Ever since his departure from TNA, AJ Styles has been pretty vocal about being able to make more money with New Japan, Ring of Honor (ROH) and generally taking his own bookings on the independent circuit. It's generally been assumed that those numbers were specific to Dixie Carter's company. Could that also be true for WWE?
If The Phenomenal One's recent comments in an appearance on MLW's Talking Shop with Rocky Romero aren't a total work designed to hype up New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), their upcoming Wrestle Kingdom 9 pay-per-view (PPV) and new streaming service, it sounds like it could be:
Why would I want to go to WWE? I mean honestly... They're struggling right now with the Network... I'm in the hottest wrestling company in the world-New Japan-and I'm with the hottest wrestling group. We can say it over and over again. It's absolutely true.
Styles isn't the only one saying as much. Earlier this month, a guy who has worked in TNA and ROH who is currently tearing it up on the indy circuit in a mixed tag team with Candice LaRae, expressed the same idea on Twitter:
What a weird state the industry is in right now when my friends are turning down WWE offers to stay independent.— Joey Ryan (@JoeyRyanOnline) December 10, 2014
Then there were rumors that Matt & Nick Jackson have turned down their latest opportunity to try out for WWE. The Young Bucks confirmed and/or played along with those rumors in Tweets at and with fans last week:
It really feels like we're apart of an underground hardcore band and have the best hardcore fans. Thx for helping us make a living! #Blessed— The Young Bucks (@NickJacksonYB) December 16, 2014
"@adamSFCparnell: young bucks remind me of the hardy boyz & they will realise they cannot build a legacy on an Indy circuit" Already have.— The Young Bucks (@MattJackson13) December 18, 2014
@TheDudeSisco That's not all the truth. We have jobs with NJPW and we make good money. We're on the road 200+ days a year.— The Young Bucks (@NickJacksonYB) December 18, 2014
The appeal of WWE has always been exposure and the money that follows that. The standard reasoning for not pursuing that is usually the grueling travel schedule and the sheer number of shows. If you can accomplish a decent measure of the first without putting up with the rest...
Working the independents also gives you much more control over your own merchandising and promotion than a WWE contract ever would. That's worth considering. While guys like Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins have had success on the main roster and Sami Zayn and others are getting over in NXT, they could also be placed in a comedy tag team they hate or be given a losing streak gimmick tomorrow that would impact their popularity, merchandise sales and more that effects their bottom line.
With big PPV bonuses apparently a thing of the past, and word being that there's been no replacement for those checks due to WWE Network operating on extremely tight budgets as the company tries to get subscriber numbers up, might we see more and more acts following the lead of Styles and the Jacksons?
Working for Vince McMahon will always hold a certain allure, as their global reach probably won't be overtaken or even matched any time soon. But between the draw of mixed martial arts and the ability of wrestlers to make their own way as independent contractors for multiple promotions, their monopoly on talent may be more vulnerable than at any time since the Monday Night War.