Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know that WWE has announced a landmark two-night tournament on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 January 2017 at Blackpool's Empress Ballroom in order to crown its first-ever WWE United Kingdom Champion live on the WWE Network. The show which has been sold out for weeks, is set to mark a step-change for sports entertainment in the UK and some of the country's most impressive talent will be competing. Pete Dunne, Trent Seven and Tyler Bate will mix it up with Joseph Conners, HC Dyer and the recently announced Mark Andrews. Keep an eye on WWE's UK social media pages for further details. In the run-up to the championship tournament, we sat down with WWE British legend William Regal who shared his thoughts with us.
How much have you been the driving force behind the tournament?
We're [Regal and NXT trainer Robbie Brookside] just part of the team, the talent development team. Wer'e all passionate about what we do. Obviously we are going to be passionate about getting opportunities for everyone in Britain to be a part of this - that's for sure - but we all just work as a good team. There's no egos, we just want the best show we can put on. That started with NXT and that continues. Then it was the cruiserweight show and finding people to go direct to the main roster. The talent development team all work together just to try and get the best of the best or at least give people opportunities to become the best.
When did the idea for a UK Championship tournament first arise?
Well I'm quite happy for you to look at my records of my visit to this country last summer and doing scouting trips and different things. We've been getting this all thought out, like the cruiserweight show, for a long time. We're off all the time. I've been in Osaka, did a try-out there. We did two in Australia. We're constantly looking all the time for the best of the best.
Was there anyone you wanted for the tournament that you couldn't get?
There were one or two names on the list. There are several people doing other things. What I like about that is similar to the cruiserweight show. We had a few people that we wanted on that show, on a wish list that we couldn't have. That gave opportunies to other people. One of the greatest examples of that is Jack Gallagher, who wasn't figured into anything because no-one knew who he was. But I knew who he was and I thought people are either going to love him or they're going to hate him. There's going to be no in-between. I've got a pretty good eye for talent and I thought, they're going to love him. He came in and people thought "who's this fellow". As soon as he walked out, they went insane for him. So for the few people we couldn't get, its opened up spots for a lot of younger fellows.
We're impressed that you've found talent like HC Dyer, Dan Moloney and Chris Tyler - they wouldn't necessarily be well known on the independent scene. What did you like about them, had you seen them in action?
It was talent. I was over here in the summer, I saw loads of shows and was just looking for gems of people. There were more than 16 fellows up on stage at the press conference. Some fellows are here as alternates as you don't know what's going to happen before the tournament. Somebody like Chris is 19, no rush for him, time is a different cat. Like you said, he's got no name but its back to that Jack Gallagher thing. We look for the people who've got something there.
You'll always have people saying "these guys look good" but there's a difference in what we're looking for. We want our fighters to look like fighters, sure, but the moves still have to look good. That was a key component of the cruiserweight show. Everything that was put in slow motion was gripping and that's a big thing for us with these fellows - does it hold up on the screen. I don't want to watch phoney looking wrestling, nor does any of us anymore - we've seen too much of it. We get to change the way that wrestling is from now on. These cruiserweight guys are flying about but when they're hitting each other, they're hitting each other! There's a physicality. If you've got the skills, especially for these tournaments -you can't have phoney looking people. There's a lot of cruiserweights out there but if you actually closely look at the stuff, doesn't look like it can break the skin on a rice pudding. When you watch the fellows that are in that top 16 of the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, when you watch the fellows in slow motion, that's why they're here. I've watched them up close and these guys are incredible on camera and have all that physicality.
Finally and particularly in light of Brexit, is this a statement of intent from WWE? More time in the UK, investment in Northern England and more to come?
We've always been invested in the UK. We've been invested in the UK for years. This is our number two place in the world and it's great that we'll be coming here more.
There you have it. More WWE, more British talent and more network content for the UK. The new year is certainly shaping up to be a great one for WWE fans. Make sure to watch the first-ever United Kingdom Championship Tournament live on the WWE Network on 14 and 15 January. The network costs 9.99 per month with one month free to new subscribers.