The ultimate question remains: “What is happening in NXT UK?” The answer is simple, we just do not watch it enough. Today I’m going to look at why we let it fly under our radar, and how to increase the viewership. At the end of days I want to you realize NXT UK is great, we would all know it if we watched it more, what are the reasons? Well I do not know yours is but from my perspective I feel we can solve it by the end of this opinion column. Please enjoy and voice your thoughts at the end of this piece.
After the resurgence in the independent scene as well as foreign wrestling the WWE felt it had quite the opportunity to branch out a make a preemptive strike to keep the promotion’s pastures green for many years to come. At this time the American scene of independent had an almost hostile attitude towards the WWE. Japan was the biggest hot bed in this time, as long time American indie rival (ROH) partnered with New Japan Pro Wrestling to promote heavily based wrestling matches with very charismatic English speaking workers as the forefront and stand-out. The ROH/New Japan working agreement continued to wow crowds as they began cutting into the WWE merchandising market and getting their names chanted on the WWE televised programs. This result does not sit well with Vince McMahon, he knows what to do… after all he took over the country beginning in the 1984 expansion. He stomped out billionaire competition last in 2001 and felt it was the last time he had a rival. If Vince knew a tactic it was the same used once before: “ I will steal their talent, make them my own…grab their fan base then crush it along with their followers.” It wasn’t easy and McMahon’s plan almost backfired. That my friends is where it gets interesting for us all.
Prince Devitt, and Kenta came first as new talent to NXT. With a mini push to get the new company owned names of both to create buzz. Kenta being the man that created CM Punk’s finisher the “ Go to sleep”, Devitt being the super charismatic foreigner that created the group in NJPW that stole US merch sales the WWE did what they know best. They assumed nobody knew them and changed their names and reintroduced them in NXT. While it was a hit for Balor, KENTA now being renamed Hideo Itami suffered multiple injuries and was on the shelf more than in the ring. With Itami’s luck being soured Balor was given a lengthy NXT title run ( Longest to date) and called up to the main roster while Itami continue to heel. Subsequently McMahon signed Shinsuke Nakamura, and japanese female sensation Asuka to NXT contracts and began pushing both heavily. With the loss of 4 major Japanese stars as well as McMahon offering to purchase the Bullet Club name and likeness ( That group that had been dominating wrestling merchandise sales and reinventing attention to NJPW), Japan began withdrawing from WWE’s offers. The result was the Bullet Club likeness and trademarks stayed in the land of the rising sun as well as most of its members. Most all Japanese talent stayed put to knowing fro McMahon’s past how foreigners are treated. How was global expansion going to work without grabbing the most lucrative market outside the United States? Who else was a hotbed of talent and had rabid fans looking for more? Twisting the globe around the answer became very apparent very fast.
With standout promotions like Revolution Pro, Progress Wrestling, ICW and the newly former What Culture Pro-Wrestling ( Now known as Defiant) the UK served as the hotbed McMahon was looking for in a global expansion. Many of his recent acquisitions in NXT have performed for the aforementioned promotions giving McMahon an insiders perspective to reach out to talent. Thus began the NXT UK as first flagship of global expansion! WWE cleverly used NXT, the cruiserweight classic, and the Mae Young Classic to introduce foreign wrestlers as well as to attempt to sign them. If WWE fans soon had the benefit of being introduced to Zack Sabre Jr., Jack Gallagher, Toni Storm just to name a few to create the buzz for what was soon to follow: the announcement of NXT UK! Hoping the newly showcased cruisers and females would generate buzz and sign with WWE ( some did, Sabre jr declined) they now had a few recognizable faces for the casual fan. This takes us to the O2 Arena in London for a huge announcement.
