This week Wade “Bad News” Barrett became the first person since 2010 to be crowned King Of The Ring and the second ever British winner. It was the first time ever that two British stars had faced each other in the final. This demonstrates just how far British wrestling has come since it’s almost demise and firm evidence that representation of the United Kingdom in the WWE is stronger than ever.
American wrestling and the WWE in its various forms has always been heavily influenced by British wrestling, whether it be from stars working in the USA itself, Japan or in Stu Hart's Stampede in Canada. You can look at so many wrestlers and trace their style and moves back to people like Mark "Rollerball" Rocco in the 1970s when British wrestlers were the pioneers of a fast paced, aggressive style (as well as having the more famous 'larger' characters such as Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks). People like Dave "Fit" Finlay and William Regal have not only worked in the USA for decades but are responsible for training stars such as CM Punk, Kurt Angle, John Cena, Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan. (I'd highly recommend listening to Colt Cabana's podcast interview with Regal for more on this topic.)
The Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith and William Regal have all held titles in WWE but since wrestling was axed from British TV in 1988 the talent produced has not been of that same quality. The biggest match involving a British superstar remains SummerSlam '92 when at Wembley stadium "The British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith defeated Bret "The Hitman" Hart in front of the third largest attendance ever at a WWE event, an incredible 80,676 fans. Although at pretty much any time in the last 20 years there has been at least one British wrestler in WWE the fact that 23 years later nobody has topped that Intercontinental Title bout would confirm the quality of wrestler hasn't been good enough to main event.
However in recent years British wrestling has seen a resurgence with independent promotions across the UK doing excellent business again, many featuring ex-WWE stars. The current ICW champion is Drew Galloway and current PCW champion is Chris Masters. Alberto Del Rio, Matt Hardy and John Morrison were all at the last Preston event. The improved standards haven’t gone unnoticed by WWE and UK indie promotions are regularly scouted by NXT representatives (often by Regal himself). This has led to a stronger than ever British contingent in WWE.
Since 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin won it in 2006 only 3 "Kings" have not gone on to win the WWE or World Heavyweight Title, which would suggest the future looks extremely bright for “Bad News” Barrett. He is already a 5 time Intercontinental champion so if he is ever going to make the step up and challenge for the top honour then now is the time. It would certainly seem to be the ideal time to promote him given the currently depleted main event bracket of performers as a result of injuries, lack of established talent and part-time contracts. What will stand him in good stead is that Barrett is extremely charismatic and has the sense of humour and self-awareness that means he could easily handle promos as a face of heel in a main event feud. A small point but I do think it is time for a change in entrance music and hope that the long awaited track from his favourite band and subject of the tattoo on his right arm, Welsh rockers “The Manic Street Preachers”, isn't too far away.
NXT graduate Neville is currently making progress in WWE as quickly as he changes the direction of his body in one of his aerial manoeuvres. It may have been during the pre-show, but Neville has picked up his first PPV win in the same week he reached the final of KOTR and is white-hot right now. He isn't one for the future, he is one for now as his displays have been regularly stealing the show since his début on Raw on 30 March defeating Curtis Axel. He holds the record in NXT as the longest reigning champion and it won’t be too long before he is wearing US or Intercontinental gold in WWE. “The Man Who Gravity Forgot” looks like he is carved out of stone and has strength and toughness as well as unbelievable agility and balance, he is seemingly the total package and the perfect example of when you shouldn't hold someone back.
Paige is the third British superstar who will also be wearing gold sooner rather than later once she returns from her movie début in WWE Studios produced "Santa's Little Helper". Since making her WWE début in 2014 Paige has held the Divas Title twice, has an army of fans behind her and is firmly one of the most popular divas on the roster. On her return she will be seeking vengeance for the perpetrator of her current (kayfabe) injury Naomi who may well be champion by that time.
NXT also has Hugo Knox in its ranks and one to watch in the future is new NXT signing Peter Howard who could be a star in the making. The glory years of British wrestling live on in NXT through the world-class training of William Regal and Robbie Brookside when they are not away scouting for the next big thing.
I'd be interested to see WWE use this situation creatively, maybe a European faction uniting the British with Sheamus, Finn Balor, Cesaro and Rusev. "King" Barrett could rally the troops by saying that only Americans get the title shots and that the Europeans now have the power to take over the company. You could easily make The Authority babyfaces in the feud and give the programming a complete shake up. As long as it didn't go down the John Cena as John Wayne route we saw prior to WrestleMania using every stereotype in the book. Build it up over a few months and then have a "World Series" PPV, USA vs Europe for control of WWE. Just an idea.
That aside, I believe that this current British invasion can help shape the WWE of the future. I also predict it is only a matter of time before we see multiple titles held by British stars at the same time for the first time in WWE history. Then surely Vince has to let the UK host a WrestleMania?
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