By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
It’s hard to think (if the Internet is to be believed, of course) that Jay White has been in the pro wrestling business for only about ten years. In a lot of ways, it’s felt like he’s been around forever. Maybe it’s because of how weather worn he looks. Maybe it’s because his promos have graduated to must-see territory. Maybe it’s because of how smooth he moves in and out of the ring. Maybe it’s because of the confidence. Maybe it’s because of the leadership.
Or maybe it’s because now, after watching him hone his craft for the last decade, the radiation that exudes from only the truest stars in professional wrestling has migrated its way into the aura surrounding White. It’s almost like the Cody Complex – I can’t quite pin down how he just willed his way into superstardom; I just know that he did, and the rise of Jay White hasn’t been entirely unlike that either.
Such is why, if the World Wide Internet’s reports are true, I tend to think the impending free-agency of one of the world’s best wrestlers is one of the more low-key stories to watch unfold in the next couple months. I was reminded of as much this past weekend when White lost a Loser Leaves Japan match to Hikuleo (who, of course, looked like a star in victory). The subtext to the match was clever. White’s departure has been rumored for a little while now and, again, if the World Wide Internet’s reports are true, Hikuleo has garnered at least some interest from the two biggest wrestling companies in America. As such, it felt like there was a chance – however little it may be – that either guy could win or lose the Loser Leaves Japan match.
But alas, it was White who was the one who had to pack his bags after Saturday’s New Beginning event and attention is now turned to where he ends up after he (presumably) finishes up with New Japan this weekend at Battle In The Valley against Eddie Kingston. All the major players have interest in bringing him in – or so it is reported – and as the landscape looks currently, the man known as “Switchblade” can essentially call his shot when it comes to what’s next for him.
The debate for a lot of pro wrestling fans has boiled down to what it typically boils down to in 2023 pro wrestling fandom and that’s AEW vs. WWE. Some believe White would fit in perfectly with AEW, and, as it goes, he also appears to have a good amount of friends in the company, too. Add those aspects to the reality that AEW has at least some type of working relationship with New Japan, the company where White found his legs as a star, and the move to The Land Of Tony Khan seems as logical as any other possibility that might be out there.
And while I understand the temptation to root for that, considering the list of “dream matches” (I use that term loosely these days because it gets thrown around far too much) that could come out of White working in AEW, I can’t shake the feeling that … well … yeah, I don’t know, man.
I think it’s best if Jay White heads to WWE.
Blasphemous to some, I know, but the further along I get down the line of thinking, the more convinced I am that White’s next stop should be Titan Towers. And you know what? I wouldn’t even argue if he made a quick detour for a cup of coffee in NXT, either. Even more blasphemous, I know, but imagine the star power he’d bring to Tuesday nights. It’d be like sending a main roster star down to Orlando without having the main roster star establish himself on the main roster. And besides, look at the names who once held the NXT title: Adam Cole, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins … it’s not like spending a few months in NXT is a death knell.
But let’s not get bogged down with developmental. Instead, let’s look at a few of the more heavy reasons why WWE might be the best place for White to land. First, there is that pesky AEW factor. If we’re weighing one company against the other (and, to be fair, those are the only two pro wrestling companies in America that land on the upper tier), it’s only right to note that for all the aforementioned reasons one may think AEW is the better fit … well, those also might be some of the reasons it’s not, too.
Why? Because who’s to say Switchblade couldn’t benefit from an entirely fresh start? We already saw him compete in the AEW realm when Forbidden Door went down last year. Some programs were half-teased with people like Adam Cole, Hangman Page and the like, but, perhaps ironically, the freshest matchups for White probably fall within the WWE universe. Something about Jay White vs. Cody Rhodes … or either Uso … or Gunther … or, hell, even Sami Zayn feels more intriguing than a match he could have with the majority of AEW’s top tier.
And before you get carried away getting worried that WWE would force White to adhere to the WWE style, let’s not forget that A) very little has changed about Cody Rhodes since he came back and B) maybe that commitment to a specific way is loosened, if only a little, now that Vince McMahon is seemingly out of the creative picture. Paul Levesque seems to know the value in the difference between a hands off and hands on approach and after White’s most recent run as the IWGP heavyweight champion and leader of the Bullet Club, it feels like he’s earned a little more space to keep doing what he’s been doing.
Or, in other words, I don’t think WWE would put him under a hood and rename him Scrypts.
Conversely, White would naturally be welcomed with open arms in AEW – and maybe even with a splash debut against a top guy who may or may not be a champion. But we’ve seen the story far too many times far too recently for it not to hold credence at this point: AEW has a formula and that formula finds people who many agree should thrive in AEW come in with fanfare and then slowly be moved from TNT to YouTube or a spotlight to no light at all. Remember when TK secured the Bandido deal and many fans thought AEW had a new main event player? Yeah, where are we on that? And we all know by now which names we can replace Bandido with to get to the same ending of the story. Despite popular opinion, not every signing AEW makes is a slam dunk. White could easily find himself lost in the shuffle within the first three months he steps into the company.
Speaking of stepping into a company, there’s something Cody’s return to WWE did that isn’t getting talked about enough, and it’s the thing that tips the scale in the context of this conversation for me: I’m not so sure the big, bad reputation that WWE has for foiling its high-profile signees holds up as well as it once did anymore. If NXT yesterday ultimately played home to some of the stars of AEW’s tomorrow, can someone explain to me why we’re so married to this idea that signing with WWE means the death of one’s career?
