How WWE, AEW and Vince McMahon view talent in 2021

On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo discussed the changes to WWE NXT in NXT 2.0. They played a clip from a video from Mick Foley out out titled “WWE: we’ve got a problem” where Foley pointed out the creative issues with WWE and the lack of cohesion between NXT and main roster WWE.

Thurston then referenced a line from Vince McMahon on the Q2 earnings call, said in response to the cuts WWE have made and CM Punk joining AEW. McMahon said, “I’m not so sure what their investments are as far as their (AEW’s) talent is concerned… but perhaps we can give them some more.” Thurston and Gullo broke down the statement as well as how talent are valued in WWE and AEW.

Thurston: “I feel sort of ridiculous that we’re trying to unpack such a small sentence. This is not some grand statement or speech that he gave. This is just one sentence, and we’re trying to read quite a bit into this, but on the other hand, we get so little in terms of what Vince really thinks he does. He speaks publicly so little, but is there any insight we can get from this?

“Along with some other moves that they’ve made recently, to me, that’s doubling down. All the talent that they’re cutting, cutting even people Braun Strowman. I’m thinking too about what Nick Khan said to Ariel Helwani, about indie wrestlers, if you will. If people move on, that’s fine by them, which is just great corporate speak to make it sound like they’re doing somebody a favor by cutting, but in some cases, they are, as far as their careers go.

“I think what we’re seeing happen is this bifurcating, that’s a Chris Harrington word, of maybe wrestling audiences, definitely two different creative visions of what their product is. WWE not even willing to accept that they’re in the wrestling business. AEW embracing that they’re in the wrestling business. Those visions are very different.

“They have different visions of what they do creatively, and they have different visions of what talent they value. They kind of already did in the first place, but I think we’re seeing a doubling down on that in WWE’s case.

“Maybe part of that is this sort of you can’t quit, you’re fired kind of thing. ‘Oh, these indie people are leaving us? Adam Cole is going to pass us up, and CM Punk was not interested in dealing with us. Apparently, we had some discussions with him, and we couldn’t get Bryan Danielson to stay. Jon Moxley wanted to leave a few years ago, and he left, wouldn’t even look at his deal, wouldn’t even look at what the money was that we were offering him.’

Gullo: “Christian. You got to add Christian not wanting to really pursue a deal with them.”

Thurston: “Maybe it’s sort of ‘I’m starting to feel rejected. So rather than allow people to reject me, I’m going to preemptively reject them,’ and I think we’re seeing maybe the next step is deals are coming up around the end of the year for three other wrestlers, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Johnny Gargano, who, I would guess, are not going to re-sign with this company when when their deals are up.

“And these are three wrestlers who were big time indie wrestlers before they came to WWE, and you combine that with will if not wrestlers, not people who have already been in the wrestling business and have already been on, some level, relatively speaking, successful wrestlers, then what kind of talent are they going to sign? Maybe it’s more of the Gable Steveson types, on the high end. I don’t know how often you can sign a gold medalist, but that seems to be their idea.

“Obviously, we see that in the repackaging of NXT, NXT 2.0. Now, they just put the title on Tommaso Ciampa, who’s a big indie wrestler, but maybe that’s part of a transition into a future of WWE talent development that’s more about people who have athletic backgrounds, perhaps. Especially on the women’s side, maybe they’re fitness models but not necessarily independent wrestlers. I know Triple H, at the Las Vegas tryout said that it’s not a negative if they have indie experience. I’m not so sure. Maybe Triple H feels that way.

“It’s evident, through what NXT has put out, that Paul Levesque has a different creative vision than Vince McMahon about what pro wrestling can be creatively, and to Paul Levesque, I don’t think it’s a negative that you have independent wrestling experience. I think around 2014 he had a change of mind, at least he did relative to what he was willing to say publicly. I think what he’s willing to say publicly, as much as anybody, is not necessarily what he believes genuinely, and I don’t know what he believes genuinely.

“But in the case of Vince McMahon, I know Vince is very much just not aware of what’s going on in wrestling beyond his company, but I do wonder when or if he learns that somebody has an independent wrestling background or has any sort of wrestling background outside of the company, whether that becomes a negative to him and not a totally prohibitive negative but a negative. There are other things that can outweigh that.

“This is one thing we can say in WWE’s favor here, I think they do value diversity of people from a variety of backgrounds. That’s something that AEW needs to work on, in terms of having stars who are not just white guys. You’ve got CM Punk, that’s a big deal. You’ve got Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole, and this is a huge deal for the company, but in the future, they really have to look at building people from more diverse backgrounds.”

Excerpts from Wrestlenomics Radio were edited for clarity.

Jason Ounpraseuth has covered pro wrestling since 2019. He co-hosts the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also an independent pro wrestler and trainer. For more, see our About page.

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