WWE: Pro Wrestlers Need Not Apply
Yesterday, YouTube celebrity Logan Paul signed a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment. Paul, who worked Wrestlemania 38 partnering with The Miz to face pro wrestlers Dominic Mysterio and Rey Mysterio Jr. will likely enter a feud with The Miz and face him in a match for Summerslam on July 30 in Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.
Logan Paul played pretend wrestler well enough in his Wrestlemania match, showing he was well trained and athletic enough to perform the spots likely provided to him by WWE agents. It helped that he was a state-level Ohio High School Athletic Association 2013 Division I Wrestling qualifier back when he was in high school, but likely being a lifelong pro wrestling fan helped more. Either way, Paul comes with two major benefits for the WWE: one, he is already an established celebrity with a large fanbase in the 18-49 demographic. And second, he isn’t ever going to be leaving to work in Japan.
The NXT Expansion
In the 2010s, Triple H tried the experiment of building a development territory for the WWE in NXT which was really just a way for the WWE to steal independent talent from any secondary competition. The company was aggressive in signing anyone who was a top star from Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. If you worked a main event in Pro Wrestling Guerilla chances are William Regal met you backstage to make you an offer. Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE would be eventually co-opted and purchased.
Over in the United Kingdom, as World of Sport wrestling tried to get a television deal, the WWE launched NXT:UK to sign up all of the young and old stars of the area and get the World of Sport project shut down. There was talk of expansion, with WWE attempting several times to purchase a wrestling company in Japan and failing. In 2016, they tried to sign everyone they can from the Bullet Club after Wrestle Kingdom 10, offering contracts to AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, Tama Tonga, and the Young Bucks. They ended up acquiring Styles, Anderson, Gallows, and CHAOS co-leader Shinsuke Nakamura all in a month.
This attempt at global expansion and to exhaust the talent pipelines all over the world of professional wrestling led to a bloated roster spanning across multiple “divisions” with some of the best wrestlers in the world working Largo, Florida loops in front of small audiences but being paid good money to do so (or in some cases, they took less money to chase the dream) pushing a lot of wrestling fans to decide between following NXT or the companies that could never grow beyond a dedicated base. Ring of Honor became reliant on New Japan Pro Wrestling to boost their roster. Impact Wrestling had to rely on whatever scraps fell from WWE and the downfall of Lucha Underground, where several talents still had contracts they couldn’t get out of but could at least work in Impact. The UK scene was decimated. NJPW would surprisingly prosper by building their USA market around the Young Bucks and the replacement of AJ Styles for the Bullet Club in Kenny Omega.
Losing The Wednesday Night War
It would be the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, along with other friends, who built up an alternative to the WWE and NXT through Japan and their work around the world. That work soon turned into the creation of All Elite Wrestling along with Tony Khan. In 2019, NXT tried to go head to head with AEW when they debuted on TNT. After 17 months, NXT would slip onto Tuesdays the loser of the dubbed Wednesday Night War. All Elite Wrestling won the night, and in the minds of a lot of wrestling fans, won the battle for pro wrestling on a small scale.
A lot of people thought that WWE would respond by trying to sign all of AEW’s stars or make an even more aggressive expansion around the world. Instead, WWE would begin to cut much of the roster they developed, responding to the loss of the war like a losing nation. Cut your losses. Re-strategize. The new strategy was simple: it was time to start building the development not to compete, but to appease.
Appease whom? Vince McMahon of course. Triple H’s NXT was about catering to the pro wrestling fan. Catering to the person who purchased PWG DVD’s and ROH iPPVs. Cater to the person who was interested in New Japan Pro Wrestling and the Bullet Club but would only watch YouTube videos or Twitter clips. It was about signing guys in their prime or just outside of it who were big names in the late 2000s, the guys people shouted at WWE they should sign and push as stars. They only signed and pushed two: Bryan Danielson and CM Punk. And AEW was soon to acquire both.
Pro Wrestlers Need Not Apply
The new direction of NXT made sense. The call ups from NXT rarely worked. Vince McMahon wasn’t very fond of pre-established wrestlers he couldn’t mold in his image and had to work to make sense for him. That doesn’t mean his way was the right way. He’s a senile pervert who hasn’t had a hand full of good wrestling ideas since the 1990s. But until he dies or goes to prison for crimes against former employees, World Wrestling Entertainment has to revolve around him. And NXT really wasn’t doing that.
