The UK wrestling scene is very much living in interesting times.
WWE UK was formed in January 2017 with a two night tournament at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool. Ever since then it has been in a state of limbo, as the only shows since then have been two TV tapings in Norwich in May 2017. Instead, WWE UK has existed as a title defended in NXT and some UK promotions and a roster of over a dozen wrestlers on WWE UK contracts. This coming June, WWE attempt to reboot WWE UK with two shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
The Royal Albert Hall has a long history with wrestling: The first wrestling show was in 1904 and saw George Hackenschmidt defeat Tom Jenkins. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the Royal Albert Hall would host up to eight wrestling shows a year. WWE visited the venue in 1991 for a show that was headlined by the British Bulldog winning a Battle Royale. The last wrestling show was a Lucha Libre event in 2015. The WWE UK shows will take place on June 18th and June 19th.
The first show will feature the culmination of the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament. The first round matches will take place on the NXT events at the Download music festival in Donington Park, Derbyshire. Download is one of the biggest music festivals in the UK, this year’s line up includes Avenged Sevenfold, Guns N’ Roses, Rise Against, Baby Metal and Marilyn Manson. The remaining matches will be at the Albert Hall. The winner of the tournament will challenge Pete Dunne for the WWE UK Championship on Night 2.
WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament competitors:
Travis Banks – The “Kiwi Buzzsaw” is one of two competitors who isn’t a British citizen. Banks travelled to the UK to get more opportunities. The move paid off as the hard hitting, high flying New Zealander is a former Fight Club Pro Champion and the current Progress World Champion.
Joe Coffey – This ICW regular is a heavyweight from Glasgow, Scotland who relies on power, brawling and his Discus Lariat.
Joseph Conners – One of the many wrestlers returning from the first WWE UK tournament, Conners has a more deliberate style than most of the other competitors. The former WhatCulture and Southside Heavyweight Champion is hoping that he can rely on his Don’t Look Down finisher for victory.
Jordan Devlin – There are a lot of parallels between Devlin and Finn Balor: They’re both from Bray in Ireland, they trained in the same venue and Devlin even uses some of the same moves as Balor. However, there is more to Devlin than the unfair label of “a poor man’s Finn Balor”. Devlin is the current OTT Champion and he is one of the best competitors in this tournament, having greatly improved since the first WWE UK Tournament.
James Drake – “Mr Mayhem” has been making a name for himself as one half of the Progress Tag Team Champions. Prior to that this flexible wrestling made his name in FutureShock Wrestling.
Gentleman Jack Gallagher – 205 Live‘s resident Englishman is the greatest mat technician in this tournament and arguably the closest to the traditional British style. It will be exciting to see how far he gets.
Zack Gibson – The most hated wrestler in the UK, Liverpudlian Gibson is despised wherever he goes. The best promo in the UK by a country mile, the technically sound Gibson will look to win the tournament by locking the Shankly Gates on everyone in his way.
Drew Gulak – Philadelphia native Gulak is the only American in the tournament, and the 205 Live star hopes that his technical skills and no nonsense style will be enough for him to win. Gulak is heavily influenced by traditional British wrestling.
Amir Jordan – “Your Naan’s Favourite Wrestler” is the least experienced competitor, debuting in 2015. He has travelled to Canada to train with former WWE, WCW and ECW wrestler Lance Storm and is known for an impressive Swanton.
Ligero – This Luchadore from El Sancho, Mexico currently lives in Leeds. A 15 year veteran, Ligero has wrestled nearly 1500 matches in his career and once wrestled over 200 matches in a calendar year and 36 matches in one month. That’s an impressive feat for a man with no home promotion. He is arguably the smoothest wrestler in this tournament.
Dave Mastiff – This 300+ lb wrestler may not be the tallest but the Black Country native throws his weight around with unreal agility. A former heavyweight Champion in multiple promotions, Mastiff is the biggest (well, heaviest) challenge for the other competitors.
Ashton Smith – Smith is a Manchester based wrestler and the current FutureShock Wrestling Champion. He is mostly known for his enthusiastic high-risk offense.
Tyson T-Bone – T-Bone is a rough and tough wrestler who fights ugly and fights hard. Expect a vicious brawl whenever T-Bone is in the ring.
Tucker – Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Tucker may not have gone far in the previous WWE UK tournament but he hopes to go further this time using his great looking Superkick.
Flash Morgan Webster – The only Welshman in the tournament, Webster is known as the “Modfather” due to his love of British Mod culture. Aside from his Mod inspired look he is known for fast high-flying offense and his Guillotine Choke affectionately known as “the Strangler.”
Kenny Williams – Another Glasgow based ICW regular, Williams is very different to Joe Coffey. Williams uses fast-paced, high-risk offense to keep his opponents off balance. He has already made his WWE debut, appearing on 205 Live in May 2018.
The tournament action on night 1 will be broken up with a 6 man tag match as Undisputed Era face off against WWE UK’s British Strong Style, the team of Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate and Trent Seven. This is a result of Roderick Strong turning on Pete Dunne at NXT Takeover: New Orleans.
In addition to the WWE UK Championship match, night 2 will see three more title defenses. Adam Cole will defend the NXT North American Championship, Undisputed Era will defend the NXT Tag Team Championships and Shayna Baszler will defend the NXT Women’s Championship. Of course, there is an NXT Takeover between now and then so these title matches may change.
The two WWE UK shows look good but honestly, the most intriguing thing is that these shows are happening at all. It cannot be coincidence that these shows were announced after ITV announced TV tapings for a 10 show run of World of Sport Wrestling starting in July. ITV is a national UK broadcaster and their World of Sport Wrestling pilot on New Years Eve 2016 drew over 1 million viewers. While this was disappointing for the channel it was still 20 times the average UK WWE Raw viewing figures. WWE clearly sees ITV as a threat, since WWE UK was only created after ITV announced the World of Sport pilot. Further evidence of the WWE’s attitude to World of Sport is that six wrestlers from the pilot are part of the new WWE UK Championship Tournament (Coffey, Gibson, Ligero, Mastiff, Smith and Williams).
The UK wrestling scene is very much living in interesting times and I for one want to see where things lead with WWE UK, ITV’s World of Sport and the British wrestling companies that may or may not be caught in the middle.