With Christmas in ten days, WWE’s decided to go out and deliver an early present for the UK… in the form of a new championship.
On New Year’s Eve, ITV’s much ballyhooed World of Sport remake hits the airwaves – and although so far it’s only a pilot, with no guarantee of the show being picked up beyond that, let alone as a full series or a touring show, it’s clearly rattled the WWE. In response, there’s been talk of what’s been unflatteringly labelled as “mark contracts” – WWE wanting to sign wrestlers to retainers with a rumoured proviso that they’re able to block bookings for certain, perhaps WWE-unfriendly promotions. According to a tweet from WhatCulture, that (for now) is not the case.
Anyway, WWE took to London’s O2 Arena for a press conference on Thursday morning. It opened with a WWE sizzle reel for the benefit of the non-wrestling media in attendence, before Michael Cole appeared to open things off. He namechecked the O2 as a host for WWE in years gone by, before handing off to Triple H to make the announcement that’d impact the UK and Ireland.
I wonder what the non-wrestling media thought of the Motorhead song that took Hunter onto the stage?
Triple H went through a load of TV and social media numbers, then put across NXT and the Cruiserweight Classic as a build-up to the announcement. The next chapter of the WWE’s development and content strategy – working with companies like PROGRESS, Revolution Pro Wrestling, ICW and OTT.
WWE will be crowning a new United Kingdom champion via a WWE Network show – a two-night tournament on January 14 and January 15, at 8pm GMT. Interestingly, those finals coincide with PROGRESS’ debut in Birmingham… The show will be held at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, and will be a 16-man elimination tournament.
Tickets will go on-sale from 12 midday GMT on December 15. Yep, they gave a 40-minute advance warning!
Michael Cole confirmed himself as the voice of the “United Kingdom Championship”, before revealing a new member of the WWE announce team: Nigel McGuinness! McGuinness’ departure from ROH had only been announced earlier this week, and it’s nice to see Nigel finally get the WWE deal he wanted – even if it wasn’t the in-ring work he was yearning for previously. William Regal came next to announce some of the talent, and put over the old World of Sport without actually naming it.
Regal then promised that they’ll have the best 16 talents they can find. Five of them were thrown out there: Trent Seven, Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, Jordan Devlin and Wolfgang. Not a bad quintet to hang your hat on, eh? Elsewhere in the field were T-Bone, “Bodyguy” Roy Johnson, Joseph Conners, James Drake, Dan Moloney, HC Dyer (formerly “The Pledge” in Southside), Chris Tyler, RJM/Ricky J McKenzie (a Blackpool-born wrestling who has mostly worked for Grand Pro Wrestling in Wigan), Tucker (a native of Belfast who has mostly worked for Pro Wrestling Ulster out of Northern Ireland), Jack Starz (a Leicester-born trainee of NXT coach Robbie Brookside), Tiger Ali (a regular with the Swindon promotion 4FW), Saxon Huxley (a native of Hartlepool, who counts Lance Storm and Brian Kendrick amongst his trainers), and Ringo Ryan (Liverpool-born, a regular on the All Star holiday camp shows who probably won’t be using his real name unless WWE want to create a long-lost-Scouse-cousin for Dean Ambrose!)
As to whatever happens with the title after the champion is crowned remains to be seen. Triple H noted during the press conference that they hope to use the UK Championship Tournament as a springboard to create a weekly show on the Network, based and produced in the UK. After that… who knows? Will it be thrown onto Raw? SmackDown? NXT? Or just potter around the UK and Irish scene like a more visible version of the British Triangle championships?
This isn’t WWE ripping the heart out of the UK scene… at least, not yet. It’s interesting how WWE’s seemingly signed up the top stars of PROGRESS and ICW in one fell swoop, and how that pans out is of course, unknown; but to use a British saying, this is certainly throwing the cat among the pigeons!