World Wrestling Entertainment announced in a special press conference on December 15th at the O2 Arena in London that the first-ever WWE United Kingdom Champion will be crowned in January. A 16-man tournament will be held on January 14 and 15, and will be aired exclusively on the WWE Network. The competition will take place in the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, and will feature wrestlers from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, as well as the Republic of Ireland. The announcement was made by WWE Chief Operating Officer and 13-time World Champion Triple H. The championship belt, inspired by the United Kingdom’s royal coat of arms, was unveiled this Monday, and can be seen in the photo above.
The announcement of the tournament comes after ITV announced that a two-hour World of Sport special featuring British wrestling talents will be aired on December 31st. The show will be presented and called by legendary commentator and WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross.
The popularity of professional wrestling has grown by leaps and bounds in the UK over the years, and WWE is now looking to further tap into the market. The independent circuit has caught on in the region, with wrestlers showcasing their talent in promotions such as New Generation Wrestling, Insane Championship Wrestling and British Championship Wrestling. WWE is now giving these local talents the opportunity to present the world with their grappling skills. Notable British superstars (past and present) in the WWE include the British Bulldog, William Regal, Wade Barrett, Mason Ryan and Paul Burchill among others. Three Irish wrestlers – Sheamus, Finn Balor and Becky Lynch are huge names and former Champions on the current roster.
Professional wrestling though, is still dwarfed in terms of popularity when compared to football, whether it’s in terms of the multi-billion pound tv deal or the billions spent on football betting odds each year. The English Premier League is the most widely watched league not just in the UK, but in the whole world. Huge amounts of television money, added to the vast sums of pounds pumped into football clubs by the owners make it very difficult to compete against. The Premier League is a household name, with thousands of people supporting the teams from their local areas and boroughs. Professional wrestling, on the other hand, is still very much concentrated to the young, internet-savvy enthusiasts who stay up late at night to follow the WWE and other promotions in different corners of the world.
There have been times in the past when the two have come together. Shane McMahon, the son of WWE Chairman Vince, called out then-Chelsea Football Club manager Jose Mourinho during an episode of Monday Night Raw back in 2007 at Earl’s Court in London. Last year, Wade Barrett was punched in the face by England and Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney during an episode of Raw at the O2 Arena. The WWE have a history of leaving no stone unturned in trying to insert themselves in every home. They have come a long way in the UK, but there is still work to be done if they are to rival the popularity enjoyed by football.
The introduction of an exclusive UK Championship is certainly a step in the right direction. It provides a huge platform for local talents, and should pull in sizable numbers at the venues. With good storylines and high-quality wrestling, these men can build on their existing fanbase in the UK and also find new ones among WWE Network subscribers around the globe.