This morning, when checking my mails, I found a message from our revered boss, Widro, saying that I was in for a big surprise once I woke up. He wasn’t kidding. While most of us expected little excitement between Wrestle kingdom 10 and Royal Rumble, beyond speculation on who would be the surprise entrants at RR, the wrestling world decided to start the year with a bang. Two of the world’s top stars, accompanied by members of the most successful heel group of these last few years are on their way to WWE. Just like that. But as some of you have already noted in the comments related to that news and I myself tried to explain in a column some weeks ago, things might not be that simple.
First things first let’s look at what the news is exactly. At time of writing, we don’t know what kind of deals any of those four have signed and if, indeed, official deals have been signed. All we know is that the four went to NJPW booker Gedo, after Wrestle kingdom 10 on Monday, and “handed in their notice”. Now what does that mean exactly? For AJ, it doesn’t mean much. He was a freelancer, not under contract with either ROH and NJPW. In other words, he would meet with ROH and NJPW representatives, go over their booking plans and get paid by appearances. So basically if AJ says he’s done, he’s done and completely free to accept whatever comes his way.
The situation is a bit more complex when it comes to Nakamura, Gallows and Anderson. Let me first explain how NJPW contracts work and why we’re getting this news now. NJPW will, more often than not, work with one year contracts (that can therefore be easily adjusted year to year). Those contracts usually starts and end in late January. Hence the notice thing. Does that mean everything is now written in stone and we’ll see all three of them in WWE. Not necessarily. While some sites have already jumped to conclusions and said that all four signed with WWE, I would remind you all that there is no official word of a signed contract as of yet. The fact their handed in their notice would suggest there is indeed a solid offer on the table by WWE, but NOT that they have all already signed it. Remember, unlike AJ they all probably still have a couple of weeks left on their contracts, and, certainly in the case of Nakamura who is still IWGP Intercontinental Champion, some duties to perform. Anderson and Gallows, on their side, have dates left with ROH. Why would this be relevant, you ask? Well, simply because, as I explained in the aforementioned article, the NJPW President Takaaki Kidani is independently wealthy. The guy has cash. Lost of cash. so I would be VERY surprised if he doesn’t make a counter-offer, matching or even surpassing everything WWE has offered, especially when it comes to Nakamura. Remember the talking between those three and WWE might have already happened, but the serious talking between them and Kidani will start now. Therefore I would suggest to wait until we get official confirmation by WWE that something has been signed before getting to exited. This isn’t the first time such rumors happen and they usually come up in January, because of NJPW’s contract situation. And it wouldn’t be the first time some wrestler has tried to take advantage of that in order to augment their contract value. Even if I must admit Nak and co have made a very bold move by handling in their notice if that’s the case, but that might also just increase Kidani’s sense of urgency and force him to give out much more than originally intended.
Now that all that has been said, I can’t resist the urge to speculate a bit and pretend the contracts are signed and all 4 are indeed on their way to WWE. What would that mean for the wrestlers involved and for NJPW? Let’s start with AJ, Gallows and Anderson.
For AJ, while an unexpected move, in hindsight it kind of makes sense. Like said, he was not under contract with anyone anyway so he’s free to go where-ever he chooses to go. Furthermore, the 38 year old has struggled with back injury lately so he might actually look forward to a stint in NXT, and potential job opportunities as WWE trainer in the future, since that would bring him more stability, a less heavy travel schedule and a stable, albeit somewhat lesser, income. Triple H and NXT have also expressed their desire to beef up their roster with more experienced indie stars and, in that optic, who better than AJ who just had a 5 star match against Nakamura at WK 10. Finally, given his wealth of knowledge and experience, AJ could easily endorse the role of locker room leader and help younger, less experienced talent to improve. So this indeed seems a win-win for all, and a good move by AJ given the fact his body really needs some rest. As for his chance to go on the main roster, well, it can happen, I guess, certainly given WWE’s current problems but the question here is what Vince and/or Kevin Kelly see AJ as the embodiment of an indie star or something else. If it’s the first, then,, just like with Samoa Joe, forget it, it won’t happen. That being said, for the reasons explained above, AJ might just be alright with that.
Karl Anderson also can be fitted in the experienced indie star category NXT needs. A celebrated veteran, the 35 year old has been with NJPW since 2008, often being employed as a tag team specialist. Or more accurately, the guy used to bring the best out of less talented performers like Gallows. With 4 IWGP tag team title reigns, three G1 Tag Leagues wins he is one of the most celebrated tag team wrestlers in NJPW right now. That being said, Anderson is also an accomplished singles wrestler, being able to bring the best out of any opponent also and having more than enough talent and experience to be able to thrive in just about any environment. He will undoubtedly be a valuable addition to the NXT roster and should waste no time in rising to the top. As for his eventual main roster aspiration, I can see him be part of a successful tag team, but as a singles wrestler? Not sure, same observations with AJ I guess.
