Good day ladies and gentlemen! Today, allow a British person to take you on a trip down memory lane, or an educational tour of the legacy of WWE’s NXT UK brand.
Worlds Collide happens this weekend, and with it ends the lineage of NXT UK’s Championships, because they are to be unified with their American NXT counterparts. Before we do, let’s look at what NXT UK has given us over the years. I’d like to begin by highlighting every champion that has been crowned since 2017.
NXT UK Tag Team Champions
While WWE officially established the NXT UK brand on June 18th, 2018, it took over six months to crown tag team champions. NXT UK had only the WWE UK Championship when it opened its doors, and this was likely by design because they wanted to develop new stars before introducing titles they could garner prestige. In early 2019 at TakeOver: Blackpool, the final of a tournament crowned the inaugural tag team champions.
#1. Grizzled Young Veterans (James Drake & Zack Gibson) – 230 days
From a tournament of four teams, Grizzled Young Veterans came out victorious over Gallus, Flash Morgan Webster & Mark Andrews, and the team they defeated in the final, the extremely popular team of Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven). This came as a minor shock for some fans because Moustache Mountain had helped build the brand, and with Tyler Bate being the former UK Champion, it looked like a foregone conclusion.
Zack Gibson however, had won the UK Championship tournament a few months earlier. He earned a title shot against Pete Dunne but was unsuccessful. He began teaming with James Drake, who let’s be fair, had been nothing but a reliable enhancement talent. Moustache Mountain had been together for years on the independent scene, and other teams in the tournament had better chemistry, but Grizzled Young Veterans were “SOON to be recognized” in the history books as the inaugural tag team champions.
After losing the titles seven months later, Grizzled Young Veterans have remained together ever since. This year, now going by “The Dyad”, they changed their names (to Rip Fowler & Jagger Reid) and joined Joe Gacy’s Schism faction. The team has been with the American brand of NXT since early 2020, so their crossing the Atlantic had nothing to do with NXT UK’s closure.
#2. Flash Morgan Webster & Mark Andrews – 47 days
While the Welsh duo had gained enough popularity to be pushed toward defeating Grizzled Young Veterans, their little over six-week reign ranks only one higher than the lowest of all time. There isn’t much to say about them, other than they were exciting, but not popular enough to carry the brand over the long term. They were the fast, high-flying underdogs who could surprise people.
Not to take anything away from the team, but I always preferred the often-overlooked Mark Andrews as a singles wrestler. WWE released them not long after announcing the closure of NXT UK.
#3. Gallus (Mark Coffey & Wolfgang) – 497 days
We will always know the two Scottish bruisers of the Gallus faction as the longest-reigning NXT UK Tag Team Champions. From October 2019 to February 2021, nobody could touch Gallus, although we have to consider the pandemic closing NXT UK from March-September 2020. Even if we take out six months (182 days) from their title reign, they would still be the longest-reigning champions.
While I appreciated the workload of Gallus, Joe Coffey always stood out as the breakout star of the group. Wolfgang was alright, but as much as I tried, it was a struggle to connect with Mark. What considerably hurt their reign is NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool II being the last premium live event for the brand (they defeated Imperium & GYV in a ladder match to retain). This happened in January 2020, so for much of Gallus’ reign, they did not have the benefit of defending their titles on any bigger stages than the weekly episodes of NXT UK.
This will become a trend with other titles in this guide, and I’ll let you know who was affected. While Gallus had the longest reign in NXT UK tag title history, the pandemic and lack of exposure made it extraordinarily difficult. After the announcement of NXT UK’s closure, all three members of Gallus jumped to the NXT 2.0 brand.
#4. Pretty Deadly (Lewis Howley & Sam Stoker) – 287 days
The charismatic heel duo of Pretty Deadly took over from Gallus in February 2021. Having two young upcoming superstars as champions was a very positive move because the brand was doing what it was made for. Together, they became the second longest-reigning champions behind Gallus. And not only did they have the look, the chemistry, and the mic skills to elicit the appropriate responses, but their ring skills showed they were getting it.
This team is well beyond their years and I look forward to seeing what they can do. Management was so pleased with their progress that they jumped to NXT 2.0 in April and won the NXT Tag Team titles right away. If that’s not enough to tell you how deadly Pretty Deadly is, I don’t know what will.
#5. Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) – 175 days
It took a few years, but Moustache Mountain finally reached the top in early December 2021. The rivalry with Pretty Deadly had been a memorable one, and the fans were super excited for Tyler Bate & Trent Seven finally achieving after serving NXT UK longer than anyone. They had been champions in WWE before when they defeated Undisputed Era for the NXT Tag Team titles in 2018 (which they lost two days later), but this was the one British fans wanted.
