This weekend, the WWE will be hosting a landmark event for British and Irish wrestling with the crowning of a WWE UK Champion at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool. Considering the rise of British independent wrestling over the past few years, this is an interesting development for talent across the British Isles as well as fans. Whilst there has been grumblings amongst some fans of British wrestling over the absence of certain talents from the tournament, there are certainly some names to watch out for in the tournament.
The young Bate is one of the more interesting participants in the tournament being just 19 years old and an exciting prospect for the future of British wrestling. Having seen his work in the likes of Progress and WCPW, he has a great future ahead of him. Whilst not as polished as his regular tag team partner, Trent Seven, at getting the crowd onside, he is no slouch in that department and his brand of throwback wrestling will undoubtedly be a hit with the crowd in attendance.
Pro Wrestling Ulster regular Tucker is one of the more unknown talents coming into the tournament. A Finn Balor trainee, he could be one of the dark horses of the tournament as his road to the semi final doesn’t cross paths with any of the favorites. Certainly not lacking in confidence, his declaration that “Nobody throws a superkick like I do” was a bold statement to make in the company where Shawn Michaels ruled the roost for so long.
Another Finn Balor trainee, Devlin like Tucker has primarily built his name in Irish shows like OTT wrestling. A good grappler and 10 year veteran who works regularly with Paul Tracey as ‘The Social Elite’, he may go far in the tournament as WWE have given him some extra promotion over other competitors. The big issue for Devlin is being in the shadow of Finn Balor. Can Devlin move out of his mentor’s shadow and create a persona for himself distinct from the “Diet Devitt” reputation he appears to be headed toward.
One of the more experienced competitors in the tournament, Burch has gone by the ringname Martin Stone primarily in the UK. A well traveled hard-hitting veteran with experience in WWE as well as TNA, Burch might be one to watch in the tournament being probably the most well known competitor in his half of the tournament especially to long time NXT viewers. As a big fan of his former tag team partner Stixx I’ll be keeping a close eye on his progress in the tournament.
One of the favourites for the tournament, Trent Seven is one of the best all-rounders in this tournament. A very good worker able to connect with crowds very well and a good speaker, Seven has become one of the more popular acts in the UK over the past few years. A regular tag team partner of Tyler Bate as Moustache Mountain and, more recently, with Pete Dunne as ‘British Strong Style’, Seven is considered by many one of the best talents in the UK currently. My pick to make it to the final from his side of the draw.
Southside Wrestling regular HC Dyer comes into the tournament as one of the more unheralded competitors which doesn’t bode well for him when put against one of the favorites in the first round. The flip side of the coin is that possibly means he impressed the WWE officials at one of their tryouts recently in the UK. Has worked alongside names such as Jimmy Havoc and fellow tournament competitor Joseph Conners in the past.
‘The Regulator’ Wolfgang brings experience and legitimacy to the tournament as the world champion of the ICW promotion. Having recently defended his world title in front of 6500 fans at SSE Hydro in Glasgow against Trent Seven, he will likely not be overawed by the occasion. A big man with a versatile skill set, I’d love to see him progress in the tournament. His possible rematch with Trent Seven in the quarter finals will be very interesting viewing if it happens. I’m hoping to see Wolfgang go the whole way and win the tournament but I see Trent progressing to the final. Hopefully he can get his Johnny Cash cover theme and motorcycle entrance approved by WWE.
The other half of my most anticipated first round match, T-Bone has been a staple of UK and European wrestling the past few years particularly with Preston City Wrestling. T-Bone is a talent that really should be more well known than he is so it will be interesting to see how he performs on the big stage here. His clash with Wolfgang should be a very fun brawl to watch and I think it’s a shame only one of them will progress.
If I had to pick the likeliest winner of the tournament, Mark Andrews would be at the top of my list. An impressive worker who has built a great reputation on the UK independent scene in addition to his slightly lacklustre tenure with TNA, Andrews was a good addition to the tournament. If he collides with Pete Dunne in the semifinal as expected, we may have a very strong contender for match of the tournament. Both men have great chemistry together as evidenced by their BOLA match for PWG recently. Whilst the UK tournament may not feature as many high octane performances as shown in the Cruiserweight Classic, Andrews is a guy who wouldn’t look out of place in the latter stages of such a tournament.
Much like the aforementioned HC Dyer, Moloney is a man in the unenviable position of attempting to play spoiler for a tournament favorite in the first round. The young Moloney will likely be playing the role of a base for Andrews to work off in their first round match. For a young wrestler, Moloney is very active on the independent scene and one to watch for the future. This tournament has probably come too early for him, but he will be hoping to make a strong impression here against one of the bigger names on the British independent scene.
As one of the more local talents, Blackpool native and FutureShock Wrestling regular James Drake will be hoping for a warm reception from the crowd at the Empress Ballroom. I’m looking forward to seeing him perform in the tournament and he comes into it in fantastic shape, having really worked on his physique in recent times. He will face stiff competition against former WCPW champion Joseph Conners in a very intriguing first round match and looks to be the most likely candidate to cause a shock in the first round.
As a former WCPW champion, Conners comes into the tournament with a lot of momentum. A really great heel worker who has one of the most well rounded skill sets in British wrestling today and a terrific finisher in the Righteous Kill, Conners will look to make his mark in this tournament. However, Conners continued presence in WCPW despite working this tournament is the most intriguing storyline outside of kayfabe going into the tournament. The general consensus amongst fans appears to be that talents involved in the tournament have been given a directive not to work with companies such as WCPW and World of Sport moving forward. Despite being one of the more heralded talents involved in the tournament, Conners may face an early elimination if he has chosen to stay with WCPW long term.
A young man who is no stranger to fans of the British independent scene, Pete Dunne would be a strong candidate for most improved wrestler in 2016. Having done sterling work for OTT in Ireland, Dunne has really impressed both abroad and in the UK recently. His world title win at Progress Chapter 39 was a well deserved honour to cap off a great year. A strong heel who may be one of the best examples of a ‘grizzled young vet’ in the business today, Dunne has really came into his own this year displaying more personality and aggressiveness in ring as ‘The Bruiserweight’. He is very likely to clash with Mark Andrews in the semifinal and it should be a great match if it happens.
Standing in the way of Pete Dunne is former powerlifter Roy Johnson. An unknown quantity, his matchup with Dunne will be interesting as the Bruiserweight will have to rely on his guile to overcome the powerful Johnson. A regular of Progress’ ENDVR shows for showcasing their prospects, Johnson faces the world champion of the promotion in the first round. A win over Dunne would be a massive boost for Johnson’s young career and would certainly catapult him into contention for Progress’ world title.
As one of the bigger men in the tournament, the imposing Huxley will collide in the first round with with the equally menacing Sam Gradwell. ‘The Muscle Cat’ has a very good pedigree being a student of Lance Storm, Brian Kendrick and British wrestling legend Marty Jones. It’s hard to pick a favorite out of him and Gradwell in their clash as both are quite unknown quantities.
The intimidating Gradwell faces a tough test in his first round match against one of the few opponents in the tournament capable of matching in size. Coincidentally, both men are proteges of Marty Jones. Another local of Blackpool, Gradwell will be hoping to put on a good show in front of his home crowd and progress to the next round. Carries himself very well and seems to be working as a heel going by his pre-tournament promos which is a role he is better suited to.
Hopefully everyone involved can put their best foot forward and make a good impression with WWE fans and bring more much deserved attention to the British independent scene.