Why signing big indie stars is good for WWE

The WWE has made a reputation of raiding top indie talent and turn them into mainstream stars. Here is why the company should continue the practice.


(Photo credit: Mike Kalasnik)

Saturation is never a good thing be it in the subject of economics or even when you eat at your favorite buffet. It can’t be denied that the WWE has continued to hit the gas pedal when it comes to signing the biggest names in the independent scene.

The hardcore indie fans’ greatest fear has never been more evident with the signings of big names such as EC3 and Ricochet to kick off 2018. Underutilization and a lack of place is the hot topic in forums everywhere wrestling related.

Though it is a valid argument when you think about how Cody Rhodes and Trent Barreta’s post WWE careers have turned out to be, sometimes it might just be a case of missed opportunities. TNA had it with CM Punk, WCW had it with guys like Chris Jericho among a long list of names, and yes for the benefit of the nerdy fan, even Terra Ryzing (Triple H) and Sexton Hardcastle (Edge).

The point here is, you will never know a missed opportunity until it has passed you. If you are convinced by the intro, then here are some points that may strengthen your judgement.

Step up, or step aside

To quote the great John Cena, either step up or step aside. He would usually say this whenever he gets engaged in a half shoot, half promo. It’s actually a good word of advice from the guy who carried the entire company for a decade and a half.

Wade Barrett? Stepped aside. Cesaro? Always steps down the mid card. But you have guys bred in the WWE’s developmental system out of scratch such as Baron Corbin, Rusev, and the WWE’s number two guy right now in The Miz. If these three have proven something, it’s that they did not need to win a feud with the top guy to achieve top level relevancy in the company.

The same can be said about these indie guys as if they are indeed talented enough, they are going to stand out no matter how many thousand more free agents the WWE sign. 

You want a gauge? Let’s see the stats of some of the top signees:

Kevin Owens – entered the main roster and was immediately thrown into a feud with a guy fans accuse of burying talent. Owens may have not won that feud, but he got a huge win over Cena and has become one of the top guys on the active roster.

AJ Styles – the WWE’s number one guy right now was another one of those immediately thrown in to face the biggest names and he sure delivered. He lost his first WrestleMania to Chris Jericho and it didn’t affect his WWE career one bit. He was booked to be such a weakling against John Cena that he always needed The Club (Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson) just to beat Cena. He even lost the WWE Title he eventually held to the same man, but did it affect his standing? A big no. He even is the number one guy on the active roster right now.

Seth Rollins – another guy who went back and forth with John Cena. You notice the pattern? All guys have to go through “Super Cena” and in Rollins’ case, he was playing the weak heel back then. We all know how relevant Rollins is to Monday Night Raw right now.

Elias – this guy never had a major feud in NXT and is definitely far from Hideo Itami and Roderick Strong in terms of in-ring ability. He might not be even close to the overall talent of some of the guys still down in NXT, but why is he relevant? Aside from John Cena (yes him again) being high on The Drifter himself, Elias may be one of the most concrete examples of a guy who steps up when given even the slightest opportunity.



Is NXT really saturated with talent?

The point here with the overflow of talents at the Performance Center is that they have a hierarchy of evaluation from how they move in training to how they perform overall on TV tapings and Pay Per View.

A concrete example of this is Tino Sabbatelli who was already doing live events but trainers figured he needed to be brought back to beginner’s program which set him back by a year or two. Sabbatelli is now a fixture of NXT’s tag team division on TV. Kassius Ohno on the other hand is hard to take seriously as his in-ring ability says one thing but his charisma (on a WWE scale) says another. There’s also some belief that Ohno prefers to stay in NXT and work with younger talent.

There is no denying that, when these famous indie guys signed to a WWE contract, they could be held back maybe financially, or career wise. The thing about being the number one wrestling company worldwide is that you get to gauge how talented a superstar indeed is and if he really deserves to be in the big leagues.

How many times have we seen Mixed Martial Arts prodigies who have been dominating all competition be it in Bellator or in Europe and Asia only to choke when they step inside the UFC Octagon? The same goes for the WWE.

If, let’s say, you throw Ricochet in the Universal or Intercontinental title picture right now, will you be as invested in him than if he gets just a little more touch up in NXT? You will enjoy watching him do flips but definitely the storyline will be crappy. Even a seasoned veteran such as Bobby Roode had to take advice from the coaches at the Performance Center before he was able to be convincingly as glorious as he is.

So to answer the question if NXT is really saturated with talent? Maybe trainee and roster wise, but in terms of a TV worthy superstar? There’s always room.

How can we solve this?

Let’s start first with the financial issue. According to reports, NXT has lost approximately $32 million just since 2016. That’s a big loss for a product that is all so over with the hardcore fanbase.

The real culprit for the overpopulation at the Performance Center is the low standards NXT has for signing “talent”. Anyone with an athletic background who passes a series of drills in tryouts that they throw very often is immediately signed to a developmental contract.

Instead of using the money to invest more in guys like Tommaso Ciampa and Andrade “Cien” Almas, they spend a lot of money on guys like Tino Sabbatelli and Mojo Rawley who went back and forth from TV to beginner’s course without making them a single dollar while you have guys like Johnny Gargano who always runs out of stocks for his merchandise due to the budget being thrown elsewhere. 

How ironic that for a company that prides itself for employing the cream of the crop when it comes to wrestlers, they have very low standards for someone to get their foot in the door. If they want to cut their losses, they should start with making the tryout more exclusive and let all the top indie guys shortlist each other as the phases progress.

Second, is the lack of exposure and underutilization for a ton of famous indie names signed to a WWE contract such as Lio Rush, No Way Jose, Donovan Dijak, Gunner, etc. They should be the content of NXT storylines while the homegrowns act as either enhancement or throw them in live events or Main Event (the WWE’s current version of Sunday Night Heat and Velocity). That way you utilize the supposedly top guys while you give the still learning guys the exposure and experience that they need to get the feel of things.

Third, maybe NXT should add another half hour because an hour a week might just not be enough right now for the show as some of them could really use more airtime rather than have their storylines continue two or three weeks later. Plus, it would quiet down some critics to finally give their idols the exposure that they so demand, right?

So is the signing of top indie guys indeed good for the WWE?

When did the addition of an asset become detrimental to a company? If you want the company to grow, you should get rid of liabilities and cut the potential losses rather than the ones that make them money.

As signing guys like Adam Cole and Ricochet is a call for all indie marks to start having faith in the WWE as they transition into a new landscape where smaller guys become top stars, they should also let go of those no namers they signed in order to cut costs. Besides, these guys at the Performance Center should even be thankful for being given a “WWE” on their resume which could possibly allow them to live off indie bookings.

With Attitude Era guys like Big Show and Kane already at the twilight and Ruthless Aggression guys like John Cena and Randy Orton starting to ride into the sunset, these top indie signings can find themselves a route to the top by capitalizing on opportunities like other indie veterans have. 

As frustrating as it can be from a fan perspective to not see your favorite stars exactly when you want to, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime for them, and a financial opportunity for WWE if the stars connect like they have the potential to. 

How do you feel about WWE’s signing of indie stars? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jaime Luis Aldecoa

Just an introvert with extraordinary visions and ambitions. Hopes to be the Voice of the Philippines someday and the only legit Filipino to make it to the Wrestling scene of the West.

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