Let’s talk about… the UK Wrestling scene

For the frequent readers of my blog, by now, you’ve probably guessed that I’m quite the big pro-wrestling fan by now. What you might not know, however, is that WWE isn’t the only promotional brand of professional wrestling that I watch. And with the WWE successfully pulling off the fantastic “UK Championship”, which is available on the WWE Network for an undisclosed price, it’s time we talked about wrestling in the UK.

Wrestling in the UK has been around for a very long time, and some of the best wrestlers in the world come from the UK: Davey Boy Smith (a.k.a. The British Bulldog), William Regal, Wade Barrett, Big Damo and local hero Joe Hendry come from these damp and distant shores. The same is true over history as well: Dave Taylor, Giant Haystacks, Fit Finlay, Layla, Dynamite Kid and Les Kellett all were born and raised here.

The UK’s wrestling style is very different from the main style we see on TV these days: the WWE showcase a style developed by Toots Mondt called “Slam Bang Western-Style”. This style puts more emphasis on the “razzle dazzle” aspects of wrestling, such as gimmicks, suplexes and athletic showmanship. The style of wrestling developed in Blighty, however, is far more technical and agile. It’s no surprise to me that the more technically-sound wrestlers learned their trade over here. From Finn Balor to Seth Rollins, we see this develop all the time. It’s also no surprise to me that Chris Benoit, who was one of the most gifted technical wrestlers of the Attitude Era, was tutored and mentored under UK wrestler, William Regal.

And here’s where both the internet snarks like myself and wrestling fans start seeing problems. Can Triple H and Vince McMahon get the wrestlers to adapt a somewhat softer style for the WWE Network?

 

The Best and Worst of Wrestling in 2016

So, 2016 has been a pile of steaming dog-turd, hasn’t it? From the magnificent David Bowie shuffling off his mortal coil to Ric Flair getting seven types of shit beaten out of him, this really hasn’t been a good year for anyone in the entertainment industry. But, this is the time where I look at the 5 best and 5 worst things that happened in wrestling this year.

The Best

5. Broken Matt Hardy
broken-matt-hardy

Broken Matt Hardy, showing Dean Ambrose how to mess around on machinery and make it fit your gimmick. Courtesy of KnowYourMeme.com

I’ve often been criticised for my WWE-Focused look at the world of wrestling, but be fair: Who else has that kind of an audience? So, to quieten the snarky keyboard warriors who like wrestling, I’ve picked something *ahem* brilliant from the perpetual Scrappy-Doo to WWE’s Scooby, Mr Matthew Hardy.
Before this year, the Hardy brothers appeared to most as a footnote: the tag team that could have been champions, but never quite made it. That all changed this year when Matt finally cracked, and the “broken brilliance” entered Matt Hardy. So far, so gimmick, so, to be honest, a little bit shit.
That was until Matt Hardy started keeping character on his YouTube Channel.
Oh boy, things changed. TNA simply couldn’t contain him in The Impact Zone, and he’s made several independent promotion appearances in character, most notably in Delete WCPW, where he bit the ear off some arsehole presenter (Jack The Jobber, for any fellow WhatCulture fans).

