Wrestling fans in the UK are eagerly anticipating the re-start of WWE ’s NXT UK brand – with two of their top stars telling Daily Star Sport they are itching to get back at it.
Stars of WWE’s very own British brand will once again be given the chance to shine as their programming returns to screens this week.
Episodes of NXT UK, featuring the likes of NXT UK Champion WALTER, Women's Champion Kay Lee Ray tag team Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster, air from Thursday of this week after several months on hiatus owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
While WWE’s flagship brands Raw and SmackDown were able to continue broadcasting Stateside, the best of the British contingent were left kicking their heels with the enforced break.
Now however, with a brand-new home at BT Sport studios in London, the bright lights will be on the likes of Andrews and Webster once again.
The former NXT UK tag team champions spoke exclusively to Daily Star Sport in the build-up to the big re-launch, which will include the likes of the first ever Heritage Cup in weeks to come.
Andrews hailed the new set-up as being akin to Christmas – and suggested the new facilities will be well worth the wait.
“It has been the longest time in my 15-year career that I’ve been outside of a wrestling ring,” the 28-year-old Welshman said.
“To come back to NXT UK, especially in the location we are with BT Sport, is incredible.
“It’s almost like Christmas! Over 15 years, you wrestle anywhere and everywhere, and rings can be smaller and not the best.
“Then you go to this luxurious venue at the BT Sport arena and it’s every wrestling fan’s dream… it’s the best location to wrestle, ever!”
British wrestling has travelled a tumultuous road in recent months and, in many ways, its return to prominence with such a high-profile launch after a lengthy lay-off provides perfect symmetry with a much longer journey.
Webster knows the success of NXT UK – which will air nationally on BT Sport and internationally on WWE’s own in-house network – is built on the foundations of many years’ hard work.
Nothing there will be a palpable sense of appreciation for live wrestling as and when fans are allowed to attend shows in person again in future, he’s revelling in the excitement.
“The reason the scene over here became as good as it was is because there was a time when the houses were down, and the wrestling standard wasn’t there,” he added,
“Over the last five or six years we’ve developed this great scene where we’ve had some of the best wrestling the world, and fans can travel from 20 minutes to two hours, three days a week across a weekend and see shows that were the best they could possibly be.
“Fans were seeing the best wrestling in the country and then, all of a sudden, it all stops. I think people began to miss it and it made them think about the time before the scene became hot.
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“Everyone’s itching and excited and they want to see that top-class wrestling they’re used to seeing, and that’s why everyone’s looking forward to it starting back up.”
The rise of NXT UK has not been without its detractors. Just as some footballing purists resent the Sky-dominated era of football in this country, some decry WWE for taking credit for all things good this side of the Atlantic.
So Webster was right to point out that there was a hotbed of wrestling in the UK before WWE put down foundations with its state-of-the-art London Performance Centre, mirroring the incredible facility it uses to train wrestlers in the US.
But rather than insisting WWE does or even wants to take credit for the success of the British scene, Andrews went on to add that it has simply been taken to a whole new level.
The good friends, for instance, claimed their 2019 victory for the tag titles at NXT UK: Takeover Cardiff as the peak of their careers, and a platform they scarcely dreamed would be reachable in their formative years.
He wants that to be known – but duly gave British wrestling’s rich history its due.
“NXT UK is almost the dream that a lot of us didn’t think would ever happen,” said Andrews.
“When we all started in this ten, fifteen years ago, you were always taught that you’d have to move to America or Japan to make a full-time living in wrestling.
“The fact that WWE has come to us and seen the immense, incredible talent in British wrestling and put it on a worldwide platform, that’s huge. It really is.
“I started this when I was 13-years-old and that definitely didn’t seem achievable back then.
“I think it’s a real testament to not just the recent wrestling that’s happened in this country, but also [in years gone by]…the legends that have kept it alive from the 80s and 90s so that our generation can succeed.”
The returning NXT UK airs on WWE Network on Thursday and on BT Sport on Friday. Head to wwe.com for more details.
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