This wasn’t only a win for Moustache Mountain, but Tyler Bate set a record that no one else can achieve. Winning the NXT UK tag team titles meant that he is the only superstar to win every male championship on the brand. If we classed the Heritage Cup as a secondary title, he would be the one-and-only NXT UK Triple Crown Champion. Where are they now? Well, Trent Seven recently turned on his tag team partner, before being released after the announcement of NXT UK’s closure. We’ll talk more about Tyler later.
#6. Ashton Smith & Oliver Carter – 21 days
I did not catch every episode of NXT UK this year because the brand had stagnated and half the time I’d either forget or couldn’t find the time. What I know is that while Ashton Smith & Oliver Carter are athletically gifted, I do not believe they were ready to be tag team champions. Perhaps management saw something in them I didn’t, but in the end, they cut it short because of Smith’s injury.
It forced them to vacate a few weeks after winning them in a triple threat, making them the shortest reigning champions in history. Smith has been released and I’m unsure about Carter.
#7. Brooks Jensen & Josh Briggs – 67+ days
The writing was on the wall for NXT UK when they won the titles over three others in June because they are an NXT 2.0 team. When you have two Americans going over six guys who spent every week building the brand, it tells you where WWE’s priorities lie.
Fair enough, Brooks Jensen & Josh Briggs are a young team and NXT is about developing fresh stars. There was no way they’d win the NXT Tag titles with teams like The Creed Brothers hanging around. But yeah, seeing these guys with the titles when the NXT UK brand should have been building European talent did not sit well with me. The longest reigning champions, Gallus, have challenged them at Worlds Collide, but it has since involved other teams.
At Worlds Collide, the NXT & NXT UK Tag Team Championships will be unified in a fatal four-way, with the champions of The Creed Brothers, Brooks Jensen & Josh Briggs looking to claim all the gold, while the teams of Pretty Deadly & Gallus have nothing to lose. It feels right to have the two longest-reigning NXT UK champions involved in this. It serves as a fitting end to the legacy of UK tag team wrestling in WWE.
NXT UK Women’s Champions
Two months after WWE debuted NXT UK, a new women’s champion was crowned in a tournament of 8 female athletes. Those who did not make it to the final include Dakota Kai, Nina Samuels, Xia Brookside, Millie McKenzie, Jinny, and Isla Dawn.
#1. Rhea Ripley – 44 days
While Rhea Ripley was crowned the inaugural champion in August, the episode did not air until November, so in reality, she held the title for 139 days. Still, this makes her the shortest reigning champion in NXT UK history, although we know this didn’t work against her because she’s now enjoying life as one of the youngest female performers on Raw & SmackDown.
She was crowned after defeating Toni Storm in an all-Australian tournament final. I’ll be honest, there was some backlash from UK fans for having talent outside of Europe winning the brand’s titles. British wrestling had always been about UK wrestlers, while also importing from Europe and UK colonies like Canada. For British wrestling not to have someone who WWE deemed worthy enough to be the inaugural women’s champion was a slight annoyance, but there was hope that one day they would remedy it.
Rhea Ripley soon showed she was more than deserving. After losing the title, she tried getting it back, but management saw her potential and moved her over to the black & gold brand, where her career truly took off. Although, had it not been for this title victory, her rise may not have been as swift.
#2. Toni Storm – 230 days
After losing out to Rhea Ripley in the tournament final, Toni Storm was pleased to get one back at TakeOver: Blackpool in early 2019. She was still reeling from her Mae Young Classic victory over Kairi Sane, so WWE wanted to capitalize and push Storm to the moon. However, after losing the title and returning from an 8-month hiatus, Toni struggled to reach the same heights.
She repeatedly lost title matches in NXT, and when she was later called up to the main roster, she again struggled to establish herself. Just as it looked like she was being taken seriously as a challenger to Charlotte Flair’s SmackDown Women’s title, Toni had enough of WWE’s lifestyle and asked for a release. She had not been happy for a while and felt like the freedom of professional wrestling was more to her liking.
You can currently find Toni Storm working for All Elite Wrestling, where she continues to challenge for the AEW Women’s Championship.
#3. Kay Lee Ray – 649 days
In late August 2019, the UK finally got its wish of a British women’s champion in Kay Lee Ray. The Scottish firecracker had impressed for a while, and many hoped she would get a run with the title. And boy, did she ever! Before NXT UK closed its doors for the pandemic, KLR went undefeated for seven months. She was near unstoppable as champion and brought a ton of prestige to women’s wrestling in the UK.
