Under unprecedented circumstances I can only applaud the WWE for continuing to provide entertainment and escapism for fans all over the world. The Performance Centre in Orlando, Florida has proven to be a huge asset to the company and has enabled Monday Night RAW, NXT and Friday Night Smackdown to air as scheduled.
With the help of cinematic locations such as the Boneyard, Firefly Fun House and WWE Headquarters the PC has also hosted Wrestlemania 36, Money In The Bank and are set to host WWE's next pay per view Backlash.
The absence of fans has created an obvious, atmospheric void within each show although despite this WWE have arguably presented a better overall product than they were prior to the pandemic. This week saw the next phase in returning to some normality as RAW had an audience of NXT talent who were stood behind clear screens like you would see at an Ice Hockey match. The atmosphere and interaction from the crowd undoubtedly enhanced the show and I am excited to see how this evolves in the coming weeks.
While the show must go on in the United States the show has come to an abrupt halt in the United Kingdom as NXT UK has been off air since April 02, 2020. I imagine the uncertainty at this time must be difficult for the superstars who have given their blood, sweat and tears to build this brand and my hope is that they will soon be back to showcase their talent to the world.
Ahead of their potential return I would like to remind fans why the UK brand should not be overlooked as I look back at the journey so far, highlights and predict what is next for the current NXT UK Champions?
Where it all Began
The story began with the inaugural United Kingdom Championship Tournament back in 2017 which was held at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England. This was a special event for the UK wrestling scene who were being showcased by the largest wrestling company in the world. Despite that pressure, from the performers to the production staff they knocked it out of the park.
This tournament saw birth to many of the UK stars such as Pete Dunne, Jordan Devlin and Wolfgang just to name a few however it was the talented youngster in Tyler Bate who would overcome The Brusierweight in the final to become the first ever United Kingdom Champion.
As William Regal and Triple H presented Bate with the United Kingdom Championship in front of the rousing UK crowd it was clear that this could be the beginning of something special as NXT UK had well and truly put itself on the map.
Three years on and it’s safe to say the UK superstars have done themselves and the wrestling business proud. The weekly shows which are pre-recorded and aired only on the WWE Network don’t quite get the exposure or credit they deserve however the NXT UK Takeover specials have been praised widely for their ability to meet the bar set by NXT Takeover specials in the states.
The crossover between NXT and NXT UK has allowed some UK stars additional exposure which will create further incentive and act as a reminder that a call up to the big stage is no longer just a distant dream, it's a close reality.
Stand Out Performers
When identifying star performers there really is nowhere else to start other than the first ever United Kingdom Champion Tyler Bate. The young wrestler who hails from Dudley, England is a walking highlight reel and this 'Big Strong Boy' has all the tools to become a future WWE Champion.
You can't mention Bate without discussing his coach, mentor and tag team partner Trent Seven. The other half of Moustache mountain appears to be a leader in the UK dressing room and has been instrumental in pushing British Strong Style to the forefront of the UK brand.
From the moment Pete Dunne stepped through the curtain at the inaugural United Kingdom Championship Tournament you could see he had 'IT'. Great heel work throughout made Tyler's win feel even more special and set the stage for their ongoing feud. The Brusierweight prevailed in a match for the ages at NXT Takeover Chicago and went on to become the longest reigning UK Champion to date.
Walter was a ready made star when he arrived in NXT UK and immediately targeted Pete Dunne and the United Kingdom Championship. The Austrian Anomaly went on to dethrone The Brusierweight as he and Imperium became the new rulers of NXT UK. Who can stop this Austrian Giant?
Once taunted by UK fans as "Just a s**t Finn Balor" Jordan Devlin is really beginning to step out of the shadow of his Irish compatriot. The Irish Ace impressed in defeat to Tyler Bate which led to an opportunity on a bigger stage as he became the NXT Cruiserweight Champion. A really exciting prospect who is beginning to make a name for himself in WWE.
NXT UK has a wealth of talent battling it out for tag team gold which has made for an exciting division. Lead by Gallus leader Joe Coffey, Current Champions Wolfgang and Mark Coffey have been instrumental in the success of the UK brand and the dominant triplex wouldn't look out of place on WWE's main roster.
The first ever NXT UK Tag Team Champions Grizzled Young Veterans did a stellar job in making these titles feel important from day one. Zack Gibson and James Drake defeated Moustache Mountain in the final of the UK Tag Team Championship Tournament which led to an impressive 230 day title reign. Their heel persona really brings an old school hero and villain feel to their on screen feuds which draws great reaction from the UK crowd.
The South Wales Subculture have also put their stamp on the UK tag team division and even enjoyed a brief reign as champions. Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan-Webster clinched tag team gold at NXT Takeover UK Cardiff in front of a euphoric Welsh crowd, a reaction that will live long in the memory.
