AEW has added a number of big names, but it doesn’t sound like they’re handing out big fat contracts to acquire these stars.
Talk in the professional wrestling world has been highly focused on big names jumping from WWE to AEW. With CM Punk, Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson, Christian Cage, Andrade El Idolo, and others potentially already a part of the AEW roster, the question about how many more WWE stars might follow suit is valid. Recent chatter that both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have WWE deals that expire soon and would be on AEW’s radar is interesting, while the futures of talent like Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt are still to be determined.
What seems to be the case, with exception of Punk — who was on Tony Khan’s radar for some time — is that AEW is not actively going after these former WWE stars. In fact, even when these talents become available, the talk is that AEW is not offering big money to convince the talent to join the roster. In some cases, these stars are being offered less and gladly accepting the deals because they are prioritizing the work environment over money.
One of the consistent themes is that AEW has money, but they aren’t eager to throw it away. Their pitch is creative input, a team atmosphere, fewer days, the ability to work outside the promotion, strong in-ring wrestling matchups, healthy relationships with the people in charge, and a family environment where talent wants to work together and there isn’t nearly as much political dissension as there might be in WWE. That’s how AEW is selling coming aboard and for wrestlers who value earning the best money over those things, AEW is happy enough to let wrestlers look at other options. In fact, Danielson said he almost didn’t come over.
In other words, AEW is not doing what WCW did back in the day and offering bigger money to acquire talent.
In some situations, Tony Khan is going after the talents that he wants. He had his eyes on 2.0 after they were released from NXT and he patiently waited for Punk to feel like the timing was right and AEW was the right fit. In other cases, Khan isn’t chasing free agents. Ruby Soho mentioned that she wasn’t sure if there was a spot for her in AEW and reached out to find out there was. If Ric Flair joins, it will likely be because he’s asked to work with Andrade El Idolo. Adam Cole was surprised to learn his contract had expired in AEW and Khan didn’t know anything about it until he was told as much. While the pay is likely fair for everyone, it doesn’t sound like any of these stars have hit a financial home run.
As such, don’t be surprised if stars like Owens and Zayn don’t jump. It will depend on what they value. It could be financial security or it could be the freedom that comes with having the best matches with creative input and joining a “wrestling promotion” over a sports entertainment company.