WWE will not sign any outside free agents and the UFC is an indicator why

Fans and media members should look at how the UFC manages to operate without signing big free agents for a peek into WWE's place in the 2024 free agency race.
Women's Pro-Wrestling "Stardom" Cinderella Tournament Final
Women's Pro-Wrestling "Stardom" Cinderella Tournament Final / Etsuo Hara/GettyImages

As last year ended, it was clear that 2024 was set to be a big year in free agency across professional wrestling. Several big names were slated to go into contract negotiations or come to terms with their current deal. Fans and media members alike pontificated on who would sign where, and how WWE would make a play for top names. One month into the year and several of those players have signed with All Elite Wrestling. While some claim that WWE is “losing” the free agency battle, those interested should look no further than how Endeavor manages the UFC roster to see that the organization is playing an entirely different game.

Endeavor purchased the UFC in 2016 and the mixed martial arts landscape greatly changed. The UFC was already the largest promotion in the sport, but its grip around the neck of the industry tightened, making it nearly impossible for competitors to gain ground.

One way the company did so was by maintaining excessive control over fighters, their salaries, and their ability to negotiate. It became clear that fighters looking to earn the most money had to stay in the UFC and bend to that organization’s will. This was even true for top stars. No one individual was bigger than the brand and the promotion was more than willing to move on from someone to build up the next young star. Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor were two names that generated massive amounts for the UFC and the same occurred with their careers. The UFC brand is larger than any one individual on the roster and that is a powerful chip to play when it comes to negotiations.

The UFC does not need any individual on the roster. Look at how Francis Ngannou was allowed to leave as the company’s heavyweight champion. UFC did the best it could to twist media perception along the way, but at the end of the day, the company and that title marched on. Negotiating with free agents wasn’t a thing. Even multiple-time Bellator champion, Michael Chandler took a smaller deal to chase glory in The Octagon.

How does this relate to the WWE? Look at what is happening in free agency. Deonna Purrazzo. Mercedes Mone. Kazuchika Okada. Will Ospreay. Jay White. Multiple stars with legions of fans are now a part of the AEW roster. Kamille, one that many thought would fit in the WWE system, is now reportedly having more talks with AEW. With every new signing, fans are raging that WWE is “losing” the free agency fight, but that is not the case. At least not in the eyes of the largest company in wrestling.

Just as with the UFC, the WWE brand is the most important thing. That makes nearly every name expendable. Outside of maybe Roman Reigns, Rhea Ripley, Becky Lynch, Seth Rollins, and Cody Rhodes. Those five names are among the top in not just wrestling, but sports entertainment. Replacing them would be a near-impossible challenge. This makes it difficult for free agents during negotiations with the WWE.

Yes, Mone has a cult-like following in wrestling and a deep history with the WWE. But why re-sign her when there’s a Tiffany Stratton, Roxanne Perez, Cora Jade, or Kiana James coming up in WWE NXT? Why spend a large amount to lock in Kazuchika Okada at 36 when GUNTHER is on the roster at the same and men like Julius Creed or Montez Ford are ready for their breakout moment with the WWE Universe already in their back pocket? Does that mean these people are as good as in-ring performers or characters as the free agents? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that an organization with the bottom line in mind will focus on its current assets that are paid substantially less than bigger names who would come in from other companies. For a company with finances as its central focus, star ratings do not and will never matter.

It will be interesting to see what WWE does with stars currently on the roster as they come up on new deals. Rollins and Lynch are expected to stay and it would make sense for WWE to offer them the biggest deal possible to do so. Charlotte Flair and Bayley recently re-signed big deals as well. Individuals like Drew McIntyre are in an intriguing place. As he continues to do what some consider to be his best work, many wonder if he’s already inked a new deal which was said to end in 2024. Losing McIntyre at this point would be a big deal, but not one the company couldn’t overcome.

One thing to pay close attention to is the comparison of the Dana White Contender Series to WWE NXT. What started as a tool to bring in interesting new names like Sean O’Malley to the UFC roster, has now created a homogenized group of fighters where no one stands out and their contracts keep costs down. WWE NXT is in a different, but similar place – as professional wrestling is a different industry than MMA. But when it comes to contracts, that’s one space where things could be more similar than recognized and worth a look.

Endeavor must keep its shareholders in mind with every decision made. Its ownership and operation of the UFC since 2016 should be a clear indicator of how the company will run WWE, at least when it comes to contract negotiations. That means WWE has less incentive to sign free agents from other organizations.