into the ring with some of the non-Cruiser workers and look like he "belongs" there. He has a more muscular physique than the average 205 Live worker, which means he always looks like he weighs more than he does. Recently, with Mustafa Ali's move from 205 Live to Smackdown looking to be an initial success, I feel stronger than ever that a move could work for Alexander. The catch, of course, is how he'd be booked, which is always the problem with WWE workers. Ali has found success on Smackdown not only because of his own abilities, but also because he's working against the likes of Daniel Bryan, Andrade Almas, and Samoa Joe. Alexander could shine in matches against people of that caliber. I have no doubt about that. As it is, though, Ali's departure from 205 Live clears the way even further for Alexander to be one of the top stars on the show.
Andrade Almas (Born on November 3rd, 1989): That's his name, no matter what WWE tries to tell us. It seems like it has taken forever, as he made his Smackdown debut eight months ago, but it appears that the Smackdown writers finally realize the talent they have in Andrade "Cien" Almas. If he had a better grasp of the English language, he could already be a World Champion. For now, we'll have to deal with him moving up the ranks, anyway, and enjoy his matches against Rey Mysterio, AJ Styles, and Jeff Hardy. This is a good spot for him to be in. The aforementioned English skills mean he doesn't always have to worry about cutting promos. He can just do what he does best. All he's ever needed was an opportunity, and the end of 2018 saw him get one. His 2019 is already off to a good start, and he has what it takes to keep that momentum going.
Io Shirai (Born on May 8th, 1990): Kairi Sane's arrival under the WWE umbrella got more attention because she got there first, but it is Io Shirai's arrival that should be talked about more. For a long time, Io was the "ace" of the Stardom promotion in Japan, and she brings more "big fight" experience than Sane, who is still only a half-dozen years into her career. Shirai has this presence about her, and she demands your attention when she's in the ring. It would be a pretty surprising move if she didn't become the NXT Women's Champion in 2019.
Fénix (Born on December 30th, 1990): Like many wrestling fans, I was first introduced to Fénix when he began working for Lucha Underground, and I was immediately blown away. I had been told by people that I respect that he was a "new age Rey Mysterio" in the ring, and they were right. It's an easy, and sometimes lazy, comparison to make, but like watching a young Mysterio perform, you're often left with your jaw on the floor when you watch Fénix wrestle. Whether it's his solo work, or his tag team with his older brother Pentagón Jr, he just makes you keep your focus on him because you might only be a moment away from being in awe.
Ruby Riott (Born on January 9th, 1991): Remember what I said earlier about Nikki Cross being completely different than any other woman on the WWE roster right now? The same can be said about Ruby Riott, from her look to the way she wrestles to her promo style. She's not the blonde Barbie-type or the seductive brunette that you always see in wrestling. Instead, she's a badass that will get in your face and hurt you. It's a refreshing to see, especially on WWE television, with the company's history with their female competitors.
Mandy Rose (Born on July 18th, 1991): Hey, speaking of those blonde Barbie-types... Mandy Rose is about as close to that type as you're going to get. What she brings to the table is something that has helped Charlotte reach the top of the mountain, and that is how she carries herself like an absolute star. It's like an aura that surrounds her whenever she's on screen. She isn't the best in-ring worker yet, but she's still considered brand new to the business, so she has plenty of time to continue growing in that area. However, the confidence she displays is something that puts her ahead of most workers of her experience level, and it's something that should help her as she continues on.
Hangman Page (Born on July 27th, 1991): I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't a huge fan of this guy when he first arrived in Ring Of Honor. He wasn't terrible or anything. I just didn't view him as anyone I needed to be paying attention to. Even after he joined the Bullet Club in 2016, I just felt that something wasn't quite clicking for him and his work. At some point in 2016 and into 2017, though, things changed. His work began improving at a dramatic rate. His character work was improving, as well. For the first time, I really began to take notice of his matches, and from there, it's been fun to watch him grow. With Page's inclusion on the AEW roster, and with it being hinted that he'll be a main event player there from the start, I will enjoy watching the next arc of his career. He'll be going from lower card guy to solid tag team guy to solid midcard guy, and now to the next level. He's an underrated key player in AEW striving to be a major player in the wrestling landscape.
