wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: When Can Cesaro Show Up in AEW?

February 28, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Cesaro Claudio Castagnoli Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Mike is looking for a loophole:

I have been thinking about the recent WWE releases lately. They have a 90 day (or whatever) non-complete clause. But could they actually show up on AEW in some capacity anyway?

Think of it like this: Cesaro was just released. But he shows up on AEW Dynamite next Wednesday. He agrees to appear for “free” and doesn’t sign a contract. Could this actually happen legally? I know WWE wants to avoid another Rick Rude incident at all costs but even with a non-compete could someone actually show up and appear if they weren’t being paid?

First off, let’s clarify one point that is tangential to your question: Cesaro most likely does not have a non-compete clause. WWE contracts typically state that the 90-day non-compete applies when a wrestler is released from their contract, i.e., fired before the contract was set to expire on its own terms. Cesaro was technically not released. His contract came to the end of its term, and he did not sign a new contract with the company. Under those circumstances, there is no non-compete period. This means that, legally, Cesaro could show up anywhere he wants, anytime he wants, doing whatever he wants. The 90-day non-compete kicks in when a wrestler is actually released, i.e. when WWE lets them go in the middle of the term of their contract.

With that said, let’s get to the actual question: Could a released WWE wrestler in their non-compete period show up on AEW television for free?

Legally, almost certainly not.

Some of this will come down to how the non-compete is actually worded, but if any lawyer worth their salt wrote the thing, it will contain language that doesn’t just prohibit the wrestler from showing up on a wrestling show for pay. If properly written, the non-compete will be written in such a way that it prevents them from appearing on a competitor’s show in any capacity and for any reason.

Granted, there’s nothing that would physically prevent an appearance from happening. The contract is, after all, just a piece of paper. This hypothetical wrestler and this hypothetical version of AEW could ignore the non-compete altogether, but, after the fact, they would have to face the wrath of Jerry McDevitt and/or the rest of WWE’s legal department. The wrestler would almost certainly forfeit whatever additional compensation was due to them under the non-compete (yes, they are paid during that period), and AEW could be required to pay whatever financial damages WWE could establish resulted from AEW’s participation in interference with the contract between the wrestler and WWE.

Also, it’s worth noting that there is precedent for something very similar to this happening in wrestling history.

On the June 14, 1999 episode of WCW Monday Nitro, Rena “Sable” Mero appeared sitting in the audience. Cameras clearly focused on her and announcers referenced the fact that she was somebody we all knew, but she was not referred to be name and was obviously not called by her ring name, either. The whole time this was happening, Mero was still under a WWF contract, though earlier in the same month she had filed a $140 million sexual harassment lawsuit against the Fed.

WCW denied that they had any idea that Sable would be in the crowd that night, but the fact that she managed to get a front row seat to a hot show and was surrounded by security guards made that claim hard to swallow.

According to the June 28, 1999 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, legal letters were fired off by McDevitt almost immediately, though to my knowledge there was no suit ever filed. This is likely due to the fact that it was about a month later that the sexual harassment suit between Sable and the WWF settled out of court, with one of the terms (according to the August 2 Observer) being that she would be released from her contract, albeit with a non-compete that lasted for the remainder of what the contract term would have been, namely through August 2001.

Ross from Indianapolis is taking wacky bumps:

I was watching Royal Rumble 1989 and in the middle half of the Rumble match, Shawn Michaels and Mr. Perfect go at it quite a bit. That got me thinking, we’ve heard a lot about Bret Hart vs Mr. Perfect matches over the years, but I’m not very familiar with HBK vs Mr. Perfect matches. Did they ever have a feud or rivalry, or even some quality one-off matches in WWF/E?

Yes, Michaels and Perfect had a feud with one another in the WWF in 1993, when the Heartbreak Kid was the company’s heel Intercontinental Champion and Mr. Perfect was still playing against type as a babyface coming off of his turn on Ric Flair and banishment of the Nature Boy from the Fed. However, like most major feuds of the era, the bulk of it happened off television, with the two men having numerous house show matches against each other, with several going to a twenty-minute time limit draw. The only televised match between the two during this run was part of Summerslam 1993, where Michaels retained his IC strap over Hennig via count out, thanks to outside interference from Big Daddy Cool Diesel.

