By Mike Johnson on 2016-01-22 23:11:09
Since TNA released their statement regarding AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, PWInsider.com has been hit with a number of queries from readers, so here is some background on what happened between all sides, where the issues lie and what might happen going forward.
Based on conversations with a number of sources over the last several hours, it appears TNA began discussions with AJ Styles sometime in November 2015 in regard to bringing him back to the company. TNA had more money available to them to sign talents with Kurt Angle's deal expiring and a number of TV deals, most notably India and the UK, bringing the company greater rights fees when January 2016 as well as the new deal with Pop TV, which insured the Karl company was going to be a stronger position financially then it had been in recent years.
TNA wanted Styles back bad. The feeling was that when Styles left, the company had lost their "Sting" in terms of a talent who was so strongly branded to them, he was the embodiment of the company, as Sting once was to World Championship Wrestling. The belief was that Styles' return, coupled with the new TV home, would be a nice one-two punch to show the audience that things were finally turning around. Styles' return would give them their "homegrown top guy" back and kick off the first quarter of the year with a strong storyline that would generate attention for the company. For those wondering, at no point during these discussions was Styles under contract to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
We are told that TNA had daily discussions with Styles in November and December and that the idea of bringing Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson was tossed out there. The pair were looking to leave New Japan for a number of reasons, including, allegedly, unhappiness over money the Bullet Club was making over merchandising as New Japan pretty much has a license to print money with that stable. Gallows was not under contract to NJPW. Anderson was and still is.
An angle was created that would have seen Styles return and then eventually, once Anderson was free and clear from his NJPW commitments, he and Gallows would have come in as well.
The discussions moved forward to the point that all three gathered with TNA President Dixie Carter, Vice President John Gaburick and others for what was termed a "summit" at Carter's home in Nashville, TN on 12/14. The group met all day and according to ONE TNA source, "It could not have gone better as a meeting." That day, creative storylines were locked in, a logo for the group was finalized and start dates were locked in, with the idea that Styles would start in January 2016 and the others would follow when the storyline dictated. It was said to be a major part of TNA's creative for the first half of the year.
The trio were presented with a contract to sign. The trio met privately and came back with some requested amendments, which TNA agreed to. Styles' deal was said to have been "at least" a three year deal with an option for one additional year at the end. I have no confirmation on the length of the deals for Gallows and Anderson.
At the end of the day, TNA sources claim (and are adamant) that Styles, Gallows and Anderson, as well as TNA officials all signed agreements that would bring Styles home and bring Anderson and Gallows into TNA as a team. There were no lawyers involved, just the principles and at the end of the day, AJ Styles had returned home and the Bullet Club members were coming to TNA.
So, what happened?
Well, as often happens in life, once lawyers get involved, it all goes to hell.
The story that has made the rounds is that once Styles' agent/lawyer Bill Behrens learned that Styles (and perhaps the others) had signed an agreement without Behrens' involvement and supervision, he did not have a positive reaction. TNA sources, as you might expect, support this story, noting that Behrens was against the deal after he learned about it and that Styles' deal could not be ratified without his involvement.
Communication between Behrens (who, it should be pointed out, worked for TNA in its earlier days) and TNA began. Longer form contracts were being drawn up by TNA attorneys as the Christmas holidays hit, leading to the obvious delays as businesses shut down for that season.
In the meantime, TNA purchased plane tickets for Styles to come to Bethlehem, PA for the final day of tapings for the Pop TV debut episodes. One story we have heard is that Styles was going to secretly come to shoot pre-tapes at a hotel that would then be inserted into the show, with the idea that TNA would shock the world when the shows aired and out of nowhere, here was the return of Styles - sort of a play on the surprise announcement that Kurt Angle had signed with the company going forward.
From there, Styles would return to the TNA ring at the end of January during the UK tour. I am guessing he would have been one of the final Kurt Angle opponents, because logically, that would make the most sense. We are told Styles even suggested some British talents that the company should take a look at, including Will Ospreay.