Alexa Bliss (Born on August 9th, 1991): When you really stop to think about it, Alexa had one of the hottest starts to a main roster career of anyone in recent memory, and maybe of all-time. She made her official main roster debut on the July 26th, 2016 episode of Smackdown, with her first match taking place two weeks later on August 9th. Four months later, she was the Smackdown Women's Champion, and even though she would only hold the title for two months, she won it back a week after losing it. After another short reign, she was sent to Raw, where she won the Raw Women's Title within three weeks of being on the show. In all, her first year (and an extra couple of weeks) on the main roster saw her win a title four times. Since then, she has been able to remain a focus, even when she doesn't have a title to her name. With news that she'll be making her return to the ring at the Royal Rumble, putting all of those "her concussion will force her to retire" rumors to bed, things are back to looking bright for her.
Sasha Banks (Born on January 26th, 1992): Sasha is the sixth (of ten) woman to make the list, and I had four more women who were in my last round of cuts and didn't make it on here, which tells you that the future of women's wrestling is incredibly bright. Sasha is one of WWE's "teflon" performers, where she will always be loved by the WWE Universe even when she is being booked poorly, or not even booked at all. The company runs hot and cold with Sasha, sometimes making her the center of attention in the women's division, but other times making her seem like the tenth most important woman on Raw alone. As I said with Bayley, the addition of Women's Tag Team Titles might be exactly what Sasha needs to get herself right again. Yes, she has a title shot against Ronda Rousey at the Royal Rumble, but you have to think she's a major, major underdog there. I haven't seen many people predict a victory for her there, so she'll need something big to keep her from fading into the booking background again. Maybe she can also get that long-rumored heel turn to happen instead. Come to think of it, that might actually be a better thing for her, as the heat she'll get for turning heel on Bayley would be magical. Either way, she has everything it takes to remain strong in the new year.
Jay White (Born on October 9th, 1992): What does Jay White have in common with Prince Devitt (now known as Finn Balor), AJ Styles, and Kenny Omega? They've all been leaders of New Japan's Bullet Club faction, which is about as big a sign of guaranteed success as there has been in the last six years. The career path for "Switchblade" has been a fun one to watch. It seems as though he's getting better yearly, and that translates into him having bigger and bigger profiles. Not only did he win the IWGP United States Title last year, and not only did he become the new leader of Bullet Club, but he scored the biggest win of his career at New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom 13 event, pinning Kazuchika Okada. It was White's second victory over Okada, with the first coming on the first day of New Japan's 2018 G1 Climax tournament. White becomes only the eighth man to score two singles victories over Okada since Okada returned to New Japan in 2011 and became a main event player. With all of that momentum behind him, don't be surprised if White continues to excel in 2019, including a run at the IWGP World Heavyweight Title.
Pete Dunne (Born on January 31st, 1993): May 20th, 2017. That was the day Pete Dunne defeated Tyler Bate to become the new WWE United Kingdom Champion. He still has the title. As of the very moment I type this, he has held the title for 611 days, with no end to his reign in sight. He has defended the belt all over the United Kingdom, as well as the United States, and has helped to create an entirely new "brand" for WWE, NXT UK. Take a minute to think about how long 611 days is. Think about how many titles have changed hands since he won the UK Championship. The Intercontinental Title has had eight different reigns since then. The United States Title has seen 11 reigns. The Raw Tag Team Titles have seen 12 reigns. It's an insane amount of time, and I don't think he gets the credit he deserves. People dismiss the length of the reign because it isn't a title they see defended on Raw or Smackdown every week. He's helping to build a show, and with the NXT UK arrival of WALTER, we have another dream match on the horizon for him.
Will Ospreay (Born on May 7th, 1993): Another year, another set of exciting matches from the "Aerial Assassin" Will Ospreay. It's what his fans have come to expect. 2018 saw him add to his list of titles by becoming one-half of the PROGRESS Tag Team Champions (with Paul Robinson) for the first time, as well as becoming New Japan's NEVER Openweight Champion for the first time. As I wrote in last year's 30 Under 30, I think Ospreay could easily become the face of 205 Live should he ever come to terms to a contract with WWE. He is everything they could ever want in a Cruiserweight, from his looks to his death-defying in-ring style. Only time will tell if he'll ever sign with WWE, but for now, the sky continues to be the limit for him as he rises through the ranks in whatever promotion in whatever country he happens to be wrestling in.