4. Bullet Club Exodus

bullet-club

Shortly after Japan’s equivalent of Wrestlemania, Wrestle Kingdom 10, Dave Meltzer from Pro-Wrestling Illustrated broke the news that four big stars from New Japan Pro Wrestling would be going to WWE. They were: The Phenomenal AJ Styles, The “King of Strong Style” Shinsuke Nakamura, Doc Gallows and Machine Gun Karl Anderson. The internet’s reaction? Well, it had kittens. I’m not joking. WhatCulture (who I would love to work for), did at least two videos on it, and the rest of the community were gobsmacked as well. Why? Well, Nakamura earned the nickname in supercommas (quotation marks) due to his performances in NJPW, and has one of the stiffest knees in wrestling history. I’m not joking. The man doesn’t have normal knees. He’s got hammers where his knees should be. Or, at least, it seems that way.
AJ Styles, The Phenomenal One, is one of the best wrestlers on the planet, and again, comes from NJPW, the wrestling school of hard knocks. He’s more famous, however, for his work in TNA. He was there when TNA started, and through sheer force of work rate, quickly became one of the best wrestlers on the freakin’ planet. Although Kevin Owens knocked him out of the 2016 Royal Rumble (I’ll get to that), he quickly became WWE Champion before the Brand Split, and most people love him. His best piece of work this year was of course, his alliance and then feud with Chris Jericho.
Doc Gallows and Machine Gun Karl Anderson were in a stable (like a team) of wrestlers in NJPW, and proved themselves to be brilliant in a similar manner as AJ Styles. With Anderson proving himself to be as technically sound in the ring as William Regal, WWE landed a brilliant tag team. They haven’t been used too well yet, but we should expect bright futures for the both of them in WWE.

3. It’s a New Day (yes, it is!)
the-new-day

Xavier Woods, “Big” E Langston, Kofi Kingston and a trombone called Francesca. Vince McMahon must have been smoking some serious narcotics to get this idea.

Although they started last year, they get a mention in this year’s list because of how well the three lads have made this idea work: From comedy side-shows, to the great big “booty-O’s” at Wrestlemania, for some strange reason, this gimmick started to fly. There are issues with it- using heel tactics throughout the year even though they’re marketed as faces, and WWE ending their streak just after they beat Domination’s Tag-team record- but on the whole, well done WWE.

2. Daniel Bryan’s retirement.
daniel-bryan-retires

A tearful farewell

Admit it, you cried. I cried, you cried, everyone cried. To put this into context for people just getting into wrestling, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) was one of the best wrestlers in the world. Through successive shots and spots where he landed (literally) head-first, Bryan ended up with multiple serious concussions and was barred from wrestling due to medical reasons. The man responsible for the “yes” movement and one of the best burns ever to happen on WWE had to retire. We all miss him in the ring. He still appears on SmackDown as a “general manager”, but you can’t help but notice his eyes go sad every time he stands in the ring. What’s left for him, I hear you ask from behind the umpteenth cup of coffee? Well, in my opinion, he should train wrestlers, as he didn’t put a foot wrong in the squared circle, and finally got his moment at Wrestlemania. Daniel Bryan, I salute you.

1. Wrestle Kingdom 10
wrestle_kingdom_10

Courtesy of NJPW

The working title for NJPW should be “wrestling for real”. Not that Pro-Wrestling is completely real-no fakesies, but whereas with TNA and WWE you can tell when something is staged or planned: with NJPW, you really can’t. It is, simply put, wrestling that really f**king hurts (will you stop swearing in your blog?!- ed).
On to WK10: If the WWE ever needed to look at an existing card as a model for how to do a Pay-Per-View show, then this event would be the best modern one there.

Rising Japanese star, Kushida (no pun intended to any english-speaking japanese readers) absolutely demolished canadian great, Kenny Omega in a match-of-the-year contender, and the penultimate match, AJ Styles versus Shinsuke Nakamura, was really one of the best wrestling matches in history. It was so good that Dave Meltzer automatically awarded it his elusive 5-star rating (which has only ever happened three times). Usually, Meltzer waits until the feud has finished, but this was a match for the ages: the wrestling equivalent of the “thriller in Manila”.

And now for the bad bits. These are the 5 worst things to happen in the world of wrestling this year:

5. The Wyatt Family Booking.

wyatt

This one should be obvious to WWE. If you want a stable of wrestlers with a gimmick to look strong, book them to win. It’s really that simple. Bray Wyatt is one of the best wrestlers out there: Brilliant on the microphone, brilliant away from the ring and bloody fantastic in the ring (happy now, editor?). The way that the creepy, backwoods cult-ish stable have been booked this year, though, has been worse that the time Sting faced Jeff Hardy at Bound For Glory.

