It’s become one of the WWE’s biggest punchlines. The show that never materializes, despite having a title that results in some of the company’s best received matches, that features some of the most beloved stars on the roster. Since the WWE ran the inaugural WWE UK Championship tournament in January of 2017, it’s been a series of stops and stars as to whether a WWE produced United Kingdom-centric program was ever actually going to be revealed. The initial tournament only seemed to materialize after reports in late 2016 that World of Sports was returning as a full time brand, and then faded away once the World of Sports story also lost its steam (and it’s assistance from Jeff Jarrett and then Global Force Wrestling). And once again, now that talks of World of Sports’ return to ITV emerged last month, WWE seems full speed on attacking the UK market once again – and once again, rebooting it with another UK Championship tournament – only this time, the winner earns a title match against the reigning WWE United Kingdom Champion (most likely still “The Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne).
A tweet sent out by the WWE in early April revealed that a new UK show will be known as King of the Ring UK, capitalizing on a WWE brand that used to carry quite a bit of weight when the likes of Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Bret “Hitman” Hart, Owen Hart, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Kurt Angle were winning it – in fact, up until 2002 (when Brock Lesnar won it), King of the Ring still had a pretty good track record. But, as rumor has it, Vince McMahon isn’t a huge fan of tournaments (despite them being overwhelmingly popular in wrestling) and after 2002’s edition, there’s been only four more held. It was cancelled after Lesnar’s 2002 coronation and briefly revived in 2006, which Booker T won. It went on hiatus again until 2008, when William Regal took the throne. The third time was in 2010 (won by Sheamus) and after a five year layoff, the last one was held in 2015 and won by Wade Barrett. With the last three winners being from the British Isles, perhaps it makes sense to move the brand name across the Atlantic after all.
— WWE (@WWE) April 7, 2018
The King of the Ring is most likely the working name for the WWE UK Championship Tournament, which is being taped over two nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England on June 18 and 19. As announced yesterday by the WWE, several opening round matches will actually take place the week before at the Download Music Festival in Donnington Park in Derby, England. WWE’s NXT brand is no stranger to working the Download Festival – they’ve held events at the festival since 2016. This year’s Festival will now be adding members of the UK brand as well (with some of the NXT stars also going on to work non-tournament matches at the Royal Albert Hall as well).
When all is said and Dunne…er…done, at the end of the night on Tuesday June 19, the future of the WWE’s UK division will be more clear. In a recent interview with the Mirror in the UK, Triple H (who is overseeing the UK brand as he does NXT and 205 Live) told them that the he “will be making some announcements about the future of the UK Championship brand there in the UK and moving forward. That brand still remains very near and dear to me and it’s something I want to move on. It’s taking a little bit longer than I anticipated in getting things done and getting them done in the way I want them to get done… but it’s happening. It will be meaningful to everybody there and over there and I look forward to showcasing the UK talent to the world.”
There’s plenty of speculation on what those “announcements” could be – top of the list is obviously the start of the UK show itself (whether it retains the King of the Ring moniker past the tournament or not) and the announcement of more signings for said program. It’s also been reported that there are plans to build a training facility similar to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida and have it run as a European base for United Kingdom and European recruits, much the way the PC does for it’s (mostly) North American recruits. It would most likely feature UK trainers, perhaps recent guest (or recently added) PC trainers such as British wrestling icon Johnny Saint (who was a guest trainer from December 2016 through July 2017) or recent addition Johnny Moss. The WWE PC has no shortage in UK names in its training staff, such as Robbie Brookside, Norman Smiley and William Regal himself. The UK show would, in essence, be NXT Europe (let’s hope it fares better than NFL Europe).
But what would a WWE produced UK show look like? Who would be on its roster? Do they even have enough UK talent to start up a show, even a weekly hour show like NXT? The short answer is yes. They have a quite enough talent already signed up. The long answer is still yes. Because they potentially have been laying feelers for years now and may have a start up roster that would be one of the best lineups in the UK. But before you get too upset when looking through the roster lists below, keep in mind that in all likelihood, unless a wrestler is brought to North America for full time with NXT or up to the main roster, the majority of the talent would be signed to semi-exclusive deals – similar to what Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, et al are currently on – that would allow them to work for WWE-approved independents in between tapings or WWE Live Events in the UK or Europe. Currently, this has allowed them to continue to work for (and thrive in) promotions like PROGRESS, ICW, RevPro, OTT, IPW:UK, Fight Club: PRO, ATTACK!, Futureshock, and more.
So here’s a look at the names that WWE already has signed and continue to use, whether it’s on WWE/NXT television or WWE/NXT British Isle Live Events, a few that are reportedly signed, and a few that have had workings with the WWE through their alliance with PROGRESS (such as showcases at WrestleMania Axxess in recent years). (NOTE: WWE has announced they’ll start announcing entrants for the tournament this coming Wednesday).