Sonya Deville (Born on September 24th, 1993): Oh, hey, it's another woman. In Sonya Deville, WWE has themselves one of the best strikers in the business today. Bold statement, I know, but I feel it's the truth. She uses her mixed martial arts background very well, but has also shown an amazing ability to pick up the nuances of the wrestling business in a short period of time. She made her pro wrestling debut three years ago, but she has already figured out how to throw those "worked shoot" strikes that are so popular these days, where they look like they could and should do a lot of damage, but she isn't out hurting anyone. With Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler around, that new style could be very prevalent in the years to come. With Deville's continued improvements, I fail to see why she couldn't be in title contention before too long.
Trevor Lee (Born on September 30th, 1993): Whenever Trevor Lee's name comes up, the first thing I always mention is that he almost broke my leg during an independent show a few years back. It has nothing to do with anything. It's just a fun thing to throw out there. In his time with Impact Wrestling, you could argue that Lee was the promotion's most consistent, yet undervalued, performer. He was putting up quality match after quality match, but because Impact wasn't being seen by millions every week, it went largely unnoticed. Signing with WWE doesn't automatically guarantee success, but with him beginning his time at the Performance Center in a matter of days, it opens the door for a considerably larger number of eyeballs on him. With the always-loaded NXT roster to have matches with, maybe it's finally time that the wrestling world knows the name of Trevor Lee.
Flamita (Born on November 30th, 1994): I love it when wrestlers travel the globe and learn how to work different styles with different opponents. It really shows in their work, as opposed to some that, say, are signed to WWE with no previous wrestling experience and only learn the "WWE way" of doing things. Even though Dragon Gate features a similar style of in-ring acrobatics as Lucha Libre, I was still excited to see Flamita go to work with the Japanese organization. Throw in some work in England for PROGRESS and RevPro, as well as in the United States for companies like PWG, and you have someone that is becoming well-versed in a variety of styles. Like we saw with Fénix and Pentagón, we're witnessing Flamita's profile grow exponentially, making him one of the hottest names in the non-WWE world of wrestling. Every promotion wants to bring him in, as well as the next name on my list.
Bandido (Born on April 17th, 1995): The younger and less experienced of the team, Bandido is still ready to make a name for himself in new surroundings, recently signing a contract with Ring Of Honor, turning down deals from WWE and AEW to do so. He had himself quite the 2018. In no particular order, you have someone who made it to the finals of PWG's Battle Of Los Angeles tournament, wrestled in the main event of the largest independent wrestling show ever (All In), won the Progress Tag Team Titles (with Flamita), and won multiple titles in different Lucha promotions in Mexico. Working all over the world with Flamita also shows in his in-ring performances, and now that he's a full-time RoH wrestler, you can add another notch on his belt. He's going to hold some type of gold in RoH before the year is over.
Tessa Blanchard (Born on July 26th, 1995): When you're the child of one of pro wrestling's most underrated workers of all-time, a certain level of pressure to succeed is placed upon you. Thanks to hard work and a willingness to travel, Tessa is already showing signs that she'll be able to carry on the Blanchard legacy well into the future. Whether it's the United States, Japan or Mexico, she has been successful at just about every one of her stops. Some of her best work has been for the Stardom promotion in Japan, but it is her current stint with Impact Wrestling that could be the true catalyst for her future successes. Less than four months after debuting with Impact, she won the Knockouts Title, holding it for five months before finally dropping it to Taya Valkyrie. She is always tied to WWE rumors, having already worked for them in some NXT matches and the Mae Young Classic, and you have to think it could only be a matter of time before those rumors become actual news stories. I'm not sure she needs WWE just yet, though. She's killing it without them, and will continue to do so.
The Velveteen Dream (Born on August 19th, 1995): I'm still amazed at how quickly things come to Patrick Clark, the man under the Velveteen Dream gimmick. Not only is his in-ring work ahead of where it is for most wrestlers of his experience level, but he has mastered the little things that are making this gimmick work. Whether it's a facial expression during a match, or a wardrobe choice, or even the way he walks to the ring, he shows his dedication to his art whenever he's performing. His quick ascension in NXT has been fun to watch, and many people were even surprised he didn't defeat Tommaso Ciampa at Takeover: War Games to become the new NXT Champion. Now, you have fans split into two camps. The first group is full of people who are dying to see the Dream gimmick on Raw or Smackdown, wanting to see where he can run with things on the main roster. The other group features the line of thinking that Vince McMahon ruins just about every main roster call up that has happened in the last several years, so they want Dream to stay in NXT. Whatever side of the fence you happen to be on, we should all be able to agree that this man has "future champion" written all over him. It will be interesting to see if that is capitalized on or not.