The three standout performers in the NXT UK Women's division have been the three women to wear the gold so far. Rhea Ripley, Toni Storm and Kay Lee Ray have risen above the rest to cement their place at the top table of women's wrestling. With Ripley now plying her trade in NXT the current champion Ray is on the hunt for new challengers for her UK Women's Championship.
Stand Out Matches
NXT UK Championship Match (NXT UK Championship Tournament 2017)
Tyler Bate versus Pete Dunne
The match that put Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne and NXT UK on the map as the indie stars introduced themselves to the world stage in style. The story telling, and in-ring chemistry was there for all to see as Bate would cap off an unforgettable night by becoming the first ever United Kingdom Champion.
NXT UK Championship Match (NXT Takeover Chicago)
Tyler Bate (c) versus Pete Dunne
After starring in the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, it was fitting that these two stars got the opportunity to compete at NXT Takeover Chicago on US soil. Their re-match became an instant classic as the two young Brits had the US crowd captivated as chants of ‘Lets Go UK’ rang around the arena. It also marked the beginning of a long, successful championship reign for The Brusierweight.
NXT UK Championship Match (NXT UK Takeover Cardiff)
Walter (c) versus Tyler Bate
A modern-day David versus Goliath story as the UK’s own Tyler Bate challenged Walter for the United Kingdom Championship. Another unforgettable match with fantastic story telling as the underdog from Dudley had fans believing that he could overcome his seemingly invincible opponent. Despite looking strong Bate would come up short as the ‘Austrian Anomaly’ continued to lay wake to anyone who dared to stand in his way.
Fatal Four Way Ladder Match for the NXT UK Tag Team Championships (NXT UK Takeover Blackpool II)
Gallus (c) versus South Wales Subculture versus Grizzled Young Veterans versus Imperium
With so many memorable ladder matches over the years NXT UK produced a special match that stands up to many that have gone before it. These eight superstars put their bodies on the line to become United Kingdom Tag Team Champions and this was evident when Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan-Webster put Wolfgang through a table with a Spanish Fly from the ladder. When it was all said and done it was Gallus who reigned supreme and walked away from the mayhem and carnage with tag team gold.
Singles Match (NXT UK Takeover Blackpool II)
Tyler Bate versus Jordan Devlin
No surprise to see Tyler Bate involved yet another high-quality wrestling match as he faced Jordan Devlin at NXT Takeover UK Blackpool II. This match not only emphasised how special and how important Bate is to the UK brand but it also propelled The Irish Ace to new heights as his potential is now being realised as the current NXT Cruiserweight Champion.
Who’s Next for the Current Champions?
Walter (United Kingdom Champion)
Prior to the pandemic Walter’s next challenger for the United Kingdom Championship looked set to be Irish superstar Finn Balor. My hope is that circumstance allows this match to happen as the first ever Universal Champion could pose a genuine threat to the Austrian giant’s title reign in NXT UK. Balor would also add some star power to the UK brand as they look to re-build and re-introduce themselves to the wrestling world with a bang.
Another option for Walter is Ilja Dragunov who outlasted nineteen other competitors in a Battle Royal to become number one contender for the United Kingdom Championship. The Russian star has bright future but is he ready to take on the current champion?
Kay Lee Ray (United Kingdom Women’s Champion)
Despite there being plenty of potential in the NXT UK women’s division Kay Lee Ray needs challengers that are ready to challenge now. Current options include Toni Storm, Piper Niven and Dani Luna however I would love see Nikki Cross make the trip back home to challenge her Scottish compatriot.
Even as a temporary measure Cross would be a great asset to NXT UK as she would elevate the division and give the current champion some worthy competition, plus two fierce Scotswomen going head to head should create fireworks.
Gallus (United Kingdom Tag Team Champions)
I would have expected Imperium to challenge Gallus when NXT UK resumes however Marcel Barthel and Fabien Aichner took advantage of Matt Riddle and Timothy Thatcher’s implosion to become the new NXT Tag Team Champions.
So, with Imperium out of the picture and Walter occupied by other challengers that leaves Tyler Bate free to call upon his partner Trent Seven and challenge Wolfgang and Mark Coffey for tag team gold. Moustache Mountain are the perfect duo to create that big fight feel and remind the fans how special tag team wrestling can be.
Jordan Devlin (NXT Cruiserweight Champion)
This story really does write itself as The Irish Ace is set to face the winner of the Interim NXT Cruiserweight Championship Tournament. With the recently released Drake Maverick facing El Hijo del Fantasma in the final we could be set for a mouth-watering all British clash which would help the UK brand regain momentum following months of no action.
NXT UK is without doubt an underrated wrestling brand but hopefully this article reminds you that they are not just here to make up the numbers.
The superstars mentioned plus many others have the potential to make it big in the WWE and I can't wait to see what the future holds for NXT UK.
WE ARE NXT UK!
Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this article or have your own views on NXT UK please reach out on Twitter @CresswellDJ or @wnwnews.
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