This week, Callum Wiggins, Gabby Velasquez, and Andy Sahadeo are taking a detour into the world of British wrestling following the crowning of the first WWE United Kingdom Champion. The two-day tournament hosted on the WWE Network was very well received by fans both in the UK and around the world, providing an excellent insight into the talent working on the other side of the Atlantic. The night made stars out of names like Pete Dunne, Mark Andrews and the winner of the tournament Tyler Bate, and even managed to demonstrate that Michael Cole can be could on commentary!
Our three questions will look over our thoughts on the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament, the future of this brand new title and where we would like to see the next International Tournament to take place. For more, be sure to check out Smack Talk's Post Show of the event here.
Question 1: Which competitors stood out to you the most and would make an impression on the main WWE roster?
WIGGINS: While I was impressed with all eight wrestlers that competed on the second day of the tournament, three in particular stood out. Firstly, Mark Andrews. I had seen his work in TNA as the horribly named "Mandrews", and while was always solid in the ring never stood out from the crowd. That all changed at the weekend. He could walk into the Cruiserweight division tomorrow and already be a perfect fit, his incredible speed and acrobatic talents a breath of fresh air in this tournament.
Secondly was runner-up Pete Dunne. The entire United Kingdom Championship Tournament appeared to be concocted with creating a star out of Dunne, and it definitely delivered on that aim. He was booked as a conniving monster heel, and his semi-final match with Andrews was one of if not the match of the tournament. His facial expressions, impressive power and devastating Bitter End finishing maneuver were all on point. Out of everyone in the tournament, Dunne has the best chance of succeeding on the main roster, and could be the next William Regal.
Finally, I can't ignore the first WWE United Kingdom Champion himself, Tyler Bate. He was one of the performers I was least familiar with, but I will definitely be keeping a close eye on him going forward. He was effortlessly likable, a convincing underdog and had a well-rounded moveset. I'd like to see him succeed in WWE, but I have the feeling if he ever did come stateside, he would be thrown into a Cruiserweight tag team with Jack Gallagher and progress no further than that. But, at only 19 years of age, Tyler Bate is the future of British wrestling, and that makes it a very exciting future indeed.
VELASQUEZ: I may be a bit biased here, but I was VERY impressed by Joseph Conners. I've followed his career for a while now (and especially some of his recent work on WCPW) and he's a lot of fun to watch in the ring. It was a bit odd that they fixated on his ear so much, but he's definitely a reliable guy to have on any roster. He can be both intense and comedic, and excels in predatory roles.
And I think this goes without saying, but man, Pete Dunne is an absolute star. He's got more swagger than half of WWE's main roster and a delicious ferocity that made the entire UK Tournament must-see. He was like a rabid animal, completely engaging whenever he got time on camera.
Tyler Bate is also absolutely incredible to watch. He and Dunne had amazing chemistry in the ring together. Their characters were wonderful foils. Bate managed to develop a great connection to the crowd in a brief period of time, and manages to have a unique energy despite having a similar look to the likes of Jack Gallagher or Simon Gotch. It blows my mind that Dunne and Bate are just 23 and 19, respectively, and are this good already. These two have the potential to grow into megastars in WWE if the company invests in them the way it should. They have international appeal and can carry that title into history books.
SAHADEO: Going into this tournament, I was only familiar with two of the sixteen competitors—Pete Dunne and Mark Andrews. Dunne was already making waves across the world for British wrestling and most people would recognize Mark Andrews from TNA. However, alongside Dunne and Andrews, several talents stood out to me.
First off, Danny Burch. Wow! I had known he was used as enhancement talent on NXT but wow! Seeing that one match with him vs. Jordan Devlin completely changed my opinion on him. Burch is a hard-hitting brawler who really does not hold back. He just has this aura of English badass with his hardened look and his impeccable brawling technique. It's a shame they never showcased that side of him on NXT.
