Feel that in the air? That heat, that sizzle, that … burning sensation of the unknown? That’s right, thanks to renewed competition, the wrestling free agent signing wars are back, reminding fans of what it’s like to feel surprised again.
A lot of this new is per the Jan. 14 edition of Dave Meltzer’s Observer Newsletter. We’ll be tracking these reports, and those that pop up next, to see which pan out and which don’t.
WALTER, whose signing we first heard about from PWInsider in November, and was seconded by Big Dave. Expect to see him at NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool in some capacity. His background makes him an ideal trainer at the newly revealed UK Performance Center.
Ilja Dragunov is less obvious, but Deadspin’s David Bixenspan tweeted a solid outlook for why you could expect to see the UN BE SIEG BAR talent at TakeOver: Blackpool. Not only has Dragunov had a WWE tryout and major exposure on brands close to WWE (Progress, wXw), but he was pulled from a Saturday show with little reason. I’d rank this as 49% likely, as in “I wouldn’t be shocked.”
Viper (Piper Niven in the MYC) and Kay Lee Ray: These two current World of Sport-contracted wrestlers are major UK standouts that worked with WWE during the inaugural May Young Classic. According to Meltzer, both are expected to sign with WWE once their contracts are up. I’d wager they’re both likely to start at NXT UK.
Bea Priestly is in a similar boat, as Meltzer reports she’s been offered a contract but is currently with WOS and Stardom. Difference is, though, she’s seemingly less likely to sign to WWE, as Dave says “her future was undecided but she and Will Ospreay have talked about getting a place and moving full-time to Japan.”
KUSHIDA announced he’s leaving New Japan days after Wrestle Kingdom 13, where he dropped the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title to Taiji Ishimori. WWE’s interest, specifically from Triple H, has been long known, and WOR reports that KUSHIDA is indeed headed to NXT.
Aja Kong: the legendary, iconic joshi wrestler has caught the eye of All Elite Wrestling, according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Kenny Omega: While some would assume Kenny’s recent departure from NJPW was a work, that may not be the case. Few people have as much access to the AEW folks as Dave Meltzer, so we need to at least acknowledge what he says about this, even if he’s possibly in on said work. Big Dave says Kenny’s time in NJPW will be limited, “Omega is unlikely to be working as much of a New Japan schedule under any circumstances as the belief is AEW will be his priority.”
Of course, the biggest news of the year so far came in two parts. First in the Jan. 1 Being The Elite episode, where Matt and Nick Jackson, Cody, Brandi Rhodes and Adam “Hangman” Page signed to AEW, where the Bucks and The American Nightmare are Exec VPs and Ms. Rhodes is the Chief Branding Officer. According to Meltzer, The Bucks were offered one of the most insane contracts in WWE history, the details of which leaked to current WWE performers, who were convinced that the Jackson 2 would sign.
Then, on Tuesday at the AEW Double or Nothing event in Jacksonville, FL, the following talent (in order of appearance) were declared as AEW-affiliated:
So-Cal Uncensored: Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky
Talent shared with the China-based OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainment) which will include CIMA and T-Hawk (who wasn’t named) who go by Stronghearts (incorrectly named by Matt Jackson as Goodhearts)
Britt Baker: who argued that AEW signing her earlier than other talent — we’ll take her word — shows their commitment to women’s wrestling.
MJF: Maxwell Jacob Friedman, the fast-rising, completely hateable scamp commonly derided as MJEFF or EC2.
Joey Janela: The “Bad Boy” whose contract (per Meltzer) says he can work in PWG and approved Indies.
Penelope Ford: who entered with Janela, didn’t speak, but is a more-than-capable wrestler in her own right and had a tryout with WWE recently.
PAC: The hottest free agent, the wrestler formerly known as Neville, who challenged Page to a title match at the next AEW event, ostensibly for the unannounced AEW championship.
Chris Jericho: Signed a three-year deal with AEW, and it’s supposedly the biggest contract of his career, according to Meltzer. His signing was the “one more thing” surprise of the event, and his contract signing was published in a tweet. It also prompted WWE to move Jericho to the Alumni page, and swap him out of the “Then, Now, Forever” graphic used before WWE programming.
NJPW hasn’t made any splash signings to recoup the loss of Kushida, though Meltzer notes that Juice Robinson re-signed with the company, which gave him a significant raise. WWE was interested, but no talks came of it.
Rocky Romero: re-signed, with a three-year contract.
Chase Owens: also re-signed.
Bandido’s signing to ROH was such a shock to the system that I think Adam Cole felt it, despite being a dead man. Meltzer claims WWE and AEW also bidded on the fantastic luchador.
PCO and Brody King have both signed and debuted, in the Villain Enterprises faction with Marty Scurll, who is expected to leave for AEW once his ROH contract expires.
Been Rumored, We’re Still Waiting
– Trevor Lee to leave Impact, possibly for WWE (WON)
– Shane “Swerve” Strickland to leave MLW for WWE (PWInsider)
– ACH to WWE (PWInsider)
– Rachael Ellering to WWE
– Darby Allin to … leave WWN? A tweet from the daredevil pro wrestler read “If you don’t view me as a “superstar” let me go. So I can prove everyone that I am. #toohungrytosettle”