wrestling / Columns

Hamilton: Looking Skeptically at NXT Europe

August 24, 2022 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
WWE NXT UK Logo Image Credit: WWE

Just last month, I wrote about how shaky the foundations of NXT UK was, with a handful of wrestlers booked like stars and everyone else at best getting 50-50 booking.

Little was I to know what was around the corner for the show that had been handled by WWE the same way you handle a chore you’d forgotten about until your better half gets home. We’ve all done it… and so did WWE. Allegedly having long term plans that only were put into place when World of Sport Wrestling started up. Recording a TV show then suddenly remembering that they had a lot of stuff in the can the exact same week that Rev Pro’s short-lived TV show started.

NXT UK was always the dirty dishes that you promised to wash up. The bins that you kept forgetting to put out on a rainy evening. That thing you said you’d do before the missus got home, only to remember you’d not done it right as the key was turning in the front door. NXT UK was something that they publicly said they wanted to do, but in reality it seems they always needed some degree of encouragement.

Even more so when news started to leak that the BT Sport studios in London were suddenly unavailable because they needed them for live coverage of European football. BT didn’t have these issues last season, so there was red flag number one. Red flag number two was the lack of clarification – typically in wrestling stories about a promotion shutting down – if they were untrue – would get shut down in a hurry. Yet with questions being left open among fans and wrestlers about future tapings, unease among fans (and preparations for celebrations among those who loathed the very existence of the show) continued to grow.

Then, of all places, Fox Sports – that bastion of European wrestling news – announced the closure of NXT UK and the creation of NXT Europe next year. Allegedly. I say allegedly because just about the entire roster got released by the end of the day. Heck, the only people not released from those who’d not appeared on NXT proper in the last 18 months were Oliver Carter, Rampage Brown, Aoife Valkyrie and Jinny. A curious list, given speculation about injuries for several of those. Especially when you consider they released wrestlers from mainland Europe, perhaps to avoid shelling out for several months pay…

So, what does NXT Europe look like, if it isn’t just a distracting carrot to make people look away from the stick of NXT UK getting closed? Do they create a new performance centre somewhere in Europe and replace Enfield, or is it as well as? Do they have a TV partner willing to give them access to facilities a la BT, or will they pull the trigger on running it as a travelling show – a travelling show that hadn’t had to sell any tickets for the best part of three years – but this time among several countries on a continent that’s not exactly running sell out hot shows with any degree of regularity?

If they do, do they dawdle the same way they did with NXT UK, or is there an actual plan beyond the headline? Forgive me for the cynicism, it’s just that I’ve literally lived through one go around of this – complete with varying degrees of receptiveness to what ended up being real concerns about the state of the British independent scene. Hang your head in shame, not the way, and so on…

While other things that followed NXT UK may have made as big a dent in the scene had NXT UK not happened, it’s true that “our brand” was the first big body blow thrown. The continued rise of New Japan, the creation of AEW (at least as far as scooping up talent), Covid and Speaking Out all had effects, but it was NXT UK that went for the knees first.

There’s a healthy degree of scepticism around whether NXT Europe even happens – particularly if you look at virtually any part of NXT UK’s history. If and when the show starts, there’ll be some level of scrutiny into just what’s going on beyond the press releases… and whether the second go around will result in the same voids that the British scene was left with. Voids that’s led to wrestlers perhaps having had their development accelerated far beyond what’s been normal – and its led to some weird situations where the independent scene’s lost a “middle ground” as names that would normally be bubbling up through the undercards have now all joined up into one great big mid-card.

That isn’t a knock on anyone, but if you look at Rev Pro’s most recent weekender. Ten years ago, a Luke Jacobs and a Ricky Knight Jr. perhaps wouldn’t be in the elevated spots they’re in… but at the same time, someone like a Leon Slater, whose two appearances in Rev Pro to date have seen him grab the opportunity by the scruff of the neck perhaps wouldn’t have happened – at least, not as soon as it has. What happens next to the guys who kept the scene ticking along in the last four years? Simple maths dictates that right now there’s not enough spots, especially when you look at the lay of the land right now. And while there’s an argument that can be made for how NXT UK and its contracts helped a part of the scene navigate the minefield that was Covid, it’s tricky to argue that NXT UK hasn’t been anything other than a net negative for the remainder, and that’s before you even consider the backlash some have (and will) receive after being seen as “bad sports” in hindsight.

Speaking of those who have suddenly become available, will those old faces head back into Rev Pro or PROGRESS en masse? Will they create their own promotion with blackjack and hookers, or something in between?

As for those staying around, just what will be the reality of NXT Europe? You’ve already taken a fanbase through four years of a show to just stop it dead in its tracks, with plenty of loose ends. For example, I know Amir Jordan revealed it on Twitter, but on TV we still don’t know who Tiger Turan was… so I’m just going to go with the head canon that Tiger Turan was the same guy that drove the white Hummer in WCW.

The other thing is that relaunching a promotion doesn’t tend to have blow away results, as those who’ve paid attention to the UK indies will attest, but while NXT Europe will of course have the big WWE Marketing Machine and all of the media coverage behind it, that’ll only get you so far. At some point you’ve got to rely on fans turning up, paying money and watching the product… and when you’re looking at doing this across an entire continent, you’re adding some extra challenge. Heck, just looking at wXw – you can get markedly different reactions from different towns and cities in the same country… how do you even try to protect against that when you’re going from country to country with the same roster? If NXT Europe is a real thing, then hopefully the plans this time around are rather more fleshed out than the first go around were.

article topics :

NXT UK, Ian Hamilton