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Over the last few years fans the world over have been tuning in to see what has been going on in the UK as far as independent wrestling goes. It is difficult to say what started this sudden boom in the need for all things British but the reason it continued is due to the vast quantity of talent that is on offer. This seemed to culminate last year when in a matter of months, Will Ospreay announced he had signed a deal with NJPW and went on to win the best of the super juniors, Marty Scurll won BOLA, and Zack Sabre Jr, Noam Dar and Jack Gallaghar all entered the CWC and eventually signed on to the full time WWE roster. Big Damo and Tommy End signed for NXT and then Ospreay and Scurll joined ring of honor and have both since held titles there. As we came up to the end of the year there was no denying that 2016 had been a glory year for British wrestling. And then December happened,
On December 15th 2016, WWE executive Triple H held a press conference and shook the wrestling world with the news that over one weekend in January the WWE will hold a tournament consisting of 16 Britsh wrestlers to crown the first ever WWE UK
Champion. That tournament is now upon us and this weekend at the Empress ballroom in Blackpool a champion will be crowned.
Kayfabe today staff members @nickgrapples, @hoohoowozza and @robbie_radford have examined each competitor and have given a brief bio of who is involved and what to expect from them. Each of them have also picked where they think you should be putting your money in terms of overall winner.
So below in no particular order are the 16 competitors for the WWE UK championship tournament
Hailing from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Tucker makes the short trip across the Irish Sea to Blackpool as one of the more unknown quantities in the tournament. A mainstay in Pro Wrestling Ulster, Tucker has been a two time champion there and also trains students coming into the promotion. Like Jordan Devlin; Tucker was trained by Finn Balor and looks to be one of the more high-flying entrants on show over the weekend. His first round match against 19 year old prodigy Tyler Bate should be a highlight of night one and whilst Tucker may not last long in the tournament, he has a chance to leave a great impression upon it.
Martin Stone reverts to his NXT alias, Danny Burch for the duration of the tournament. Burch was in the WWE developmental system between 2011-15 and has seemingly remained on good terms with the company since his departure, making occasional appearances in NXT through 2016. Uniquely for the participants here, Burch may be just as well known in the USA as the UK, having worked extensively in the southern US independents where he currently holds titles in Full Impact Pro; Florida Underground Wrestling and Atlanta Wrestling Entertainment. He made a welcome reappearance on home shores in 2016 for Revolution Pro Wrestling on the lauded Angle vs ZSJ card in a losing effort against fellow UK tournament entrant Pete Dunne. RevPro have committed to using Stone more regularly in 2017 and it would not be a surprise to see him advance deep into this tournament.
One of the youngest competitors in the tournament at 20 years old, Dyer is a hard hitting individual whose striking abilities support his burgeoning reputation. Dyer is a raw and untamed talent with a short temper, his former tag team partner in Southside Wrestling (and fellow UK Championship tournament entrant) Joseph Conners can attest to that. Dyer will be considered a long shot for the tournament given he faces one of the favourites – Trent Seven in round one, even so, he is a talent that WWE will surely be keeping tabs on beyond this weekend.
A late, yet extremely welcome addition to the field, Mark Andrews is perhaps the best known competitor here at a global level courtesy of his time in TNA and PWG. Andrews has been a stalwart in PROGRESS wrestling since its inception in 2012, having held the Progress Championship and the Tag Team titles in that time, he was also runner up in Super Strong Style 16 in 2016, losing in the final to recent NXT recruit, Tommy End. Andrews should go far in this tournament and, should he reach the semi-finals, then a rematch from 2016’s Battle of Los Angeles against Pete Dunne is on the cards.
Conners has had decent exposure in the past 12 months from his reign as WPCW Champion and appearances on British Wrestling Weekly for NGW and is a decent bet to at least make the quarter finals of the tournament. Conners holds victories over Big Damo; Drew Galloway; Cody Rhodes and Joe Hendry amongst others from his run as WPCW Champion and his pedigree has grown hugely in 2016. Best described as a dark soul, Conners adds a strong character to the line-up in Blackpool and whilst he is not in the list of favourites for the title, he may be the best outside bet in the field to spring a surprise or two.
One of two Blackpool natives in the tournament, the other being James Drake, Gradwell has been better known in the UK as Ricky J. McKenzie up to this point. Based in Grand Pro Wrestling in Manchester, Gradwell has also made appearances for Alpha Omega Wrestling; Kamikaze Pro Wrestling and has branched out on increasing his experience by touring China in the past couple of years. Now going by his real name, Gradwell has worked closely with UK wrestling legend Marty Jones to enhance his skills. His opponent in the first round is Saxon Huxley, another wrestler trained by Jones, in an intriguing match that gives both men a chance of progression.
