In recent months, I’ve not been overly impressed with WWE’s programming. I tend to get up on a Tuesday and Wednesday morning, glance over the results from RAW and Smackdown, and decide whether to bother watching the episode. (I remain loyal to NXT, though, which always has something worth seeing.)
And when you’re having a busy time of it at work, it’s easy to slip away from getting to too many live wrestling shows; it has to be something really special to get me through the door at the moment.
So it’s easy for me to forget how much I love wrestling.
And then there’s a weekend like this, and I remember it all over again.
Tyler Bate was my pick from the start, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled for him to win. He and Pete Dunne were magnificent across the weekend. I found myself shouting and pointing during Dunne’s run-in – which we’d already predicted would happen, half an hour before the semi-finals started – trying to warn Bate, even though I knew the plan. That’s the joy of wrestling, I suppose. Bate was perfect as the plucky babyface, battling back and performing superhuman feats of strength through sheer willpower; Dunne gave a stellar performance as the evil, sly heel, earning Triple H’s secret approval through his cunning and guts, and earning himself a lifelong enemy in William Regal. It’s worth noting that Dunne got a mixed reaction through the first two rounds, eliciting cheers for his sheer brilliance; through the sneak attack he guaranteed himself jeers and boos for the final.
It was lovely to see Mark Andrews too, enjoying the space and time he was given to show off his experience on television. He was one of the reasons this website took off, and definitely one of the reasons I wrote ‘Spandex, Screw Jobs and Cheap Pops’; five and a half years ago we met after a show in a working men’s club in Digbeth, and he was one of the first indy stars I interviewed.
The amount of facial hair on display made me slightly concerned that there wouldn’t be enough differentiation between the contestants, but they were given enough time to talk and work and show their uniqueness. I couldn’t help but feel a touch sorry for Trent Seven, though, given the task of representing thirtysomethings everywhere by talking about Summerslam ’92.
I felt sorry also for Danny Burch – an excellent, reliable hand, wasted in his initial NXT run, and with his time cut short in the first round due to having his head split open and lying in a pool of his own blood. He’d have carried on if he’d been allowed, too. Still, he returned for the celebrations on Sunday with a big glob of glue and giant plaster holding his scalp together.
Jordan Devlin was impressive – the only man who managed to get himself some real heel heat on the opening night. I’m assuming that the crowd was mainly English and not that familiar with the Irish wrestler – but his kick to Burch’s already bleeding skull cemented his place as the top man to boo on Night 2.
And special guest star Neville! You could probably hear me shouting loud words of agreement during his promo. “Yes, that’s RIGHT, Neville! They’ve stitched you up! They treat you badly!” Neville with a righteous grievance and proving it is the best kind of Neville. His match with surprise arrival Tommy End was great – but a particular kind of great, where they were both impressive but careful not to outshine the tournament competitors. That’s professional wrestling.
There were some things that didn’t ring quite true – T-Bone’s accent, for one. They were clearly going for some kind of alignment with boxer Tyson Fury, I think, but it wasn’t quite there. And the almost-but-not-quite tribute theme songs they were using were just dissimilar enough to be grating – Bate’s faux ‘Sledgehammer’ was oddly catchy in an infuriating way.
Oh, and WWE? Women go to your shows too. You’ve got the designs for your shirts – it won’t cost much for you to put together a box of women’s fit ones. Do you not want my money?
The whole two days was a celebration of British wrestling. Did you ever expect to hear Jimmy Havoc’s name mentioned on the WWE Network? Me neither. It was sweet to see Michael Cole and Nigel McGuinness hug at the end of the second show; they had obviously enjoyed the weekend as much as I did.
When I wrote the epilogue to ‘Spandex, Screw Jobs and Cheap Pops’ nearly four years ago, I urged for unity across the British wrestling scene.
So like squabbling toddlers, you’re going to have to learn to share – areas and venues (until of course you make enough money to have your very own venue), fans (because, let’s face it, there are a finite amount of wrestling fans in the UK and you are never going to get a mainstream following behaving the way you are at the moment), and you’re going to have to share talent.
In the intervening years, it’s been delightful to see that happen. Here we saw WWE working with Progress and ICW, but with RevPro, Fight Club Pro and Attack! getting a good little showcase too, among others. Surely there’s no doubt that there’ll be a full series based around the UK Championship – which means that this collaboration, this showcase of what’s best in our country, is just the start.
I can’t wait.