The pandemic hurt because there were question marks, not only over KLR’s reign but of many WWE Superstars. More so in NXT UK, because the government had placed stricter restrictions on gathering than in the United States. NXT UK couldn’t run any shows and when WWE could finally do so, it was September, and no fans could attend. The biggest part of NXT UK has always been the fans… take them away and the shows become hollow.
Kay Lee Ray did her absolute best upon returning and continued to hold the title up to June 2021. Much like Gallus, if we were to exclude the days between March and September 2020, she would still be the longest-reigning women’s champion in NXT UK history. After losing the title, she moved over to America for the NXT brand but struggled to be a top act as Kay Lee Ray. When WWE rebranded the show as NXT 2.0, Kay Lee Ray returned as Alba Fyre. Unlike many others, I feel that this repackage of Kay Lee Ray was very well done and will give her a better chance of success. Only time will tell.
#4. Meiko Satomura – 444+ days
With Meiko Satomura becoming the NXT UK Women’s Champion, it again told UK fans this brand was global and not restricted to the British Isles or Europe. It also told us that while NXT UK develops talent, a wrestler’s age would not deter it. At 41 years old, Satomura defeated Kay Lee Ray to become one of the oldest champions in the brand’s history. However, being a legit badass and one of the best women’s wrestlers in all of WWE gives her a free pass from criticism.
Satomura heads to Worlds Collide as the UK Champion and will look to unify the NXT Women’s Championship with her own. She is scheduled for a triple threat with champion Mandy Rose and #1 contender Blair Davenport.
The legacy of women’s wrestling in the UK has rarely been one to write home about. Aside from Paige, there have not been many breakout stars, and the history of the NXT UK Women’s title reflects this. Yet, I feel like the championship has given others the platform to get noticed and flourish in the industry. Every woman who has held the title is better for it, and that’s something to be proud of. I’m hoping Satomura wins at Worlds Collide.
NXT UK Heritage Cup Champions
Let me tell you something about the Heritage Cup. While I admire WWE introducing something traditional to serve as a secondary title for those who aren’t ready for (or are serving time away from) the top prize, I despise the “Rounds” concept. Having rounds in a wrestling match is so outdated in today’s industry that it feels redundant.
Long before I was born, kayfabe was strictly adhered to and round matches worked because wrestling could be treated like boxing. Doing the same thing in 2022, when the world knows it’s “sports entertainment” and outcomes are fixed, makes little sense. We know wrestlers can work for over an hour with no breaks. Stopping the action every few minutes is a solid way to bore the audience. It’s cool that they keep scores like an Ironman match… but I’d prefer Ironman matches.
I can see what they were going for. WWE wanted to pay tribute to the old days of British Wrestling, but this wasn’t the way to go. Impact Wrestling tried something similar with the Grand Championship and it was a royal bust, so how WWE thought it would work in NXT UK is a mystery. There were some quality matches in the early days of the Heritage Cup, but had they not been required to take a break every few minutes, they would have been better. I would not care if the concept doesn’t find its way to NXT Europe.
The best part about the Heritage Cup? Giving Noam Dar some recognition. He is supremely underrated. Dar is the last champion and won’t get a match at Worlds Collide. A-Kid does though… as Axiom in a rounds match with Nathan Frazer.
A-Kid (175 days) — Tyler Bate (161 days) — Noam Dar (2 times, 314+ days) — Mark Coffey (42 Days)
The true legacy of NXT UK is its top prize. Originally called the WWE UK Championship, they held a 16-man tournament to crown the inaugural titleholder in early 2017. Stars were made here, including Jordan Devlin, Trent Seven, Mark Andrews, Wolfgang, and more. Yet, the two biggest stars to emerge were Pete Dunne & Tyler Bate. Formerly stablemates on the independent scene with Trent Seven (British Strong Style), their chemistry was unparalleled, and this translated into arguably WWE’s greatest match of the year.
This set a precedent, where every year at least one match for the UK title would be in the conversation. While the brand was hardly ever plugged on WWE’s main roster, professional wrestling fans knew that if they wanted to see some of the best in-ring action produced by WWE, they had to set time aside for UK Championship matches. The athletes and management team brought a ton of prestige to the title. There have only been four champions because whoever held it defended it with everything they had. Each title victory meant so much because it was a passing of the torch.