At the mere age of 19 Tyler Bate as become one of the must see wrestlers on the British independent scene today. Hailing from Tipton in the West midlands he already has five years experience in wrestling behind him. Wrestling in local promotions such Kamikaze Pro and Fight Club Pro Tyler has built such a reputation for himself that he is now a regular in Progress Wrestling and travels extensively around Britain and recently working for the Chikara Promotion in the United States. For me, 2016 was a breakout year for Tyler and the WWE UK championship as come at the perfect time for him as he is most definitely one of the best young wrestlers around at the moment. Expect him to do well in the tournament, win or lose Tyler will show just how good a prospect he really is.
Trent Seven at the age of 35 is the oldest of the participants, however Trent has only been wrestling for over six years and he admits to being in great condition and age plays no part in this tournament. Most fans outside his native Wolverhampton will know Trent through his endeavours in Tag Team Wrestling within the Progress and Chikara promotions alongside fellow competitors Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne. Trent actually is a co-owner of the ever growing Fight Club Pro promotion and wrestles mostly singles and is a firm favourite with the promotions fans. Known for working a strong style I expect Trent to stay true to his way of working and work a solid tournament. Semi-Final for me, but who knows!
Dan Moloney may be unfortunate to have drawn Mark Andrews in the opening round of the tournament, however, this cocky heel from Birmingham will not be fazed by that and will take the opportunity presented to him to showcase just what Dan Moloney is all about. Every tournament needs a good heel and Moloney’s character over the last couple of years has grown and regularly faces the US imports when they arrive at his local shows. Being drawn a tough draw may see him not progressing I have no doubt that the WWE fans will see a tough young man who is in the tournament and means business.
My own personal favourite for the tournament, Pete Dunne has had a stellar year in 2016 capturing many titles around Europe and is the current Fight Club Pro and Progress Champion. The Birmingham wrestler has come a long way from his council estate roots and proved that any dreams, with hard work can come true. Now Pete has become mainstream, and this past year has seen some of the best matches of his career. Along with his character and mic work Dunne has become the complete article and is the perfect fit for a WWE champion and must be a favourite to win. Capturing this championship will see Dunne go from strength to strength. Pete wrestles a strong style and is an intense wrestler and hopefully the WWE will let Pete wrestle the way he has been wrestling and that has got him to the top of the British scene.
Look what the cat dragged in, one of the most charismatic and original competitors of the UK Championship Tournament, Roy Johnson made his name through training to wrestle at the PROGRESS wrestling school (projo) and eventually appearing on the PROGRESS shows. A fan favourite, The Bodyguy is as physical as his nickname suggests, dangerous with a microphone in his hand but perhaps even more so dangerous when he hits you with the Last Set.
Certainly one of the more experienced competitors with 14 years on the independent circuit, Wolfgang has competed against some big names everywhere he’s travelled. Making his name initially working around Scotland, most notably ICW, Wolfgang was eventually awarded the highest honour there, capturing the ICW Championship. Definitely one to watch as a darkhorse, Wolfgang will certainly gain some new fans from this tournament.
A unique character, Tyson T-Bone is one of the more dangerous competitors in the Tournament. Often utilizing an impressive strike moveset, T-Bone’s Gypsy’s Kiss is enough to keep any man down, failing that, he’s more than happy to progress through the tournament via dubious tactics. T-Bone will provide some memorable moments for plenty of fans watching him for the first time.
One of OTT Wrestling’s fan favorite and up-and-coming stars, Ireland’s sole competitor was partly trained by former NXT Champion Finn Balor. Possessing one of the more impressive move sets, Devlin will set the tournament alight should he do well in the tournament. Whilst Jordan Devlin may not be one of the outright favorites, this will serve as a fantastic opportunity for the young but experienced star.
Towering over all of the competition, the 6’3 ‘Muscle Cat’ Saxon Huxley is one of my favourite wrestlers (outside of the British Strong Style trio) competing in this tournament. Whilst height doesn’t always defeat ability, Huxley’s moveset, ability and pure ring presence give him a real good chance in Blackpool. If you think you’ve got the upper hand over Saxon at any point, the Hartlepool native always has a “Shattered Illusions” up his sleeve.
Hailing from Blackpool, James Drake certainly has a home field advantage. Having prepared exceptionally well James Drake stands a good chance of doing well. Drake has appeared for a plethora of promotions, especially in 2016, and is a well-known, travelled veteran of the business despite being less than 25 years old.
@robbie_radford picks TYLER BATE
@nickgrapples picks PETE DUNNE
@hoohoowozza picks PETE DUNNE
@ac_adamson picks MARK ANDREWS