Today we saw the huge news that WWE is making quick advances into the UK independent wrestling scene. By announcing the upcoming WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament – the company has signaled what many UK fans have known for the longest time – the UK independent wrestling scene is on fire right now.
Yet despite this, the company’s arrival is being seen as a negative in some parts – fears of stifled competition and Superstars being tied to awful contracts that prevent wrestlers from taking advantage. I don’t see it this way though, in fact I believe that it only adds more opportunity for the wrestlers and organisations within the scene to truly break out and make a good living while doing so. It seems many within the scene are seeing it this way too, with many delighted at this turn of events;
— Joseph Conners (@JosephConners) December 15, 2016
— Stu Bennett (@StuBennett) December 15, 2016
— Drew McIntyre (@DMcIntyreWWE) December 15, 2016
It doesn’t make sense for WWE to aggressively suffocate the indies as some are fearing. It costs money to sign talent to contracts and if the rumored Network show ends up becoming a reality, would need a thriving indie scene to maintain said momentum. Of course there are motives at play, but I feel some people are being overly sour on today’s news.
The biggest threat to WWE right now is ITV’s World of Sport. The surprising decision to revive the classic programme has seemingly spooked WWE officials enough that they felt the urge to react. It’s not an unjustified fear either. Even in terms of sheer numbers, World of Sport has the potential to crush WWE’s UK presence with little effort. ITV is a mainstream channel with audience pull of anywhere between 2 to 11 million. While World of Sport will probably pull in the lower regions of that when it returns, it still completely thrashes the 300,000 viewers that tune into Sky Sports every week to watch WWE’s flagship RAW programme. WWE knows this very well.
The reason is simple – ITV have big plans for World of Sport. There’s ever-present rumors that the one-off special already taped will eventually serve to relaunch the promotion as a full-time entity. To add to this they also brought in Jim Ross and scavenged some of the biggest names in the UK indie scene for their initial tapings last month. In an age where WWE has reigned supreme, the sudden appearance of a powerhouse promotion that has both the financial clout and ability to swoop up the best talent from one of the company’s primary markets is a frightening prospect.
It makes sense therefore for WWE to slap its name down in the UK and grab a slice of the white-hot pie. The UK indie scene is on fire right now and has one of the deepest quality pools out on the market. ICW, PCW and WCPW have been killing it this year while other promotions are making inroads into the scene. Their success is spurring on a new wave of interest and created a demand for talent that prevents WWE from being able to simply take the cream of the crop. Why move all the way to the US when you can make good bank at home?
It’s arguably this reason why some of the biggest names haven’t signed up for the WWE UK Championship Tournament. Rumors have been swirling for a few weeks that WWE has been signing up some of the UK’s indie talent. These contracts reportedly have non-compete clauses that exclude Superstars from appearing in promotions with a streaming presence (Effectively every promotion these days). It’s WWE’s way of corralling off talent and stopping it from being swooped up by the bigger names in the scene. But if the end result is a guaranteed contract; that’s a decision for that talent to make.
Whatever the end result however, it’s good for those who are making a living within that scene. It means for the wrestlers there’s genuine choice available on where they ply their trade. With so much attention and money pouring in, those benefits will pass along to the wrestlers. Money is always good and while it’s not the kind of money they can make in WWE’s roster; it’s a welcome alternative. The likes of Zack Sabre Jr don’t need WWE’s money to make a good living when they have so many options on the table. It’s probably why he hasn’t signed up for this tournament and why he didn’t opt to take their contract during the Cruiserweight Classic.
It’s also got potential to help current promotions in the scene. If World of Sport takes off and if WWE does opt to establish a Network show, it might tempt one of the other UK networks into bringing on their own wrestling show. In the past the likes of Challenge have worked closely with TNA, so it’s not beyond the pale of possibility that TV networks could be tempted into supporting promotions.
With the likes of Channel 5 and BBC always looking for cheaper options; a TV deal wouldn’t be out of the question for those who are looking to capitalize on the popularity of the scene. The only reason this hasn’t happened up to now is because there’s no perceived demand. That would quickly change if millions of viewers are tuning in weekly to see live wrestling.
It remains to be seen what WWE’s long-term intentions are with the WWE United Kingdom Championship. One thing is for certain though, it’s given an already hot UK independent wrestling scene yet more prevalence on the bigger stage. Only time will tell if this is a good or bad thing for all involved.