For decades there has only been one finishline for one’s wrestling career, the WWE. While independent companies would struggle with paychecks and booking, the WWE was always growing and getting better. Even during the doldrums of late 2000s, WWE was the place to get paid and stay safe. Then NXT was created, and suddenly the path that wrestlers like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan paved was much clearer for young talent. You’d think that years later the WWE would be the bastion for every budding superstar to come make their mark. Unfortunately it just isn’t so.
Kenny Omega is easily the biggest English-speaking independent wrestler in the business today. Just like Finn Balor and AJ Styles, Omega is the standout Western wrestler in NJPW right now and leader of the Bullet Club. His shift from Japan to NXT or the WWE would be just another in a long line of signings in recent years. However, like many young talented wrestlers, Omega isn’t jumping at every chance to join the ranks of the WWE. In Japan, Kenny is a top heel who routinely has matches with and as champion. In the WWE, Kenny would be, like so many other talented indie wrestlers who have made the jump, lost in the shuffle.
Despite being flush with talent the typical episode of Raw or SmackDown often includes the same dozen or so wrestlers. The notable exclusions aren’t just the typical undercard wrestlers you’d be used to seeing in the WWE just a decade ago. Rusev has been gone for months and almost never mentioned; Shinsuke Nakamura’s first program was with the lackluster Dolph Ziggler; American Alpha has disappeared despite a revival of the tag team division. Each wrestler is better than their position and the WWE either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. With so many talented wrestlers standing on the sidelines, what would entice yet another wrestler to want to come and join those ranks?
Money. Shane McMahon certainly loves it (and sneakers). That’s often the main reason anyone brings up when they mention the WWE. A wrestler can certainly make a good cut of cash while wrestling for the biggest promotion in the world, but at what cost? If you are trapped at a lower card position, skipping some or all pay-per-views, your bonuses and pay check won’t be as lofty as Randy Orton’s or John Cena’s. That’s a reality in any promotion, but the big catch is the restriction the WWE places on their wrestlers. You can’t wrestle anywhere else. In ROH you can take a weekend off to wrestler with PWG. In NJPW you often team up with ROH for shows. In Progress you’re probably spending time at WCPW. You can collect paychecks from multiple sources over a shorter period of time. For some indie wrestlers their demand is enough that they can earn more over a weekend than at a single WWE PPV event.
With no upward momentum, and not enough spending cash in your back pocket, what is encouraging young talent to sign on the WWE’s dotted line? With the recent deluge of promotions scooping up talent and expanding their reach, the WWE has retained its inevitability status for most wrestlers. It’s now a retirement house that’ll pay for the name you created away from the company instead of the name created within. The WWE isn’t fostering a place where talent can grow, they’re fostering an aging roster that will only occasionally be infused with locally grown talent.