WWE needs to look in the mirror after AEW’s star-studded free agency haul

AEW was the clear winner in pro wrestling free agency and WWE shouldn’t take that lightly.

Even with the company working its way out of a downturn, AEW president Tony Khan was able to bring in the big three of Will Ospreay, Kazuchika Okada and Mercedes Moné. These are three of the very best wrestlers in the world.

The additions and the success of Revolution seem to have injected some new energy in the AEW locker room like a pro team adding stars at the trade deadline. Ospreay noted during his promo on Dynamite the AEW rallying cry of “restore the feeling” as AEW looks to reinvigorate the energy and interest around the promotion. 

“I am the feeling,” Ospreay said.

While WWE is as hot as ever and doesn’t need any of those three at the moment, the fact that none of them chose to come to the industry leader should at least give Triple H and Co. some pause. 

Because, at the worst, you want to keep talent away from your closest competitor. WWE’s biggest signings have been wrestlers on their way out of AEW e.g. Cody Rhodes, Jade Cargill, Shawn Spears, Brian Pillman Jr. and the fired CM Punk. Naomi being an acceptation to that.

Will Ospreay Lee South/AEW

If you listen to Ospreay and Moné talk about why they signed with AEW, a few clear advantages appear to arise. Some of it is similar to what WCW had in the past.

For starters, Khan always seems to go the extra mile on the financial terms, and like WCW, AEW isn’t reliant on downside guarantees. And you are getting that money for a much, much lighter schedule, as AEW tapes on Wednesday and Saturday. While WWE’s schedule is far less grueling than in the past, top stars still have to make the weekly house show loops that don’t really exist in AEW.

AEW’s reduced schedule means talent can be with their families more, and Khan can give international stars such as Ospreay the option to remain living in the UK with his girlfriend and their stepson. Ospreay said on the “Talk is Jericho” podcast that the offers from AEW and WWE were “night and day.”

“Even in differences of what they were offering and what AEW was offering, AEW was way better,” Ospreay said. “The scheduling, everything about AEW was completely the right option for me. It was always, you can go be a superstar in WWE and famous, but it’s not as good of pay, and it’s not as kind of a schedule. I respect everyone there doing it, but it’s not for me.”

It brings me to something Moné — who has mentioned going back to WWE eventually — brought up often last week: AEW affords her the chance to take her revolution “global.” What she means is that, when you sign with AEW — unlike in WWE — you also have much greater freedom to work with other companies. It means you work with New Japan and CMLL in Mexico or pop into GCW and other independent promotions. For Ospreay and Okada, it allow them to keep a small tether to the promotion they left. Those relationships also allowed talents to get a taste of AEW and work with Khan before becoming free agents. AEW also runs a stadium show in the UK with All In. 

Triple H WWE

Kazuchika Okada Lee South/AEW

You have a chance to do more than make a billion-dollar company in WWE richer but, rather, enrich the foundation of the profession across different promotions to help maintain this fruitful landscape for other performers, all while shining a light on talent not on TV weekly in the U.S.

WWE is slowly making strides in that arena, allowing Shinsuke Nakamura to work with the Great Muta during his retirement tour, and it was recently announced that Shayna Baszler would work with mentor Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport show with GCW, it still had a way to build the cooperation with other promotions Khan has.

The silver lining for WWE is it can be less reliant than AEW on free agency for talent because its NXT and Performance Center system will allow it to keep building its new stars in-house. 

But opportunities to sign main-event talent in their prime such as Okada, Ospreay and Moné don’t come around too often, and WWE was unable to land any of them. 

Mercedes Moné Lee South/AEW

Yes, Okada’s close relationship with the Young Bucks was a factor, but it all should bring a moment of reflection in WWE.

Getting a WrestleMania moment may not have the same pull as it did in the past, and WWE may need to open its checkbook a little wider or offer different incentives. Because unlike in the past, when they were New York Yankee-like in free agency, WWE just might be the ones working from behind more and more cases. 

Meet the New Boss

Mercedes Moné’s heel turn will come at some point, but the former WWE star knocked her babyface arrival in AEW out of the park because, maybe for the first time, we got to see Mercedes Varnado and less of the TV character on TV. What she spoke about was real, raw and relatable. 

She was treated like the star she is, including an outfit change for her save of Willow Nightingale in the main event. It appears AEW could be eying her picking up her story from New Japan with Nightingale around the TBS Championship. Moné sounds ready to be the face of the division AEW needs.

