Throughout the Monday Night War era, there were talents WWE and WCW battled over in bidding wars and behind the scenes dealing. It’s little surprise that top tier attractions like Bret Hart and The Big Show would be in this mix. It’s interesting to note that guys who were, at the time mid-carders also got a lot of consideration. Jeff Jarrett did two stints a piece with each company over the years in question, and it was arguably defections like Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero that hurt WCW the most in terms of in ring contributors lost to WWE.
With the launch of AEW, for all of it buzz and its deep pockets, we might see some serious back and forth over specific talents.
10 War Over: Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is a unique attraction for his real life combat credibility, his look, and all of his accomplishments in the wrestling business. While his part time schedule and uneven match quality have made some fans grow tired of him, he remains one of the few instant main event talents in wrestling, with an aura beyond compare.
Lesnar announced his retirement from MMA, but some have already speculated that that’s because he doesn’t need UFC as a competitor to work off of WWE to drive up his askikg price, but can instead use AEW and billionaire Tony Khan’s backing for that purpose. Would WWE ever let Lesnar go? It seems doubtful, but AEW could have the resources to make him an offer he can’t refuse.
9 Won’t Be Discussed: Charlotte Flair
There are a small handful of wrestlers who seem legitimately, fully entrenched in WWE. While AEW may well have interest in Charlotte Flair, there is little reason to believe she would entertain leaving the company that made her a WrestleMania main eventer and the first woman to win a PPV main event. That’s not to mention that Flair has steadily been booked as a top female star straight back to her NXT days.
It would take an overwhelming offer for AEW to get Flair’s attention at all. From there, while she is an excellent talent, it’s hard to imagine Flair meaning enough to AEW’s business to justify throwing that kind of money her way.
8 War Over: Finn Balor
As WWE and AEW go head to head over talent, Finn Balor is toward the top of the class of guys who could stand to prosper financially and creatively. While WWE appeared to take strides to keep guys like The Revival, if only to keep them from enriching AEW, Balor is a different sort of talent. His booking hadn’t been entirely even these past three years, but WWE has gone back to the well on him as an upper card, and even main event level talent time and again. Clearly, the company sees something in him, and he could quite feasibly be back in a world title picture in the years ahead.
While WWE values Balor, he may well be a better fit for the culture of a company like what AEW is building. Matches like Balor vs. Kenny Omega will readily get hardcore fans drooling, and the Bullet Club foundations of AEW are right up Balor’s alley as an early leader for that faction back in New Japan.
7 Won’t Be Discussed: Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin seems to represent that awkward combination that is increasingly prevalent on the WWE landscape in the Internet age: a talent WWE is high on and continually pushes, even while the hardcore fan base consistently rejects him. Corbin has a big body and he’s athletic. It’s doubtful anyone would take issue with him as a mid to lower card guy, but accolades like winning Money in the Bank and beating Kurt Angle in his retirement match frustrate fans.
One of the advantages AEW has at this point, based on All In and the kind of roster they’re building, is that the company seems to have its finger on the pulse of what hardcore fans want. While Corbin may well continue for years in a high profile role with WWE, he’s not one to expect AEW to make any kind of overtures toward when his contract edges toward running out.
6 War Over: Bret Hart
Bret Hart hasn’t worked a match in nearly a decade, and hasn’t been a full time wrestler in closer to two. Just the same, he’s an all time legend in the business whom WWE went so far as to make a two time Hall of Famer this spring. Moreover, he’s a guy with a devout enough fan base that he can still be a draw for even a non-wrestling appearance.
WWE and Hart mended fences in the mid-2000s after years of estrangement. However, there are indications the relationship isn’t entirely smooth, including Hart taking jabs at Triple H’s talent and legacy, and hinting that WWE wrapped up his Raw GM stint sooner than he would have liked.
While Hart’s legacy, including his work from WWE and WCW, belongs to WWE’s tape library, he is nonetheless a legend flight risk who both has some tension with WWE management, and would fit the aesthetic AEW is setting up for itself. Interestingly enough, we might be set for a new era of wrestling promotions bidding for The Hitman’s affiliation.
