The last few days in the wrestling community have been nothing short of pandemonium. Then again, when isn’t there a week without pandemonium in wrestling? This time, everyone has a fair reason to be panicking, particularly over the current state of the UK scene.
Last Monday, it was reported by WrestleTalk that all of WWE’s NXT UK talents will be given new contracts which will put restrictions over where their contracted Superstars can wrestle. Reportedly, WWE will now only let their UK talents wrestle in local promotions that are partnered with WWE (i.e. PROGRESS and ICW).
Furthermore, it has been reported more recently by Dave Meltzer that the promotions which WWE are partnered with are in deals where WWE can buy and eliminate them at any time they wish. Keep in mind that while none of this is official, it isn’t hard to see WWE attempting to become a governing body over the wrestling world.
While there are plenty of downsides to these alleged deals – and even a few upsides – there is one thing for sure: the UK wrestling scene isn’t dead and will continue to thrive.
All of this news regarding the state of the NXT UK division and the UK wrestling scene as a whole certainly echoes a contradicting attitude that was displayed back when WWE first announced their UK plans.
Upon announcing their first ever United Kingdom Championship Tournament back in December 2016, William Regal promised that they would put “zero restrictions on anybody working anywhere, except for these companies who won’t let these fellas work for that one. They are free agents, just as long as we need them for certain dates, we’ll give them plenty of notice. This is not the “Big Bad Wolf” coming in to try and take away everything from anybody. This is to give these fellas, who we think are the best, some money in their pockets.”
Now, not only is WWE putting restrictions on their UK talent, but the UK companies that they partner with as well. The whole thing just sounds fishy at every angle, but the UK wrestling scene isn’t in as much turmoil as it looks like it’s in. There is just as much good that can be found in all of this as there is bad.
One thing that we should all understand is that the UK wrestling scene isn’t going anywhere. It was here before WWE, and it’ll be here long after WWE closes its doors – if that day were to ever come.
One of the big concerns is that certain indie promotions will struggle with WWE taking so many of their top talents. But on the other end, WWE signing the UK scene’s current top stars gives opportunities for new stars to emerge onto the scene and fill their spots.
It’s no different than when a promotion like Ring of Honor needs to push new stars once their top talent get signed by WWE. Recently, Jeff Cobb has been pushed to the forefront ever since he dethroned Punishment Martinez of his ROH Television Championship after the latter migrated to WWE’s Performance Center. In the 67+ days since his reign began, Cobb has been a consistent highlight of ROH TV.
The same can be said for the current state of the UK wrestling scene. A recent signee like WALTER may not have risen so highly on the independent scene if previous indie headliners hadn’t left town for greater prospers in WWE. WALTER stepped up his game and became PWG World Champion at a time when previous champions Ricochet and Keith Lee left for NXT.
UK mainstays like Jack Sexsmith, Nathan Cruz, Rampage Brown, and Gabriel Kidd – just to name a few examples – are some excellent talents that frequent the UK undercard who are itching to finally break out and become headliners. Hypothetically, let’s say all four of these gentlemen do break out and wind up on WWE’s radar. There will be another new crop of rising stars waiting for a push to take their spots.
No matter what happens in the future, there will always be a future. There will always be a new generation ready to take over the mantle left by the last generation.
As for the current generation of stars currently being signed, there is a bright side to NXT UK talent being restricted as far as who, where, and when they can work. It’s not like WWE is taking food out of the mouths of their UK talent. These new contracts are being implemented to pay their UK talent at higher rates while they have access to WWE’s top medical staff at each of their shows.
If being restricted from working at certain shows means that these talents don’t have to drive 12 hours to wrestle in a jungle gym with unsafe working conditions only to get paid $25, then keep the restrictions coming. Getting a pay boost whilst enjoying the luxuries that wrestling in a WWE arena has to offer means that these talents shouldn’t have to work in other promotions for extra money.
Even United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne appears to be a strong proponent for the restrictions, if they’re even true, which Dunne prefaced by telling fans “don’t believe everything you read.” In a series of tweets, not only did Dunne assure us all that British wrestling was “safe” and highlighted the perks that UK stars would have from jumping ship, he made sure to to mention that fans should always support UK talent regardless of where they wrestle.
That’s the biggest bet that the UK scene has that will allow it to survive what ever apocalyptic repercussions these deals WWE is holding over their heads. No matter who is allowed to work for their promotions, the UK scene has a devoted following of fans who will – and should – support them no matter what creative direction that they go in.
Anyone who truly loves wrestling should support their local promotions whenever possible, and now, that support is needed more than ever.
