Part of WWE’s modus operandi over the years has been their insistence on creating and developing their own stars, rather than relying on other organizations or the superstars themselves to do it for them. But Vince McMahon himself said in the first ever Stone Cold Podcast on the WWE Network that the last WWE superstar to grab the brass ring was John Cena. Quite the indictment on the talent development system, seeing how Cena debuted in 2002.
But over the last year, Vince and WWE have loosened their grip on that philosophy, bringing in stars like Samoa Joe, Finn Balor, Hideo Itami, Gallows, and Anderson, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, AJ Styles, and Austin Aries. These are guys that excelled with other promotions and developed a following that WWE could capitalize on once they debuted with the preeminent sports entertainment company. Sure, some were required to report to NXT in order to absorb the WWE culture, while others were seasoned enough to head straight to the main roster.
Austin Aries signed with WWE and debuted in NXT in January, 2016, after memorable stints with TNA and Ring of Honor. Aries made his mark outside the WWE, but was still deemed to earn his stripes in the company’s developmental system. Austin was recently a guest of on ChicagolandSportsRadio.com’s Fightclub Radio, where he was asked whether he’s noticed a fundamental change in WWE’s recruiting process (Thanks to Wrestling Inc for the transcription).
“Honestly, man, in the last two years the landscape changed. Everything changed. When Samoa Joe came to NXT, it kind of blew the doors wide open and they kind of ushered in a new thought process [or] philosophy on guys who had made their own name for themselves in other places.”
The mass influx of invading talents has certainly changed the complexion of WWE’s future. It has a lot of the hardcore wrestling fans excited about the product again, while some are still hesitant to jump back in if and when they all get called up to Monday Night RAW and/or Smackdown. Austin Aries has had success outside the industry’s standard-bearer, with world-title reigns with both TNA and ROH. Aries recently appeared on The Ross Report with Jim Ross, who asked him if reporting to NXT first was a knock on his talent (Wrestling Inc with transcription).
“I guess there’s a part of me who looks at what they’re doing with NXT and I don’t necessarily think it’s this big step down that some people perceive it [as]. I do understand that they are developing talent down there, but they’re also touring the country. They’re selling out thousand-seat arenas and it’s a third brand. The NXT brand, it’s still their developmental brand, but there [are] workers of all different levels there. And I always felt, ‘hey, any way you can get your foot in the door, if you believe in yourself, you believe in your passion and commitment to the [professional wrestling] business, then you take any opportunity you can get and you blow that door wide open’. And so, if this was my opportunity, yeah, I’ve been doing this 16 years, but I’m not naive to think that I can’t grow and learn as a performer.”
Austin Aries developed the “Greatest Man That Ever Lived” gimmick while with TNA, so it will be interesting to see if WWE allows him to continue with that if he makes it to the big show. There’s been a long line of those monikers in the company, such as “Best in the World,” “King of Kings,” “Wrestling God,” “The Great One,” etc.
Aries’ contract does allow for him to accept independent bookings outside WWE, so he won’t be for a lack of work, though he did admit that WWE is the pinnacle for every professional wrestler and that he intends on making it sooner rather than later.
[Image via WWE]