Now NXT was going to be getting younger, getting less experienced, and in the cases of many wrestlers, barely professional wrestlers at all. These were athletes out of college or the NFL being signed to development deals, given a few months to learn how to bump and execute a few moves, and being sent onto national television. Luckily for them they got a superstar off the bat from it in Bron Breakker, son of Rick Steiner of the legendary Steiner Brothers tag team. Bronson Rechsteiner is everything Vince could ask for at 24 years old except he’s barely six feet all, but his speed at picking up the wrestling business was at Kurt Angle in 1998 levels. He clicked. He got it. And he’s one of the only bright young stars in the company.
WWE has signed more second and third generation talent like Von Wagner, son of Wayne Bloom, Solo Sikoa, son of Rikishi, and Arianna Grace, daughter of Santino Marella. Other recent debuts include bodybuilder Tiffany Stratton, former WNBA player Lash Legend, and NCAA standouts the Kasper Brothers who are now known as the Creed Brothers. How are these performers are wrestlers? Not very good. But that doesn’t matter really. What matters is they accept their gimmicks and they don’t rock the boat much.
All of this culminated into the WWE NIL program run by Triple H since his absence from losing the Wednesday Night War. The NIL program is about recruiting college talent to pay them and hope they come to WWE after leaving their NCAA athletic careers. This is where WWE will get its new stars from. Not wrestlers who grinded for years on the independents (it feels like the last of those will be the likes of Roxanne Perez and Cora Jade, former ROH and indie talents signed because they were young) but athletes from other sports entering wrestling with a clean slate.
They can be trained to talk exactly how Vince McMahon wants them to talk.
They can be trained to act exactly how Vince McMahon wants them to act.
They can be trained to work exactly how Vince McMahon wants them to work.
And they will never want to leave.
Most of these talents are going to struggle to do anything outside of WWE with the speed of them being trained. Hank Walker, who was signed in March, had no prior wrestling experience and will be making his debut this week on NXT LVL UP, their secondary show for talent to work. He hasn’t been grinding on the independents for years to get this shot. He had his first match on an NXT house show last month. And he’s already going to be on Peacock streaming to be seen to wrestle.
But that’s the point. WWE can now churn out hundreds of these guys and girls and anyone who flops can be let go quick and easy. There isn’t any long term commitments and there won’t be a giant backlash from social media when they release former football players and NCAA college athletes. You’re not misusing Roderick Strong or Sarray. You’re just giving up on someone nobody knows. Someone who isn’t a pro wrestler.
Celebrity Pro Wrestlers
Which brings us back to Logan Paul. Paul can pretend, but he isn’t a pro wrestler. He’s a YouTube celebrity moonlighting as a pro wrestler. And while we enjoy seeing Shaq do a rare match as a publicity stunt, this is making publicity stunts natural. Part of the product. Paul joins Pat McAfee and possibly Bad Bunny if he returns for more matches after a quick stint in Hollywood. People famous outside of wrestling coming in to be trained and take spots from established pro wrestlers. There will likely be more. WWE knows what they got out of Ronda Rousey. A headache, but also the star that helped them secure their current TV Deal with FOX.
Some might get annoyed at me not calling them pro wrestlers but they are not. But that’s not what this is about. The reality is that WWE fans don’t actually care about who is or isn’t a pro wrestler. They just want to like the WWE. If Logan Paul runs the ropes well a few times or Bad Bunny does a plancha without breaking his leg it’ll make them feel like they are part of something special. These are big stars! From outside wrestling! Now wrestling! All the “THIS IS WRESTLING” chants in the world are not going to bring back the pro wrestlers they let go to sign in All Elite Wrestling. They never actually loved those. They just wanted to win something. And they lost.
They can win the celebrity collection battle. It might break the hearts of independent wrestlers who still dream to one day main event Wrestlemania, but they need to give up that dream. They should have given it up years ago, but Danielson and Punk gave them hope. Triple H and NXT provided more. But now that hope is gone. If you’re a WWE fan and you want to break into the business? Don’t become a pro wrestler. Become a Twitch streamer. Become an actor. Become a musician. You got a much better shot making the roster that way. For WWE? Pro wrestlers need not apply.