WWE UK: THE BIG FIVE
While they started with sixteen men at last year’s inaugural WWE UK Championship Tournament, for the past year the WWE has primarily gone with “The Big Five”. This core group includes WWE UK Champion Pete Dunne, Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate), Mark Andrews and Scotland’s Wolfgang. While WWE recently re-signed many of their UK talents, “The Big Five” were apparently given raises on their previous deals as they have become the focal point of the UK brand, with the bulk of them even appearing semi-regularly with NXT now as well. While Wolfgang hasn’t had the success or exposure the other four have had yet, he’s clearly still a big part of the WWE’s UK plans and has worked several NXT tapings and worked Live Event circuits following.
WWE UK: THE WOMEN
She’s arguably the best woman wrestler on the planet right now and there’s no denying Toni Storm has been on WWE’s radar for some time. She wrestled at Axxess with PROGRESS last year, competed in the first WWE Mae Young Classic, and defended her PROGRESS Women’s title at Axxess this year in New Orleans. And while she competed for Australia at the MYC, it’s been in the UK for the past few years that Storm has emerged as one of the world’s premier talents. In the past year alone, she’s captured the PROGRESS Women’s Championship in the UK, wXw Women’s Championship in Germany, and the World of Stardom Championship in Japan. If there’s going to be a women’s division in the UK brand (and there will be), Toni Storm will be its center piece. In fact, just last week she was announced as taking part in the tapings at Royal Albert Hall during a WWE Live Event in Bournemouth, England (as reported by Squared Circle Sirens). While many have been scratching their heads why WWE hasn’t signed her to the main roster yet, the reason is that they are simply backlogged on talent right now going through NXT. She’s enhanced her brand considerably in the past year working independents globally, while still being afforded the opportunity to work with the WWE as opportunities present themself. Once the UK show takes off, expect Storm to join the others in making it “The Big Six”.
But Storm won’t be the only woman on the roster. WWE still has their eyes set on a pair of Scottish entrants from last year’s MYC, IWC Women’s Champion Viper (aka Piper Niven in the MYC) and former IWC Women’s Champion Kay Lee Ray. Two other MYC contestants could also make the show, such as England’s Ayesha Raymond or Germany’s Jazzy Gabert. “The Alpha Female” Jazzy Gabert recently returned to the ring after being out with an injury that was uncovered as she was finalizing her medical with the WWE for NXT last summer following the MYC. Gabert has European presence that could bolster the UK show, before she returns to North America. Squared Circle Sirens has also reported that WWE has begun to show serious interest in another veteran women’s wrestler from the UK, Jinny Couture. Jinny was the first woman to graduate from PROGRESS’ training school in 2014 and she’s been a force on the UK scene ever since. She’s the current reigning RevPro British Women’s Champion. Not to mention that three more UK stars, Pro Wrestling: EVE Champion Charlie Morgan, Pro Wrestling: EVE and PROGRESS star Nina Samuels, and Preston City Wrestling (PCW) star Rhio were used as part of No Way Jose’s conga line for tonight’s Monday Night Raw from London, England, and you may have three more in contention for a spot in the WWE UK Women’s Division.
WWE UK: THE OTHER TOURNEY ENTRANTS
Despite not winning the tournament, or being featured on NXT like “The Big Five”, most of the competitors in last year’s UK tournament still work with the WWE when they come to the UK or Ireland for Live Events. Ireland’s Jordan Devlin has absolutely exploded as one of Ireland’s biggest indie stars in the past year and only just competed for the WWE this past weekend at a WWE Live Event in Dublin, Ireland, against another competitor from last year, Sam Gradwell (formerly Ricky J. McKenzie). Devlin, trained by Finn Balor, is the current OTT World Champion. Joseph Conners has worked almost every WWE Live Event tour in the UK in the past year, including last week in Belfast against another of last year’s entrants, Ireland’s Tucker (another Balor trainee). Conners even appeared on 205 Live last year, when the WWE taped from Manchester, England. Other competitors like Tyson T-Bone, Dan Moloney and Saxon Huxley have all still been used as well at Live Events in between their regular gigs with the UK’s indie scene and could still be used for the UK brand.