The only other singles match that the two ever had against each other on television was a one-off back on March 11, 1991 for a special Prime Time Wrestling “Road to Wrestlemania VII” show. In this match, Perfect was the Intercontinental Champion and he was defending against Michaels, who was still in full-on Rocker mode. Perfect won via disqualification when his Wrestlemania opponent, the Big Boss Man, ran in and attacked him just as he had hit the PerfectPlex on his challenger.

And that’s it for the two men being singles opponents, though there is also an AWA match from 1986 in which a pre-Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig teamed up with the (Midnight) Rockers to defeat “Playboy” Buddy Rose “Pretty Boy” Doug Somers, and Alexis Smirnoff.

Tyler from Winnipeg has jackknifed:

Whose powerbomb do you prefer; Kevin Nash or Sid?

Neither one of them really stands out to me, but I suppose I’ll go with Sid. In my mind, the difference between an impressive powerbomb and a lousy powerbomb is that, in the impressive powerbomb, the person delivering the move makes it look like they are actively slamming their opponent down, whereas, in the lousy powerbomb, the person delivering the move looks like they’re just dropping their opponent as soon as they get them up. I feel like both Nash and Sid typically executed “drop” style powerbombs, but Sid had a bit more force behind his – particularly early in his career when he would actually drop down to his knees in delivering the move.

The real great powerbomb from the same era belongs to Vader.

Kyle is totally out of time:

When a match, especially one with a time-limit, starts near the end of a show the announcers sometimes say that it’s being recorded and if it runs past the end of the show we’ll see the result next week. How often, if ever, did this actually happen?

I can’t say with any certainty how often it happened, because that would involve looking at every set of results from every wrestling television show in history, but I can say that it has in fact happened before. One of the examples that I remember from my time as a fan comes from the sixth-ever episode of Monday Night Raw, which ended before we got the conclusion of a main event featuring the Undertaker facing Skinner.

There are two things that I find particularly odd about the finish of this match not airing on television. The first is that the bout only ran one minute and fifteen seconds, so it’s not as though we’re talking about an iron man match here. The second is that, despite promises to the contrary, there actually was no reference to the result on the following episode of Raw.

I also have to say that, to me, it seems like the episode going off the air in the middle of this match was a very intentional choice. The two wrestlers went out to the ring with such a limited amount of time that they easily could have just had the announcers vamp for a bit or do something else to close out the episode. Sending the bout to the ring came off as a move made to help put over the fact that Raw was airing live. Wrestling promotions had a history of doing this sort of thing on other shows, occasionally having matches end during commercials when they did not have to in order to educate fans that they need to keep watching at all times. AEW actually pulled out this old school tactic in August of last year, having an Orange Cassidy vs. Jack Evans match wrap up during an ad break to put over the show’s “picture in picture” action during commercials.

I have a memory as a kid of watching a WWF show with a battle royal at the end and the show just ended before the match did. I tuned in the next week and there was no mention of it. I remember at the time wanting to know if Tatanka won or if this was the end of his undefeated streak before I found out such non-wins don’t “count” as defeats. Did this actually happen, did I miss the follow up show, or did I miss my dad subtly changing the channel on me or something?

I’m open to being corrected by anybody who recalls this, but I was not able to find a record of anything of this nature occurring. I could only find record of Tatanka competing in two battles royale that could have been televised during his early 1990s undefeated streak. One was part of a WWF Superstars taping on June 1, 1992, which was won by the British Bulldog. I was not able to find record of this match ever airing on television, though I am fairly confident it was the battle royale included on the “Rampage 1992” VHS tape from Coliseum Home Video. The second was on the July 6, 1992 episode of Prime Time Wrestling (taped June 2), which was won by the Berzerker with the finish airing on television.

If anybody else has more data, feel free to drop it in the comments.

Ed S. has glued on his mustache:

I’ve decided to do a rewatch of the Monday Night War and I’m in early 1996 and I’m fascinated by the Billionaire Ted skits. At first I did kind of enjoy them, but as they’ve turned more and more excessively whiny and petty they got a lot less fun. It’s also glaringly obvious that this was one of the more financially wasteful things WWE did at a time where they really couldn’t afford to waste money on something so idiotic. But I’ve grown curious about the guys playing Billionaire Ted, Nacho Man, and the Huckster. Is there any info on who played those characters?

Not really. Several years ago, Chris Jericho did an episode of his podcast in which he had Eric Bischoff and Bruce Prichard on at the same time to talk about the Monday Night War. The Billionaire Ted skits were mentioned, and Prichard said that Dave Sahadi, who at the time was working in television production for he WWF, met a guy who did a Ted Turner impression at a party. Sahadi apparently introduced this guy to Vince McMahon, and that introduction lead to the gentleman being hired to play Billionaire Ted.

