In what is perhaps the most populated professional wrestling landscape in the sport's existence right now, World Wrestling Entertainment is taking a new approach when it comes to building its future. As promotions like All Elite Wrestling hunt the independent circuit for new talent and New Japan Pro Wrestling construct Young Lions in its dojo, WWE has its eyes locked on collegiate athletes. Under Vince McMahon's leadership, WWE established "Next In Line," a program focused on forming partnerships with NCAA football players, gymnasts, and beyond in hopes of bringing them into the WWE Performance Center after they've graduated. This program has already signed 25 active athletes and looks to add more upon its "Campus Rush" tour this fall.
This focus on transforming collegiate athletes into wrestlers has left fans questioning if WWE is abandoning signing independent wrestlers altogether. While he admits that college athletes is the priority right now, Vice President of Talent Development Shawn Michaels noted WWE will always look to sign "people that are valuable."
"I think right now it's certainly about developmental, but that is not from the standpoint of forsaking real talent and real ability that's out there. To me, you're crazy if you don't see people that are out there that are very valuable that you know can be valuable to the WWE," Michaels said on The MMA Hour. "Even if it's coming into NXT just trying to get a feel for how life is here in the WWE and then quickly moving on, if that be the case."
Michaels is likely alluding to wrestlers like Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly, two veterans of the independent scene that came into WWE and only worked with the NXT brand as they elected to leave for AEW instead of joining WWE's main roster.
Michaels emphasized that regardless of where WWE's developmental priorities lie, the company will always be aggressive when it comes to signing top free agents.
"I know it sounds cliché, maybe not honest, but nothing really is off the table. I've always been one that if it's a good idea, I'll steal it from anybody. If there's a really talented guy out there and we think he can help this company, we're crazy not to take him. We can still develop people at the same time," Michaels continued. "Again, because all of our younger talent here is going to benefit from being in the ring with those guys, even if it's just a handful of times. They're going glean such experience from that. I don't ever want to take off the table not getting guys out there that can really contribute to Raw, SmackDown, and the future. All this is about is feeding the machine."
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit The MMA Hour with an h/t to ComicBook.com for the transcription.