I was a bit conflicted when I first heard about the WWE United Kingdom championship.
My first reaction was that they really shouldn’t have called it that – seeing as they’re including Irish wrestlers in the territory and after all, there might well not BE a United Kingdom in the next few years. The WWE British championship would have been better, referring to the geographical area, rather than a contentious connection to a nation state.
My second reaction was a concern that this might serve to cut the legs out from underneath British promotions like Progress and ICW who have been growing towards critical and a degree of commercial success over the past few years. I don’t so much mind that it’s an obvious response to ITVs World of Sport because they’re just attempting to surf the same wave after ignoring pro wrestling for decades.
However, the first concern is pretty cosmetic and if Finn Balor is happy to talk up the UK championship and Jordan Devlin is happy to compete (both being from Bray, in the Republic of Ireland which is NOT part of the UK) then I’m not going to get overly pithy about it.
The second concern is pretty much allayed by WWE saying that competitors will still be allowed to compete in the UK indy scene and the generally positive noises coming from ICW, Progress & WCPW.
The bottom line is that WWE increasing their investment in UK wrestling is good for UK wrestling, it offers more opportunities and a clear path towards making a proper living as a pro wrestler for British workers and that is undoubtedly a good thing.
Of course, I’d like to see the more renowned likes of Drew Galloway, Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr involved (or if not at this level, it’d be nice to see them on the ‘proper’ WWE rosters) and I wonder how current WWE stars from the UK & Ireland (off the top of my head, that’s Balor, Sheamus, Neville, Noam Dar, Nikki Cross and Big Damo) will interact with the new territory, but I guess we’ll see how things develop.
From the competitors already announced, I’d pick Pete Dunne or Trent Seven as the likely winner and inaugural UK champion given their skills, current profile and the fact that they were front & centre when WWE announced the tournament. That kind of thing is rarely accidental.
Lastly, that’s a rather fetching title belt and it’s almost a shame that this territorial championship ends up with a more aesthetically pleasing belt than the Universal, either women’s or tag divisions can boast.
As an aside, it’s interesting that despite relatively positive noises from the UK scene, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s owner felt moved to make a rather chippy response to the WWE’s territorial expansion…
“WWE strategy 1: raise roughly 2 billion Yen from the network to create a network of global territories and tie up talent. It’s very possible WWE purchase a promotion in Japan. WWE are shoring up their network because of cable cutters and prevalence of streaming, meaning declining TV ratings. The cable TV structure as is will collapse in the US within 3-5 years. There are many reasons for WWE to create local territories. It cuts cost just to send talent on international tours and not the whole infrastructure. WWE are only functionally profitable in the U.S., Canada and U.K. They have TV elsewhere but that’s all. By creating territories, they’re able to actually create products with awareness of cultural differences and characteristics of markets. WWE have had difficulty in creating new stars. By going to local territories and broadcasting them, they can create network stars. WWE are taking big gambles, in IT for one. This isn’t the platform to discuss NJPW strategy fully but we will announce something soon. We are entering a phase where you are either with WWE or against them. WWE have a lot of weaknesses and time is not on their side.”
That sounds a lot like the drawing of a line in the sand, and given that NJPW are possibly the only pro wrestling company in the world that can remotely compete with WWE on a credibility and commercial footing, are dominant in their own market and already have a network of talent sharing agreements with promotions around the world this could be the start of a very interesting time in global professional wrestling, not just in the UK.