Second, the former WCPW World Champion, Joseph Conners took me by surprise. Initially Michael Cole's pick to win, Conners had this distinct sinister look to him which was helped by the fact that he has a partially torn off ear. The more he tugged and pulled at his hair, showcasing that deformed ear further drew me into his character. Not to mention his matches with James Drake and Mark Andrews were some intense battles that showed off that classic British fighting style. It's a shame he didn't get further in the tournament, but I would rather have Andrews advance over him regardless.
Third, Wolfgang! This dude is huge but moves so swiftly like a Cruiserweight! How many hefty wrestlers can you find over 250 lbs. that can pull off such a finesse Swanton Bomb?! The "agile brawler", as WWE put it, really had an offensive moveset that is rarely seen from bigger guys in wrestling. I remember my biggest pop during this tournament was Wolfgang pulling off the upset over Trent Seven, who is another honorable mention for standouts.
Finally, the winner Tyler Bate! Knowing that Bate and I are both 19 years old, it really brought my existence into question, haha! For someone so young to be so talented, it's almost unreal. I mean, he got a simple hand wave over in the crowd! He barely had to do anything to get cheered because he radiates a certain charisma and character that many stars can't pull off. He goes out there with the facial expression that shows that he loves wrestling and what more can a true wrestling fan want from a star?
Question 2: What do you think the future of the UK Championship will be?
WIGGINS: This is going to sound a little odd, but the one thing WWE can't do with the United Kingdom Championship is defend it on WWE television. Don't bring it to RAW, don't bring it to SmackDown, don't bring it to PPV. The vast majority of people that didn't enjoy the tournament were non-British fans, likely put off because they didn't know anybody competing or like the style. Everyone is entitled to their opinion after all (mine being that if you didn't enjoy this you should consider why you actually watch professional wrestling), but I unfortunately believe that if this title were defended like the Cruiserweight Championship has been it is going to bomb even worse than that has.
The only way it would succeed on the main WWE roster is if they were to bring in some notable UK wrestlers into the mix to help build up the likes of Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne. You would need people like Drew Galloway, Wade Barrett, Magnus, Zack Sabre Jr, Marty Scurll, Will Ospreay and Neville, and most of these names are unavailable at this moment in time. Frankly, if you send a couple of unknowns out into a typical WWE audience and expect them to be invested then you're in for a rude awakening.
Therefore, I'd prefer if the belt stayed in the UK and was defended in either its own promotion on the WWE Network, or defended throughout the independent territories in the country that WWE has a relationship with, like Progress, CZW and ICW. That way, you can guarantee a rabid and vocal audience for these shows among the UK fans, who might not be everyone's cup of tea, but at least they won't be sitting on their hands like most fans when a set of purple ropes are brought out…
VELASQUEZ: Hopefully, centered in the UK. The crowd was electric for these guys, and obviously cares a lot about British wrestling. The energy in the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool cannot be recreated in the United States or anywhere else. If WWE is smart, they'll use the UK Championship to tap into the independent scene in the UK and around Europe and really connect with their audience there.
Just look at 205 Live. The United States is a bigger pool, so to speak. It has cities/areas where the indies truly flourish and where the talent can be recognized, like Chicago. But many times, American cities have little knowledge of the talent, and dead crowds don't do anyone any favors.
In the UK, however, it's easier to get the hardcore fans to come together (logistics wise). A lot of UK fans who come to these shows also go to ICW and Progress shows, and know the guys. They have seen these guys come up in the ranks and want them to succeed. It's a hometown advantage of sorts. Besides, they still haven't gotten a WrestleMania. Give them this, at least.
SAHADEO: Hopefully we will get to see the UK Championship get defended across the United Kingdom in various independent promotions. I recently heard that WWE was close to sealing a deal with ICW so that they can broadcast UK Championship defenses on the Network. While it does seem that WWE could be headed for another monopoly, it's still great to see WWE break out of its shell and acknowledge the indies. There should, however, be a line that WWE and the indies must draw as to not completely dismantle the indies at WWE's hands.
The UK Championship itself will bring a lot of warranted attention to the bustling British wrestling scene and will expose viewers to a new side of wrestling. As long as WWE handles the division correctly and creates interesting characters and stories as evidenced in the tournament, the only way is up from here for WWE's UK experiment.
