A weird thing happened last weekend. The WWE United States champion A.J. Styles made a surprise appearance at a NWA Wildside reunion event in Georgia, which is basically a small independent wrestling promotion. Typically, the WWE never allows their wrestlers to appear elsewhere, so it was a strange sight to behold.
Styles didn’t actually wrestle at the show, but he did work for the promotion very early in his career — close to 20-years ago now. He shows up at the reunion show to say hello to the fans and new generation of indie wrestling talent, and cut a short promo about the importance of supporting indie wrestling. A lot of the biggest names in the business get their start in local independent promotions.
It was a cool moment, but a lot of wrestling fans immediately starting asking questions. How did Styles get permission from the WWE to appear? Did he even get permission at all? Will he be punished if he didn’t?
Jerry “The King” Lawyer addressed those questions on a recent episode of his podcast, and explains things pretty well:
“When you sign a contract with WWE, it’s pretty much exclusive. However, WWE wrestlers are, technically tax-wise, considered independent contractors. In that sense, you are really truly, supposedly, work wherever you want to. But it’s just an understanding, and it’s in the contract, that WWE will basically keep you booked where you’re not available to do anything else. I think they call them “third-party appearances.” That’s been a long-standing thing that if somebody else wants to book, say for instance AJ Styles, I’m sure what they did was call the office and made an offer. Then the office will look and see if it’s a viable thing; if AJ isn’t working that night.
So say you have an independent show, and you call WWE, and you say you want John Cena. If he’s available, and they tell you what his fee would be; if you are still conscious, if you haven’t fainted, and you say you can pay that, they call John and tell him they have an offer for him and if he would accept it. And why you don’t see WWE superstars at these shows, the reasons are money, it’s prohibitive for a promoter to be able to pay these guys what WWE is asking. And usually when these shows happen are on the weekend, when WWE are running their shows. Or a day off; days off are few and far between. They relish a day off; they wouldn’t want to do a third-party appearance on their day off.” (Transcript via 411Mania.com)
So basically, if you can convince a WWE wrestler to work on their day off (unlikely) and come up with their requested appearance fee (almost impossible), you could potentially book any member of the WWE roster for an appearance. Styles likely only appeared at NWA Wildside because it was local to his hometown and because he would appear for a minimal fee (or nothing at all) due to it being the promotion he got his start in.
Styles isn’t the only WWE employee to make indie appearances. NXT superstar Kassius Ohno will actually be wrestling in a title match against Joe Coffey of Insane Championship Wrestling next week in Manchester, England.
Don’t expect John Cena to show up your local bingo hall anytime soon, though.