The UK Championship worried me. It worried me because I saw a future when WWE stepped into the British market and ripped apart something that has taken decades to build. That they would cherry pick the best talent and walk away having added nothing to what they left behind. It wouldn’t be the first time WWE played the big bully. Thankfully, it looks like I was wrong.
For over the weekend, WWE put together an event that was undeniably WWE but which also paid tribute to the British promoters and stars who made it possible. They brought sixteen wrestlers together and highlighted a scene that deserves every second of it.
A big part of that highlighting came from Nigel McGuinness and Michael Cole. I won’t often give Cole credit, but this was the most fired up I’ve heard him in a long time and you could tell he’d taken the time and effort to research every guy involved. While just having Nigel on a WWE show was enough to delight and the fact his local knowledge was invaluable in selling the British style of wrestling to the American audience was almost a bonus.
While there might have been worries about WWE’s presentation, I never had any doubts about the wrestlers themselves, and all sixteen men can hold their head high after this showing. There were obvious highlights. Dunne did a fantastic job of turning the crowd against him while Wolfgang did what Wolfgang always does and showed everyone that despite his relatively young years the guy is destined to be a star.
The most impressive part was that the wrestlers managed to craft stories over the course of the two days. We saw talent reacting to moves they would have seen in earlier matches and coming up with ways to stop them; they were upping the stakes every time they stepped into the ring. The perfect example of this was Mandrews vs. Dunne. We saw Mandrews go for the standing moonsault he’d done in the previous matches but go for the extra rotation to cause even more damage. We then saw Dunne catch Mandrews off his apron moonsault as if he’d scouted in from when the highflier hit it earlier in the tournament.It made this feel like a real sport, and it worked wonderfully.
We haven’t even mentioned our eventual champ and while I’m sure that many will see Bates going over as a surprise it was well deserved. He and Tucker stole the show on the first day while the pop when he eventually put Devlin away was huge. He’s a guy who has nailed his gimmick and is a throwback to a style of wrestler that we don’t really see in WWE. Unlike The Vaudevillians there is nothing hokey about what he does. He has fun, but he hits hard. Plus, he’s fucking 19, and if he’s already that good, how good will he become?
Before we wrap this up, I’d like to add that the entire presentation of this show made me hopeful. Their willingness to show the likes of Jim Smallman and Mark Dallas on camera and acknowledge what they’ve built was important while their mentioning of the various champions and the belts they hold suggests that they aren’t going to pretend the UK scene isn’t there. Finally, the Empress Ballroom looked amazing, and while the smug UK crowd did get on my nerves a bit, the atmosphere was electric.
WWE’s dive into the UK market could still turn sour. If this does move to a weekly television show, I hope it sees them work alongside companies like Progress and ICW rather than going up against them. There are enough fans and enough interest that they can all exist in harmony. However, that is the future, and this is now, and so far WWE is doing everything right.