Triple H serving as executive producer announced the formation of NXT UK, however with a crowd pleasing statement he said that the stars could still work in all the current promotions they are assigned to now. This statement elated the crowd to know that this wasn’t a talent raid to crush beloved programs they have grown so fond of. This statement embraced fans to feel that WWE was in fact being the vessel to bring more wrestling to the UK, without harming its current ecosystem. A tournament was announced for the first UK champion to be crowned along with unveiling a brand new title with most unique look in years. The hype was real,the combatants named, and all of a sudden NXT UK was the talk of wrestling. To appease the ferocious crowd UK legend Johnny Saint was named the general manager. Names such as Pete Dunne, Wolfgang, Jordan Devlin, Mark Andrews were introduced as well as some background information to let us know what to look for. Fresh names, with fresh ideas this couldn’t go wrong now could it? No, it didn’t go wrong at all.
Network tournament specials aired to build a solid foundation for the tournament finals, As wrestlers were eliminated newer stars were built from the advancements towards the gold, and increasing viewership. WWE and NXT stars made appearances to drive attendance and in the end Tyler Bate defeated Pete Dunne in a great match to become the inaugural champion. Stories were told, star made and weeks later people started forgetting about the new program. It was like a special event where the viewers didn’t understand it kicked off fresh programming devoid of 50-50 booking and overexposed stars. How did we fail it or WWE fail us by it?
The only stars that had more exposure outside NXT UK programming became Bate and Dunne, with the tandem of Moustache Mountain (Bate and Trent Seven) getting exposure some from a small ( two day realistic and twenty two day tape delayed) tag title reign. Where was Wolfgang, where was Dave Mastiff, who was Mark Andrews??? We had more commercials for the network itself and camp WWE then advertisements or reminders for NXT UK. Aside from star power the other detractor had to be overexposing wrestling. With three hours of raw, two hours of smackdown, one hour of 205 live, one hour of NXT left us with seven hours under our belt to watch NXT UK as the week ended. Imaging a PPV week starting on Sunday with a three hour show before all of that, as a viewer and fan I think exhaustion caused us to tap out. Now imagine if you are a fan of easily accessed ROH or MLW which air on Fite tv for free Mondays and Tuesday’s? That is a work day plus overtime of wrestling viewing before NXT UK even has opening credits. To quote a good friend “ I love pizza but not as three meals a day four days in a row of it.” Is wrestling fatigue to blame from over exposure? That answer lies in how grasping the product is by the viewer. My best example is how terrible raw and smackdown ratings have become in the last year. I prefer to read reviews and youtube hot moments vs seeing a McMahon promo for thirty minutes. That would allow me an hour of ROH and an hour of NXT, with youtubing highlights. Notice what I didn’t include, alas I am guilty too.
So I send messages to my Nephew in the UK almost daily and about wrestling. He is stationed there for two years with the Airforce. After enjoying some NXT UK I asked him his top three UK stars. His answer was Marty Scurll ( Im sure his Bullet club charisma and character aided that decision), Zack Sabre Jr. ( Exposed from NJPW wrestling clips after being introduced to him), and only WWE competitor Drew McIntyre ( Sighting liking his personna and better move set for a bigger man). Hmm? I asked if he watched NXT UK and he said no, but told me he was going to see Mikey Whiplash up in Glasgow soon because he knew I was a fan. I explained to him that he might be missing some great action and asked if he could name anybody on the roster, after a bit his retort was Pete Dunne. I get it though. We really did not get much as far as marketing the product that has some great wrestling on it towards us. Moustache Mountain, the bruiserweight Pete Dunne, and Walter is all we have gotten to digest, lets try some things to put eyes on the prize shall we?
