WWE's Locker Room Reaction to Claudio Castagnoli's AEW Debut

Claudio Castagnoli's decision to sign with All Elite Wrestling left the WWE locker room "shocked." Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that many across the wrestling world expected him to be Zack Sabre Jr.'s mystery opponent at Sunday's AEW x NJPW: Forbidden Door, those in WWE were not expecting the former Cesaro to actually jump ship. That's due to rumblings surrounding WWE's offer to Castagnoli, which was supposedly a "very substantial amount of money." As evident by WWE's recent acquisition of Cody Rhodes and AEW's reluctance to match Bray Wyatt's asking price, many within Vince McMahon's company believed Tony Khan's promotion were no longer dishing out the big bucks to top free agents.

Details on Castagnoli's contract's financials remain unknown, but the deal has been described as "long term." The first-ever Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal winner has actually been on AEW's books for a while, as Khan mentioned during Forbidden Door's media scrum that Castagnoli was already under contract when Bryan Danielson notified Khan that he would be unable to compete at the pay-per-view.

While AEW has never been shy about bringing in any available top free agents, the company has began to cut down on talent costs in recent months. AEW has rarely outright released any of its wrestlers, but it has let contracts for stars like Marko Stunt expire without entertaining a renewal. Joey Janela, Alan Angels, and Stu Grayson have also left the company following the end of their deals.

AEW's most infamous contract situation revolves around the absent Maxwell Jacob Friedman. MJF has publicly cited frustrations with his current pay, which is reportedly around "four or five times" less than some of the roster.

"In many cases, those wrestlers [Christian, Malakai Black, Mark Henry] are getting paid four or five times more than him," Wade Keller said on a PWTorch audio show. "So, you know, MJF is by all accounts is kind of fuming over this. He felt that his work, his professionalism, his rapport and friendship with Tony Khan would have led to Tony renegotiating his deal, when there was about two years left."

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In his last televised AEW appearance, MJF specifically criticized Khan for "[hoarding] all that money" and using it for "all the new ex-WWE guys he keeps bringing in."

With only two appearances under his belt, Castagnoli is already seeing major success. After defeating ZSJ at Forbidden Door in one of the show's marquee matches, the Swiss Superman was responsible for his team's victory in the main event of Wednesday's Dynamite.