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WWE’s Dakota Kai reportedly wasn’t a priority for AEW post-NXT

WWE, Dakota Kai, AEW, NXT, Iyo Sky, Bayley, Io Shirai

Dakota Kai‘s return to the WWE Universe has been a resounding success.

A long-time NXT fan favorite who had some great matches with Raquel Gonzalez, against the performer then-known as Io Shirai, and even as a member of WWE NXT TakeOver: WarGames III, where her team of Candice LeRae, Rhea Ripley, and Tegan Nox lost to Shirai, Bianca Belair, Kay Lee Ray, and Shayna Baszler, Kai’s release from the WWE was always quite confusing, as her time in the black and gold brand was largely viewed as a success, and, at just 34, her career was theoretically still very much on the upward trajectory. While Kai flirted with the idea of going it alone on the indie scene, with the name King Konta already picked out, and new social media pictures posted out to promote her re-debut, that wasn’t the only avenue open to the New Zeland-born performer.

No, according to Fightful Select via Wresletalk, she did at least have some talks with another promotion, AEW, about the prospects of taking her talents back to national television, but apparently, the conversation with Tony Khan, Christopher Daniels, or QT Marshall didn’t go particularly far. With no new commitments on the books, Kai hit accept when Triple H came calling, and her second career in The Fed has been off to a fantastic start, with her debut among the highlights of SummerSlam and her first episode of RAW a resounding success for everyone but Becky Lynch, who suffered an even further separated shoulder that could keep her out of action for months (more on that here).

With a name the only thing missing from Bayley’s new team, it’s clear Dakota Kai is about to be a big part of the premier storyline on RAW, maybe across the WWE Universe in general, for weeks, months, maybe even years to come, and with the potential for things to get even more involved depending on how the story progresses, it’s clear the “The Captain of Team Kick” made the right decision returning to her North American home, but did Tony Khan make the right decision not aggressively pursuing her services? The answer to that question could become very interesting indeed.

For once, WWE capitalized on AEW’s mistake.

For years now, AEW has been the beneficiary of WWE’s decision to trim its roster in favor of maintaining maximum budgetary flexibility. They signed both of their current tag team champions from the WWE scrapheap when their 90-day non-compete clauses expired, signed one of the favorites to win the promotion’s World Trios Championship in Bobby Fish when his NXT deal expired too, and even landed both Miro and Malikai Black, two of their top mid-card acts, away from “The Fed” because “creative didn’t have anything for them” – as if either performer doesn’t have a slew of obvious angles built right into their very character.

And yet, other than Cody Rhodes, the AEW-WWE pipeline really hasn’t gone the other way, at least not yet. Sure, some performers who worked on AEW Dark have been snatched up by The Fed, most notably a now-released Cole “Tony ‘Two-Dimes’ Donovan” Karter, but outside of the WWE’s reported interest in MJF – an interest he very publically acknowledged on AEW Dynamite – WWE hasn’t exactly been poaching performers like Joey Janella, Jack Evans, and Marko Stunt when their contracts came due and ultimately weren’t extended.

By not signing Kai, and thus allowing her to return to the WWE Universe in a much bigger role, Tony Khan effectively handed over a big-time boon to his biggest booking rival and allowed their women’s division to get even better while his division reportedly generated a massive viewership drop-off on Rampage during the main event where ex-WWE performer Ruby Soho took on Anna Jay.

Now granted, it’s not like Kai would have walked right into AEW and immediately run the division like, say, Sasha Banks – or should I say Mercedes Varnado – would she have become an unrestricted free agent; at best Kai is on-par with Toni Storm and would be booked as a championship-level contender who probably doesn’t take the belt off of Thunder Rosa any time soon, but her in-ring work is good, and her character would be somewhat distinct in AEW if used similarly to her NXT persona, so it’s possible King Konta would have added some intrigue to a division that very rarely has non-championship-based storylines.

Instead, Khan allowed Triple H to sign one of Bayley’s best friends IRL and filled out a team that certainly could have featured any other performer but feels incredibly right with Dakota Kai as its third member. This time, Triple H earns the clear W for giving the people what they want even when he didn’t have to.