It’s that time of year again people, WWE’s UK tournament made its big return! Taking place on 18th and 19th June, the event was set at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Interestingly enough, not only did we get UK stars competing for Pete Dunne’s WWE UK Championship, but also accompanying this was multiple NXT championship matches. The Women’s, Tag Team, and North American championship were on the line during the two-day show. Needless to say, this was a show to keep your eye on. In the build-up to the show, SteelChair managed to grab a spot within a conference call with WWE’s Triple H in order to find out his thoughts on the event, and even speculation on further developments with the UK division.
In his opening remarks, Paul “Triple H” Levesque recalled visiting the Royal Albert Hall and his feelings towards the venue
“I wrestled there in ’95 and the last wrestling show that was there, and the aura in that place is incredible it’s got an ambience to it. it’s tough to say. You remember your first time at Madison square garden, you remember your first time walking into royal Albert hall. That’s what the excitement of this event was, it’s why I was so anxious to put this event out there even though it’s on a Monday and a Tuesday. It prevents us from doing live TV in a way, but the venue is so meaningful that I really wanted to do these events and I’m excited that we get the opportunity to be back there.”
One of the biggest highlights of WWE’s UK push was with Pete Dunne challenging and ultimately defeating Tyler Bate at an NXT Takeover Event in 2017. The match was praised NXT Match of the Year and is considered a favourite by fans. We asked if there were any competitors in this years UK event that he believes could steal the show?
“Boy, that’s a tough one because I think that the expectations have changed. You’ve got a lot of talent on there that’s just amazing talent, but you’ve also got some talent there that were not necessarily competing in the tournament but that will be there that night. You will have Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate and all those guys competing on that show so when you’re looking at the overall show, that’s kind of a grab bag. But there’s a lot of talent on here, I’ve mentioned some of them before.”
“Zack Gibson to me brings a lot to the table, I mentioned Joe and Mark Coffey who bring something completely different. They do have an opportunity because they do bring something totally different to bring it in a way that could steal the show, you’ve got Travis Banks, you’ve got Dave Mastiff, there’s just a lot of guys, Amir Jordan, these are all guys that could at any point in time steal the show. Some of the guys as you know will always come out of nowhere and shock you on the end of these things where you think “I thought that guy would do okay, but I never thought he’d do that.”
He continued to praise the UK division and later remarked about his favourite part from seeing new people who come into the WWE. How their mindset when it comes to taking an opportunity can prove to be beneficial in terms of success.
“I’m really excited for this, I think one of the bits and pieces I love about this the most is seeing who will rise to the occasion. I know all these guys have a lot of experience, but I heard it brought up to me this week when they were all at download festival and guys were working for us there. The number of nerves that were there, its a huge opportunity for guys, that kind of pressure some people cave into it and some people thrive in it. To me it’s always a fascinating part is seeing who steps up and when you’re done you’re able to look at them and go “Wow I didn’t expect that out of this guy, but wow he really rose to the occasion and showed me something I didn’t know he had”. I’m looking forward to that part of it.”
As the conference call went on, the conversation shifted to the future of UK material associated with the WWE. One thing we asked regarded the speculation with Progress and even ICW making an appearance on WWE’s streaming service, WWE Network.
“I think when the time is right, probably, I think those are things you can look forward to in the future maybe. The network is a little out of my day to day but if I had to speculate on that I would say sure. When there are quality products out there, we want to give that exposure in a way that’s meaningful for everybody. So I think if that’s something that can be done down the line then I’m sure that they’re looking at it.”
Recently, the network has been presenting other branded material on their service. Most notably, TNA/Impact wrestling footage in the most recent episode of Table for 3 featuring clips from a match between Kurt Angle and AJ Styles. The possibility is indeed there, just in what form it will take remains a mystery.
What strengthened the future of the UK division was the recent hiring of Johnny Saint as the UK General Manager. Paul “Triple H” Levesque remarked on the relationship between him and Johnny, and why he was the person they decided to choose for the role.
“This isn’t the first time that we’ve worked with Johnny, he’s obviously a legend in the UK and in wrestling there, a history and a legacy that’s second to none. So obviously we’re very aware of him, he’s friends with William Regal. When we were in Blackpool little over a year ago, Johnny was there. He’s done various things with us when we were in London for the event that NXT did, he was there. He then came in and did a stint at the performance centre for us where he came in as a guest coach and was working with us on a daily basis, going on the road with our talent, and working with them… His experience and level of professionalism and everything was awesome to have him around.”
He continued to divulge the relationship between him and Johnny, it was clear the Paul had a large amount of respect not only for him but also for British wrestling as a whole. This helped the decision to make Johnny Saint a General Manager, but this was not without a quick break before the ball got rolling.
“It got to a point in time when he was in Orlando getting a little homesick and he wanted to go back, he’s up there in age and wanted to go back and I think he wanted to see his girlfriend and be home. I don’t remember how long he was with us, maybe six months maybe more. He went back home and we said ‘Hey we want to stay in touch and use you for the things’ we just did little things here and there and stayed in touch. When [UK Tournament] came about and we knew we were moving forward with these events and knew we were taking further steps with the UK brand, Johnny was my first choice to be the GM. We reached out to him and asked him if he would like to oversee this, luckily for us he said yes. Thrilled to have him, like I said his legacy is second to none and he is a wealth of knowledge that he’ll help anybody he comes into contact with.”
He discussed details about the role that Johnny would take with the UK division going forward. Given the amount of effort they are putting into the decisions for this upcoming event, it does seem that WWE is starting to take a push for UK wrestling seriously.
“He’ll be an authority figure within the show to help keep things on the up and up. He will match make and also on a behind the scenes standpoint be a wonderful mentor and guide for these talents. The UK being a slightly different market, we have a handle on that through the people that work with us, whether that be William Regal or Johnny Moss or Robbie Brookside. It’s just another level of experience and what works in that market that Johnny can bring to the table, his ability to bring that Uk style that technical style and be able to understand how those matchups will work best that will kind of be his forte for us in his matchmaking capability.”
WWE has been criticised for not taking advantage of the UK tournament last year after what seemed to be a lack of development. All that seemed to happen was appearances on some shows like NXT, 205 Live and RAW, but nothing seemed to be moving forward for something tangible to build on. 2018 seems to be the year that they finally get the ball rolling, a path with NXT UK seems to be laid out and now all we have to do is see what can be done once the foundation has been laid. Will we get everything we’ve been dreaming of since last year? let’s tune in when NXT UK becomes an actual thing and find out for ourseleves.
All images courtesy of WWE.com