This past weekend, the WWE Network held the first ever United Kingdom Championship Tournament. With the success of the Cruiserweight Tournament, WWE apparently thought if they produced any kind of international tournament, it would get the same buzz. But it doesn’t seem like many fans were talking about this special.
While the Cruiserweight invitational was a weekly program spanning a few weeks, the UK Championship Tournament was aired in one weekend. Held in the relatively smaller venue of the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England, we were treated to something a bit different than what we’re used to seeing from WWE. Whether or not this tournament was widely viewed is somewhat irrelevant. What does matter is that WWE aired something that felt more like an indie show than a pay-per-view. It was a bit gritty and sloppy at times. While the wrestlers were skilled, many of them didn’t fit “the look” of a WWE Superstar. Some of these men look like they spend a lot more time inside a bar than a gym (which, to me, is as relatable as you can get). And in an odd way, it was refreshing.
Of course, the NXT Arena at Full Sail University is also an intimate arena. However, the difference is in the attitude of the attendees. The UK crowd was expectedly rowdy, with soccer chants accompanying the majority of the event. And where one athlete somewhat resembled Jesus Christ, he was met with ridicule and a full audience cheering, “Let’s go Jesus! JESUS SUCKS!”
Beneath the sacrilege, this kind of crowd can turn a good show into a great show. With a fun and creative fanbase, the focus of the event pivots toward the viewer and not necessarily the action in the ring. By making the audience a big part of the show, it helps the viewer feel like they're involved, which promotes more events like this in the future. Even though it can sometimes feel like a minor league, this show will benefit any wrestler in the tournament and work toward building his character. It’s not bad to have WWE on your wrestling resume.
But as far as international wrestling Championships are concerned, is the globalization of WWE a good idea? There’s already so much weekly content between Raw, Smackdown, NXT, 205 Live, the panel discussions, and any pay-per-views held on the weekends. We as fans get tuckered out, but will still watch every bit of it. With an ever expanding roster and new stars to familiarize ourselves with, the top main eventers lose some of the spotlight. Like a game of Risk, it could be poor strategy to spread yourself too thin and not fortify the homefront.
When wrestling was arguably at its pop culture peak in the Hulk Hogan era, it felt like there were only a dozen characters on the roster that everybody knew. Now we’re challenged with knowing the backstory of every wrestler in the world. I don’t think Vince McMahon Sr. ever expected the “World” in WWWF to be taken so literally.
Now that WWE is being so generous with the exposure of a wide variety of talent, the wrestling community is stronger. Although it feels like a monopoly, being able to have an opportunity on the WWE Network is just what independent wrestlers needed. Not only does it introduce American fans to unique styles, it can also make us more worldly and understanding of other cultures. Diplomacy and peace between nations through wrestling: what a novel idea.
I might be getting ahead of myself, but there aren’t many programs doing what WWE is trying to accomplish. There was a time when wrestlers made a living off of a stereotype. Nikolai Volkoff’s father escaped communism to see his son find fortune and the capitalist American dream portraying a communist sympathizer. It’s that kind of irony that may be lost in this modern age of enlightenment, but it may be healthier for the hearts and minds of wrestling fans. Wrestling fans; who have typically been perceived as low-brow yokels who will “Boo” any wrestler with a slightly foreign sounding name, are now being tricked into understanding a diverse world of sports entertainment. This, along with a newfound respect for women in wrestling, the traditionally conservative fan base has been converted into something a little more progressive.
Mustafa Ali of the Cruiserweight division may be one of the few middle eastern wrestlers to actually get over as a face, which is no easy feat in a world still shaken by terrorism. A decade ago, Ali would have been forced to be a heel. But now, with WWE’s global expansion, they’ve adopted an attitude of “you’re not so different, you and I.”
It’s changing the wrestling business and public perception for the better. As WWE tries to appeal to foreign markets, it would be ill-advised to portray their foreign performers as a stereotype. They need the next Chinese Hulk Hogan or Islamic John Cena. In a time where the world is full of conflict and division, the WWE has subtly, and maybe accidentally, found some success in bringing people together. Humanity, after all, is just one long storyline. And the differences between us are just a work.