Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Adam “Hangman” Page are getting good mileage out of the impending free agency and fan interest in where they’ll sign after their current Ring of Honor and New Japan deals are up. It’s been brought up on both the NWA’s Ten Pounds of Gold series and their own Being The Elite YouTube show.
The decision has been framed as one between money and more elusive concepts like work/life balance, creative freedom and a sense of partnership with the company. If that’s right, and what we know about the always guarded wrestling business supports that being the case, this week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter (subscription required and recommended) paints a picture which could tilt the scales in favor of WWE’s money. And maybe just not for the Bullet Club quintet.
Dave Meltzer writes that early contract offers from New Japan “have raised some concerns” among talent. There remains a lot of pride in the work being done, but there’s allegedly an almost equal amount of frustration with new President Harold Meij and General Manager Michael Craven. The duo are described as “not experienced in dealing with wrestlers,” with for Craven in particular “the most unpopular guy among the wrestlers”.
A business development and recruitment specialist from the world of high tech, Craven has lived in Japan for more than a decade. But his lack of experience in wrestling and the impression “he talks down to the wrestlers” has led to a dip in morale after peaking during this summer’s G1 Climax tournament shows.
Overall, the new regime treating talent as “a factory assembly line as opposed to high level athletes or entertainers” and “uncertainty about what will happen next and less confidence than with the old administration” brings us to “the single most interesting and important contract season since New Japan started garnering some international growth” with WWE’s money suddenly on a more equal footing with the benefits of remaining outside Vince McMahon’s empire.
“There are people who in the past had never even considered WWE who are thinking about it, and others who were completely committed to staying who are probably still leaning that way, but are considering the WWE option,” according to Meltzer.
It seems easy to guess that some of those people are Rhodes, Matt & Nick Jackson, Omega and Page, but The Observer story doesn’t specify.
Will The Elite crew leave New Japan completely? Is WWE the only option, or could they and other big stars piece together an equally attractive deal with ROH, Impact and other indies, or a combination of those options?