While professional wrestling in the United Kingdom has been prominent for over 100 years, it’s never had the focus of a worldwide audience. It’s remained a mainstay of British culture, especially the largely untelevised live circuit, but it has not reached the popularity of its American counterpart nor given its rivals the 1-2-3 count. We’ve been left waiting for the rise of British wrestling…
Not only have British wrestlers reached the pinnacle of professional wrestling in the USA regularly over the last few years; UK wrestling has now been given its own Championship in the world-famous WWE.
The United Kingdom Championship was first featured in a 16-man tournament, produced by WWE and shown on their exclusive WWE Network in January 2017. The tournament, held at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool took place over two nights and led to the crowning of the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Champion, Tyler Bate.
The championship will be the focus of an upcoming WWE Network programme, produced in the United Kingdom. Currently, there has been no premiere date revealed by the WWE but it is expected to be later this year.
The title was even defended in America, during the February 1st tapings of NXT in Florida, with Bate winning against Trent Seven in a singles match-up. While this wouldn’t have necessarily raised eyebrows in the US (yes, even The Rock’s), it was certainly a promising start for the UK brand.
Triple H (real name Paul Michael Levesque), the executive vice president of WWE talent, live events and creative, said:
“Our passionate UK fans deserve to have their own champion. The tournament is the next step in our ongoing strategy to create localised content for our global WWE Network, develop another brand that engages our passionate fans and add a new dimension to our ongoing storylines.”
The new stateside focus on British wrestling comes after years of UK talent regularly appearing and competing in some of the WWE’s biggest events. Sheamus, Neville and Paige (who all still wrestle for the company to this date), William Regal (who plays an important role in WWE’s performance center and developmental division NXT), Wade Barrett , Drew Galloway and Davey Boy Smith (AKA British Bulldog) have all played a part in showing US audiences just how good British wrestlers are at the very pinnacle of professional wrestling abroad.
UK wrestling first became truly popular when the then new television network ITV started showing it regularly in 1955; firstly on Saturday afternoons and then also in a late-night slot during the week. When the World of Sport television show was launched in the mid-1960s it propelled British wrestling to even greater heights, making household names out of Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy, Dynamite Kid and Mick McManus.
The sport remained in the public eye in the UK for the next two decades. Despite World of Sport being cancelled in 1985, British wrestling got its own show, which ran until 1988. However, timeslots being changed from week to week and the sharing of TV rights as part of a rotation system with All Star Wrestling and America’s WWE sadly led to its regular audience being driven away and therefore its end just three years after its inauguration.
The emergence of the WWE very quickly left British wrestling in its shadow, with many UK wrestlers forced to either join the company or act as tribute acts of their American counterparts. Those that did decide to stick around featured in a largely untelevised live circuit, with promotions featuring either the traditional British style of professional wrestling or the more contemporary American independent scene.
Thanks to the creation of the WWE United Kingdom Championship, UK wrestling now has a new focus and one that is sure to develop and get bigger and bigger the longer it continues. With assistance and support from WWE, the future seems very bright for both independent and professional British wrestling.