To put this into perspective for people just getting into wrestling: imagine your favourite band have three years of successive hits, and then in 2016, come out with albums making Justin Bieber’s. What’s happened to The Wyatt Family this year is the wrestling equivalent. To make matters even worse, Randy Orton’s joined them. A beast like that should be on his own, or the leader of another stable, not just following the same storyline Daniel Bryan did with them two and a half years ago.

4. Goldberg

goldberg-spears-brock-lesnar

That’s right, I did just type that name. Not only is the 49 year old who is universally disliked back, but WWE have made him look like a monster already, destroying Brock Lesnar in under 2 minutes. I can understand why you’d want someone to demolish the suplex-spamming machine that is Brock Lesnar, but c’mon! Goldberg’s like what, 50 ish? Lesnar’s in his prime right now! He defeated the Undertaker’s legendary streak, for fuck’s sake (SWEARING!-ed)! If you wanted anyone to beat the sometimes-heel, sometimes-face monster, I personally would have booked Cesaro. Think about this- both can wrestle, and with the doping ban on Lesnar from UFC, this would have turned Cesaro face, and he’s a brilliant, if underused wrestler.

3. The build-up to Shane McMahon versus The Undertaker at Wrestlemania.

undertaker-vs-shane-mcmahon

Why, oh why, when things go badly belly-up with WWE, does the McMahon family have something to do with it? I’m not knocking the match itself: that really deserved to be at the very top of the card. I’m knocking the build-up. It’s simple booking issues again, really. If you want a match to be watched, and your biggest performer is off due to a knee injury (in this case, the man who can’t be seen, John Cena), then make damned sure that your story is good, and give the viewers a reason other than the match type to watch it. Yes, Hell In A Cell matches are always fun to watch, but to truly make people care in 2016, you have to entertain them with a good story. I don’t want to see a true veteran of the industry being called Vince McMahon’s bitch; I want to see The Undertaker have a real reason to go after Shane.

2. The Ending of Summer Slam 2016

ss2016

I really don’t know how to write this one without a flurry of hate-filled expletives. I really don’t people. WWE fined and eventually banned Batista for blading (a techinque WWE wrestlers used to use for bleeding) in the ring, and this heaping pile of skunk-shit happens. Randy Orton was going up against Brock Lesnar, in what was admittedly one of the best built-up matches of the year. You wanted Randy to kick Lesnar’s behind so much that there would be a permanent boot-print. Instead, Lesnar destoryed Randy Orton. That wasn’t what myself and WWE fans got angry about.
My editor, Jonathan, won’t let me put the picture up, so I’m going to have to type this one. (It’s up now, d*ckhead!- ed) In a move that shocked and annoyed WWE wrestlers and fans alike, Orton got the bejesus kicked out of him that much that his face resembled a traffic light: and blading wasn’t involved this time. This was “hard-way” bleeding. Turns out Lesnar hurt Orton so much, that Orton burst a blood vessel in his forehead. This is one of those matches you show to people who complain that WWE is faked. The matches are pre-determined, and the spots decided on, but that definitely wasn’t.

1. The booking of Charlotte Flair

charlotte

Gotta admit, I love me some women’s wrestling on WWE. There’s only one problem with it really: booking. This should be simple to WWE writers! Simply create an awesome feud, and give it to the girls!
The most notable problem this year was the way in which they booked Charlotte Flair. On one hand she’s a feminist icon who’s brought legitimacy to women’s wrestling in WWE; and on the other hand, she’s an evil “kray-kray” bitch who beat the sh*t (I’ll just asterisk your curse-words out then, shall I?- ed) out of her own father on global TV.
The thing is, Ms Flair has the potential to be one of the best wrestlers of all time: surpassing her father’s achievements and she can do this without cashing in on his legacy. Just don’t turn her into a female John Cena and have her win at every-f**king-Pay-Per-View going. There was nothing wrong with the Roadblock match, other than the result. You’re supposed to turn heel after you become champion, not beforehand.

Let’s hope 2017 is better.

Davey

Thanks to Fred Callaghan for helping me out on this one!