THE BAD AND THE UGLY
There’s a lot of bad, folks. Plain and simple.
Most of the bad derives itself from the news regarding the contracts that WWE share with their partnered promotions. More specifically, the idea that if WWE ever so wished, they could buy out the companies they’re partnered with at any time and in doing so, eliminate them in the process. To call a deal like this shady would be an understatement. It asserts WWE as some big bully organization, and makes their intentions to partner with indie promotions seem malicious.
Perhaps worse than the restrictions and shady partnership deals themselves is the implication that all of this holds for the future of the wrestling industry as a whole.
For diehard wrestling fans who watch any piece of in-ring action that they can get their mitts on, a big highlight in watching WWE is their influx of independent talent. Thanks to WWE’s partnerships with independent promotions around the world, it has allowed a countless array of wrestlers who we thought would never turn up in WWE to finally step inside of the company’s ring.
Before NXT UK became a brand, these working relationships have allowed top indie talent to appear in WWE on a per appearance basis without even signing a contract. Guys like Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr. were afforded the luxury of stepping inside of a WWE ring because WWE were able to create strong working relationships with different promotions outside of America.
In more recent memory, these partnerships have allowed WWE Superstars to appear in different independent promotions; Velveteen Dream, Cedric Alexander, and Mustafa Ali have all wrestled for Evolve in the past year or so. These partnerships have also allowed someone like Trent Seven to hold the Progress Atlas Champion while still wrestling for WWE without either promotion trying to strong-arm exclusivity over The Don of Moustache Mountain.
Seeing WWE make positive working relationships with these companies has been a beautiful thing to watch in motion. Unfortunately, there’s an underlying fear we have that news regarding the contractual nature of these partnerships could discourage other promotions from partnering with WWE, which in turn would deprive many of our indie faves from working on a WWE stage unless they get signed.
RevPro already backed out of a partnership with WWE due to the nature of this deal, and we’re positive that more will follow. More promotions – and even wrestlers – will feel reluctant to shake hands with WWE.
When it comes to a specific UK promotion’s outlook, the general feeling backstage is that while everyone’s happy to see local stars – like Travis Banks, Millie McKenzie, and Charlie Morgan – finally get to shine on a global platform, there’s an underlying fear that WWE is going swoop up all of their established stars and the indies will suffer for it.
Even worse, this would force the promotion’s more inexperienced wrestlers to step up and fill their shoes when they’re not ready to do so. While I did mention earlier that the rise of undercard talent in wake of departing WWE signees is a good thing, I have to admit that anyone being pushed too hard too fast before they’re ready will only set them up for failure. Then, as a result, setting up their stars for failure would by in large set the promotion itself up for failure.
The saddest part about these restrictions is that it could possibly discourage current independent stars from ever signing with WWE. WOS Wrestling’s Justin Sysum has put in his two cents recently on the matter in a tweet addressing what he feels is WWE’s way to “halt all the incredible progress [of the British wrestling scene].” Although Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, and Trent Seven all stand by the fact that these are nothing more than rumors, it doesn’t look like Sysum is anxious to sign a WWE contract anytime soon.
Stuff like this could deprive us of WWE’s next breakout star, or WrestleMania headliner, and quite frankly, that’s a damn shame.
Just Support Wrestling
The fact of the matter is that knowing the nature of these deals for both WWE UK contracted wrestlers and promotions is disheartening, and the implications of these deals could very well set a few promotions back a peg.
However, mark our words that this does not signal the end of the British wrestling scene. The scene itself and the support for it is too strong to go out in a whimper.
Yes, it’s a great thing that your favorite UK stars get to push their careers further inside of a WWE ring and enjoy the perks that come with it. Yes, you should continue to support them wherever they wrestle, but don’t make a choice between supporting your favorite UK star in WWE and your favorite local British promotion. Support them both, especially your local promotions.
Who knows? Maybe your favorite local promotion is housing your next favorite future WWE superstar.
It’s easy to create an “Us vs Them” narrative and paint WWE as the big bad guy, but at the end of the day, it’s wrestling. Wrestling is what connects many of us, and by that same merit, it’s what puts food on the plates of our favorite wrestlers. If your favorite UK wrestler happens to be in WWE, support them. If they’re still in the UK, support them, too. Wrestling is better when we’re connected, not separated.
So continue to support British wrestling now more than ever. Support the UK scene as you would the WWE. Support is the biggest keyword that will allow your favorite promotion and your favorite wrestlers to thrive, no matter where they are.
More than anything else, just support wrestling.