A mid card title for NXT UK, the King of the ring! Now wait don’t quit reading now this makes sense so indulge me. No scepters no crows, capes or entourage of servants to carry you on a throne to the ring. Instead a real physical belt ( Gasp! Sorry Vince I mean championship) with a real meaning. This title will be the NXT UK version of a TV title, so no more open challenges and it gives easy booking for main events. The title will be explained as if you are the king of the ring and you are not in a tag match or not there that week you must defend the championship. It is less campy than a 24/7 title and rewards out viewer for seeing a talented undercard wrestler getting a stepping-stone title. Also serves to see if the competitor is ready for the next level. Only one defense, no goofy tag team loss or 24/7 stipulations. Make being the King a pride driven title, because holding that with a day count will have more meaning than a monthly defended title. To do this one must advertise it and lead to an NXT UK Takeover ( Perhaps revive Insurrection as a Takeover owned name?) This would come from Johnny Saint shown giving a promo on exciting news for all NXT UK fans and NXT followers. After he announces a mini tournament the show ends with Johnny taking a phone call from an old friend and telling him he will blow his socks off,
Inter-promoting can be more than the key to help NXT UK ratings, by utilizing all basic assets. Johnny Saint is from the UK so is William Regal, the most sense it makes is to blow Regals’ socks off with the announcement of Insurrection crowning a new champion but wanting NXT competitors in it too. This creates side stories for younger or newer wrestlers to tie up tv time and have a main voice of the tournament on more scene television. Couple this with a no more than five minute happenings in the tournament to create a must see for Thursday nights without taking away from home programming. Now we could have two fun to watch wrestlers headed to the UK to help viewers see them in hopes of winning the title. When the smoke clears proper booking puts a top NXT talent vs a top NXT UK with UK going over. The title needs to stay there unless you sign-up an American NXT talent for a tour. Losing the title right away to put is on a UK wrestler would kill its meaning. It needs to be on the first champ at least four to five months. Seeing that its upper mid card talent NXT doesn’t want to lose someone that long, I would talent exchange with NXT no more than three months so no steam is lost, or not forgotten. In the end a new PPV is created, a title with meaning is created and we cross promoted to viewers what NXT UK is all about by loaning out some NXT names.
Nurture the injuries, we have been told you never know who is going to surprise you in NXT so lets make it work within parameters. We have seen so many great NXT and new to main roster talent get injured and spend months on the shelf. Well why not make the last leg of rehab NXT UK, and work televised dates? It pays for itself in promotion if mentioned for twenty seconds on raw. Here is a good example: ” AoP was last seen healthy at Super Showdown, but this past week in case you missed it, and available on the network assaulted Moustache Mountain alongside British manager Drake Maverick on NXT UK last Thursday. Apparently that’s what he means when he is getting his protection ready”. This promo can cross from 205 live to, NXT, NXT UK, to either Raw or Smackdown and only takes 10 seconds. Even if a wrestler is too big for NXT UK it wouldn’t hurt to have them make an appearance live, or promotional. It works best I feel for younger stars that injured themselves too fast on the main roster. Great for ring rust and great eyeballs when needed.
Last idea to boost rating is a co-promotional PPV. Only one, and that is War Games!l Start with the friendly competition from the King of the Ring initial crowning and go with a friendly bet later between the two. It can last for a two month lead to get the payoff you want but they bet on War games. Team NXT UK vs team NXT ( Also sharing a ppv gives other storylines time to steep as you take main eventers out to headline a PPV with wrestlers they may not get along with.) Imagine Team NXT vs team NXT UK and it has to be the best five of both, so no titles are on the line ( Elongating feuds with everyone tied up could make better storylines with the writers able to rest and have longer deadlines.) The PPV is now World War Games ( Thank you R. Felix Finch from Wrestling With Wregret) , aside from the main event we get inter promo matches billed as exhibitions and both tag title matches. Two month build going in, weekly episodic knowledge kept in ten minute burst to keep guessing what program needs to be SEEN more.
Building viewers is by having an individual identify with the product. If we are too tired, too angry at prior week viewing or just hungry we might turn it off. Every reason today is good enough, but if you do not give it a try will it be wasted or cliched from one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? It IS good wrestling, it needs story power and a small sports entertainment bite. I want that, NXT UK can have that. So, I ask if you don’t like my ideas will you give it a shot? Maybe a fresh set of eyes??? Let me know my book is always open for a new chapter.
@144captain I take all criticism, I have to.