But, then, according to TNA sources, they never heard from Styles, Anderson or Gallows again. Texts and calls were not returned and suddenly, the storyline that had been laid out to help kick off 2016 and thunder into the new TV home was non-existent.
The company would later hear from Bill Behrens that the deals would not be going forward, which according to TNA sources, was mind-boggling, because in the company's mind they had already signed these talents to come in. It was especially mind-boggling in the case of Styles, because since he left, there was a feeling that he was the one "TNA Original" the company couldn't live without in the eyes of some fans, so TNA went and finally brought him back into the nest, only to see him disappear before their very eyes after they thought he was locked in.
As the beginning of 2016 came, word began spreading that Styles, Anderson and Gallows had given notice they were leaving New Japan. In the case of all three, the word was they would eventually, once legally and medically cleared to do so, sign with WWE.
It was branded in some circles as WWE targeting New Japan and raiding them. It was never a raid on New Japan. The reality is that the trio were already one foot out the door from New Japan, only before they put that foot down in TNA, someone, somewhere on either their side or WWE's, started communications and the trio, like Bugs Bunny, made a left turn in Alburquere and instead negotiated deals to go to WWE. WWE didn't raid New Japan - they instead swooped in and smartly, prevented TNA from bettering their company and in the process, bettered WWE.
TNA sources remain adamant that they have, to date, not heard from Anderson or Gallows personally but that Styles did later have communication where he, according to one TNA source, stated he was going to do what was best for his family. We are told that frustration over being iced out when it came to communications from the trio and having signed them only to see them back out of the deals, coupled with the feeling that they had "done the right thing" only to get fleeced, led the company to release today's statement.
PWInsider reached out to Bill Behrens and he declined to comment on the record, but it should be noted that The Fight Network in Canada reported the following: "The LAW spoke to the management for A.J. Styles and they stated to us that no contract was ever signed or finalized by any of the parties." After that was reported, PWInsider.com again reached out to Behrens for comment but as of this writing, did not hear back. If and when we do, we will update.
So, here is where things stand. We have one side claiming there was an agreement and the other, if Fight Network is to be believed (and I have no reason to discount their reporting) claiming there was not. The only way to be sure exactly what was signed is and whether it was legally executed is for TNA to produce the actual document featuring all the signatures from the parties involved. Thus far, that has not yet happened and it may not happen unless the company decides to pursue the manner from a legal standpoint - more on that in a bit.
Did TNA sign talents to binding, legitimate deals? Are they simply blowing smoke out if bitterness and frustration? It's impossible to definitively say so without looking at the deals but if Styles, Gallows and Anderson did sign an agreement last month in Nashville, what did they did sign and what happened to make them instead head towards the waiting arms of WWE? Did they have buyer's remorse? Did old, angry feelings stemming from TNA's reduced contract offer to Styles year before bubble back up? Did WWE simply make a better offer? Was WWE tipped to what was going down and went predatory? Did someone from the talents' camp play an old school trick out of the Monday Night War era and use TNA's deal as leverage to get an even greater deal for them from WWE? These questions can't be answered today. They may or may not even be answered in the days and weeks to come.
As far as the most asked question we have received, whether TNA intends to pursue legal action, we are told that no decisions have been made. TNA opted to make today's statement because there was a feeling that the company had been wronged when they tried (and believed they accomplished) something to better the company and make fans happy, only to end up burnt. One source noted that the company didn't want to be a "patsy" and give the appearance they let their "Sting" just walk into WWE without at least letting people know they wanted and tried to get him back. TNA executives wanted what they feel is "the truth" out there for the masses.
And of course, and this is just my opinion, they timed it for the Royal Rumble weekend on the off chance the ripple effects of it might see WWE blink and change their plans.
As I wrote earlier today, the TNA statement seemed "carefully worded" and certainly could be seen as a shot across the bow warning that legally, there may be more to come. Whether that happens or not rests in the hands of the lawyers, which truth be told, is how all the chess pieces ended up in these positions on the board to begin with. Time will tell what, if anything, the next move will be...and whether New Japan or WWE get involved in what could easily turn into a far muddier situation.