NXT UK started airing taped episodes on the WWE Network on October 2018 and ever since the debut show, the brand has consistently produced some of the most quality wrestling content in the world. With the rise of factions within the brand and as more and more characters develop real traction, NXT UK will see a rise in popularity amongst wrestling fans. This is why you should be watching NXT UK.
Background Information: The Pioneers
The UK wrestling scene had been booming for years before the WWE decided to sink their hooks into it. With promotions like Progress, Revolution Pro Wrestling, ICW, OTT, and many more, the English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, and Irish scenes absolutely exploded, creating stars that would be propelled to much larger promotions.
Although the full boom of the UK scene didn’t come until the mid-2010s, the influence of the scene was felt through various wrestlers that came out of the scene in the 2000s. These wrestlers were big faces in major promotions across the globe such as Nigel McGinnis, a major player in Ring of Honor and TNA and former champion in ROH and Fergal Devitt (Finn Balor), who took over the Junior Division in New Japan Pro Wrestling and created the Bullet Club before making the jump to WWE and rising to be a top star in the company.
Those guys were pre-dated by renown wrestlers such as William Regal, Fit Finley, Davey Boy Smith, and the greatest British wrestler of all time, Johnny Saint. Those guys set the template for the scene that we see now.
The Scene Builds
When the UK wrestling scene finally hit internet notoriety, stars like Pete Dunne, Zack Sabre Jr, Will Ospreay, Jimmy Havoc, and many, many more blew up. These wrestlers were in demand and had frequent appearances on shows in conjunction with NJPW and TNA, PWG shows, and traversing the various indie wrestling promotions across the globe. They quickly became big-time prospects in the wrestling community.
The first member of the new UK scene to transition to the WWE was Zack Sabre Jr. He came to the promotion for the Cruiserweight Classic back in 2016. Although this would be a one-off appearance for Sabre Jr. with the promotion, he would go on to sign with NJPW and flourish as a member of the Suzuki Gun stable. It was a short run in WWE, but one that gave a hint that they had their eyes on the British scene.
United Kingdom Championship Tournament
On December 15, 2016, WWE announced that it would be holding the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament. A 16-competitor, two-day tournament that would be taking place the following month at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, Lancashire, England. The announcement was unprecedented and sent a shockwave down the spine of the entire professional wrestling landscape.
The tournament went off flawlessly with a fantastic atmosphere and some of the best professional wrestling around. With big names such as Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, Mark Andrews, James Drake, Wolfgang, Joseph Conners, and Jordan Devlin, there were some stars introduced to a major audience that would be big stars in the industry in just a few short years. Pete Dunne entered the tournament as the resounding favorite, being the biggest name of the bunch.
As the tournament progressed, characters were established and it was obvious that this tournament couldn’t just be a one-off, as this much effort would not have been made for something that wasn’t going to take off and have its own show. Even the Cruiserweight Classic led to the cruiserweights appearing on Raw and then having their own show on the WWE Network.
The First Stars
The tournament did its best to establish Pete Dunne as an awful heel who would do anything to win the tournament. After Dunne defeated Mark Andrews to advance to the next round, he attacked his next opponent Sam Gradwell. This earned him the ire of William Regal and Triple H. Everything pointed to Pete Dunne being the guy to win the whole thing and be the face of WWE UK in this upcoming era. He was one of the biggest names in the scene at the time. It would make all the sense in the world.
Tyler Bate, however, was a relative nobody entering the tournament. He was just 19 years old at the time and was mostly known for being a tag team wrestler alongside Trent Seven. He had only recently gained traction as a part of the heel Progress faction British Strong Style with Seven and Dunne. Bate came into the tournament and was made a babyface, but through his exciting and unorthodox wrestling style, he became a crowd favorite and by the time the finals came around, he was the biggest star of the bunch with the crowd. In the finals of the tournament, Bate defeated Pete Dunne and was crowned the first-ever WWE United Kingdom Champion.
