This past Monday’s announcement of the launch of NXT UK sees the trigger finally being pulled on the oft-rumoured WWE UK brand.
The rumours, which first surfaced more than ten years ago when the talk was of Len Davies’ Real Quality Wrestling being used as a gateway to a WWE UK brand, gained steam in the last few years when ITV gained an interest in promoting wrestling, with 2016’s World of Sport Wrestling pilot being the catalyst. We’ll not beat the dead horse from then, but the initial response to World of Sport was for WWE to sign a slew of names from around the UK – some better known than others.
Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, Trent Seven and Mark Andrews perhaps being the biggest names of the lot, with Jordan Devlin, Wolfgang, Tucker, Danny Burch, HC Dyer, Tyson T-Bone, Dan Moloney, James Drake, Joseph Conners, Roy Johnson, Saxon Huxley and Sam Gradwell rounding out the initial field of 16 who competed in the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament in January 2017. Tiger Ali, Chris Tyler, Jack Starz and Ringo Ryan were on hand as standby wrestlers, giving us a total of 20 names whom would have signed a contract of some sort.
Fast forward through 2017, when it became clear that the World of Sport Wrestling revival wasn’t materialising quite as quickly, “all” we had was a second weekend of tapings in Norwich, featuring the same crew of wrestlers and a sprinkling of names from 205 Live. But that was it. No further shows, nothing else save for the odd appearance on WWE TV from Mark Andrews as part of the Cruiserweight Championship tournament, or appearances in NXT and house shows. Until now.
Coincidentally happening at the same time as WOS taping a ten-part series, the WWE reignited plans for a second United Kingdom Championship Tournament, this time to crown a contender for Pete Dunne. By the time you read this, both shows would have concluded, and we’ll know whether the one-night tournament to crown a challenger to a new champion or not.
However, the field for this year’s tournament was largely different to 2017’s, with some new – and familiar – faces joining the field. Zack Gibson, Amir Jordan, Flash Morgan Webster, Joe Coffey, Dave Mastiff, Kenny Williams, El Ligero, Ashton Smith and Travis Banks inked contracts to appear in the tournament, which began at the NXT shows at the Download music festival in June… meanwhile we also had a female presence, as Toni Storm, Jinny, Isla Dawn and Portugal’s Killer Kelly also appeared on the show, with Charlie Morgan appearing on the second night’s taping, earmarked as a NXT UK Special. So, with over 30 wrestlers assumingly under various forms of contract (including those nebulous “promise ring”/extended tryout deals, and some others whom haven’t been named), what on earth are you going to do? Well, you pull the trigger and launch a new brand. NXT UK.
With four sets of TV tapings already announced for the relative wrestling hotbeds that are Cambridge (July 28/29), Birmingham (August 25/26), Plymouth (October 13/14) and Liverpool (November 24/25). Although nothing was announced regarding the format or broadcast platform, there’s a few assumptions that aren’t too wild to make:
- The NXT UK show may well be two-hours long, assuming they keep the cadence of shows being taped one weekend a month
- The lack of a date in September may well indicate either a delayed start to the series or another special being announced to fill in the gap
- It’s yet more programming, which for those of you daft enough to consume nothing but WWE in-ring, will take your weekly viewing beyond ten hours a week, plus PPVs (which are now largely four-hours long) and Takeover specials (almost three-hours long these days).
Granted, only a small minority of people will watch everything (and I’m not even including things like Total Divas/Total Bellas/whatever else WWE throws up on the Network), but that’s sure making the case for those who feel that “WWE is invading everything and killing the territory.” While I can see where those feelings have come from, the outcome after last year’s signings didn’t quite result in the death of promotions, or indeed, the flow of talent.
The initial weeks after the 2016/2017 signings were rather awkward. Some promotions stopped using wrestlers altogether, while others just held their matches off of VOD releases, which made for some weirdness. Still, things calmed down and we quickly figured out who was available to do shows for who, while it became apparent that so-called “bans” weren’t what they seemed, as we saw when Joseph Conners appeared as a late substitute for (now) Defiant Wrestling. So much for that “blanket ban”! In 2018 things will have changed. The wheels are now moving on that WWE UK television product, but the early announcement of shows surely gives other promotions more of a fighting chance of being able to keep on using the names they have while working around the NXT UK show. There’s nothing to say that WWE won’t pull rank and insist that contracted talents are suddenly required for something like the “Largo loop” (things like NXT Live presents the NXT UK specials), or a random series of promo/video shoots to counter another promotion’s shows… but the likelihood of that seems to be a bit of a stretch at this point, especially while those newer WWE UK deals still reportedly contain the thrice-yearly get-out clauses.
It’s a bit of a cop out right now, all we can do is wait and see. If you’re worried that your favourite indy is going to disappear as a result of the signings and NXT UK launch, then there’s an equally good a chance that they’d been perhaps too reliant on names who’ve since gone onto WWE. In the case of Rev Pro, who’ve perhaps been the most vocal about the departures, they’ve “only” lost Jinny and Travis Banks – but in the long run, those exits should only be bumps in the road, rather than anything more catastrophic.
So, what of the rest of the scene? Well, of those NXT UK dates, three of them have clashed with PROGRESS’ regular end-of-month shows in Camden (July and August had their dates moved before the NXT UK announcement, with PROGRESS confirming that November will be rescheduled). That’ll create its own issues – short-term and long – with travelling fans perhaps feeling annoyed at having to change plans and reschedule so much, particularly if you’re the kind who were able to get a season ticket and plan around it.
There’s also the question mark over ticket prices – will NXT UK be priced at a point where the rest of the UK scene will be forced to either raise their prices or using fewer wrestlers (or lesser experienced wrestlers) to compete? We’ll be taking a look at those once the prices are out, but judging by the crowds on hand at the Royal Albert Hall this week, I’d not be too worried about the indy scene losing fans to NXT UK quite yet, especially since the NXT UK brand is going to be touring, and not based in one area, unlike most UK indys.
To borrow an analogy I’ve used elsewhere, we’ve gone from being worried about an asteroid smashing into the earth, to knowing that it’s at least on track for the UK scene. What we don’t know is just how much of it will burn off before it lands – at the moment, the only “blacklist” for signed talent appears to be Rev Pro and Defiant, but who knows whether that’ll expand down the line. While history has given folks plenty of ammunition to throw those claims that “WWE’s going to kill the town”, is killing an entire territory and shutting off the pipeline of new talent really in their best interests, just to neuter the ITV project? Therein lies the true answer, I feel…