On 18 June 2018, Triple H announced that the WWE would finally kickstart its long-awaited UK series with the creation of NXT UK, led by the World of Sport wrestling legend Johnny Saint and coming to venues across the country for a short run of tapings.
Elsewhere, WoS Wrestling, the TV revival of World of Sport, filmed ten episodes for an upcoming sixty-minute series that will, hopefully, air on ITV in the United Kingdom, over the summer.
For the first time in decades, British wrestling is returning to mainstream television, hopefully in a prime-time shot and, importantly, will attract a new fan base to a product that modern wrestling fans know and love.
British wrestling will also become a feature of the biggest wrestling company in the world, likely on its WWE Network, enjoying a global fanbase of two million subscribers and the freedom that the commercial-free platform enjoys.
Calling the WWE UK brand NXT UK does, however, set the bar for success incredibly high. Look at the online fan response to NXT and you’ll see just how passionate their fans are for a product that is as close to “indy wrestling” as WWE get, separate to the mainstream of WWE products, but benefitting from the juggernaut’s production quality both for the WWE Network product and live.
WWE NXT UK will likely be treated as an extension of NXT by the fans and, when you consider it will be seen by fans outside the UK who may be unfamiliar with British talent, it needs to match that level of presentation and production. The talent that they’ve so far announced are at the top of their game and WWE can certainly provide that grounding in working for TV for those who haven’t to give us the stars that fans long to see.
Putting NXT UK on WWE Network is a smart move for WWE if that is their intention. The WWE Network is a treasure trove of classic wrestling, modern product and relatively niche content, all of which appeal to ardent WWE and wrestling fans. There may be a viewership who just stick it on to “entertain the kids”, but if you consider the number of streaming services that have stuff to entertain, that kid must be a wrestling fan to start with. Either way, it’s a service just for wrestling fans, why else would you be watching it?
WoS Wrestling has a much bigger challenge. ITV isn’t a single purpose channel, beyond its remit to entertain and inform, and it’ll be a programme in between unrelated programmes. It needs to find its identity and its viewership quickly and, importantly, attract new fans – fans who may be casual wrestling fans or, until they switch it on, not wrestling fans at all. Before Love Island broadcast, there were no Love Island fans, the same for X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent or any of the heavy hitters that ITV currently broadcast. From no fans to millions, television shows can become part of the zeitgeist or be Bromans.
You may not be able to see WWE UK stars on your favourite big promotion, although it’s unlikely that PROGRESS will be affected if the likes of British Strong Style are anything to go by and with suggestions that PROGRESS may be working closely with WWE UK, but if the current crop of WWE UK stars are anything to go by since the inception of WWE UK, you’ll certainly be able to see them at other independent promotions.
It’s the same, it seems, for WoS Wrestling. The names booked there have appeared elsewhere and this isn’t likely to change unless both companies radically alter the contracts that have already been signed. Things could change in the future -; in this case, history isn’t an indicator of the future – but only time will tell.
Under the present contract, it seems both sets of stars need to prioritise their contract holder dates above all others. Sure, there’s been a couple of “unexpected circumstances” where the WWE UK talent had to pull out of bookings to appear in the US, but this is less of an issue in a UK based product, with the dates announced for the current run of NXT UK shows. Even WoS has got their tapings done and dusted, though if it is the success it deserves to be, there could very well be a tour which may affect dates, although it’d be folly to have either company announce and run dates at such short notice that nobody has time to react.
Surely, it’ll be a good thing for companies able to announce “as seen on WWE/NXT/WoS”? After all, those logos will, if well used, catch attention. It can bring new fans to local shows and, if the shows are well done, keep them coming back for more, with or without those “famous names”.
If, suddenly, it turns out that NXT UK and WoS become walled gardens of talent, what does it mean to British wrestling? You’ll need new heroes and it’ll be up to the companies to find these. You may have grown up with the likes of Nathan Cruz, El Ligero, Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, Kenny Williams, Flash Morgan Webster and Zack Gibson, but there was a time when these guys weren’t in British wrestling, or weren’t well known, even by independent wrestling standards. As with the toys of our childhood (or that latest must-have gadget that’s become a few years old), we’ll find something new that does what we want it to and love that until it’s replaced by the next big thing.
Noam Dar was a darling of British wrestling and we survived his move to WWE as we did with Jack Gallagher, Finn Balor, Neville, Paige, Drew McIntyre, Mark Andrews, Becky Lynch and Sheamus amongst others. Globally, WWE has swept up international talent and independent wrestling has endured. It finds a way to handle the loss of the key players, it just takes time. At least, however, companies know who is signed for whom, instead of just getting that “I know it ruins all your plans for me, but WWE has just signed me and it’s a contract, so I’m going.”
So, which product should you be watching? Well, both, of course. This isn’t so much WWE vs WoS, it’s a time to love British wrestling as it grows on two huge platforms.
WoS Wrestling is a 60-minute series, NXT is currently under an hour and it’d be a surprise if NXT UK has a longer regular running time. It’s not a big ask to a watch a couple of hours of TV in a week for the ten weeks of WoS and in the otherwise regular WWE viewing that some fans maintain. If you prefer one over the other, switch to that. Otherwise, you could keep moaning about not liking something whilst continuing to willingly choose to do it in a curiously non-ironic way; that’s what social media is for, isn’t it?