Randy Orton and 7 WWE Superstars/legends who turned down AEW offers
AEW has managed to sign a number of WWE Superstars since its founding in 2019. From the likes of Bryan Danielson, Jon Moxley, and Chris Jericho, we've seen talent who made their names in WWE choose to join Tony Khan's fledgling promotion and carve new chapters in their careers there.
However, not all wrestlers were successfully convinced to join the enterprise. Despite lucrative offers and the opportunity for more creative freedom, here are eight recognizable WWE names who turned down a contract with AEW.
#8. WWE Hall of Famer Ricky Steamboat was approached by Tony Khan to join AEW as an agent
WWE Hall of Famer Ricky Steamboat has appeared on AEW television only once before, during the Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon special edition of Dynamite back in 2022.
He was the special guest timekeeper for "Dragon Slayer" Daniel Garcia vs. "The American Dragon" Bryan Danielson during their 2 out of 3 falls contest.
It seems as though Tony Khan had taken a liking to the legend and tried to recruit him as a road agent. However, Steamboat would turn down the lucrative offer as he's looking to travel less at this stage of his life.
#7. AJ Styles revealed he was in talks with the Young Bucks about joining AEW
AJ Styles has been with WWE for over seven years, and reports suggest his current contract will be the final one before he retires. However, when All Elite Wrestling first started back in 2019, there were apparently plans by the Young Bucks to bring their former Bullet Club partners, AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson, to their new promotion.
Styles once spoke about the subject on his Twitch stream, confirming that he had indeed held talks with Matt and Nick Jackson, but he ultimately decided to stay with WWE rather than sign with AEW.
While the Good Brothers did eventually sign with IMPACT Wrestling and appeared on Dynamite on a number of occasions back in 2021, AJ Styles stayed put and re-signed with the Stamford-based company.
#6. Edge could have joined AEW instead of returning to WWE in 2020
According to Fightful Select, AEW and Edge reportedly held talks before the Rated-R Superstar's in-ring return at the 2020 WWE Royal Rumble. At that point in time, Edge hadn't wrestled for nearly a decade due to a career-threatening neck injury that forced him into early retirement.
All Elite Wrestling would have been an attractive destination at the time, given the lighter schedule. However, the negotiations eventually fizzled out for reasons unknown, and he stayed loyal to the sports entertainment giant.
The WWE Hall of Famer is going on three years since his in-ring return, and it's safe to say it's been a huge success. Despite his former tag team partner Christian Cage doing well in Tony Khan's promotion, Edge seems highly content finishing up his career in WWE.
#5. AEW tried to coax WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle out of retirement
Kurt Angle is one of the greatest of all time and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017. He wrestled his last match in 2019 against Baron Corbin at WrestleMania 35 and has not featured in the ring ever since.
Despite his in-ring retirement, the Olympic Gold medalist revealed that AEW offered him a contract at least twice to wrestle again. But Angle declined as he wanted to focus on his other business ventures, such as starting a nutrition supplement business and running a podcast.
Now 54 years old, the former WWE Champion is also very aware that he won't be able to put on the kind of high-quality wrestling match he is famous for. During an interview with NBC Sports Boston, the former RAW General Manager said:
"Well, you know what, they actually wanted me to wrestle in particular. Tony Khan gave me a call, wanted me to wrestle. They offered me a pretty good deal, but I just can’t do it anymore... They did offer me two different times, and they did want me to do an on-camera personality as well, or a non-wrestling role. I actually turned that down as well. I just wanted to start up my supplement company, so I wanted to put more time into that," Angle said. [H/T SEScoops]
He also further explained that Tony Khan wanted him to wrestle in 10 matches for the duration of his contract and also potentially appear as an on-screen personality, most likely as an authority figure. But it seems like Angle is happy with where he is in his life right now.
#4. Karrion Kross turned down AEW to rejoin WWE
Karrion Kross is currently floundering on WWE SmackDown in an undercard feud with AJ Styles. However, he could possibly have joined AEW a year ago. The Herald of Doomsday previously revealed that he held talks with Tony Khan regarding a potential AEW debut.
In an interview with Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling, Kross revealed the reason why he turned down Khan's offer:
"So I want to be engaged and really care and be able to feel it know that when people see that I'm going to be involved in doing something, that's going to be my best work. So I don't want to be pigeonholed by anything. So I'd definitely be interested and open to working there but in the right setting and right circumstances," he added. (1:19:40)
He would rejoin WWE after Triple H took over as the Chief Content Officer of the company. It is safe to say that things have not gone as planned. Despite more opportunities on the main roster, Kross has not been presented as a main event star in WWE. Perhaps he could have been a bigger star in All Elite Wrestling.
#3. WWE Hall of Famer Lita
Lita is a trailblazer in WWE and an icon of the women's division. While a number of her former Attitude Era contemporaries have joined All Elite Wrestling, including The Hardys and Christian Cage, Lita has resisted Tony Khan's offers.
"Upon talking to them [AEW], it just made me say to myself, ‘but I have all of these things already!’ I have those things with my home [WWE] that I’ve known for 20 years, with the people that I’ve worked with for 20 years," she said. (H/T Esquire)
Lita is still semi-active in WWE, most recently appearing at WrestleMania 39 in a 6-woman tag team match, teaming up with Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus against Damage CTRL.
#2. Former WWE Champion Randy Orton
Randy Orton might be a WWE lifer, but he once teased a move to All Elite Wrestling back in 2019 when his contract was set to expire. He even posted a picture on social media beside an "Elite" sign and tagged a number of AEW stars.
According to Wrestling Observer Radio, the Legend Killer would eventually reject the offer from AEW after the money offered was not deemed good enough. The alleged reason was that the contract was for a lot less than what Chris Jericho was making at the time.
Given his standing in the industry, The Viper feels that he should be quoted in the same bracket, if not more. Orton would eventually re-sign with WWE on a new long-term deal, leading many fans to believe that he had used All Elite Wrestling as leverage to secure a better payoff.
#1. WWE Smackdown Superstar LA Knight
LA Knight might be the hottest name in WWE right now, but there was once a chance that he could have joined All Elite Wrestling instead. The former Eli Drake once said in an interview that he had a deal in place with AEW before he joined NWA instead. This was a few years before he eventually joined NXT in 2021.
According to Fightful.com, here is what the Megastar said:
"We had a deal worked out. And then we didn't. And then we did again. And then we didn't. We just couldn't come to terms with everything. Then, I spoke with Joey Mercury at Ring of Honor and that happened just before talking to [Dave] Lagana and Billy [Corgan] at NWA. At that point, I was just weighing my options and seeing what was what."
The 40-year-old has been a wrestling journeyman throughout his 20-year career. While there is no certainty that he could have enjoyed the superstardom he has now in AEW, WWE is definitely benefiting from his charisma right now. While he failed to capture the Money in the Bank contract, Knight is still gunning for the US Championship.