Originally published at OPINION: The AEW/NJPW Partnership Will Never Be A Fair Trade, But That’s OK
Will Ospreay’s AEW signing came months before he was expected to hit the free-agency market. While many expected that Ospreay would decide his next chapter next year after his NJPW contract expired, he instead appeared inside the KIA Forum in Inglewood, California last weekend to announce that he is, as commonly used by AEW fans, “#AllElite.”
The fact that AEW was able to broker a deal with Ospreay months before his current deal came up was another example of the working relationship they have with NJPW. But hold on: that doesn’t seem like much of a relationship, does it? It seems more like one taking talent from another. That’s not a trade, that’s a steal.
At least, that’s what it looks like at face value. Ospreay’s signing reignited a discussion that comes up frequently — like when Jay White, Juice Robinson, or Aussie Open jumped from NJPW to AEW — that being if the relationship between AEW and NJPW is fair.
The truth is, it’s not. But at the same time, it never could be. It has a purpose in the wrestling world. It’s a necessary evil. Maybe you could call it damage control for NJPW.
AEW has leverage over NJPW that makes it easier for them to take talent. The biggest factor is their financial leverage. All signs indicate that they have a much larger budget than NJPW. But on top of that, there are smaller things that attract talent. For American wrestlers, you could imagine the idea of being able to stay within the U.S. instead of lengthy trips across the world numerous times a year is a big plus. And even for Ospreay, a British talent, he believes that being in America is better for him.
“I’m not interrupting my kids’ school,” said Ospreay during the AEW Full Gear press conference on Saturday night. “My missus can see her parents. I get to be one of the best pro wrestlers that have ever done it and I get to do it now on weekly TV.”
Even in a partnership with NJPW, there’s nothing wrong with AEW using this leverage. It’s good, fair competition. These benefits are fair and should be offered to any talent that they want to pursue. But here’s the key detail to note: The leverage that AEW has is something they would use with or without a deal with NJPW.
It’s possible that we look at the NJPW and AEW partnership the wrong way. It is not this partnership that allows AEW to steal talent from NJPW. Instead, it is the partnership that allows NJPW to get benefits from AEW and lessen the blow that comes from inevitable talent bleed.
NJPW losing talent to more prestigious promotions is not a new thing. But historically speaking, it did not come from working relationships. You may remember in 2016 when WWE took A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson in one swoop. What did NJPW get in return? Nothing.
NJPW’s business relationship with AEW is a better situation than the aforementioned 2016 raid. A big example of this is how former talents can return for one-off events in Japan. On Saturday, Khan spoke about how Ospreay signing with them keeps him in their “orbit.”
Khan’s comment about this was a not-so-subtle mention that if Ospreay were to go to WWE instead, there would be no Ospreay appearances anywhere else. None in NJPW, none in AEW. None. NJPW lost Ospreay to AEW, but their partnership with AEW was able to keep them in that “orbit.” There’s nothing stopping Ospreay from being on a Forbidden Door, Wrestle Kingdom, or Sakura Genesis. Not ideal, but certainly not the worst-case scenario either.
The incentive of bringing talent to AEW instead of letting them go wherever they want is the fact that you can bring them back at some point. A prime example is Kenny Omega, who arguably had his best match of the year on an NJPW card.
The biggest benefit for NJPW in the partnership is that they are able to borrow talent frequently. Some might not know how often they are actually utilizing AEW talent. The World Tag League, which is going on right now, includes the Gates of Agony tag team, along with another team which includes Lance Archer. The G1 Climax tournament over the summer involved Eddie Kingston. FTR, AR Fox, Orange Cassidy, Claudio Castagnoli, Jon Moxley, Wheeler Yuta, and Trent Berretta have all appeared in the promotion this year alone. NJPW is constantly getting new and different names either coming along for a tour or making a one-off appearance, keeping the product fresh and surprising. It’s also worth mentioning the times that NJPW talent gets sent to AEW programming, giving the Japanese promotion more visibility in a market that they have tried to break into for years.
The bad parts of the NJPW and AEW deal are an inevitability that would happen with or without a partnership. NJPW would obviously prefer to never lose any talent that they would like to keep, but at the end of the day, it’s something they have always dealt with. Their working relationship with AEW won’t stop this, but at least give them some benefits and make their talent loss situation a little better. Bad deal? Maybe. But also the best deal? Likely.