5 Won’t Be Discussed: Tye Dillinger
Rumors have swirled about WWE trying to lock up talent who might otherwise go to AEW, including backstage turmoil surrounding The Revival, Luke Harper, and Sasha Banks. Interestingly, Tye Dillinger asked for his release and was granted it in peaceable fashion. Cody Rhodes had gone on record to call him a friend in the past, and it feels like only a matter of time before he might be headed in AEW’s direction.
The fact that WWE let Dillinger go so easily seems to bespeak a bigger truth. While he grew into a respected veteran role in NXT, he was never really a breakout star in developmental. Moreover, his move up to the main roster felt more like a call up out of obligation than a calculated promotion. He accomplished next to nothing in his nearly two years on SmackDown and it feels as though the WWE brass just didn’t see anything in him. He’ll probably do just fine in AEW, but isn’t the kind of guy WWE is likely to go chasing to come back.
4 War Over: Braun Strowman
Cody Rhodes has recently made a point of commenting in more than one interview that AEW is on the lookout for “hoss talent.” In a visit to Jim Ross’s podcast, he particularly noted the unique appeal of guys who make everyday people do a doubletake at the airport. When it comes that specific kind of talent, there are few guys active in the business today like Braun Strowman.
As recently as last year, it may have been unthinkable to suggest Strowman would jump from WWE. However, the powers that be seem to have cooled on him, as evidenced by him getting taken out of his Universal Championship match at the Royal Rumble PPV as well as Money in the Bank, not to mention getting relegated to the pre-show Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 35. The time may be ideal for AEW to strike, promising Strowman a more compelling role in their company.
3 Won’t Be Discussed: John Cena
Particularly as AEW gather steam, and given the seemingly volatile atmosphere for WWE backstage right now, there’s plenty of room to imagine talents hopping to the new company, or at least seriously considering an offer. Even Randy Orton has reportedly indicated that, based on his friendship with Cody Rhodes, he’d take a meeting. The Undertaker had originally signed on to do Starrcast over Double or Nothing weekend. Chris Jericho has already made the jump.
When it comes to loyal Superstars, however, John Cena may be just shy of Triple H and the McMahons themselves when it comes to his commitment to WWE. The company made Cena a bona fide household name, and it’s difficult to imagine AEW, even at its most successful, luring him over.
2 War Over: Johnny Gargano
The jury is out on Johnny Gargano’s future. He has thrived in NXT, as one of the most popular and best respected stars of the developmental brand for over two years. However, his relatively small size, technical style, and the start he got working for smaller companies, he’s a prime candidate to wind up following the Sami Zayn or Neville path—going underappreciated when he gets to the main roster. Indeed, for every Daniel Bryan who has risen to the top from a similar trajectory, there are far more talents who have fallen short by degrees. Nothing is certain for Johnny Wrestling.
Gargano could fit in nicely with the talent AEW is amassing, including prospective matchups ahead with the likes of Kenny Omega or the Lucha Bros. Moreover, he’s the kind of wreslter who seems committed to his art in terms of character development and his work from bell to bell such that he could be drawn out of the WWE sphere. Gargano could be an interesting case to watch as AEW gets rolling in earnest.
1 Won’t Be Discussed: Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio is a talented wrestler with name recognition and WWE world title credentials, besides which he represents the coveted Latino demographic of fans. For all of these positives, Del Rio’s reputation leaves a lot to be desired. While bridges are rarely burned permanently in the world of professional wrestling, Del Rio’s ugly departures from WWE (twice), Impact Wrestling, and various smaller promotions have made him feel like more of a liability than a star worth coveting.
WWE may work with Del Rio for a one off appearance or maybe a Hall of Fame induction one day, but it’s hard to imagine him being brought in full time again. Meanwhile, it seems doubtful AEW would take the risk on him, particularly given that his less than stellar reputation has extended to wrestling fans themselves.