The Indie Corner: Poaching Talent Is Only a Problem for Those Slow on the Draw

Sara del Rey, one of the WWE's latest poaches, via Scott Finkelstein

By now, I'm sure we've all read that article by Mark Madden, whether at the original source or via my own blog taking it apart. It was a terribly written, strawman-laden piece that managed to cast empty criticisms on Ring of Honor, a company who deserves a lot more constructive criticism than "WWE is poaching your stars and you can't do anything about it something something third place something something I'm better than you wrestling fans because I'm above you." However, he accidentally brings attention to a point that is troubling.

WWE and Impact Wrestling both are very active in taking in the best of what the independent scene has to offer. In the last three or so years, they've signed Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness, Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Tyler Black, Jon Moxley, Britani Knight, Austin Aries, Brodie Lee, Tommy Mercer, Shiima Xion and Tony Nese to their ranks for some length of time or another. More recently, both companies have been even more aggressive, with Impact taking in a bunch of tryouts via their Gut Check and their annual X-Division recruitment push for Destination X. Meanwhile, WWE has gone and signed PAC and Sara del Rey and worked out Mercedes Martinez.

On the surface, that would seem like a talent drain that would take down any single company, but the thing with independent wrestling is that the collective is far, far stronger and greater than any single company could be, and that includes WWE. Wherever there are wrestling fans, there are most certainly wrestling promotions. Not all of them will have rosters laden with great talent (although in the case of companies like Chikara, Anarchy Championship Wrestling and other top-liners, they certainly do have a glut of talent on their rosters), every promotion will probably have at least one diamond in the rough.

So, while the Danielsons and the Blacks of the world getting signed is a big blow to the circuit on the whole, more specifically to the top companies they worked for like ROH and Dragon Gate USA, it wouldn't be the end of the world if those destination promotions had a plan for building new talent. DGUSA has been leagues better than ROH in this regard for two reasons. One, they have a built-in talent base that is almost immune to poaching from WWE in their Dragon Gate Japan guys. While WWE is crazy for not looking at the Toryumon Dojo alums, especially the ones with great character chops like CIMA or Akira Tozawa, their loss is the gain of independent wrestling fans who will always have a rock to attach to for their shows. Secondly, Gabe Sapolsky, for all his flaws (being a douche to fans and wrestlers on Twitter being one of them), has sought out talent to put on his shows and to build from the ground floor up.

The same cannot be said for ROH lately, who has leaned more on having guys fall into their laps rather than going out and seeking out new talent aggressively. One could say that Sapolsky has beaten them to the punch, to which I say BS. For one, there's no reason why talent can't work for both ROH and DGUSA except for the petty pissing contest between the two entities. Two, it's not like wrestlers like Sami Callihan, Uhaa Nation and AR Fox magically sprung from the ground and were swooped up by Sapolsky before ROH could do anything about it. Hell, Callihan actually worked for ROH for a short time and was ignored. Now, he's the biggest thing on the indies. Why couldn't ROH capitalize on him? Why couldn't they go and send scouts out to Austin, Reseda, Warner-Robins, Cleveland, Berwyn, Taylor and other local wrestling hotbeds to find out which wrestlers were worth bringing in?

That's why encroachment by the national, corporate wrestling companies is such a big deal. It's not because they're harvesting the best wrestlers from ROH and the like. It's because ROH isn't doing enough to make sure that they're preparing for the turnover. Madden danced around that point, but because he was too busy trying to make excuses for Jim Cornette and take potshots at guys like Kevin Steen, he failed. ROH's situation isn't irreparable, but at the same time, they need to step up their game. Sure, it'll take time to build up new stars, but they do have a couple of aces up the sleeve in Tomasso Ciampa and Adam Cole that they have to tide them over.

As long as there are local promotions and wrestling schools in existence, there will always be wrestlers to replace those who have been poached by WWE. And hell, as long as there is a WWE to poach wrestlers, there will always be both a goal for younger wrestlers to attain and ex-WWE guys released by the company looking for gainful employment within the business. It's not a hopeless scenario, but it takes more than just wishing and hoping to improve the situation. The companies, ROH especially, have to work to make it happen.

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