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Does Will Ospreay’s A-Game Help AEW Like CM Punk’s Cult of Personality?

6 months ago Peatzilla | Monthly Puroresu

Peatzilla | Monthly Puroresu

Does Will Ospreay’s A-Game Help AEW Like CM Punk’s Cult of Personality?

By: Trevor Dame

When someone changes employers, it often means very different things to the company they’re leaving and the company they’re going to. The case of Will Ospreay is no exception.

For New Japan, it’s the bittersweet story they’ve seen play out again and again in their modern history. A promising foreign talent comes to their promotion and rises through their ranks. They grow immensely as a talent by working that full New Japan schedule against world-class opponents. They build their name from a favorite of the hardcore fan to someone who is on the radar of the entire wrestling world. And then, invariably, they leave. Almost always it’s with a sense of sadness on their part, and an acknowledgment that the promotion will always have a special place in their heart, but they leave all the same.

There are just some things others can offer that New Japan can’t. If WWE or AEW wants you badly enough, they can offer dollar figures that simply do not make financial sense for any other promotion. For some, the chance to be closer to home eventually plays a factor. For others, the idea of a reduced schedule becomes a big enticement. And as big as New Japan is, if you’re looking to be as big a star as you possibly can be, as known worldwide as you can possibly be, there is still a higher ceiling to be found outside New Japan than within it.

New Japan can comfort themselves with the fact that they’ve been through this before. From Prince Devitt to AJ Styles to Kenny Omega to Jay White, they’ve been in the position of having to fill the slot Ospreay is leaving again and again, and have always been able to find an answer. Prospects like Gabe Kidd, Clark Connors, and Alex Coughlin are now in a race to grow into that coveted spot. History suggests one of them will grow into those huge shoes that need to be filled. Someone will have that great run, will raise their talent and name to a new level and then yes, they likely will one day leave as well.

A silver lining for New Japan is the rumor that AEW’s flexibility in allowing Ospreay to still make appearances in Japan was a key factor in him choosing them over WWE. Ospreay himself has recently said in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he still needs to have some involvement with New Japan and is not ready to let it go. Whether that means he takes on a Kenny Omega role of only appearing for a very rare dream match, or something more akin to a Jon Moxley or even Eddie Kingston level of more frequent appearances is something that remains to be seen, but for New Japan this isn’t as severe of a farewell as it could’ve been.

For AEW, the company receiving Ospreay, this signing injects a few things that were current desperate needs. After a rough set of months filled with backstage drama, falling attendance and stagnant ratings in the face of a booming WWE, this promotion really needed some perception wins. Landing Ospreay, a man who was coveted by pretty much every major player in the industry, including WWE, gives AEW one. Will isn’t an Adam Copeland, an aging star past his physical prime who is looking for one last run. He also isn’t some prospect who will need to be developed to realize his potential. He’s a star who at the age of 30, is in his physical prime and should hopefully have years left competing at the highest of levels.

And the level Ospreay competes at may be the highest in the world today. For a promotion that has traditionally focused more on the in-ring, Ospreay’s signing gives AEW one more wrestler who has a legitimate claim to being the best worker going. No one in recent years has had more great matches than Ospreay, and his best ones frequently top match of the year lists. In fact, some might argue that Ospreay already has had AEW’s best match of 2023 before he even signed a deal with them: his Forbidden Door bout with Kenny Omega. Signing Ospreay doesn’t just guarantee AEW that the next few years of those top-tier performances happen under their roof, but likely ensures that they’ll be the place where the third match of that trilogy happens.

Ospreay signing with AEW also gives not just a major star, but a major UK star, and for a promotion seeking to fill Wembley Stadium for a second time, that’s another big box to check. At a recent post-PPV press conference, AEW owner Tony Khan made clear that announcing Will’s signing shortly before tickets went on sale for All In 2024 was no coincidence. He viewed it as important to make sure that any potential ticket buyers knew that Ospreay was guaranteed to be there if they were debating on making plans to attend. With ITV, AEW also currently actually has more prominent TV in the UK than WWE, and by signing Ospreay, they now have the ability to feature one of their most popular native sons there on a weekly basis rather than as an occasional guest.

Of course, this will not all be wine and roses for anyone involved. There will be challenges. Injuries have already started to stack for Ospreay in recent years and as he gets older, that seems likely to only become a bigger issue. You’d think the reduced in-ring schedule of AEW would help in that respect, but the laundry list of top stars in that company who have had to take significant time off seems to contradict that. And if Ospreay really wants to continue to work in Japan and the UK, his travel schedule could continue to be hectic. Every fed involved will also have to manage the usual political headaches of negotiating interpromotional wins and losses, and finding ways to make everyone’s booking calendars sync up.

There’s also the matter of Will’s promos and character work. We’ve seen it develop in recent years, but in AEW he will likely be called on to do more in that respect than he has ever done before. Chris Jericho recently talked about feeling like there was so much untapped potential in Ospreay from a character standpoint. As it stands, that side of Ospreay seems to be a love it or hate it kind of thing. I’ve seen people gripe that Will at times has come off as a man doing a dime-store imitation of Conor McGregor. There are people who for years were annoyed just by Ospreay’s social media presence. In a US, TV-based promotion like AEW, Ospreay’s in-ring will still be king, but his personality in and out of the ring is going to be more important, and scrutinized more closely, than ever.

At the end of the day though, barring an always possible injury, Will Ospreay is one of the safest bets AEW could make. He’s certainly safer than one of their last major moves, CM Punk. Make no mistake, Punk is a bigger star than Ospreay currently is, and quite possibly ever will be. Punk brought AEW some of their best TV ratings and PPV buyrates ever, and for a time supercharged an already pretty hot promotion to new heights. But he also brought his knack for being a lightning rod for controversy and backstage strife wherever he goes. The last year of Punk’s AEW tenure might have been as almost damaging as his first months were beneficial. It lead to suspensions of top stars, a divided locker room, and a general black cloud that hung over the entire company.

Seeing Punk today back in WWE, you see that wherever Punk goes, he challenges the identity of the place he’s in, for good and ill. Punk built his stardom in his original WWE run on challenging the status quo and speaking out against what he (And many fans) felt like was a stale product with a glass ceiling for talent that didn’t fit a certain mold. In AEW, Punk reportedly was a critic of certain aspects of their creative and his brief run as the face of Collision definitely showed a noticeably different product than what AEW was producing otherwise at the time. Punk’s 2023 return to WWE has already set off big conversations about how he’ll fit in with their current product.

Will Ospreay won’t challenge AEW’s identity. As a cutting-edge wrestler who is beloved by the hardcore fans AEW was built on, he’ll only reinforce it. And although he may annoy some, it’s hard to imagine how Will could possibly be a tenth as controversial in front or behind the camera as Punk. He will not be the business boom Punk was and still can be, at least initially. But Ospreay is also a decade and a half younger and has room to grow. As a promo, as a character, as a man that tries to juggle obligations to promotions he loves in Japan, the UK, and now America. What he can be to AEW and how much he can mean are still open questions. But his floor is “Quite possibly the best bell-to-bell performer going today”, and that’s a heck of a place to start from.