Cody’s Cutting Promo

The Rock concert part of SmackDown was a ton of fun. The Rock, who was announced for the final Raw before WrestleMania at Barclays Center, cutting a very similar promo to the one on social media was a little disappointing, except for the brilliant “Moana” finish. But Rock, who certainly is pushing WWE’s G rating, going after Cody Rhodes’ mom could greatly enhance the WrestleMania moment. And if there is WWE talent reportedly concerned about a double standard, they don’t get it, do they? Of course, there will be.

But more importantly, the promo got us the type of anger we have been waiting for from Rhodes in his response. His dark suit promos always seem to hit a little differently as he called the Rock an asshole, a whiny b—h, Roman’s side chick and said he has “Little d–k syndrome.” One can only hope the build with Reigns on Friday is as good as this has been.

The 10 Count

WWE is cooking something with Chad Gable and Sami Zayn with the former questioning the No. 1 contender’s ability to beat Gunther for the Intercontinental championship at WrestleMania. Does Zayn ultimately step aside for Gable or does Gable train Zayn to get him prepared to knock off the Ring General?

Enjoying the fact that nearly all of Tony D’Angelo’s story building is done in mob-movie-style vignettes. It makes him feel special, and this week’s one with NXT champion Ilja Dragunov on the bridge might have been the best yet. 

With Hikaru Shida confronting Ring of Honor women’s champion Athena as her likely SuperCard of Honor opponent on April 5, Khan can bring Athena to AEW before or after AEW Dynasty and still have a veteran champion in ROH so Billie Starks keeps growing. She seems destined to win the Women’s Television Championship tournament.

Wardlow, for now, sure went out of the AEW Championship picture with a whimper. 

Samoa Joe choked out Wardlow to retain the AEW championship. Lee South/AEW

Raw featured two of the best TV matches we have seen all year with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa winning a tag team classic over the Creed Brothers to punch their ticket to their first WrestleMania. Then in the main event, Becky Lynch and Nia Jax killed it in their last women’s standing match.

Genuinely feel for Darby Allin who broke his foot wrestling Jay White at Big Business before leaving to climb Mt. Everest, pushing it back until 2025. The Universe had a different plan it seems.

MLW is at its best when Contra is intimidating and running amuck. It looks like we are getting back to that ahead of War Chamber.

Didn’t see Trick Williams adding heartthrob to his on-screen persona, but it felt like his moment with Lash Legend showed the increased level of confidence the character is working with right now.

Hook and Chris Jericho Lee South/ AEW

Something big better be in store for Hook and he is now about to get the full Chris Jericho rub in their first-ever match for the FTW Championship this week.

If WWE is considering a Bianca Belair heel turn, the SmackDown crowd sure didn’t sound ready for it even after the EST didn’t come to Bayley’s aid.

Extra: Outside of “The Last Ride”, there will probably not be a documentary more anticipated then Bray Wyatt: Becoming Immortal” on Peacock on April 1.

Social Media Posts of the Week

“RhEa OnLy GoT tO wHeRe She Is BeCaUsE sHe’S hOt” *not even 6 months ago*“RhEa LoOkS lIkE a MaN”You guys are the funniest 🤣 And yes, I’m laughing AT you not WITH you.— RheaRipley_WWE (@RheaRipley_WWE) March 17, 2024

“Final Boss” isn’t anything I came up with. @TheRock calls himself that because he is that. If it makes you feel better @CodyRhodes, I was the first to tell him about your spectacularly stupid goofy ass dog.— Brian Gewirtz (@bfg728) March 19, 2024

Wrestler of the Week

Kyle O’Reilly, AEW

It’s been nearly two years since we have seen O’Reilly working in a wrestling ring and he probably could have easily given up on his career after having spinal fusion surgery in September 2022 and post-surgical issues prolonged his recovery.

But there was an emotional O’Reilly walking that aisle to face Bryan Keith on Collision and celebrating — regardless of its storyline importance — with some of his friends in Roderick Strong, Matt Taven and Mike Bennett when it was over.

Match to Watch

Christian Cage (c.) vs Adam Copeland for the TNT Championship in an I Quit Match on AEW Dynamite (Wednesday, 8 p.m., TBS) 

This has to end here, doesn’t it? Lifetime best friends Copeland and Cage square off in the third match of this championship trilogy. Cage has weaseled his way into remaining champion outside of a few minutes, and Copeland unveiled a spiked bat inspired by Mick Foley that scared the bejesus out of Cage last week. This one will be brutal, with plenty of twists and turns in what could be the catalyst for a reunion between the two.

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