The Tyler Bate Era
After the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, people were buzzing about the UK scene and it received more attention than ever. Tyler Bate’s run as champion was not as long or a fruitful as some expected. However, he was the right guy to win the belt after the way he got the crowd on his side throughout the tournament. Bate made a couple of appearances on NXT TV, defeating Oney Lorcan in his debut. He also defended the belt against the likes of Trent Seven and Jack Gallagher. At NXT Takeover: Chicago in May of 2017, Pete Dunne got his rematch for the title and won the title. The match is considered by many to be the match of the year for 2017.
The Pete Dunne Era
The UK Championship will always be known as the Pete Dunne title. He held it during the infancy of the brand and established it into what it is now. His reign was lengthy and produced countless terrific matches that elevated Dunne’s platform as well as the UK’s platform within the WWE.
Dunne made his presence in WWE known mostly through his work in NXT, where he was used in many main event storylines. He even took part in a War Games match. He defended the United Kingdom title against Roderick Strong. This match was so important for so many reasons that I will be talking about later on. Dunne would defend the United Kingdom Championship all of the time at indie wrestling shows, elevating the value of the title in the UK and across Europe. He was also the Progress Champion for a bit while holding the UK title, but Travis Banks made sure he wouldn’t it for too long, taking the belt in September of 2017.
A month after defeating Roderick Strong to retain the United Kingdom Championship, Pete Dunne and Strong partnered together for the Dusty Rhodes Classic. The duo would advance all the way to the finals against the Authors of Pain. Unfortunately, the Undisputed Era came out to make it a no contest. The three teams met at NXT Takeover: New Orleans in a triple threat match for the NXT Tag Team Championships. Strong and Dunne had the match on when Strong attacked Dunne and handed the victory to the Undisputed Era. This turn gave NXT eight months worth of storylines, which really put the UK division on the map.
Dunne Versus Undisputed Era
Dunne wanted his pound of flesh against the Undisputed Era, including new member Roderick Strong. When WWE announced a second United Kingdom Tournament in 2018, Dunne received his opportunity. He teamed up with his British Strong Style stablemates Trent Seven and Tyler Bate on the first night of the tournament special where they defeated the Undisputed Era. On night two, Seven and Bate defeated the Undisputed Era to win the NXT Tag Team Championships. They did drop the belts back to Strong and O’Reilly a month later. Their short run brought attention to the group and the UK division as a whole.
Speaking of the UK division, during the United Kingdom Tournament Special, Triple H announced that the UK division would be getting its own show on the WWE Network called NXT UK. The winner of the tournament was Zack Gibson, a wrestler from Liverpool who is renown for his work as a heel. He is known mostly for his terrific tag team with James Drake called Grizzled Young Veterans (more on them later). Gibson received his title match against Pete Dunne at the NXT taping just before NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV. Dunne pulled out the win and continued his run through NXT, competing in the War Games match late in the year and having a mini-feud with Ricochet. Dunne slowly transitioned away from NXT and made his way to NXT UK.
NXT UK premiered on October 17, 2018. Rhea Ripley quickly won a tournament and was crowned the first-ever NXT UK Women’s Champion. The brand announced its own Takeover event in the form of NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool. The event was instrumental in establishing the brand, as Toni Storm won the NXT Women’s Championship from Rhea Ripley. This represented Storm taking Ripley’s spot as the top women’s wrestler in the UK scene. The NXT UK Tag Tag Champions were crowned when the Grizzled Young Veterans (I told you they would be back) defeated Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven and Tyler Bate). In the main event, Pete Dunne retained the NXT UK Championship against Joe Coffey. After the match, Walter debuted and the brand was never the same.
After a couple of months of building the feud, Dunne faced Walter at NXT Takeover: New York and lost the belt. Pete Dunne held the title for 685 days. In his rematch for the title, Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner came out and helped Walter secure the victory, forming Imperium. This is the WWE version of Walter and Barthel’s indie stable Ringkampf. In a match that pinned the three against British Strong Style, Alexander Wolfe, formerly of Sanity, joined the stable when he interfered to give Imperium the victory. Ever since the stable has dominated NXT UK.
