There’s probably never been a better time to be a good professional wrestler when it comes to your ability to make money. So long as you have a profile and you can draw, there are options on the indies everywhere. The British scene, while not as hot as it was a couple of years ago, is still big business. Japan is on fire. Shows across central Europe have been selling more tickets than they have in years and, of course, we have a completely new situation in North America.
If you’re reading this column, you don’t need an explanation of what’s changed – you’ll know about AEW already. The positives and potential pitfalls of All Elite Wrestling have been discussed at length on these pages, but even if the worst were to happen and they don’t achieve the success we’re all desperately hoping for, they’ll have made life a lot better financially for the wrestlers who work for them during their existence. Not only that, but they’re also making life better for the WWE roster.
Over the course of the past few months, there have been reports of new contracts being signed by various mid to low card WWE wrestlers. That’s not unusual – WWE doesn’t need everybody to be a top guy, and they always like to keep guys around to effectively work as jobbers to the stars. What’s been more noteworthy is the amount of money being offered with these contracts, and the number of years they cover. The average WWE contract for a non-headline wrestler, until very recently, was three years. Now, it’s five. On top of that, everyone signing new deals is believed to be doing so for double the amount of pay they were previously receiving.
There have been a lot of metaphors tossed around the wrestling industry recently – from ‘All In’ to ‘Double or Nothing’ – which relate to the world of gambling and casinos. Although it’s AEW which is using them for branding, it may be Vince McMahon and WWE who are taking the biggest gambles, and the wrestlers who are holding most of the chips. His betting strategy is an unusual one, though. When a player piles money into online mobile slots, they’re looking for a specific outcome. They want their symbols to line up, and a jackpot to be paid out. Vince may be paying big money into WWE contracts, but he’s not hoping for a jackpot; he’s simply looking to prevent AEW from getting one by accident.
Although he’ll never outright say it, the only reason most people can discern for Vince to start offering people longer contracts for more money is that he wants to prevent them from jumping ship to AEW when their current deals expire. Protecting yourself from the competition makes sense – and it’s interesting to see that McMahon clearly already sees AEW as competition – but it’s debatable that the wrestlers Vince is tying down would ever appear on AEW’s radar anyway. Cody Rhodes has already said he doesn’t want to pack AEW’s already busy roster with ex WWE talents, and that only top-tier talent would be invited in. With no disrespect intended, the re-signings announced so far wouldn’t currently be considered top tier talent.
At the time of writing, it’s been confirmed that Mojo Rawley, Mike Kanellis, Maria Kanellis, and Jinder Mahal have signed new long-term contracts with the company. On their day, any of them could be great talents, but none of them have the profile to move the needle in a wrestling war if they were to jump ship. Rawley has barely been used at all after a series of promos which aired earlier in the year, and saw him ranting into mirrors. Since then he’s painted his face, and occasionally turns up in backstage vignettes. Jinder Mahal has been slipping down the card ever since the end of his shock run as WWE Champion two years ago, and is now out injured. Prior to that, he was running around as part of the lower-card pack chasing the 24/7 title. The fact that either Kanellis would be offered a new deal at all is a major surprise.
Almost as soon as Mike and Maria debuted with WWE, both of them became unavailable for booking. Maria immediately got pregnant, and Mike checked into rehab. WWE did not get a good return on their investment. When they eventually returned to work, they were placed on the largely unwatched WWE Network show 205 Live, and forgotten about. Several of Maria’s tweets in recent months referenced the fact that their contracts would soon be expiring. It seems almost as if she, like everybody else, expected them to be leaving the company. If WWE blindsided them with an offer that was too big to refuse, they’ve made the most out of it. As the ink was still drying on the new deals, Maria informed management that she was pregnant again. Once more, WWE won’t be seeing a great return on their money for some time.
There might be slightly better news coming for WWE regarding two talents that AEW likely would have been interested in – Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. The two former Bullet Club members are believed to have repeatedly turned down big-money offers over the course of the last six months, thus explaining their absence from television for much of the last year. Their contracts were due up at some point during Fall. As they’re now back on television and aligned with a heel AJ Styles, it’s probably safe to assume they’ll be signing new deals soon (although after the mess that was made of Dean Ambrose/Jon Moxley’s exit from the company, who knows?)
The likelihood is that any top star who wants to go to AEW already knows whether or not AEW wants them. If AEW does want them, they’re unlikely to sign a new WWE deal no matter the figures printed on it. If that accounts for several of the top names, WWE may have painted themselves into a corner. Presumably, their idea as of right now is to lock their talent up for five years, and see if AEW can stay the course. If AEW does stay the course, and asset-strips WWE of their premier talent the same way WWE once did to other companies, those lower card wrestlers on long term deals may be all that WWE have left at their disposal.
If that turns out to be the case, then may we say in advance that we’re already hyped for Mojo Rawley’s two-year run as Universal Champion.