There was never any controversy over who held the title. Each champion was more than worthy, not only because of their skills, but because they had earned their time in the spotlight. I would say the UK Championship is one of the best-booked titles in WWE history. If somebody asked me who the weakest champion was, I wouldn’t be able to answer it. I’d find it difficult to say who the best is. Although the numbers will probably sway people toward one name, I feel each champion is equally worthy of acknowledgment for their contributions to British Wrestling.
#1. Tyler Bate – 2 times, 179+ days
He holds several records in NXT UK. We know from earlier that Tyler Bate has won every title there is on the brand. What he’s also known for is being the inaugural, youngest, and only two-time UK Champion. Technically, he will be the last NXT UK wrestler to hold the title before either he or Bron Breakker unifies it with the NXT Championship at Worlds Collide. Somewhat ironically, he’s also the shortest reigning champion too. That may surprise some people, but it shows how dominant the other three champions were.
I often compare Tyler Bate to AJ Styles in TNA Wrestling. This kid turned up on the first day and won gold right away. He was always there as the brand’s top babyface, regardless of whether he held the title. Tyler has been an inspiration to so many people, not only here in the UK, but around the world. He was 20 years old when he won the UK title and got his photo taken with Triple H and William Regal. Now at 25 with many years left in the business, we can say he’s a veteran who is ready for a new challenge.
I’d love to see Tyler win at Worlds Collide. As unstoppable as Bron Breakker has looked, Tyler has it in him to be the new face of NXT 2.0. But, if he loses, it won’t be the end of the world. If Tyler were to retire tomorrow, he could live the rest of his life knowing his legacy is with NXT UK, and that is something nobody can erase.
#2. Pete Dunne – 685 days
Long before Vince McMahon renamed him “Butch”, Pete Dunne showed up as a kid at the UK Championship with lofty goals. Going by the nickname “The Bruiserweight”, he was known for his ruthlessness and tendency to snap opponent’s fingers. He also didn’t like being told what to do, so he’d misbehave and spit in the face (not literally) of authority. Triple H appreciated this, and in one of the most memorable moments of the first UK Championship tournament, told him to go “make a name for yourself kid”.
He took the advice to heart and showed his willingness to do anything to win. As a heel, he would take as many shortcuts as possible, but could also hold his own in a wrestling match or if it turned ugly. I’d say Pete Dunne was the best performer in the UK Championship tournament, and it’s a shame they couldn’t have crowned two champions because both he & Tyler Bate were deserving. He used the loss as motivation and played mind games with Tyler. Four months later, Dunne defeated Bate for the title at TakeOver: Chicago and began a monster reign. Championships are rarely held over a year in WWE, but Pete Dunne wouldn’t let go for almost two.
Pete Dunne laid the foundation for what it meant to be the WWE UK Champion. For anyone to follow that, they would have to work harder and hold it longer. After losing the title, he moved over to NXT. He had an oddball team with Matt Riddle, which was highly entertaining and got them the tag titles. He later partnered with Pat McAfee’s group, the Kings of NXT, and this got him back into the preferred heel role. He would later return to the main roster as Butch (Pete Dunne had worked some PPV matches), which had a mixed reaction because many fans found this silly. Even more so because we know of his work as Pete Dunne. With Triple H now in charge of creative, expect to see Butch gradually shift back to something resembling the ruthless Bruiserweight we respected.
#3. Walter – 870 days
The current Intercontinental Champion (now going by the name Gunther) is better known for his record-setting UK Championship reign. His NXT UK debut was mightily impressive, so much so that fans saw a title reign as inevitable. Pete Dunne had done an exceptional job, but Walter was racking up the victories, and the undefeated Austrian would eventually collide.
There’s no exaggeration on my part when I say that the matches between Pete Dunne and Walter were some of the best I have ever seen. Not only in WWE, but anywhere, I would throw their matches in the mix. Their encounters took the UK title to a level I never thought possible. We’d already seen classics between Tyler Bate & Pete Dunne, but this was something else. When anyone remembers NXT UK, I hope Walter’s matches are one of the first things that spring to mind. He was the epitome of what a wrestling champion is, and most fans will agree he is the best UK Champion.
Two years and four months is a reign that nobody in WWE had accomplished in decades. In the modern era, it remains the longest to this day (Roman Reigns is creeping up on it, though). We’d have to go back to Hulk Hogan to find anything better. He also held the title through the pandemic, which was tough because he’d proven himself long before that. If we were to take six months off his reign, he’d be roughly tied with Pete Dunne, but I couldn’t see WWE taking it off him before he broke the record.
