By Haydn Gleed
Editor’s Note: This blog was written prior to the news of the explosion(s) that took place in Manchester, England earlier today. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the area.
For years, I’ve been being ringing the bell like a crazed town crier for people to watch the wrestling coming out of the British isles, so you can imagine how pleased I was watching firstly the WWE UK Special on Friday and the outstanding UK Championship match on NXT Takeover: Chicago on Saturday. Don’t worry, this isn’t a pat myself on the back blog.
I’ll admit that I was slightly nervous going into Friday. After all the buzz coming out of the UK Championship tournament, it was important that the follow up wasn’t the preverbal difficult second album for the brand. Four months had passed since the original show so would people still remember some of the stars of the show and most importantly would they care? Fair play to WWE for keeping the bigger stars in the minds of the Network audience with appearances on NXT and 205 Live, but there was still a chance that without the crutch of novelty and a tournament that the show would be more 205 Live than the Cruiserweight Classic.
I needn’t have worried.
The show started with a good match between two wrestlers who I see propping up the mid-card of any kind of weekly brand that told a good story inside the ring, and then finished with a high flying high impact match with a title on the line that they consistently built up through the course of the night as being the reason every wrestler was in the company to fight for. Basic but effective stuff.
Over the course of the weekend, it was clear that the biggest star to come out of this is Pete Dunne. I remember watching him wrestle at an independent show 18 months ago and thought to myself he’s got the basics down and is already a very good wrestler, but there didn’t seem to be anything beyond that. In interviews he’s done, he’s said that before he got the gimmick of the Bruiserweight clear in his head, he was spinning his wheels not really knowing what his character was. Boy, has he worked that out in spades. From the disrespect to the title by biting it to the sneers that he gives the fans at ringside, everything this man does makes you want to punch him in the face. In 2017, there’s not a lot of heels who can make you feel that way. One of my favorite moments from him over the whole weekend was after a tough fight with Trent Seven where it was clear he only won by the skin of his teeth, as the third tap of the mat signaled a hard fought win, he just shrugged as if to say, “I was in control the whole time.” It was intended to make the viewers at home shout at the TV, “It wasn’t as easy as that you bastard” and in my opinion it worked.
Going into the weekend, I thought that Tyler Bate would be a good champion to start a weekly UK brand because it gives the show a likable babyface to build around. The logic I had in my head was I believed that he would be marketable as the face of the brand and someone you want to see take on all comers and come out on top. However, after what transpired over the weekend, I’ve done a complete 180. Having Dunne as the heel you want to see someone beat facing the babyfaces and not just scrapping by but proving that he is as damn good as he thinks but is so arrogant about it the fans hate him for it. This will eventually lead to printing money when someone does finally topple him.
Despite the wonderful showcase of what British talent can do being on full display over the top night, the next steps are the most important. If the brand does go the weekly TV show route then there’s no denying that they need a clear idea of what the show is going to be. Are they going to have an NXT type feel where it’s squash matches showcasing the top talent and a quarterly special where feuds are settled? Or is it going to be a regular WWE show with angles and star vs star matches? On top of that, I do echo the feeling that the current talent pool is a little shallow. With Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, and Mark Andrews you have the basis of a good main event section of the roster if you will, but what’s underneath them? Wolfgang is a very good wrestler and incredibly charismatic but is more someone who can be fed to Pete Dunne, not someone who I believe will be a serious threat. From the other talent in the UK Tournament, “baby Finn Balor” Jordan Devlin is an outstanding prospect who showed he can work as a heel during the original shows. James Drake is still a work in progress, but he seems to be rocking a heel emo look and gimmick, and he is someone who can beef up the heel division. But what about outside the talent that have already appeared on WWE TV?
Well, it appears that the World Of Sports Wrestling reboot has been axed for now, so a lot of talent that would have been in that promotion could be acquired to improve the roster. I’m not recommending WWE go after Grado (although personally I would love that), but guys like Dave Mastiff as the big man of the division, El Ligero as the high flyer and Zach Gibson as the dislikable scally would be great to fill out the cards. The man that I think could come straight in and immediately make an impact and a positive impression on a new WWE audience would be Mark Haskins, who has recently come back from serious injury, yet has gained a massive amount of respect from indie wrestling fans all over the world with his performances in Canada’s Smash Wrestling and in the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Battle of Los Angeles last year. I can mention other great talents like Flash Morgan Webster and Joe Coffey, who have years of experience and would offer so much to the UK Brand of WWE, but you get my point. The talent is out there for WWE to tap into.
This weekend has shown the world what the British wrestling scene is all about and it’s only just starting. In the words attributed to Paul Revere, “The British are coming!”
As always you can find me on twitter @haydngleed or via email firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to say hello or have a general chat.