Toni Storm (Born on October 19th, 1995): Let's go back to something I said about earlier names on this list, shall we? I absolutely, positively love it when wrestlers travel the globe and pick up bits and pieces of a particular country's favored style of in-ring work. Maybe they go to Japan and work on their striking and hard-hitting offense, then travel to Mexico and learn more about what it takes to have a better aerial set of moves, followed by time in the United Kingdom, where they take it back to basics and perfect the art of grappling. Toni Storm has been all over the place, and it shows. In last year's edition of this list, I made mention of how she had been picking up title wins like crazy in Japan and England for Stardom and PROGRESS, respectively. Now, we can add WWE to the list of places where she's been successful, as she followed up a Mae Young Classic victory by becoming the second NXT UK Women's Champion. Everything she touches turns to gold. 2019 will see her try to keep the NXT UK strap, but could it also see a regular NXT run for her? Don't act like you wouldn't be interested in that.
Maxwell Jacob Friedman (Born on March 15th, 1996): You know how they say certain wrestlers are just so nice in real life that they can't be anything but faces in their careers? It was said that Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat was too good a guy to be a heel. Fans like to give Apollo Crews negativity because he's always smiling and happy, but that's how he really is. Well... if there's anyone that seems like they were born to be a heel, it's MJF. He loves being a dick. He's better than you, and he knows it. He has been riling fans up all over the independent scene for a while now. His greatest successes have been for Combat Zone Wrestling and Major League Wrestling, winning titles for both promotions, but he was also given a tremendous opportunity when he wrestled at All In, which introduced him to a lot of people. Now that he is one of the newest members of the AEW roster, expect him to have plenty of chances to tell and show the world just how much better he is than all of us.
Rhea Ripley (Born on October 11th, 1996): All she needed was a new attitude, apparently. After being eliminated in the second round of the first Mae Young Classic, she returned the following year with a new look and a new heel persona, making it to the semi-final round before finally being eliminated. It led to her getting sent to the NXT UK brand, where she would go on to win the NXT UK Women's Title, becoming the belt's inaugural champion. With a unique blend of strength and aggressiveness, she stands out, able to physically dominate opponents without needing to be the size of, say, Nia Jax or Bull Nakano. If WWE plays their cards right, they have the opportunity to create a modern day Trish Stratus vs Lita feud with Ripley and Toni Storm. Both women have all the potential in the world to be around for a long, long time, standing in each other's way for the entire journey. It should be a blast to watch unfold.
Tyler Bate (Born on March 7th, 1997): At one point, it sure seemed like WWE wanted to position Bate as the face of the NXT UK show. That focus seemed to flip to Pete Dunne somewhere along the line, but Bate is proving that he's not going to be pushed to the background quietly. 2018 was a year of highs and lows for Bate. He and Trent Seven dropped the RevPro British Tag Team Titles in January, and they were unsuccessful in trying to win the PROGRESS Tag Team Titles. He was unsuccessful in winning the PROGRESS Title in September. He and Seven failed to win the NXT Tag Team Titles twice before finally winning them during the NXT UK Title tournament special... only to drop them back a couple days later. He's someone that is always one match and one performance away from being back at the top of the ladder for multiple promotions, which is a tremendous position to be in, even when he isn't having as much success as he was a year or so ago.
Austin Theory (Born on August 2nd, 1997): If there was ever a wrestler you could just look at and know he'd fit in with WWE and what Vince McMahon looks for in a wrestler, it's Austin Theory. A 21-year-old bodybuilding champion with more abs than any human being should own? Are you kidding me? I'm half-surprised Vince hasn't already signed him and had him beat Daniel Bryan for the WWE Title. We already know Theory is on WWE's radar, though. He has participated in a WWE tryout and is currently the EVOLVE Champion at a time when the company is, for all intents and purposes, working with WWE as a bit of a "feeder" company. Theory is the ninth EVOLVE Champion, and of the previous eight, six of them either went on to sign with WWE or do work for them in some way, so perhaps it's only a matter of time. Until then, he'll just have to keep winning titles, like he did for FIP and WWN Live over the last year or so.
Another year's list done and in the books. What say you, Fightful Faithful? Who did I leave off? Who would you have replaced? There are plenty of names to choose from that I didn't mention, but that just tells me that the future of the business continues to look very bright. Hit me up in the comments below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what's on your mind.