WWE UK: THE RUMORED CAVALRY
But that’s not all! The WWE has been quietly signing more UK stars in the past year as well. And while none have been officially confirmed by the company as of yet, there are two very notable names that will bolster the UK brand that have reportedly signed deals with the WWE, with the consensus being that they were both signed for the UK brand. The first rumored name was Scotland’s “Iron Man” Joe Coffey, a former 2x ICW World Champion and 2x Scottish Heavyweight Champion in the Scottish Wrestling Alliance (SWA). Coffey was also an early standout star with WCPW prior to its rebranding as Defiant Wrestling. The other is one half of arguably Britain’s top tag team right now, Zack Gibson, who is one of the UK’s top heels. He’s a 2x PROGRESS Tag Team Champion in the Grizzled Young Vets, with whom Gibson partners with another UK star in James Drake. The same James Drake who also competed in last year’s UK tournament and also works WWE Live Events in the UK (even appearing on 205 Live from Manchester last year). The UK brand will need tag teams and pairing the two back together on WWE TV could be the perfect heel foil to Moustache Mountain. Speaking of Joe Coffey, his brother Mark Coffey is also a tag team specialist in the UK, as one half of Polo Promotions with Jackie Polo. The 4x ICW Tag Team Champions had a WWE tryout last November that apparently went well (the same tryouts featured notable UK names like Sammii Jayne, Chris Ridgeway, Isla Dawn, Kenny Williams, Kasey Owens and recent CHIKARA Young Lions Cup Finalist, Omari). Another name that is WWE bound is former pro rugby player Luke Menzies, who trained with Marty Jones (William Regal’s mentor) and has been impressing fans of the UK indie scene for the past couple years. He’s currently slated to join the WWE PC in June, but he could see himself back in the UK for the UK brand.
WWE UK: ON THE RADAR
And new… 💀💀💀 pic.twitter.com/7PHxB7Sug1
— Jimmy Havoc (@JimmyHavoc) February 11, 2018
As if this list isn’t impressive enough, there’s still some other names that could potentially make appearances for the WWE UK brand, as they’ve had their connections in the past year. Former PROGRESS World Champions Mark Haskins and Jimmy Havoc – now one of Britain’s most menacing tag teams – both worked WrestleMania Axxess last year in a PROGRESS showcase, as did the South Pacific Power Couple, TK Cooper and Dahlia Black. Speaking of TK Cooper, his tag team partner in the South Pacific Power Trip is current PROGRESS World Champion Travis Banks, and although the two (or three, including Black) are all from New Zealand, they’ve become staples of the UK indie scene for the past year or so. Banks recently defended his PROGRESS World Championship at WrestleMania Axxess this past spring as well. And while Zack Sabre Jr. – a participant in the 2016 WWE Cruiserweight Classic – recently signed full time with NJPW, effectively withdrawing from the WWE landscape for the foreseeable future, another of the UK’s brightest stars, Will Ospreay, effectively became a free agent of sorts earlier this year, when he seemingly left his Ring of Honor deal. He’s since worked for EVOLVE (one of the WWE’s North American alliance affiliates) and returned to PROGRESS and although he’s repeatedly denied interest in the WWE’s work schedule (and seemingly hinting at a full time move to Australia), money talks and we’ve seen other less likely candidates end up in the WWE. Even the German superstar WALTER could be used for appearances on the program, having worked his first WWE match at this year’s Axxess against Kassius Ohno. And speaking of Ohno, Chris Hero has a huge cult following in the UK – so much so, that the WWE loaned him to PROGRESS for their recent Super Strong Style 16 tournament, where he went all the way to the finals (losing to winner Zack Sabre Jr.). NXT stars like Ohno, or other WWE UK stars like 205 Live’s Jack Gallagher or recent NXT signee Danny Burch (aka Martin Stone), could also be used to add some extra firepower.
Consider this. If the WWE unveils a WWE UK brand show in four months, it could potentially showcase the WWE UK Champion (and ATTACK! Champion, Pete Dunne), PROGRESS World Champion (Travis Banks), the PROGRESS Women’s Champion (Toni Storm), PROGRESS Tag Team Champions (Grizzled Young Veterans), Pro Wrestling EVE Champion (Charlie Morgan), RevPro British Women’s Champion (Jinny), IPW World Champion (Mark Haskins), OTT World Champion (Jordan Devlin), ICW Women’s Champion (Viper/Piper Niven), the Southside Wrestling Entertainment (SWE) Queen of Southside Champion (Kay Lee Ray), SWE Tag Team Champion (Joseph Conners), Fight Club: PRO Tag Team Champions (Moustache Mountain), PCW Heavyweight Champion (Tyson T-Bone), and PCW Women’s Champion (Rhio) all being showcased together in one brand. With nearly all of them still being allowed to work the indies they’re still wrestling now. While yes, it gives the WWE very close watch on some amazing top UK talent, the exposure it will give each and every one of their home indie promotions will be astounding. Each promotion is guaranteed to win new fans who may never have known that such wrestling may be just up the street.