Good day everyone. Today we’ll be touching on the subject of the WWE NXT UK brand, and if it would make sense to go through a rebranding process. Before we do, allow me to enlighten you with a little introduction explaining my experience with British professional wrestling.
‘Best Of British’
Growing up in England, I wasn’t too interested in wrestling as a kid. After all, it wasn’t so easy to find unless you went to the video store and rented some VHS tapes. Yet, what I do remember from my grandparents was how they used to talk about World Of Sport wrestling. Enthusiastically, they would tell me of the days when they’d gather around the TV every Saturday afternoon to see Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki, and more.
When I got in to wrestling as a young teen, my curiosity of British wrestling peaked because I wanted to compare it to some WWF/WCW tapes I was given. My grandparents passed away, but luckily my Mother was able to pass on her experiences of these legendary figures. Fast forward to 2016, I did some extensive research as I wanted to write up a ‘Best Of British’ series. I ended up with ten editorials outlining some of the best talents to ever work in the UK scene. I won’t link it here.. because I’d like to re-post it sometime in the future. But suffice it to say, it was a journey of discovery; and one I’d like to go back to when the time is right.
World Of Sport vs. NXT UK
As you can imagine, I was elated when World Of Sport returned a couple of years ago. NXT UK came around at the same time, and I was hoping for some kind of back-and-forth battle. It never happened though, as World Of Sport aired one series and has yet to make a comeback. NXT UK poached some of the top stars who were advertised for WOS before it even got started (Dave Mastiff & Zack Gibson). Guys like Stu Bennett have since moved on to NWA Powerrr, while Kay Lee Ray/Piper Niven moved on as well. I really enjoyed this new World Of Sport because it was a British production for fans of all ages. It was a little cheesy here and there, but UK TV has always been like that in some way.
WOS did a great job of providing family entertainment in an appealing way to UK audiences. I thought it was healthy to see guys like Will Ospreay & Harry Smith in a company doing well for British wrestling. In all honesty though, WWE signed some of the best, young UK talents and put them to work right away. Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne and Trent Seven had become the cornerstone of the UK scene; so signing them up was a huge win. They proved WWE right by tearing the house down at the event which crowned the first WWE United Kingdom Champion. Once they proved what was possible? Everyone wanted to be part of NXT UK, and the rest is history.
Is NXT UK Worth Watching?
While fans enjoyed having some form of British wrestling, it was stuck behind the WWE Network paywall. They weren’t touring much either, and it took a while for the brand to get going. In an article I wrote in late 2018, I reviewed NXT UK with the intent of letting other fans know if it was worth watching. Wouldn’t say I was harsh, but I did say NXT UK wasn’t worth it ‘yet’. Also, World Of Sport was more appealing with its colourful production, British feel, and larger-than-life characters.
No doubt that NXT UK had some quality wrestling, Pete Dunne as champion, and other talents making themselves known. But if you were strapped for time? If you had limited hours to watch WWE per week? Then it could be skipped; especially for those not from the UK. Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate were the saving graces; but it was hit-and-miss as they didn’t always wrestle or show up. Zack Gibson was saving things with his unrelenting heat, but I could see how it wouldn’t have been enough for some. Honestly, the best part of NXT UK was the fans chanting things like “Shoes Off! If You Hate Gibson!”
I talk to my Dad often about wrestling, because he usually provides good feedback on what’s appealing and what’s not. Given he’s from a previous generation when UK fans enjoy seeing British talent, he initially questioned the women’s division and why it was dominated by two Australians (Rhea Ripley & Toni Storm). So he questioned WWE’s booking, because he felt the first NXT UK Women’s Champions should’ve been from the UK. In fact, it wasn’t til Kay Lee Ray signed a year later that we got to see this happen.
I wasn’t bothered by it though. Restricting the show by only allowing British champions isn’t in the spirit of wrestling. If it were, United States Champions would only be from America, so it doesn’t make sense to ban foreigners from winning a championship. In my eyes, the best workers should be champions no matter where they hail from. It was up to the UK women to prove they were better than Toni Storm, and Kay Lee Ray did so pretty quickly. And you know what? He never talked about other non-UK wrestlers like Jordan Devlin or Finn Balor taking spots on PPV, despite being from the Republic of Ireland. The main thing to me was that NXT UK had its own Performance Center and toured around the British Isles. Providing the platform was satisfaction enough, no matter who they signed.
Over the past year or so, NXT UK began bringing in more European talents. Walter (Austria), Fabian Aichner (Italy), Marcel Barthel (Germany), Alexander Wolfe (Germany), A-Kid (Spain), Killer Kelly (Portugal) and Ilja Dragunov (Russia) regularly enjoy the spotlight. How can we call it the ‘UK’ brand? It’s essentially evolved past that. Although WWE’s operation is based there, the British wrestlers are no longer the emphasis. The UK Champion and Imperium prove this fact, and well.. you just gotta’ look at the Worlds Collide card. Can you guess how many British talents featured out of 11 NXT UK representatives? Only three, which include: Tyler Bate, Trent Seven and Kay Lee Ray.
In an interview with The Sun a few weeks ago, Walter touched on the fact that he doesn’t see himself as the United Kingdom Champion. He finds it restrictive, and his mission is to make the brand bigger to the point it encompasses all of Europe. Walter wants to be the NXT European Champion, and honestly I cannot blame him. Being a UK fan, as much as I’d like to have a show dedicated to British wrestling? The world is a much bigger place than that. I was rooting for Imperium at Worlds Collide because they had earned it, and it honestly felt like the show was NXT USA vs. NXT EU.
There’s no harm in Walter wanting to expand in to Europe, and I’d support him all the way. After all, a healthy European division would give an even bigger spotlight for UK talents, as the shows would be grander and the tours more diverse. NXT UK has become a stepping stone to the American brand, but it could possibly rival the original if it’s allowed to spread its wings and fly.
While part of me would love to be selfish and have a brand solely dedicated to British wrestling, it’s not the 70’s and the world is a much bigger place. The UK opened the door for this to happen, and guys like Walter chopped their way through. I’d love to see more European talents getting opportunities to showcase what they can do and break out in ways they never imagined. Look at the likes of Sheamus, Aleister Black, and Rezar? All enjoying success at the highest level on Raw & SmackDown. WWE is a global brand and NXT UK could easily provide an outlet to Europe like never before in the history of the company.
It seems logical to me to rebrand it as NXT Europe (or simply, NXT EU), but does it make sense to you? Is it fine the way it is? Why change something that’s not technically broken, right? Do European fans need to prove to WWE there’s a market? Or is it WWE’s chance to take a risk and tour this show so they can create a market for years to come? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading!