It was a little over a year ago that WWE held it’s historic tournament in Blackpool, England to crown their first ever WWE UK Champion. January 15, 2017 was a night of action, excitement and massive anticipation for what was to come. With outstanding performances from all the talents involved, they did their country proud and showed the world why the UK scene had been making such waves, picking up the attention of international independent promotions, a major TV station in the UK and even WWE themselves.
In what has been surprisingly more of a blessing than a curse so far, WWE were not actually ready to roll out a new show where the UK Championship could be featured as a regular fixture. To their credit, despite not having a platform of its own, WWE have used this opportunity to spotlight the UK performers and the title on several of its other programs, building awareness and excitement for the inevitable launch of the UK brand. There have been WWE UK matches on NXT TV and PPV, on 205 Live and even an impressive win for UK Champion Pete Dunne on RAW. The title match between inaugural champion Tyler Bate and Dunne at NXT: TakeOver Chicago deservedly won NXT’s 2017 Match Of The Year and the rest of the UK roster has continued to be used sparingly but effectively. In the meantime, this has allowed the UK talents to continue working independent dates back home, helping to build their own personal brands as well as raise the profile of the promotions they have been working for. Promotions such as PROGRESS Wrestling and ICW have had WWE UK Championship matches on their own shows and have continually growing relationships with WWE, particularly the Developmental staff such as William Regal.
Why did they introduce the title so early without being ready to launch a show? Well, the answer is that the aforementioned major UK TV Channel, ITV, was shooting a pilot for a revival of their own wrestling franchise, World Of Sport. The hugely popular show had been a mainstream staple of UK TV for decades and was often one of the most watched shows of the entire week. If the revived show had been optioned for a weekly slot, it would have been available for free in every home in the UK, which would have posed a serious threat to WWE’s business. Being a small but very lucrative territory for them, they felt the need to strengthen their own position in the country by producing their own version of a British wrestling show. Unfortunately, despite early indications of the ITV show going ahead, they cancelled further tapings for World Of Sport and nothing more has been announced. This took the pressure off WWE to get their own product thrown out into the marketplace and their approach so far has been effective, but hopefully we will not have much longer to wait.
While WWE continues to stall, other promotions are gaining traction which would potentially dip into their share of the market when the time finally arrives. On Demand subscriptions for companies such as ICW, PROGRESS, Revolution Pro Wrestling (RevPro), Defiant Wrestling (formerly known as WCPW) and OTT already offer a wide variety of action to choose from, each putting out a strong product to loyal fan bases. Recently, Five Star Wrestling secured a contract with Freesports, a free-to-air channel in the UK, which could secure a formidable audience on such an accessible platform given the huge budget and high-end production values at their disposal. Plus there is even more competition from promotions getting in on the local TV or iPPV markets, such as WAW, NGW, IPW:UK and the short-lived Lucha Forever.
As well as losing out on some of their potential audience, WWE are missing opportunities to sign more amazing talents to complement their already impressive UK roster. With more eyes on the workers in the UK than ever before, the opportunities in Japan, USA, Canada, Mexico and beyond are piling up fast for the best of the Brits. Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, Nick ‘Magnus’ Aldis, Mark Haskins and Jimmy Havoc are just some of the names who have been enjoying success all over the world, representing the likes of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Smash Wrestling in Canada, and ROH, NWA and CZW in the States.
Besides these possible side-effects, the main reason that this is becoming more of an urgent situation at this stage is that unless the brand actually launches soon, all of the good work so far will ultimately be wasted. Not capitalising on their limited but powerful momentum to launch the brand would leave the championship in a state of limbo. By continuing to be filler for NXT TV tapings and an occasional novelty to pulled out of the bag, it will ultimately make the title feel like a footnote in the vast WWE landscape, as opposed to being the cornerstone attraction of its own division. They need to make the move while the title and the division are still over with the audience and before the memories of the great action we have already seen begin to fade into the distance. If handled correctly, it could also add a completely new style of programming to the WWE Network and a further depth of variety for fans looking for an alternative to what they find on the flagship shows.