Since the inception of All Elite Wrestling the subject of free agency in the pro wrestling industry continues to be a topic of conversation, and it should be. For the first time in almost two decades, there was a second national promotion with the funding and the opportunity to truly get off the ground to compete with the WWE, both for a market share and talent. Not that this is meant as a knock on TNA, especially considering that it launched during an era when the business was at a low point following the collapse of WCW and ECW, but I think it’s fair to say that the organization wasn’t a destination point for anyone during its heyday. The vast majority of known talent that signed with TNA inked a deal because they got released from WWE. In fact, this happened so often that it almost became comical when another “flavor of the month” made their debut for the company. It was very rare that a competitor would opt for TNA over WWE, with Christian being the most notable exception.
AEW shifted that dynamic when it had the funding to offer comparable money to WWE and the distribution of the Turner networks to showcase the roster.
There are several names that simply opted to sign with Tony Khan instead of another deal with WWE, and that created a sense of optimism around the project since the talent saw a future in the company. Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson, FTR, and others made the decision to continue there careers with AEW. If those talents were used to their fullest potential is a different discussion for a different time, but the point being, the existence of AEW allowed for a more competitive free agent market.
That market continues to be beneficial to both sides, as Cody Rhodes’ wise exit for All Elite before backstage controversy overshadowed the in-ring product was a wise move, and it ultimately set the stage for the main event of Wrestlemania. As I’ve cited before, as much as Jim Cornette has his critics, his assessment of “how can we miss you if you don’t go away?” is true. Cody couldn’t make an anticipated return unless he left to rejuvenate his career and thus build up the demand for a comeback to WWE. He took his career to a new level with the American Nightmare persona and the hype around it is what gave the WWE an opportunity to reintroduce him as a bigger star to the audience. But, that’s not possible unless he could go to AEW to generate buzz for the American Nightmare character.
A competitive free agent market helps to keep the entire industry fresh.
That’s why the rumor mill is so intriguing right now because there are a potpourri of names in the discussion that could potentially shift many of the dynamics within the industry depending on where they sign a contract.
Reportedly, Kenny Omega’s contract could be set to expire relatively soon, with the only hurdle being if any time was added to his deal when he was on the shelf. Omega was complimentary of WWE in the past, fueling speculation that prehaps he would at least consider a WWE offer, and there was more talk of that after The Elite dropped the trios titles at Revolution. Considering that he will be 40 later this year, the bottom line is, if Omega is ever going to sign with the WWE, this is probably the most realistic opportunity. With more than 22 years on his resume and the injuries he had, it’s very doubtful that he will ink another long term after he signs his next one. This is logically the last long term deal of his career so if he wants a run in WWE, now is the time to make the jump. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Omega work sporadically in Japan after he finishes his next full-time contract, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Omega to ink a WWE deal at 43 or 45. The company isn’t going to invest in a talent that would be relatively new to their audience if the performer would near the age of 50 during the duration of the contract. As far as if Omega would sign a deal there, I’d say it’s 50/50, and I’m not trying to take the middle of the road there. One of the reasons that All Elite Wrestling was founded was based on the hype Kenny Omega had in The Wrestling Observer after his incredible series of matches with Okada in New Japan. Obviously, even EVP title aside, Omega is comfortable in All Elite and gets to work the style that he wants, regardless of any criticism of it. At the same time, AEW was fine without him, which isn’t a knock on him, but rather to point out that the company has enough depth on the roster. Cody left and All Elite continued so it’s not impossible that Omega could explore his options in the latter stages of his career.
With Triple H running the company, there are better odds that Omega would debut for WWE than in the past, but at the same time, I’d not sure he would be willing or could translate his style to the WWE audience. That’s not a jab against his ability, but rather that what garnered Omega notoriety in the wrestling business isn’t really what the WWE presents to its fan base. If he makes the jump is probably 50/50, but if it would be a successful transition is a completely different matter.
On the flip side, another New Japan alumni, Jay White recently finished up with the organization after he lost a loser leaves Japan and then a loser leaves New Japan match. The 30-year-old former IWGP Heavyweight champion has all the skills to be a major star and would be a wise acquisition for WWE. White is a polished pro because of his tenure in New Japan, but is young enough that his prime is theoretically still ahead of him. He has the in-ring ability, the mic work, and the intangibles to be a top guy on the roster. Plus, I’d make the argument that he’s a more versatile wrestler than Omega. Jay White can excel during the work-rate matches while still being a heel. At the same time, we’ve seen him work with AEW before because of the New Japan working agreement so it’s very possible that he signs an All Elite deal. When you take into account how many wrestlers AEW already has on its roster, and more importantly, how many of those competitors get lost in the shuffle, I think WWE is the better option for him. It would be too easy for him to fade into the background in AEW, which is exactly what happened to Adam Cole for the majority of his stint in the company before the concussion put him on the sidelines. For an organization that needs stars for the future, the WWE should make it a priority to sign Jay White to a contract because he would be a major asset to the company.
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Until next week
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