When there are two major companies in pro wrestling, it’s natural for wrestlers to weigh their options and consider if jumping to the other side is worth it. It’s been predominantly one way so far, with AEW signing former WWE stars while the only person of note to go to Stamford is Cody Rhodes. That will undoubtedly change to a more balanced dynamic once the contracts of AEW stars start to run out in the coming months and years, especially with Vince McMahon no longer being the head of creative. But is it a good idea to sign with WWE if you’re a prominent player in AEW?
With rumblings that WWE may eventually be sold, it might not be the best idea to sign with a company that could have very different management and possibly even cease to be a functioning company if it gets sold to an entity not interested in promoting wrestling.
There’s also the question of who will take over as creative. While Triple H or Jeff Jarrett would certainly be the best choice, there’s no guarantee Stephanie McMahon would be a lot better than her father. Eliminating dick humor and dumb comedy segments are things she probably plans to do, but the scripted promos that have made WWE promos such a struggle to watch likely won’t change. Since the company is solidly embedded with mainstream sponsors and Fox/NBC, a substantial change to the way promos are structured and delivered risks upsetting the apple cart too much. For instance, a Jon Moxley promo certainly wouldn’t be allowed to air on Fox or USA. Or one of Britt Baker’s backstage ones where she drops a 4-letter bomb. Creative freedom has not been one of WWEs strengths, certainly not to the extent it is in AEW. There’s no reason to think that would change greatly even if Triple H were in charge, since he would be constrained by the interests of shareholders and corporate sponsors.
The tag team division of WWE has not been built very well over the last two decades, with depth being a persistent problem and storylines not being strong. It’s not likely that would be much different even with Vince gone, and AEWs tag team division is deep, talented, and fairly well-booked for the most part. Given the way FTR and various tag teams have been treated by WWE in the past, I think any prominent tag team in AEW considering jumping ship should exercise great caution.
The last two reasons for thinking twice about signing with WWE if a wrestler is prominently featured in AEW are fairly straightforward. Tony Khan honors contracts and does not cut wrestlers until their contracts expire. WWE has no qualms about releasing their “independent contractors” mid-contract and cutting off their income. Also, Khan permits his wrestlers to book indy dates, work outside projects, and use third-party revenue streams such as Twitch. WWE doesn’t allow any of this and treats their wrestlers more as property than human beings. This falls in line with their corporate presentation as “sports entertainment” rather than a simulated sport where wins and losses matter. AEW certainly has its issues with booking, but they’re far more sports-oriented than WWE with high-quality matches often being the selling point for their shows. The relative stability of the world and tag team title situations mean being a champion is actually more significant than with WWE, where there are two official world and tag team titles and one champion is often seen as inferior to the other. A stable contract situation, creative freedom, and flexibility to do other things are all advantages AEW has and will continue so for the foreseeable future.
This is not to say that a wrestler shouldn’t jump to WWE if they truly feel it’s best for him/her, but it’s worth noting there are some severe disadvantages to doing so. Contract stability, creative freedom, match quality, flexible schedules, and an open-minded boss in Tony Khan are major points in AEWs favor. The television negotiations for a new contract in 2024 will likely bring in much more revenue than before, and Khan has shown to be flexible in altering storylines if the larger audience isn’t very receptive to it. Overall, WWE will most likely be a better place without Vince and his stooges in power, and perhaps the wrestling world will be better for it if the new regime sparks competition and innovation. Nonetheless, AEW will still be a better place moving forward if Tony Khan can hold the ship steady and get a bit of help instead of trying to do everything himself.