This New Year’s, ITV ran a one-off Christmas special reboot of World of Sport, with the potential to turn it into a full series if it scores the ratings. The BritWres boom (and the Doi Darts-esque rotating board that I assume TV executives use to decide which shows to rehash) has given us wrestling back on British terrestrial TV. Because it’s TV, the wrestlers booked are going to be under contract for performing.
The word ‘contract’ caused alarm bells to ring at Titan Towers, and so to ensure a stake in indie wrestling’s hottest scene, WWE have created the WWE UK Championship, and will crown a Champion with a tournament on January 14 & 15 in Blackpool.
The wrestlers in the tournament will be on semi-WWE contracts, meaning they can work for other promotions, but only ones WWE endorse i.e. not World of Sport or What Culture Pro Wrestling (WCPW), who are expanding at an alarming rate into the world of YouTube and iPPV. And of course, WWE will be looking to sign the most impressive wrestlers onto full time deals if they so choose. This means there’s a lot at stake for the men selected, as for many it will be their one and only shot at the big time. Some are already big stars of BritWres, others well on their way to getting there, and a substantial portion of the field are effectively unknowns to the wider scene, so let’s meet them all.
The Big Names
The current PROGRESS Champion and the breakout star of BritWres in 2016, Dunne began his path to the top of the scene by coming up with his ‘Bruiserweight’ gimmick on a tour of China last year, before applying it as the top heel in OTT, where he made enough of an impression to become a featured act on RevPro and PROGRESS’ biggest shows this year.
At 35 years old, Seven has been wrestling for a while now, but almost exclusively for the promotion he co-owns, Fight Club Pro, until this year, when he decided to travel the country and work different promotions every week. His experience has shown through in his brilliant charisma and command of the crowd as a face or heel, and he has the best in-ring resume of anyone in this tournament.
Both Pete and Trent are already being presented as the stars of the tournament. As well as the now infamous picture of them standing front and centre next to a smirking Triple H, they were the first men to be featured in interviews about the tournament on WWE’s social media accounts. As we’ve seen with the CWC though, the early favourites aren’t guaranteed a place in the final, so don’t go fantasy booking Dunne vs Seven for the Championship just yet.
A late entry into the tournament, Andrews is probably the most well-known wrestler here after his two year stint in TNA. Andrews has never really been pushed as a main event talent in PROGRESS, TNA, or anywhere else, but the consistently good to great quality of his matches make every show that he’s on a little bit better. He’s the most impressive high flyer in the tournament, and should provide plenty of excitement on a deep run into the bracket.
Connors was the SWE Heavyweight Champion for over a year and also one of only three WCPW Champions so far. Those aren’t exactly the ‘trendiest’ promotions for nerd wrestling fans like myself, but his WCPW stint particularly must have brought Connors to the attention of WWE. Connors has over a decade of experience, so is more than ready for this opportunity, and as one of the more well-known names in the field, will get an opportunity to potentially shine in the tournament.
A 19 year old prodigy, Bate is already really good, and while he still lacks a definitively ‘great’ singles match on his resume, he’s well on the way to stardom. As the Moustache Mountain partner of Seven and the new third member of Seven and Dunne’s British Strong Style group in PROGRESS, Bate is well connected with his fellow top WWE UK wrestlers. He may not be immediately signed by WWE as he still has a lot of growth left as a wrestler, but they’ll definitely want to groom him as a major prospect.
When you’re getting compared to Finn Balor, you’re doing something right. Devlin bears more than a passing resemblance to the more famous Irish wrestler, and with his recent stint in OTT is living up to the comparison in the ring too. Devlin has been wrestling since he was a teenager, but the recent success of OTT has brought him to prominence and given him some huge matches, the biggest of which saw him defeat Chris Hero in October.
Moloney is still a teenager, but he’s improved greatly in 2016, and has become very adept at riling up a crowd and using his size effectively this year. You wouldn’t guess it by looking at him, but he’s a surprisingly good comedy wrestler as well, both as himself when playing up his ‘shitty little boots’, or as Super/Los Federales Santos Sr. in ATTACK. He’s got plenty of tools to guide him to success in a WWE environment.
We know how much WWE love recruiting top athletes, and Roy Johnson is a champion powerlifter, with a medal and everything. He’s unproven in the ring and still very green, but his athleticism gives him lots of room to grow. It’s his excellent charisma that makes him stand out, using his grime rapping skills to create some very memorable promos in PROGRESS. His promo style offers something very different, and combined with his athletic credentials, Johnson has a chance to be very successful in WWE.
The current ICW Champion, Wolfgang doesn’t have the workrate reputation of the first three men we’ve looked at, but his standing as the Champion of the promotion that drew the biggest crowd in modern BritWres history can’t be overlooked. He’s also the longest tenured wrestler in this tournament by quite a long way, as his earliest listed match on Cagematch is from 2003. WWE would be foolish to overlook ICW’s place in BritWres, and getting one of their top guys for this is a sneakily good move on their behalf.
Burch wrestles as Martin Stone on the indies, but retains his old WWE name from a previous run in NXT. Burch has been primarily based in America and has seen action in EVOLVE over the past two years, and with his familiarity of the WWE system and living in America, it’s no surprise that WWE would bring him back for this tournament.
T-Bone is a big guy, covered in tattoos, and looks like he could kick your arse. That’s perhaps a lost quality in WWE these days, and means T-Bone has a shot at success. I see him more as veteran filler here; someone who will definitely make his opponent look good, but T-Bone’s size and unique look could see him go further.
Drake had a really good match with CWC participant Fabien Aichner at PROGRESS Chapter 37 recently, but he just hasn’t wrestled for promotions with any sizeable audience, and as such very little is known about him. Participating in this tournament, as well as PROGRESS seemingly taking a shining to him, should help Drake get the exposure he needs to get to the next level of his career.
BritWres Roundtable: Oli and Arn run through the last European wrestling shows of the year, as well as the big news of the WWE UK Title tournament and ITV’s World of Sport revival that helped bring it about.
Formerly known as ‘The Pledge’, Dyer has main event experience as part of The Righteous Army in SWE. He could be a major surprise talent coming out of this tournament.
Wrestling as ‘Ricky J. McKenzie’, Gradwell has lots of experience wrestling in the North of England, but never for a company with mainstream exposure.
WWE did some deep digging to find this guy, as there is very little trace of his existence on the internet or outside of the Northern wrestling scene. He might be the biggest man in the tournament though, so could make an impression with his size.
The only Northern Irish representative in this tournament. Tucker has had some shots in OTT, but before its rise to prominence in 2016, so has had very little mainstream exposure.
Doing a deep dive into the tournament lineup reveals that WWE have used the same hiring strategy that they used for the Cruiserweight Classic. They made sure to represent every part of the UK and Ireland, have veterans and young wrestlers in a roughly equal mix, and made sure to have plenty of ‘enhancement’ wrestlers to make the ‘stars’ look even better. There’s going to be some interesting decisions made as to who advances from the early rounds. Seven, Bate, Dunne etc. are locks, but at least one or two guys who could advance, such as Hurley, Dyer or T-Bone, are going to get knocked out early on.
Whichever way WWE decide to book the tournament, I do feel a lot happier about it now knowing what the full lineup brings to the table. The guys who deserve to be treated as stars will be, and there’s plenty of room for the lesser known guys to impress too.