The news this week that four New Japan stars may soon be headed to WWE has sparked some unexpected and intriguing speculation about WWE’s plans for this talent, particularly revolving around the former members of New Japan’s Bullet Club.
It’s the kind of thing that has me completely flipping my opinion on whether I’d like to see Finn Balor in WWE.
Prior to this week, if you’d asked me if I’d like to see Balor get called up to the main roster, I’d have said “No” without hesitation. Whether it’s the embarrassing mishandling of money main-eventers (Sasha Banks) or the midcarders who still deserve better than instant obscurity (Tyler Breeze), it’s becoming increasingly clear that the creative force(s) driving WWE’s main-roster product have absolutely no idea what to do with NXT talent.
But the prospect of putting Balor at the helm of an American version of the Bullet Club on WWE TV has me more excited for potential storylines on Raw than anything has in a while–because Balor and a Club of talent that got big in Japan on WWE’s main roster would signal that they’re finally recognizing top talent can come from somewhere else. It’d be indicative of a perception shift that hasn’t budged since roughly May of 2001.
That excitement is because I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s making some assumptions as to what kind of acquisition this is. And there’s pretty good reason to assume this isn’t the kind of acquisition I’m excited about.
For the sake of thought experiment, WWE’s two historic bursts of acquisition shall be–from here on in this particular blog–identified in shorthand as either “WWF 1984” or “WWF 1999.”
Right away, I’m hoping this is a WWF 1999 acquisition. I’m hoping they’re acquiring this talent because they want to do something with them.
Under this scenario, Vince McMahon recognizes his shortage of top stars and the staleness of his roster (particularly with the loss of John Cena this week), and he recognizes that it needs an injection of new talent with main-event experience in front of large crowds.
McMahon also recognizes that his centerpiece star Roman Reigns is being stood up with an unnervingly weak pool of heels ahead of him, and the surest way to have your main-event hero flop is to have him running over duds–leaving fans without an opportunity to get emotionally invested, with no motivation to rally behind their new hero.
Balor has been one of the highlights of NXT in the past year, with an instant connection with the crowd that carries over from his days in New Japan. As great of a face as he is, he’s also an incredible heel. By calling him up to the main roster leading the new Balor Club, he could be perfectly positioned to send his stablemates after Reigns–giving Reigns the opportunity to build up convincing wins over experienced talent on his path to eventually get his hands on Balor himself.
I don’t really want to get too far into fantasy booking, because this scenario undersells the value of AJ Styles at a minimum, and it doesn’t even get into the value of Shinsuke Nakamura. But at very least, it presents a top-of-my-head scenario of using these acquisitions in WWE 1999 style.
On the other hand, there’s probably more evidence to suggest that I’m delusional. There’s been nothing in the booking in the past year, save for maybe the slow build of Charlotte, that suggests there’s any new thinking at the main-roster level.
Triple H has even alluded publicly that WWE may need to create a new developmental promotion, as NXT has really just kind of turned into a network-based promotion that appeals to fans of Ring of Honor and New Japan, versus developing the kind of talent they want to see on the main roster.
WWE is expanding the network into Japan as New Japan’s streaming network struggles to take hold. What better way to solidify dominance in New Japan’s home country than by taking its top stars at the same time WWE moves into the market?
What sealed the pessimism for me was a text conversation tonight with Doom DeLuise, when he informed me of this Instagram post:
These four guys are instant main-roster talent. If they’re headed to the Performance Center to spend time in NXT, that’s all the evidence I need that this is WWF 1984.
NXT is about to get some more wrestlers, I guess.