By Tony Cline, Columnist
Over the past couple years, it seems the WWE has been on a talent collection drive. Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, Kyle O’Reilly, and many others, including an entire cruiserweight division and some of the top women in the world after a couple of tournaments, have left the ranks of ROH, NJPW, TNA (now GFW), and other promotions to join the WWE.
For some of these performers, this was the goal all along. For others, it was a bit of a surprise as they have held off for years from signing WWE contracts, either out of a dislike for the company or because it would mean a pay cut, at least initially, to come to the big show.
So, what has changed? Why has the WWE, after spending years with a stagnating or receding talent pool, been able to vastly increase its talent stock in the last few years, with a ramp up that seems to be increasing exponentially as we move forward in time? I have spent the last few months thinking about this, trying to figure out what the missing link was. How did WWE suddenly start to vacuum up all of the available talent in the industry?
Then, a few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. I was watching NXT, and I was able to witness Asuka, the Empress of Tomorrow, relinquish her NXT women’s championship belt due to an upcoming promotion to the main roster. As Asuka stood in the ring, I was struck by how emotional she became. As the crowd chanted “You deserve it,” she began to tear up. Once HHH and Stephanie McMahon-Levesque entered the ring to give her flowers and to hug her goodbye, Asuka had tears streaming down her face as the crowd chanted, “Thank you, Asuka.”
Clearly, she was extremely touched by the love shown by the crowd and the management of NXT. Then I thought back to Nakamura’s send off, as well as those of Bayley, Finn Balor, and Sami Zayn. Each time the fans and management made it clear that these stars were valued and would be missed. And in most, if not all of these situations, the display of love left the performers crying in the ring.
Yes, it’s true that there are other advantages of the NXT contract, especially limited travel. It’s also true that many of these stars go on to get lost in the main roster, losing the heat they had in NXT. But, I suspect many of them realize that WWE, which comes with much higher pay, will one day soon be run by Steph and Hunter, and that the same treatment they see being feted upon the stars of NXT may one day soon be on display in the bigger shows.
The lesson here, for any employer really, is that people want to feel wanted and be treated superbly, and a little effort in these areas will largely overcome other advantages offered by your competition.