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After Johnny Gargano's Return, Does Triple H's WWE Hold the Recruiting Edge Over AEW?

Erik BeastonAugust 24, 2022

Johnny Gargano was the latest wrestler to return to WWE under the Triple H regime/Credit: WWE.com

Johnny Gargano's return to WWE on Monday night's Raw sent shockwaves through the wrestling industry.

It was a genuine surprise for fans who were unsure of the former NXT champion's intentions to re-sign with the company or take his talents elsewhere; somewhere that did not cast him aside in the name of pushing the likes of Bron Breakker and Von Wagner as was the case when the NXT brand underwent an overhaul late last year.

Triple H @TripleH

Believe in yourself. <br>Nobody will do it for you. <br><br>Welcome to <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WWERaw?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WWERaw</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/JohnnyGargano?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JohnnyGargano</a>! <a href="https://t.co/prY2obXNor">https://t.co/prY2obXNor</a>

More importantly, though, it signaled Triple H's WWE may well have wrested the recruiting edge away from All Elite Wrestling, which had held it with an iron grip as late as two months ago


How Did We Get Here?

Triple H is a wrestler's boss. One of the greatest stars the industry has seen, he has been in their shoes and knows the daily grind the men and women of WWE go through to perform at a high level.

He has also demonstrated an understanding of what the audience wants from its pro wrestling today. We saw it in the black-and-gold incarnation of NXT, where he helped bring women's wrestling to the forefront with his trust in Bayley, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Asuka, Shayna Baszler and Io Shirai to consistently deliver.

It was obvious in the way that he attracted red-hot free agents to the brand and then put them in a position to succeed. Drew McIntyre, Samoa Joe, Andrade El Idolo, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Tommaso Ciampa and Gargano all saw what he created and wanted in.

His storylines were sensible, the pay-per-views were major occurrences and championships mattered.

In those ways, he was essentially AEW before Tony Khan, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes got together to form that company.

The equity he built with those wrestlers under his guidance, and the trust they had in him to put them in the best position to succeed, is what lies at the heart of WWE's sudden ability to attract seemingly anyone to the company.

In what walk of life is it common for workers who were unceremoniously fired, let go due to "budget cuts" and left with uncertain futures to eagerly return to that same company months later because the guy at the top changed?

The bond that the new WWE Head of Creative and President of Talent Relations has formed with those performers, and the respect he showed them during their time together in NXT, has created a desire for them to take their talents back to the company whose previous boss cast them out like an afterthought.

That is as strong a testament of Triple H as a leader that there is. People want to work for him because they believe in his vision and that they will have a genuine opportunity to succeed in ways that they did not previously.

That is in no way suggesting AEW has somehow lost an appeal to free agents or is a less-desirable option. There is plenty to be excited about within that company, including the in-ring work on display in every episode, a less-demanding schedule and a passionate fanbase that supports everything always.

However, coupled with recent rumors about the backstage atmosphere and being a cooling product, it means it has competition for stars who are looking to make a splash in one of the big two promotions.


What Does the Future Look Like?

Gargano was believed by many to be a strong contender to join AEW.

The 35-year-old spent years employing a style that fit the company's aesthetic, has friends there and would have likely joined Jon Moxley, Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho at the top of the card.

Instead, The Rebel Heart opted to go back to WWE to achieve what he felt were unfulfilled goals. Don't be surprised to see others do the same.

The most prominent name still out there who has yet to sign with any major promotion is Bray Wyatt.

A report from Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful Select stated that the former WWE and universal champion is "more likely to re-sign with WWE" now that Triple H is in power and that "Vince McMahon was simply 'done' with Bray Wyatt, and just didn't like him personally."

While that is hardly a slam dunk and Wyatt could still join AEW, it is a step in the right direction toward a reunion between the third-generation star and the company for whom he developed and introduced a character that was often overthought and underwritten.

Triple H, with his willingness to allow creative freedom while keeping things more grounded than the grandiose sports-entertainment visions of McMahon, seems just the guy someone like Wyatt would want to work for.

One should also not forget that Wyatt spent time in NXT in the early days of the brand.

As for AEW, it finds itself in the headlines for the wrong reasons as the Fall season approaches. Controversy abounds following a report by the traditionally pro-AEW Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter regarding dissension among top stars behind the scenes (h/t Liam Winnard of Wrestling Talk).

Add to that a bloated roster, creative that cannot possibly accommodate all of the stars at its disposal and a women's division that remains woefully underdeveloped, and you have a scenario that may put off free agents seeking to realize their potential.

There is plenty of time for Khan to get a handle on thingsโ€”behind the scenes and in front of the camerasโ€”and return AEW to the red-hot product it was a year ago.

Until that happens, though, wrestlers will look across the board at the energy, excitement, buzz and momentum that exists in WWE for the first time in what feels like an eternity, and toy with the idea of signing with a company that has a beloved executive (and one of the greatest to lace a pair of boots) at the helm.

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