New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Jay White has had a rough 12 months. The current leader of the Bullet Club lost the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 14 to Tetsuya Naito and proceeded to have a rather quiet 2020 due to the travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. He then lost in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 15 night 2 to Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships.
In his post-match interview, White implied that his contract with New Japan is up and that the 28-year-old might be leaving the company. Since then, rumors have swarmed around the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion that this promo was not being used to advance a story but was in fact him saying his goodbyes to the promotion that brought him much of his success in the industry to date.
As is typical for most free agents, industry analysts and insiders have speculated that the most likely landing spot for the Switchblade is with WWE, with the Super J-Cast speculating that it’s 50/50 whether Jay White stays in New Japan or heads stateside.
What if these rumors are true? What does this mean for the man who usurped AEW World Champion Kenny Omega as leader of the most popular stable in professional wrestling today? Frankly, not much beyond a bigger paycheck.
Bigger Paycheck, Less Exposure
Put simply, WWE has a lot of money to throw around. When most of the British and American independent wrestling stars of just five years ago are currently signed to WWE contracts, you know a company has money to burn to sign whomever it wants. If Jay White is looking to secure a massive paycheck that will ensure he and his loved ones are taken care of for a very long time and nothing more, Vince McMahon’s brand of sports-entertainment can make a very compelling argument. But will it make sense for him in terms of elevating his star power? An easy way to find it out is to look at his contemporaries from NJPW who have had their brushes with WWE.
Prince Devitt aka WWE’s Finn Balor is likely the best-case scenario in terms of who one would point to as a New Japan star with success in the home of the Thunderdome. The first leader of the Bullet Club had a massive run his first time in NXT, winning the NXT Championship from Kevin Owens in Japan in an epic ladder match in 2015 and losing it during an awesome program with Samoa Joe in 2016. After moving up to Raw that summer and becoming the first WWE Universal Champion after a hellacious match with Seth Rollins at SummerSlam, Balor was sidelined with injuries through most of 2016 and 2017 and was never able to recover the momentum he had gained. It had gotten to the point that in 2019, Balor returned to the black and gold brand and, as of writing, is once again the NXT Champion.
One could also look at Shinsuke Nakamura or Ricochet as signings who had loads of hype at the outset but fizzled out over time. Nakamura, once leader of New Japan’s CHAOS faction and former IWGP Heavyweight Champion in his own right, was a well-regarded signing for WWE in 2016, winning the NXT Championship from the aforementioned Samoa Joe and trading the belt with Joe several times through late ‘16. Nakamura’s run in NXT came to an end after dropping the belt to Bobby Roode at NXT Takeover: San Antonio. Nakamura seemed to be destined for the top of WWE, winning the 2017 Royal Rumble and facing AJ Styles (a New Japan signing that has gotten by relatively well due to having an established brand in the States thanks to Impact Wrestling and Ring of Honor) for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. After losing that match and a maligned heel turn, Nakamura has not lived up to his potential in the years since. Since that ‘Mania match, Nakamura’s attained two United States Championships, one WWE Intercontinental Championship, and is a one-time SmackDown Tag Team Champion with Cesaro. With the lesser prestige of WWE’ mid-card titles and the lack of emphasis on tag team wrestling within the company, Jay White achieving a peak of Nakamura’s doesn’t seem all too impressive.
The worst-case scenario and potentially most likely parallel would be that of Ricochet. The former Prince Puma of Lucha Underground was a star in the making when he left New Japan and signed with WWE. A multiple-time Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion and former Best of the Super Juniors tournament winner (on top of two Lucha Underground Championships), Ricochet looked to be the next big thing in pro wrestling after putting on stellar bouts with Will Ospreay. His high-flying style that set the internet alight seemed to be the perfect fit to build the future of WWE around. After spending some time in NXT and capturing the North American Championship, it looked as though Ricochet was ready to light up the main roster. Here we are, however, in 2021 and Ricochet is in a program where he has definitively lost to every single member of mid-card stable Retribution. The former United States Champion has looked completely pathetic in the past year, getting betrayed by both Cedric Alexander, who went on to join the Hurt Business and by Mustafa Ali, who turned out to be leading Retribution.
Granted, one could make the argument that Ricochet’s case is different as he’s been a constant babyface since his signing and WWE treats their faces like Electronic Arts treats the people who buy their video games—poorly and with little remorse. However, it’s not like WWE’s lower-profile heels are treated better. Bobby Roode is currently SmackDown Tag Team Champion with Dolph Ziggler, but similar to Ziggler, in between title reigns Roode is a no-name on TV. Some weeks he’s feuding with whatever babyface mid-carder needs an opponent that particular week/month, and others he’s in comedy skits chasing after whoever has the 24/7 Championship. To say that going from beating the likes of Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi and fighting for the IWGP Championship in the Tokyo Dome to getting a surprise roll-up by R-Truth on YouTube would be a downgrade for Jay White would be an understatement of the highest grade.
It’s not just a bad deal for White, however. WWE also looks to lose out big if they were to sign him..
All Right, Now What?
Just because WWE has all the money in the universe compared to other promotions doesn’t mean they’ve always spent it well. In the mid-2010s WWE signed up everyone they could get their hands on out of fear that New Japan and Ring of Honor could team up to threaten the house that Vince built. Hence the signings of the current members of Undisputed Era, most of the British wrestling scene from Killian Dain to WALTER to Kay Lee Ray to British Strong Style. Then in the latter part of the decade, WWE once again tried to make as many key signings and re-signings as possible to counter the looming threat of All Elite Wrestling. Just in 2020 alone, WWE snatched up the likes of Killer (now Karrios) Kross and Scarlett Bordeaux, Mercedes Martinez, and two-thirds of the Rascalz, as well as re-signing Jeff Hardy and Rey Mysterio.
That, unsurprisingly, is a lot of talent and a lot of money spent. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where White demands top dollar for his services. And why would he not? He is a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, same as AJ Styles, Nakamura, and, sort of, Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar (though the less said about that fiasco the better). That accolade alone could be worth hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. So, WWE gives in and pays top dollar for White. Then what? As mentioned, WWE has not had a great track record with their recent New Japan signings, so they could end up in a scenario similar to that of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. They were a team WWE never had much in terms of plans for but were given massive contracts because they are a world-renowned tag team and buddies with AJ Styles. They were given the axe in 2020 because their contracts were just too big for WWE to want to deal with given their position on the card (and also to maximize profits during a global pandemic but hey, that’s business apparently). So, the 28-year-old White signs a multi-year contract securing his future in the wrestling/sports-entertainment industry, and then WWE loses interest and cuts him after two or three years. What does WWE gain from that? Another move in the long and drawn-out game of keep away Vince McMahon is playing with Tony Khan? How exciting! Insert eye roll
Just Stay, Jay
In conclusion, it would be a safe bet to assume White’s best-case scenario would be to take the lower pay and safer position that New Japan would offer. AEW is too stacked on the top end for the Switchblade to fit in and WWE would not handle a talent of White’s caliber well. Obviously, NJPW can’t pay as well as an American brand, but if White wants a stable job near the top of a company that hardcore fans still adore where he can put on excellent matches with some of the best talent in the world, the choice should be simple.