WWE has excelled at signing and bringing elite talent through its NXT developmental system in recent years, and a pair of new reports suggest the sports entertainment giant could be targeting two of the biggest non-WWE stars in the wrestling business.
According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Larry Csonka of 411Mania.com), WWE has interest in signing New Japan Pro Wrestling Intercontinental champion Shinsuke Nakamura. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Marc Middleton of WrestlingInc.com) also reported WWE plans to court current Ring of Honor World Heavyweight champion Jay Lethal.
Nakamura is one of Japan's most decorated stars as a three-time world champion and five-time IC titleholder, and while he is getting up there in age at 35, he is regarded by many as one of the most charismatic stars in wrestling.
He has been linked to WWE in the past, as currently injured Superstar Daniel Bryan told Title Match Wrestling in April that he had interest in facing Nakamura:
The King of Strong Style later accepted Bryan's challenge, although nothing has come of it thus far:
The 30-year-old Lethal is better known in the United States due to stints in both TNA and ROH. Until recently, he was a double champion, as he held both the world and TV titles, which resulted in him becoming one of the top workhorses in the business by defending both belts on the same night.
He has developed into a top heel but has plenty of range as a performer, as evidenced by his impressions of Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Ric Flair during his tenure in TNA.
When asked about potentially joining WWE at some point by Aaron Oster of Rolling Stone in June, Lethal acknowledged he would have at least some level of interest:
Anybody in wrestling – especially those who are a part of my generation – their love of professional wrestling was created by WWE. I would have to say that most of the people from my generation, if given the chance, would definitely go to WWE. As time goes on, that goal changes as we develop a real, true, passion for wrestling. Whether or not that view changes for people in my generation, the goal is still there; it's something that you'd like to check off of your list. I would have to say that if the time is right, I would have to consider it, just to check it off that list.
At the same time, though, Lethal discussed how much he enjoys his current spot as the face of ROH in a September interview with Ring Rust Radio:
I got to say being the Ring of Honor world champion, what a time it is to be the champion in this tremendous wrestling period. It really is a boom period and it's amazing. ESPN and Sports Illustrated covering wrestling, I'm almost at a loss of words because I can't believe it's happening. It took so long to get here. I can't think of a more perfect time to be the No. 1 guy in Ring of Honor.
While WWE was once viewed as a company that looked down on the independent scene and focused solely on big, musclebound performers, that narrative has been obliterated in recent years due largely to Triple H's influence on the developmental system.
WWE hasn't been shy about collecting stars from Japan or ROH, as evidenced by the signings of competitors such as Hideo Itami, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and former WWE World Heavyweight champion Seth Rollins, to name a few.
WWE has more room for talent than ever before with NXT in addition to Raw and SmackDown, and NXT also gives the company a better chance of developing Superstars to fit its mold.
Both Nakamura and Lethal are unique performers who have made themselves into stars outside the WWE bubble, but as evidenced by the success many in positions similar to them have enjoyed since making the leap to WWE, they have a golden opportunity to make it in the big time if WWE's reported interest is true.
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