By Charlie ScottEmbed from Getty Images
Three years ago in Blackpool, a 19-year-old Tyler Bate stood toe to toe with a 23-year-old Pete Dunne in the final of the first ever WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament. The two young men were virtually unknown in the business and among the vast majority of fans.
Fast-forward three years and now they are household names, they both have been integral parts of the UK wrestling scene and helped pave the way for the inception of the WWE NXT UK brand. But how did we get here?
For years WWE’s US wrestlers have cast a shadow over all UK wrestlers, with the only notable British wrestler of the last forty years being the British Bulldog, who has only been recognised in the Hall of Fame this year.
Wrestlers such as William Regal and Wade Barrett have tried their hand in the big league to variant success, but no UK wrestler has ever been at the forefront of WWE. In the meantime in the homelands over the last five years there was a revolution building.
UK Promotions such as Progress were starting to gain traction with their home-grown stars. YouTube channel WhatCulture would launch their own wrestling promotion in the form of WCPW, which held a weekly show on the platform.
British wrestlers such as Joe Hendry, Martin Kirby and Rampage all shinned on the show, with world renowned wrestlers such as Cody Rhodes, Rey Mysterio and Alberto Del Rio all featuring too. The show helped grow some real traction for these UK wrestlers, many of which would go on to appear in NXT UK years later.
The UK wrestling scene was really starting to gain momentum although it still needed a mainstream platform to show the world what it could do. But in a 2016 press conference at the O2, everything changed. Triple H announced that there would be a 16-man tournament to crown the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Champion.
This would prove to be the catalyst that would launch the UK wrestling scene into the global market. The tournament in 2017 overnight launched the careers of Bate and Dunne to the stars. Four months after their final the two would once again go to battle at NXT Takeover: Chicago.
Achieving a 4.75-star rating from the biggest wrestling journalist in the world Dave Meltzer, the match would go down as the best match between two UK wrestlers in history. After the match many people believed that the UK stars couldn’t reach any higher, but they continued to prove they had what it takes to carry the UK wrestling scene forward.
So much so that WWE saw fit to launch an entire new show, NXT UK. With the premier episode airing October 17, 2018 on the WWE Network, the UK stars finally had their platform to show week in week out exactly what they were capable of.
The weekly programme gave stars from around the UK and Europe the chance to show their abilities off to the entire world. Led by stars like Bate and Dunne, with new faces emerging such as WALTER, Travis Banks, Kay Lee Ray and Jordan Devlin all shining for everyone to see.
Never bet against #TheIrishAce!
— WWE (@WWE) February 1, 2020
The integration between NXT UK and the regular NXT brand has been a revelation, with The Bruiserweight Dunne winning the NXT Tag titles alongside NXT wrestler Matt Riddle. The UK wrestlers are finally getting their time in the spotlight and are drawing in viewers to their own show through their work on NXT.
Imperium has a message for The Prinxe. pic.twitter.com/oitfdlG7tK
— WWE (@WWE) March 12, 2020
NXT stars also appear on the NXT UK shows as well, with former Universal Champion Finn Balor appearing on NXT UK in a feud with NXT UK Champion WALTER. Former WCPW wrestler Drew McIntyre returned to the WWE in 2017 and has since gone on to have an NXT title reign and won the 2020 Royal Rumble.
For the first time in history the UK wrestling scene is no longer in the shadow of the US, finally stars are being able to show off the developed British Strong Style and are growing their brand. With McIntyre in the main event of Wrestlemania 36 against Brock Lesnar he is aiming to become the first ever British WWE Champion, an achievement that couldn’t have become a reality without the years of hard work that the UK wrestling scene has put in trying to grow themselves.
The stars that are being created every week on NXT UK are destined to be future main roster WWE champions, with many of them only in their early to mid-twenties they have time to grow and have long careers ahead of them. Surely is time to say that the US no longer cast a vast shadow over the British wrestling scene and that through years of hard work and dedication, British wrestling is finally on the worldwide map.
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