So WWE decided to begin to expand again. And I know what you’re thinking: I thought they were already a worldwide brand? To that, I’ll say yes, in a way they are. However, they are an American based wrestling promotion which tours the world. In all honesty, the UK fans only get to see their favorite WWE Superstars live maybe twice a year. So to that end, I believe WWE is looking to expand to run somewhat regularly in the United Kingdom (and probably other countries as well).
To achieve this, they have decided to create a new championship and run a 2-night tournament in the UK with some of the country’s top independent performers to crown a new champion who will continue to work in the UK and be spotlighted on a new featured series on the WWE Network.
On Saturday night, they kicked off this tournament with the following UK-based performers:
- Dan Moloney
- Danny Burch
- HC Dyer
- James Drake
- Jordan Devlin
- Joseph Conners
- Mark Andrews
- Pete Dunne
- Roy Johnson
- Sam Gradwell
- Saxon Huxley
- Trent Seven
- Tyler Bate
- Tyson T-Bone
To be completely honest, I had never heard of a good number of these guys. Of this list, the only ones I can remember reading about are Trent Seven and Wolfgang. I’ve also seen Danny Burch wrestle on NXT in the past…but to be honest, they never really made me care about him as he was seen more as enhancement talent to make other guys look good. Also, Mark Andrews had been a member of the TNA Impact roster in recent years after winning a tournament run by Jeremy Borash for a TNA contract in the UK. For a couple of years, he was on TNA wrestling under the name of Mandrews. Leave it to the innovative genius that is the TNA Creative team to come up with a name like that out of thin air!
Also signed now to a WWE contract as an announcer for this UK series is Nigel McGuinness, who had his wrestling career cut short much like Daniel Bryan did after wrestling a high-impact style for years on the independents. When Daniel Bryan was signed to WWE initially, they were looking to not only bring him in, but also Nigel as well. Unfortunately, Nigel’s physical didn’t go so well and WWE ended up redacting the contract offer…after which, Nigel signed a deal with TNA Wrestling. He wrestled there under the name of Desmond Wolfe for a short while until TNA brought in Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff to run things, at which point they didn’t have anything for Nigel to do. I’m not sure whether it was a political move or not, but for whatever reason, Nigel was gone shortly after. It wasn’t long after that that his in-ring career came to a close and he became a non-wrestling talent with Ring of Honor as a color commentator and later, an authority figure. Near the end of 2016, Nigel did not re-sign with ROH when WWE called to recruit him to be the color commentator for the UK Title Tournament alongside Michael Cole.
So in opening the show, we are introduced to the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool which looked to be an amazing venue! Obviously not a huge arena, which I love. I’ve always been a fan of smaller, intimate venues for prowrestling…hence my love for the Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center and Asbury Park’s Convention Hall. But this place looks to be maybe about the same size as the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center in NYC. It has a large area of floor seating and multiple balconies and from the looks of things, there isn’t a bad seat in the entire place! We’re then sent down to ringside with Michael Cole and he introduces his broadcast partner, Nigel McGuinness, who you could tell was super excited to be there. And for all I’ve said in the past about Michael Cole and how I can’t stand his commentary on a weekly basis on Monday Night Raw, this was a much different Michael Cole. He called moves as they happened, didn’t over hype previous segments of the show and stayed on point throughout both nights. It just goes to show how good he really can be when not being produced by Vince.
I won’t go into every match here, instead I’ll say this…I loved these shows from top to bottom. The presentation of wrestling as a competitive sport and not the over the top “sports entertainment” with authority figures drunk with power, endless talking segments and goofy comedy segments was a welcome change from the WWE norm. They built up the legitimate sportsmanship and athleticism much like they had done with the Cruiserweight Classic, only here they also allowed their competitors portray heel and babyface characters while also introducing the audience to an entire roster of guys that we probably mostly hadn’t seen before by giving us short bios of the guys leading into their first match of the tourney. Most of the matches allowed both competitors to get in their spots and put over the idea that both of the combatants meant something and that the matches could have really gone either way. I really liked all aspects of this style of presentation along with the standard high-level WWE production value we’ve come to expect over the years.
Also gone were the LED ring apron and LED ringposts in favor of a material ring apron and classic style gold ringposts which I think helped to tie in the gold/red/black motif of the new United Kingdom Championship title belt that all of these guys were fighting for. I really don’t want to give away outcomes of the matches as I had avoided spoilers going into watching these two 2-hour shows and was happy I did so. While I had suspected certain matches would go in a certain way, these guys really put on a heck of a show and reinforced for me why I love professional wrestling. A lot of the matches really impressed me and I look forward to where WWE goes from here with this new brand. So if you haven’t watched this thing yet on the WWE Network, what are you waiting for? Go check it out and message me on Facebook or Twitter afterwards if you want to talk about the results!