I’d say the important thing about Walter was his being outspoken about European wrestling. A few times he stated that he’d prefer to be the European Champion because he believed there was more to the brand than keeping it restricted to the UK. And despite my love for British Wrestling, I wholeheartedly agreed. I remember making a piece in 2020 about expanding the NXT UK brand to include Europe:
So, while Walter did so much for NXT UK, he may have planted the seed for European expansion. That’s not a problem! I’m all for it. But I guess it shows that a UK brand could not stand on its own forever, which isn’t surprising, but at least we got a few good years out of it.
#4. Ilja Dragunov – 346 days
Only a special talent could stop a man like Walter. When Ilja Dragunov first appeared in WWE, the Russian did not make an immediate impact like former UK Champions. He had skills, but he had much to learn. Dragunov was a talent with tons of potential, there was something about him, but he wasn’t getting fast-tracked to the top. He had to learn and make his way up the ladder, which is unlike what Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne, and Walter did. Dragunov started from the bottom and gradually rose through the ranks until we could see him as a viable contender.
He began as a heel but slowly became a babyface because of his performances. Dragunov didn’t talk often, so there was plenty of mystery behind his character, and a quiet intensity that people respected. When he was given a microphone, it turned out that despite English not being his first language, he could talk rather well. With Walter’s reign lasting so long, fans began talking about Dragunov as the man who could dethrone him. WWE picked up on this and pushed him to become the #1 contender. A problem arose because of the pandemic, so Dragunov had to wait months to get his title match with Walter.
Because NXT UK hadn’t produced a premium live event since early 2020, UK Championship matches had to be booked for regular episodes. When Dragunov got his chance in October 2020, he & Walter wrestled in front of nobody, yet still produced a match so gloriously brutal it was nominated for WWE Match of the Year. He lost, but it showed the world what he could do. Again, Dragunov had to earn his way back into the title picture, and by June 2021 had earned another shot. In a rare championship match in America, Walter vs. Dragunov II happened at NXT TakeOver 36.
It’s difficult to say which of their matches was better. I preferred the first, but their second is regarded as the best match of the night of TakeOver 36, beating Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly and the main event of Karrion Kross vs. Samoa Joe. Dragunov finally defeated one of the longest champions in WWE history, and in doing so, became the face of NXT UK for close to a year. The problem with his reign is there weren’t enough viable challengers to contend with. He had 7 title defenses, but nobody looked credible enough to end his reign. In the end, the only thing that could stop him was a severe ankle injury.
I’d like to conclude this piece by highlighting some of the more successful WWE Superstars and wrestlers who did not make the list. Many played integral roles in helping to build the NXT UK brand.
Piper Niven: While she didn’t win the Women’s title, she surprised everyone when she became the only superstar to be promoted straight from NXT UK. Usually, WWE would have NXT UK talent appear in NXT first, but it wasn’t the case for her. She had her name changed to Doudrop… which remains a contentious subject, but at least she brought it up to Triple H after he took over.
Jordan Devlin: The ‘Irish Ace’ played a pivotal role in NXT UK. He was always sniffing around the UK title picture, and if not, he was representing as the NXT Cruiserweight Champion. He held the title during the pandemic and defended it exclusively for NXT UK, while Santos Escobar won an interim version in the United States. When it came time to unify the titles, Devlin lost. He has since made his way to NXT 2.0 and changed his name to JD McDonagh.
Nigel McGuinness, Dave Mastiff, Xia Brookside, Jinny, Isla Dawn, Wild Boar, Nina Samuels, Sid Scala, and more: I’m not naming everyone, but all the guys and girls poured their hearts and souls into building the NXT UK brand. Here’s to hoping they find work elsewhere, at least, until WWE launches NXT Europe.
Finn Balor, Becky Lynch, Neville, and others: Any of the main roster superstars who took the time to put someone over, either by appearing or working a match. It should have happened a LOT more, but that’s on management.
NXT UK: TakeOver Dublin: RIP to the show that never was. It would have been fun to watch!
The Fans: Special mention for every fan who attended an NXT UK event and didn’t dare to sit motionless and bored while looking at a phone screen. If you drank, chanted, sang, and cared that you paid to see professional wrestling… then I salute you. The UK has some of the best wrestling fans in the world, and NXT UK would have been nothing without them.
I’d like to know what you think about the legacy of NXT UK. Should it have been more? Did WWE not do enough with it? Who would you like to see hired back by WWE? And what would you like to see happen in NXT Europe? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!