World Wrestling Entertainment announced at a press conference earlier today that they’ll be launching a new United Kingdom Championship in January. The first champion will be crowned in a two-day, 16-man tournament that will air on the WWE Network on January 14 and 15, 2017. The top names revealed for the tournament include Pete Dunne, who was a highlight of Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s latest Battle of Los Angeles show back in the summer, and his British Strong Style team mates Trent Seven and Tyler Bate. Commentary will be handled by WWE’s lead announcer, Michael Cole, alongside British ex-wrestlers William Regal and Nigel McGuinness, the latter of whom will be joining WWE after a career spent mostly working for Ring of Honor.
British wrestling is at hits highest point in decades, with promotions like PROGRESS, Revolution Pro and Insane Championship Wrestling garnering increasing buzz over the last few years. Top British stars like Zack Sabre Jr., Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay have become international stars, with the latter two signing exclusive US deals with Ring of Honor, Ospreay also working for New Japan, and Sabre Jr. featuring in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament and working for several different major independent promotions. Additionally there’s a strong contingent of UK workers contracted to TNA, including Drew Galloway, Rockstar Spud and Grado, and the British network ITV will soon be bringing the long-running wrestling-heavy show World of Sport back over 30 years after its original run ended. WWE itself has already imported Jack Gallagher for its reconstituted cruiserweight division. The UK scene is booming and WWE clearly wants in.
If anything, WWE might have missed its best window into the UK scene. If they had announced this show a year ago, they perhaps could have signed Sabre, Ospreay and Scurll, the three biggest UK wrestlers of the moment. Some speculate that ITV’s plans might have spurred WWE to action, as the network is signing its World of Sport talent to contracts that would effectively prevent them from working with WWE.
Per the Wrestling Observer, here’s the full list of talent for the UK Championship tournament. And if you count 18, good catch; the Observer’s Alan Boon speculates that two are believed to be alternates in case of injury.
If you want, you can watch the entire press conference, featuring Paul “Triple H” Levesque, here.