Question 3: Was this event an overall success, and if so where would you like to see the next WWE International Tournament be held?
WIGGINS: I absolutely adored this tournament. Maybe I am biased because I'm a proud Brit, but I actually enjoyed this more than the Cruiserweight Classic. The wrestling itself did not match the finesse of the Cruiserweights (although it was excellent), but as the two nights had a flowing narrative throughout and built up several excellent talents through this edges it for me. Plus, the atmosphere in Blackpool and the stellar commentary from Michael Cole and Nigel McGuinness helped make the shows even more special.
There are two fairly obvious answers to this question: Japan and Mexico. Especially after the immense success and recognition of Wrestle Kingdom 11, Japanese wrestling is in the spotlight like never before. With stars like Shinsuke Nakamura, Hideo Itami and Asuka already in WWE, it may be a fertile ground to pick up some new talent. However, it would be considerably difficult to lure any NJPW talent away from their promotion, considering how they are trying to build a global brand. Plus, the strong style wrestling might be considered too dangerous for WWE to feature on the Network.
Mexico would be an exciting location, and would be able to explore the legacy of Lucha Libre. This would definitely appeal to fans of what is referred to as "the flippy shit" as the luchadores will no doubt put on a great show, particularly against performers with no language barrier. The prospect of bringing in a famous name like Rey Mysterio to present the tournament would also be an option for WWE to consider, adding name value to it from the outset.
However, don't be surprised if WWE swerves us from these prime locations and instead turns their attention to the largest possible audiences - China and India. These are countries the WWE is working hard to make their presence known in, so hosting a tournament featuring their prized talent could be a big step in the right direction. Who knows, we might even see the return of the Great Khali!
VELASQUEZ: This event made stars out of all of its participants in two nights. It was absolutely a success.
Internationally, they could probably find a lot of talent by going to Japan. Even if they can't get any NJPW talent, Japan has a lot of other promotions with untapped talent like DragonGate and DDT Pro. I'm sure Kota Ibushi wouldn't mind having a few more matches with WWE.
But if you ask me, the next step for WWE is clear. It doesn't need more titles, but it does need to fill out its women's rosters on NXT, SmackDown Live and RAW. A women's tournament is a perfect way to do this. WWE already has a few great options signed such as Andrea and Heidi Lovelace, but this tournament could open the door to talent like Candice LeRae and Nixon Newell. If WWE is truly serious about its revolution, it should let the ladies do battle to keep the fight going.
SAHADEO: I recently saw a poll WWE posted about if they enjoyed the tournament. The majority of answers saw that most people didn't even tune in. Regardless of such, one Facebook poll on WWE's page (which attracts thousands upon thousands of casuals, many of whom are probably not even subscribed to the Network) isn't representative of the tournament's success. The amount of press received, the amount of crowd investment and the creation of stars are tantamount to Triple H and William Regal's eye for talent and the future of the wrestling business.
Compared to the Cruiserweight Classic (which I thought was a success in and of itself), the UK Championship Tournament showcased various improvements in presentation. They created very compelling characters which could've either gotten easily cheered or booed, which is a one-up over the CWC. Everyone in the CWC was so likeable because of their talent and it made it hard for fans to get invested and to boo certain stars.
Take for example, Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa. Ciampa clearly played the heel to a T, but fans found it hard to boo him knowing that #DIY would still remain a tag team and chase the NXT Tag Team Championships. Compare this to two UKCT talents, Jordan Devlin and Pete Dunne. Both stars played the heel with finesse, with Devlin riding the coattails of Finn Bálor and Dunne destroying everyone in his path. This allowed for more storytelling and the defining of heels and faces in the tournament, something that the CWC really lacked in some areas.
Overall, I think the UKCT was a success. WWE should do a Latin American tournament next to showcase lucha libre and then build up to the Asian tournament to showcase the pinnacle of wrestling styles: Strong Style.
Those are our thoughts on the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, but what did you think of the event?
Let us know in the comments below!