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WWE

Dean Ambrose

With its money and marquee names, All Elite Wrestling has sports entertainment fans hoping WWE faces a serious competitor for the first time since the closure of WCW in 2001.

The money comes from billionaire Jacksonville Jaquars owner Shahid Khan and his son Tony, who own the new promotion. And the marquee names are AEW's Executive Vice Presidents: Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks and, as of Thursday, Kenny Omega. Otherwise known as The Elite, the Bullet Club offshoot behind a small T-shirt empire and a YouTube series with more than 300,000 subscribers, the four have a bigger following than any wrestler not under contract to Vince McMahon. And now, after leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor, they have their own promotion.

As AEW approaches its first show, May 25's Double or Nothing in Las Vegas, maybe the biggest question in the wrestling world is who joins The Elite to round out the new promotion's roster. So far, it's been a mix of friends and familiars on the independent circuit like So Cal Uncensored and Los Lucha Bros, as well as high-profile free agents like Pac (formerly Neville) and Chris Jericho. But it's the signing of Jericho, a multi-time WWE champion and one of the most famous active wrestlers in the world, that begs the question: What other major names can, and should, AEW sign?

Reports say some current WWE superstars were "stunned" by the terms of Jericho's contract with the new promotion. If indeed AEW can offer those superstars enough to lure them away from the employ  of the biggest wrestling company in the world — be it more money, less dates or other benefits — then the Khans and The Elite may have their pick of McMahon's litter. And though he may be somewhat of an outlier due to his unorthodox personality, the recent exit of Dean Ambrose shows that not even WWE's most established stars are safe from growing discontent enough to walk away.

So here are the five wrestlers AEW would benefit most from signing:

1. Rusev. As WWE superstars go, few would fit more perfectly in AEW than the Bulgarian Brute. He gives the new promotion a heavyweight, something it sorely lacks so far. He gives it a cult following and another license to print merchandising money with his "Rusev Day" gag. And he gives it someone who can wrestle anywhere on the card, whether it's a lethal monster or an accessory to The Elite's goofball antics. Rusev has voiced disappointment in WWE's usage of him the past couple years, but I'm confident he would have no such problems as a part of AEW.

2. Dean Ambrose. Outside of semi-active names like Bill Goldberg and Batista, Ambrose will instantly become the biggest free agent in wrestling when his WWE contract expires in April. But who knows if he even wants to step back into a ring? The fact WWE made an amicable statement on Ambrose's exit, in which the company thanked him, suggests Ambrose told them he's taking a break or even retiring. But if he indeed goes to AEW, where he'd likely resume the name Jon Moxley, he'd be an instant main-eventer. He could even return to his garbage match ways against guys like Pentagon Jr. Hopefully, though, Ambrose would find the creative fulfillment and whatever other motivation he needs not to mail in his performances the way he has in WWE for the better part of a few years now. 

3. The Usos. One of the latest subjects of AEW rumors is WWE's most established tag team in The Usos. And if they do actually jump to the new promotion when their contract is reportedly up this spring, they'd instantly give it a dream match and superkick bonanza against The Young Bucks, as well as intriguing encounters against Los Lucha Bros, So Cal Uncensored and more.

4. Sasha Banks. AEW's women's division doesn't quite have the star power of its men's side yet, but that would change by signing Banks. Of course, it's tough to say whether she'd be willing to leave the company where she wrestles in the footsteps of her hero Eddie Guerrero, and with her fellow Four Horsewomen. But if the disenchantment she's expressed in some interviews continues, Banks could bring one of the biggest fan followings in WWE to AEW, where she might also savor the more relaxed climate when it comes to what she's allowed to do in the ring.

5. Randy Orton. Orton, who may or may not have already begun communicating with AEW about signing there, would come to the new promotion with a whole list of caveats. He could come in unmotivated. He could consider guys like Omega and Rhodes as beneath him. He could turn off potential fans who see Orton as synonymous with WWE, and therefore a sign AEW is just more of the same. But Orton could also bring eyeballs to the new company, and as a bad guy who leans into being a WWE traditionalist, Orton could give The Elite a great foil at the top of the card.


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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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Features editor for The Citizen.