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If the reports about Jay White’s contract with NJPW expiring and him becoming a free agent are true, White becomes one of the most interesting wrestling free agents in recent memory. If White really is set to become a free agent, every single professional wrestling promotion in the world should be lining up to make him their best offer.
Personally, I think that this entire angle with White is a work. It was reported back in 2019 that White had recently signed a 7 year deal with NJPW, and the story that has been told since Wrestle Kingdom is that White has lost all of his fire and motivation after failing again at the Tokyo Dome, and his post-match promo indicated that he was quitting, and NJPW even advertised that White might be leaving. To me, it feels like an angle; but I could be wrong and the report that came out last week indicating his contract was up and WWE was making a strong push for him could be accurate. If we just assume that is the case, we can have a really interesting discussion about White’s career.
In the past, I have admitted to not being a huge fan of Jay White. When he first started to get his giant push in NJPW, I thought his gimmick wasn’t working and it felt like he was being moved up the card too quickly. However, ever since he returned to NJPW midway through last year after not being able to get into the country during the early stages of COVID-19, White has really shown himself to be one of the top overall performers not just in NJPW, but the world. It took some time, but he grew into his gimmick, tweaking his outfit and character and also improving his body, which has helped him stand out.
Coming off of a truly spectacular performance in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, there is nothing you can say other than that White has become a great professional wrestler. Over the years he has tirelessly worked to get his character over; playing up the idea that he was not just a miserable, scheming heel, but that he was a master thief; the kind of guy that could hit his finisher at any moment and win any match, regardless of who his opponent was. It worked so well that by the time he stepped into the ring against Kota Ibushi; it was very conceivable to fans that White could walk out of the Tokyo Dome with the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, even if logically it was obvious that Ibushi would be winning the match.
That is all made possible due to good booking and White being committed to his character. It took years for him to get over as a believable top guy, but he has managed to do it and his post-match interview, where he sobbed his way through a lengthy speech about being defeated and broken, solidified his status as a top guy. By coming across as so pathetic that you almost felt sympathy for him, White began planting the seeds for his next move, which I think will be to turn babyface and eventually work up to winning the title next year at Wrestle Kingdom 16. However, it’s also possible that White will use that as a springboard to his next opportunity outside of NJPW.
Because he is not on national television each week, a lot of wrestling fans do not know how talented White is. I think that if he was on RAW, Dynamite, SmackDown or NXT each week, fans would talk about him the way they talk about MJF; as someone who is clearly the future of professional wrestling. White is a very different performer MJF; he doesn’t have the wit and immediate charisma that MJF has; but he has a similar vibe as MJF in that everything he does is about furthering his character and leveraging that persona to drive emotional reactions out of fans. White isn’t special because he is a great worker and a great talker (which he is); he is special because he has shown that kind of commitment to his character and has worked for years to refine it and get it over with the audience.
If Jay White does sign with WWE, he walks into that setting and instantly becomes the most talented person in the company. That isn’t a knock on any WWE talent because they have some incredibly talented people working there, but I believe that White is simply that gifted. He has grown and matured and worked extremely hard to get his psychology down to a science. If he does sign with WWE, they shouldn’t even think for a second about putting him in NXT; he should be put immediately on the main roster and given a giant push.
WWE is a company that is starving for legit main event talent. They finally have got some momentum right now with Roman Reigns as a heel, and they have done reasonably well protecting Drew McIntyre. Outside of those two it seems to be complete chaos when it comes to legitimate new stars the company is relying on. We are about to have a PPV with Reigns facing an authority figure in a non-competitive match, and McIntyre is facing a 54 year old man. White, who is only 28, would be perfect to come in and immediately get elevated to the main event picture. If done correctly he will absolutely thrive because he is so talented. If he gets put in NXT, he will be seen as just another fancy signing WWE signed to put on their C show, and his value will almost immediately begin to diminish. Put him on the main roster, book him really strong, and White will succeed, guaranteed.
Now, a lot of people are fearful that if White does go to WWE, WWE will completely blow it with him, which is valid because WWE has blown it with a lot of great talents in recent years. However, I’d like to push back against that narrative a little bit because when it comes to WWE purging top talent from NJPW specifically, the track record isn’t that bad.
When WWE signed AJ Styles, there was a lot of concern he wouldn’t be used correctly, but WWE has done a great job with Styles. He was booked immediately on the main roster and booked to be a very respected wrestler, and the result is that he has had a bunch of good years with WWE, winning the world title multiple times, working the main event at WrestleMania against The Undertaker, and being allowed to be the AJ Styles that was so successful in other wrestling promotions. It has been a great outcome for Styles.
With Shinsuke Nakamura, I don’t think that WWE is fully at fault for him never popping off as a super big star that a lot of people expected him to be. WWE brought him into NXT, gave him a big push, and then brought him up to the main roster and had him win the Royal Rumble. With Nakamura, I think it’s possible he didn’t always give the best effort (this was also a problem when he was in NJPW, by the way) and by the time he came to WWE, he was older and his body had gone through injuries. The booking around him could have been better, but I don’t think WWE specifically blew it with him, I think there are a lot of factors on why that hasn’t worked out.
So White could come into WWE and immediately be the answer to a lot of their problems. He is a young, generationally talented performer ready to be a star if he just gets some consistent booking. That is easier said than done when Vince McMahon is at the helm, but it is possible and WWE could end up being the best place for him to reach his potential.
There is also the possibility that White finds his way to AEW, which would be a more natural fit for him since AEW has a lot of ex-NJPW performers in creative roles, and AEW also seems to follow a more NJPW-like booking philosophy when it comes to long-term storytelling. I have little doubt that White would be great in AEW, but I actually would almost rather see him in WWE because WWE simply needs him more. WWE needs more top, main event performers. While you can never have too many of those talents, AEW has a good crop of current stars in their prime as well as younger wrestlers who are well on their way to being main event stars. AEW only has two weeks of television each week and they already struggle to get everyone on the show; WWE, with five hours of main roster programming each week, could use that top guy more at this stage of the game.
As a fan, I’d like White to stay in NJPW because he is doing great things there and appears to be in the middle of an epic multi-year storyline and it would be a shame if he left. However, he could jump to an American promotion and do equally great things, because he is so talented and his skills should translate wherever he goes. If he really is a free agent, every company should be making their best pitch to one of the most talented performers in the world.
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In the last edition of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the Wrestle Kingdom 15, and look at how it changed their outlook on NJPW after a down 2020. They look at Jay White’s future, Kota Ibushi’s long journey to the top, NJPW’s excellent storytelling, the future of the junior heavyweight division and more.