In one fell swoop, WWE has changed the landscape of British Wrestling. At a press conference in London, jaws dropped as Paul "Triple H" Levesque revealed that the company would be hosting a 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 next step, it is hoped, is a weekly UK show.
Royal Ramblings will be previewing the tournament and speaking to some of those involved in the coming month but this marks a serious step-change in WWE's long-term UK engagement (let us not forget Summer Slam '92 in the UK for me).
Some of the names already announced are well-known on the UK independent scene. Pete Dunne and Trent Seven, both Progress Wrestling champions are due to compete, so is Wolfgang, ICW's Heavyweight champ and the veteran Joseph Conners. However, WWE's British Scouts - the incomparable William Regal and Robbie Brookside - have really done their homework. Fresh faces including HC Dyer, Dan Moloney and Chris Tyler are all in with a shot.
Royal Ramblings had an early opportunity to speak with a number of WWE's homegrown talents about the tournament.
Hailing from Newcastle, WWE Superstar Neville knows the UK scene well. Asked who we should look out for, he told us "there's a few guys, a few old friends". He continued "I know Wolfgang from a long time ago, he's an old friend". "Trent Seven, Pete Dunne - the younger guys coming up are great". "There's guys I didn't know but it seems they are wrestling more in the traditional British style which is what I like to see". "It's exciting, it's an exciting chance for everybody".
Perhaps, we put it to Neville, he might challenge for the belt down the line... "I can't lie" he said. "When I saw the graphic of the championship on the screen, it was pretty nice! I'd love to be part of it as and when there's a plan for it. I don't think there is but anything can happen".
Neville also told us that as a northerner he was pleased the tournament would be held in Blackpool "at least it's not in London for once!" he joked and although he wouldn't be drawn on the tournament as an indicator of WWE's intentions post Brexit, he told us that he hoped it was a good sign.
Finally, asked about the tournament model which WWE has used recently for cruiserweights and is rumoured to be considering for a women's competition, Neville agreed this was an important development. "I think it speaks more to the fact that there's a demand for this product and we're satisfying that demand" he told us. "As a wrestler, the more wrestling there is the better as far as I'm concerned and if that's what people want we'll keep putting it out there".
Royal Ramblings also spoke with the former WWE Universal Champion and proud Irishman, Finn Balor. Commenting on the tournament, he said: "If this opportunity would have been around when I was on the UK independent scene, it definitely would have altered the path I took to WWE but I think everybody forges their own path and these 16 competitors are going to change the landscape of not only British and Irish wrestling and of sports entertainment generally". "These guys are fellas that have been the benchmark here in the UK for a long time. The fact that we're creating our own brand for these guys just shows how talented they are and that this market is so wide open to WWE, I hope we can stimulate its growth".
Asked about the important of the tournament for UK promotions and sports entertainment he continued "It's so important.... Obviously, I was here a long time ago. We are living on islands out here but it felt very much like we were on a wrestling island as well". "There was no link at all between the promotions and WWE. Now it's completely wide open. I think this tournament, obviously it's great for WWE to develop a new brand, I think more importantly it's going to stimulate growth at the grassroots level for global and independent wrestling". Explaining further, he told us that "when kids see Jordan Devlin and Trent Seven and Pete Dunne and Wolfgang on the WWE network and then they're on the poster of a town hall's local wrestling show - they'll say I want to see them". "And how crazy is the idea of a WWE champion wrestling at a local independent show?" he continued before summating that "we're basically throwing oil on the fire of independent wrestling and I think it's really going to stimulate the grass roots, it's not just good for WWE but for all the local promotions too."
The feedback from the UK wrestling community has already been tremendous. We are very excited and will be giving further details, interviews and previews over the coming weeks. Stay tuned or as Triple H would say: "Are you ready?......!!!!"
Tickets for the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament are on sale and can be purchased online at livenation.co.uk.