As for Doc Gallows, he has of course been in WWE before, as Festus, Luke Gallows and the Kane Impostor. He was also the Director Of Chaos in TNA’s ill-fated aces&eights angle. needless to say none of those gimmicks left a lasting impression. his status improved somewhat in NJPW, but that’s mainly because he had the talented Anderson at his side, who could easily cover for Gallows’ shortcomings. WWE would do well to heed that lesson and keep him in the tag rags, possibly with Anderson, although I would one of Anderson’s motives to jump to WWE/NXT would be to get away from that tag team specialist etiquette. Other than that, while Gallows certainly fits the tall and heavy look Vinnie Mac seems to favor and has improved since his Festus days, I predict another massive bomb for Gallows if he’s pushed as singles wrestler once again.
That leaves Nakamura. As I’ve written before, Nakamura isn’t just your average indie star. He’s one of the most recognizable wrestlers worldwide, probably one of the top three best paid wrestlers in NJPW (and given the depth of Kidani’s pockets, that does mean something), he looks like a rock-star, he behaves like a rock-star (in the ring), well he IS a rock-star (in Japan at least). I’ve said before that the only reason I had even entertained the thought of Nakamura leaving NJPW was the fact that Nak himself had stated he wanted a new challenge, something different, something big. Enter WWE. But here, it’s not that simple. Forget any possibility that Nakamura has signed (if he has indeed signed anything) a 250000/year contract. If Nakamura comes over, I’m guessing he will want at least three times that. And that’s assuming Kidani doesn’t launch himself into a bidding war with WWE (which he probably will, whatever the wrestling sites report today). So does WWE put their latest 750000 + acquisition in NXT? I don’t think so. Furthermore, if Nakamura has signed, it’s because he wants to become a bona-fide star in North America. Does that happen if he stays in NXT for a couple of years? i don’t think so. See what i’m getting at? Nakamura IS different from the other three in so far that he will probably have been more expensive to acquire AND that Nak himself is VERY ambitious and has a very clear idea of what he wants out of this. In other words, NXT is simply too small for someone like him. So I must repeat the question I asked some weeks ago. Nakamura is ready for WWE but is WWE ready for him? Can Vince put aside his ego and make a star out of someone who became a star on his own right elsewhere? WWE’s obvious interest in the Asian market might hold the answer here.
In closing, and since I’ve done a lot of speculation here, let me throw one more piece your way. If this indeed comes to pass, then this is a major coup for WWE. While the loss of AJ and the Buleet Club is certainly a blow, NJPW has the means to absorb that blow, partly due to their relationship with ROH. Indeed, Elgin and The Briscoes are already expected to do lengthy tours in Japan in 2016, and Roderick Strong might soon join them. With Elgin’s popularity in japan skyrocketing, he can quickly fill in for AJ at the top of the card and Strong can also certainly help fill that particular void. Add to that top-rated performers like Goto and Shibata and celebrated veterans like Kojima and Nagata and you can see that the remaining top stars, Tanahashi and Okada , will have more than enough talent to work with. As for the Bullet Club, as it happens, NJPW has been preparing for BC’s replacement for some time now, with the raise of Naito’s Los Ingobernables. Naito himself will easily be able to fill the role of top heel and his group will only grow in the coming months, replacing the Bullet Club, that was right on the verge of becoming stale anyway. Now that I’m writing all this, you would almost think NJPW knew something we didn’t.
But Nakamura is a different matter, much more difficult to replace. Having been with the company since 2002 and having been instrumental in NJPW’s return to the top of the wrestling world after being on lif support in 2005/2006, Nak is synonymous with NJPW’s success. Because make no mistakes, the signing of Nakamura is the biggest blow WWE could possibly give to NJPW (except maybe if they would sign Okada). So the question becomes, how does NJPW responds? First of all, can they respond? Well, as said, you have a very pissed-off Japanese multi-millionaire right now who’s itching for a fight, so the question is not can but indeed how. And here we enter another interesting piece of speculation. In retaliation to WWE signing his top star, Kidani would almost certainly want to sign one of WWE’s top stars. Impossible most of you might say, but, are you certain of that? Isn’t there a more or less disgruntled WWE mega-star sitting on the side-lines, waiting for a WWE medical clearance that doesn’t come? Yes, you know whom I’m referring to, one Daniel Bryan who has repeated time and again that he wants to wrestle again. ASAP. Anywhere he has even said lately. And you better believe that Kidani would be willing (and able) to pay whatever Bryan asks for. So, could we have a mega-star exchange between NJPW and WWE?
Again, this is pure speculation, but, like I had with Nakamura, if WWE has indeed signed Nakamura and WWE continues to be stubborn when it comes to Bryan’s medical clearance, then I have the feeling we might all have to learn how to say “YES! YES! YES” in Japanese pretty soon.
Tags: AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, doc gallows, Karl Anderson, njpw, NXT, shinsuke nakamura, Takaaki Kidani, WWE