Everybody from Samoa Joe to Kyle O’Reilly to even Parker Boudreaux were shown just as much for who they were in WWE as they have been in AEW. In Joe’s case, you might even argue he had a better WWE run than he’s currently having in AEW. O’Reilly is still a great in-ring worker, just like he was in NXT. And Boudreaux, The Next Big Thing, was slapped with a new name and a hapless gimmick in WWE land – so much so that many were convinced it was WWE’s fault for missing on the kid – but let’s not lie to ourselves and say he’s lighting the world on fire in AEW, despite already landing in two different stables during his short run.
My point is that the bad reputation that WWE earned throughout all those years for being a watered down product that was obsessed with moving away from pro wrestling and toward sports entertainment isn’t as cemented as it once was. Granted, Jay White probably can’t cuss in WWE the way he has during the bulk of his best New Japan promos, but it’s also unlikely that he’s going to be saddled with a garbage man gimmick.
Besides, for as fearful as some fans are to see great talent wind up in WWE over AEW, it seems rare that anyone takes the time to look at the success stories of the same type of talent that worked their way through the WWE system. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens would have been primed for AEW if it started years before it did, but even when they’ve been given the chance to jump from the WWE ship, they chose to stay up North and it’s paid dividends for both guys. Seth Rollins, once upon a time, ruled over the smaller companies as Tyler Black, but he’s become a must-see draw on WWE TV all while staying true to himself. It’s all to say that there are more stories of great wrestlers coming to WWE only to still be great wrestlers than most people may see at first glance.
And Jay White, as it sits currently, is one of the world’s great wrestlers. He’s also figured out how to turn chicken shit into chicken salad, which, as we see more and more, is perhaps the most valuable trait a person can have when he or she comes into WWE. White won’t go down as the most celebrated leader of the Bullet Club, but what he should go down as – if the stable continues to exist after his supposed departure – is the most important one that it’s had. Why? Because he somehow took an over-bloated, NWO-esque, best-days-are-behind-us group, navigated it through a global pandemic when there was practically no heat to be had by any villainous cadre of bad guys and kept them near the top of the card, despite how stale the act became.
When White said he was the catalyst of professional wrestling, he wasn’t entirely wrong. His leadership in New Japan during some of the most unstable times in the history of pro wrestling should be celebrated a lot more than it’s being celebrated. He didn’t thumb his nose at appearing on NJPW Strong a lot more than you’d think the IWGP Heavyweight Champ would. He was everywhere the company asked him to be. He wrestled like a giant. He talked people into seats (or, well, at least viewership numbers, considering the restrictions). And he became the only interesting part the Bullet Club had left.
In my eyes, that adds up to the ability to walk into a place like WWE, where you can be the biggest star and make the most money, take on whatever they throw his way and turn it into compelling television. Not all WWE failures are contingent upon a whacked out billionaire owner’s whims, you know. Even the worst gimmicks can be overcome with a little imagination, some commitment and just good, plain, old-fashioned talent. Jay White has all those things and he’s earned them the hard way, working his ass off for a decade, honing his craft, becoming better with every Blade Runner.
Plus, if all else fails, and none of what I’ve just said makes any sense … well, strike when the iron’s hot. The level of acclaim he achieved in NJPW is similar to the ceiling he could achieve in AEW. It’s a high ceiling and it’s a formidable ceiling, but it’s not the WWE ceiling – a ceiling that doesn’t just make you a legendary pro wrestler, but it can also make you a memorable figure within all of popular culture. Even if he becomes the AEW World Champion, it wouldn’t be as big of an upgrade from holding the IWGP Title as a title-winning WrestleMania moment would be. Anyone who argues otherwise is delusional.
Then again, maybe I am, too. Who knows – nothing is a slam dunk in pro wrestling and White could try his hand at the WWE life only to come up short of what he wants to accomplish. But even if he does, he could at least say he gave it a shot at the absolute right time in his career. Ten years into the business, White is only 30 years old. If he gives it a shot now and it doesn’t work out, he can walk the Drew McIntyre route and return before he’s 35 with a lot of good years left in front of him. Such is why, as odd as it feels to say, I’d be disappointed to see him pop up in AEW. After all he’s accomplished, he’s ripe for a new mountain to climb, and WWE is the biggest one left.
Besides, as far as road maps to even get to the bottom of it are concerned, Jay White has already navigated those directions. Suffice to say, it’s time he starts climbing.
WHAT?!?!? YOU PICK AEW OVER WWE?!?!? SHOCKING!
Please go back and read the article. He picked WWE.
Something to keep in mind with White’s decision.
He’s from New Zealand, presumably he has plenty of family and friends here. WWE has a complete monopoly here – only diehard wrestling fans would have heard about AEW,let alone know about it or have seen it.
I’m not saying it’s an overriding factor- but knowing his loved ones, people he went to school with etc can watch him with ease, that the media here will more likely cover him and his mum/dad/sibling/uncle could get that ‘isn’t Jay doing well for himself’ sense of pride from their acquaintances could well run through his mind.
Being a big name in WWE puts the NZ wrestling scene and wrestlers on the map locally far more than AEW.
Look, it may come down to creative, it could come down to money, hell it could come down to action figures. But who wouldn’t want recognition for your talent in the place you call home?
Nice piece, Colin