What Makes NXT UK So Great
Now that the history lesson is out of the way, let’s talk about what makes NXT UK so great. This first thing that comes to mind is character development and importance. The way NXT UK presents its wrestlers on a weekly basis is even better than NXT. That is blasphemy, I know, but just trust me on this one.
Xia Brookside never wins, but is presented like a main player every time she steps out there to get squashed. Kay Lee Ray was gone for the longest time but when she became number one contender a few weeks ago, it was like she was designed for that role. Joe Coffey main evented the first-ever NXT UK Takeover event when his biggest claim to fame on the indie scene was being one half of the Coffey Brothers. Every person on NXT UK has an established character and legitimacy when they come out. They give you a reason for everything and creat storylines from even the most barebones of things.
Speaking of storylines, that’s another reason why this show is absolutely must-see television each week. Walter and Imperium have picked a bone with British Strong Style. Trent Seven has been stating a lot recently that the group founded NXT UK and are the backbone of the brand. Imperium is looking to strip that down completely because to them, the mat is sacred. The storyline isn’t just about Walter destroying Moustache Mountain because they’re fans of Pete Dunne. It’s about bringing honor and respect to professional wrestling, something that Imperium thinks that the originals of NXT UK failed to do. It is a storyline that is complex but presented so simply. The match between Walter and Trent Seven this past week was brutal and absolutely worth the watch.
The Women’s Division
Another current storyline that is simply presented but runs so much deeper is between NXT UK Women’s Champion Toni Storm and contender Kay Lee Ray. Ray won a battle royal to become the number one contender and immediately became a slimy heel, avoiding Storm at all cost while also pissing her off at every turn. Those two are set to do battle at the next NXT UK Takeover event in Cardiff, Wales. The story has been presented as simple as that, but it is so much deeper. Toni Storm is the face of women’s wrestling when it comes to the UK scene.
She reigned supreme all over the place. When the first Mae Young Classic came around, Storm was presented as one of the favorites to win the tournament. Kay Lee Ray was also a big name in the UK scene, but she was never as big as Storm. She was also a part of the inaugural Mae Young Classic, but she lost in the first round. Kay Lee Ray is also an NXT UK original, but she isn’t celebrated like Toni Storm. The two even have similar characters, both being influenced by rockers and unorthodox in their characteristics, yet somehow they are so different. It’s beautifully done.
NXT UK is the home to some of the best wrestling in the world. Each week is different and provides a great match, but they go under the radar all the time. Travis Banks and Walter had a stellar title match a few weeks ago. The styles contrast with every wrestler because every wrestler on the show provides something different.
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I love NXT and wholeheartedly believe it is the best product in all of wrestling, but it falls victim to the “WWE style” in the ring. The show feels formulaic and while it is great every week, the in-ring work can sometimes seem like robotic. I’m a big fan of the British style of wrestling so I am biased in this, but every match feels fresh and incredible. The brand is still building its characters and stories each week. Once performers like Ilja Dragunov and Piper Niven get settled and going, we’re in for classics every week.
To wrap things up, NXT UK is a growing brand that is doing an incredible job of establishing its wrestlers and giving viewers an exciting brand of wrestling. The storytelling is second to none and the way everything flows is seamless. They boast three fantastic champions who can hold their own in the ring, on the mic and tell compelling stories. The show does a great job at giving fans a reason to care about every wrestler that comes on the screen and there is rarely a dull moment. NXT UK is taking over. Are you all in?
And that is why you should be watching NXT UK.
NXT UK airs on the WWE Network every Wednesday at 3 p.m.
Javier Melo is a writer of Pro Wrestling for Full Press Coverage and an Assistant Sports Editor for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. Follow Javier @JMeloSports on Twitter.