In discussing the Huckster versus Nacho Man “match” on the Wrestlemania XII pre-show on his own Something to Wrestle podcast, Prichard said that many of the individuals seen during the match/skit were WWF office employees. From context it seems that he was talking more about the extras in the production than the main cast, but it appears that at least a good portion of people who appeared in these skits were just pulled out of their office jobs as opposed to being professional actors.

Night Wolf the Wise is counting pros with three separate questions:

1. I was thinking about all the wrestlers WWE released, ROH released with their temporary closure and all the wrestlers acquired by AEW. It got me thinking. How many active wrestlers are there in just the U.S. alone?

This is virtually impossible to answer with any sort of certainty.

What qualifies as an “active” professional wrestler? If a low-level indy guy wrestles one match every other month, does he count as an “active” professional wrestler? If you say no and that guy does not count as an active professional wrestler, then does Brock Lesnar count as an active professional wrestler? If you say the six-match indy guy doesn’t count but Brock does, then you’re being a bit inconsistent because Brock has only wrestled seven matches in the last two years.

Also, what does it mean to be “in the U.S.”? If there’s a wrestler who was born in Mexico and wrestles primarily in Mexico but crosses the border to have one or two matches in Texas per month, is he considered to be “in the U.S.”?

Another issue that I’ve alluded to in the past: Though this is becoming less and less the case, we’re still at a bit of an odd time in wrestling history when it comes to identifying who is and is not an active professional wrestler because there are still people who might otherwise be wrestling but are sitting out altogether or at least greatly reducing their bookings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That being said, there are roughly six pro wrestling promotions in the country right now large enough to have some degree of a fixed roster, those being WWE, AEW, TNA, ROH, MLW, and the NWA. I think that you also have to consider the roster of NJPW Strong, the New Japan Pro Wrestling sub-brand based in America.

If you count up the number of roster members in each of those promotions (using ROH’s pre-hiatus roster since they obviously don’t have anyone under contract now), the answer that I come up with is 151 wrestlers in WWE (excluding NXT UK wrestlers since they would not be “in the U.S.”), 126 wrestlers in AEW, and in the other groups combined (which you almost have to do because there is some roster overlap) you have 207 wrestlers.

Total all that up, and it’s 484 wrestlers, though that is probably a drastic undercount compared to the number that you could reach if you used a more expansive definition of “active wrestler.”

2. How many major wrestling and Indy Promotions are there in the US?

There are two major wrestling promotions in the United States. One of them is called World Wrestling Entertainment, and the other is called All Elite Wrestling.

There are four promotions that I think are too large to be called indies but too small to be called major promotions. Those would be the aforementioned TNA, ROH, MLW, and NWA. I peg them as being somewhere between “major” and “indy” because they have television that technically available nationwide, which used to be the distinction between those two categories, but it’s television that is on much smaller platforms and/or very sparsely watched compared to the true major promotions.

As far as independent promotions are concerned . . . it’s really anybody’s guess. When we talk about indies, you have to keep in mind that they are at all levels, from North East Wrestling that has run since 1996 and regularly draws over 1,000 fans to shows headlined by former stars of major promotions to tiny groups that have fewer than 50 in attendance at any given show and are just a couple of steps above backyard wrestling. There are so many that are so far off the radar that a 100% accurate count may never be possible.

The best estimate that I can give is probably based on the data available in Cagematch, which attempts to keep as comprehensive a database as possible of every wrestler, match, card, and promotion in existence.

In the Cagematch database, there are 2,725 promotions listed in their “Amerika” region, which includes both North and South America and also includes both defunct and functional promotions.

Going through the list and throwing out those companies which are clearly outside of the U.S. and those which are listed as being defunct, you wind up with a total of 1,010 wrestling companies.

However, you have to deduct six from that, because there are two major and four “in between” promotions that I’ve referenced above, which would get you 1,004 indy groups.

3. How many wrestling schools are there in the US?

I’m not aware of anybody attempting to put together a comprehensive list of schools as Cagematch has with promotions. The closest thing that I was able to find is the list present on the Pro Wrestling Wiki, which contains 23 schools in all. However, that number seems painfully low, particularly when given the fact that, much like low-level indies, there are probably plenty of wrestling “schools” out there that amount to a ring being set up in some dude’s garage.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.