By Haydn Gleed, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@haydngleed)
-WWE has not been great since the last time I wrote an Across The Pond piece, to the point that I struggle to get through it week by week. I know this is not an earth shattering piece of an analysis and I’m not the only one who feels this way, but the main roster product is so bland and uninspiring. We all know Vince McMahon’s booking is the biggest issue, but there’s an element of this that doesn’t get talked about enough. I’ve been listening to a lot of retro audio and came to the realization that a contributing factor is that nothing has really changed in the main event scene in the last five years.
At the beginning of June, it was five years since Seth Rollins turned on The Shield. Since then what more have we learned about Seth Rollins apart from he likes to burn things down? Brock Lesnar wrestles occasionally and his matches still consist of “Suplex City” and nothing else of substance. Aside from the leukemia battle, what more do we know about Roman Reigns that we didn’t know then? The fact that he fancies himself a large canine doesn’t really count. These are three of your top stars and there’s nothing compellingly different about them from June 2014.
When Seth Rollins turned on the Shield it was around the time of Daniel Bryan being super hot. Before Bryan’s injury hiatus, people were salivating over seeing the man formerly known as Tyler Black face Bryan Danielson on the big stage in WWE. They faced each other this week on Raw for only the second time in five years and people shrugged their shoulders. The biggest stars on the main roster were Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton. Kofi Kingston aside, how many other wrestlers are there that you can truly say are main event talent on the roster? I’m not talking about ability, I’m talking about the way they are booked and the perception of those talents.
-I can’t be the only one that feels a little sad seeing EC3 and Drake Maverick interacting in the 24/7 division knowing how good a feud they had in TNA.
-As I was writing my rant about how difficult it is to get through WWE’s main roster product, WWE officially made it easier for me to not watch their product anymore by announcing their deal with BT. In my last blog, I wrote about how going to BT will move WWE programming behind a paywall behind another paywall. I had some pushback from people who pointed out that if you cancel Sky and go direct with BT then you get a good deal and you pay the same amount or if you have a particular tariff on one cell phone provider you get limited access to BT Sports, etc. The likelihood given the current product that the masses will through all the effort of changing their digital TV and/or cell platform just for WWE programming is rather slim. You also have to factor in that WWE puts most of it’s content on YouTube these days and that’s how I intend to consume it moving forward until the full show gets put on the network. It’s a shame, as I genuinely believe that WWE is stunting their own “cradle to grave” philosophy by making it difficult or too expensive for parents of young children to justify getting multiple packages just for “sports entertainment”, especially if another well funded alternative in All Elite Wrestling appears on a free to air in the near future.
-One aspect of the WWE machine that I am enjoying is NXT UK. Clearly, I am a fan of a product full of wrestlers and personalities that I’ve been ringing the bell for since I started at Prowrestling.net five and a half years ago, but I have been very critical of the product until recently. It wasn’t that the programs were bad because they weren’t, it just felt that you had the top feud and then everyone else was in mid-card purgatory. These days, every segment and every match feels important and has some reason for being on my TV screen. Take this week’s show where Kenny Williams lost to Kassius Ohno. Later in the show, Williams was confronted by Noam Dar about his losing streak. It was simple storytelling follow up, but it felt like there was a reason Williams lost to get him to the next stage with whatever is planned for him Dar. Since the Glasgow tapings seven shows ago, the NXT UK product has been hot and well booked.
-It goes without saying that I’m looking forward to NXT UK Takeover Cardiff with it being held literally a hundred meters from where I’m currently typing this. I could bore you with how Wales typically gets overlooked for events, but that’s not what you are here to read. Quite simply for me personally, if I want to attend a big wrestling event I have to drive hundreds of miles be it in London, Manchester, or indeed Blackpool. To know that my city and country will be showcased around the world and that I’ll be back in my house within an hour of the event finishing is enough to keep me happy.
It’s too early at this point to get a clear idea of what the card will be but I’m expecting Walter vs. Pete Dunne 3, which I believe will probably be a gimmick match of some kind to settle the feud. I’m also expecting Toni Storm and Kay Lee Ray to have their women’s championship match, which is the best match that division can offer currently. Kay Lee Ray will have the opportunity to show the audience who may not be familiar with her what she’s all about. Pure speculation on my part, but the end of August is when Tegan Nox (f.k.a Nixon Newell) should be making a return from injury. What better time for her to return than Takeover when she will be ten miles away from her hometown and could potentially be in the ring with the opponent she was wrestling when she suffered her latest injury?
-The passing of Lionheart was a huge shock to me this week. When I’ve had people all round the world ask me who I consider to be the best UK wrestler who was not under a WWE, Impact, or ROH deal, I always said Lionheart. His wrestling style was a combination of explosive power and athleticism and was always a joy to watch. Non UK fans might remember him as the guy who broke his neck in two places after taking a botched Styles Clash in a match against AJ Styles in March 2014. To this day, it’s very hard to watch the footage of the botched move as it’s horrendous. He was told at the time that he may never never walk again. Through hard work and dedication, he came back within a year. He announced his return at a PCW/ROH crossover show in November 2014 and although there was probably less than 1,000 people in that room, it’s the loudest, most passionate, and most real reaction I’ve ever heard at any wrestling event. The love of the fans towards him was real. Although he played a non-nonsense heel for the majority of the last couple of years he was always held in affection by the fans and his peers.
I was fortunate to meet him on a couple of occasions and each time he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. Sometimes as a wrestling analyst for a website, you find that some people within the business are either standoffish or weary of you when you introduce yourself, but Lionheart was not one of those individuals. He took great interest in what I did and my opinions on wrestling and came across as a really down to earth individual.
Without the likes of Lionheart, Dave Mastiff, Ligero, the late Kris Travis, and others, there wouldn’t be the UK scene we know and love in 2019. Look at the outpouring from the UK wrestlers on Twitter and you can see what he meant to them and to their careers. As ICW champion he was still a big part of the UK independent scene up to his death, having what some have described as a classic of a match three nights before his passing. My thoughts are with his friends and family at this clearly terrible and difficult time.
Check below for the latest Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and Brian Fritz of the Between The Ropes podcast discussing WWE’s creative and ratings struggles, Bray Wyatt following the Firefly Funhouse, WWE Stomping Grounds, NJPW G1 Opening Night, and ROH’s issues, what would happen if AEW opted to run head-to-head with WWE Raw, and much more.