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Year In Review: The Year In British Wrestling

Here's five things you need to know about British wrestling in 2016:

1) There were some pretty big shows

Big crowds at wrestling shows in the UK are not a rare occurrence. WWE regularly draw five figures to their twice-yearly Raw and SmackDown broadcasts, and draw healthily on the house shows that accompany those dates. NXT has been over, and performed well at the box office, and in the recent past TNA did better business over here than they ever did over there.

But the UK indie scene hasn't historically hit those heights. One of the main reasons Big Daddy is yet to make it into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame is that he didn't consistently draw five figure crowds, and if he didn't then nobody did. The wrestling culture in the UK is slightly different, and that's reflected in a number of smaller groups serving a more local community.

However, in the last 18 months, the steady foundations that have been built over the last five years have been used to reach a next level of bigger crowds, culminating in Insane Championship Wrestling's Fear & Loathing IX, which drew a massive 6,000 people to Glasgow's Hydro, for a card which may have used Kurt Angle and the Dudley Boyz to swell ticket sales but was centred around two well-built feuds involving local talent.

Apart from that huge achievement, What Culture Pro Wrestling (who I don't feature much in this column because this is a results-driven column and they keep their results very quiet for spoiler purposes) pulled in 2,500 to an ice rink on the outskirts of Manchester with the promise of seeing Kurt Angle and Cody Rhodes, and PROGRESS Wrestling did the same amount at the Brixton Academy in south London with no big name imports at all.

Revolution Pro Wrestling upped their supershow game in 2016 with seven big events drawing over a thousand each time, the XWA in Colchester built their crowds up to 900 by the year's end, and it's generally no longer a surprise for the bigger promotions to regularly draw 700-800 a dozen times a year. Wrestling is a cyclical business and the current boom is bound to peak at some point but we're riding the crest of a wave right now, and there's probably still a way to go.

2) British success didn't just happen in Britain

The odd product of the UK and Ireland independent scene has made it big in the past, with the more recent exports to WWE including Sheamus, Wade Barrett, and Paige, but things seem to have kicked into a higher gear this year, and the stars of the UK scene are sought-after imports on the US side of the Atlantic, a stark reversal of the traditional model!

This was never better illustrated than at Pro Wrestling Guerilla's Battle of Los Angeles, when seven of the announced 24 competitors were British, and eight if you include Tommy End, who spent much of his year working for UK indies (and this column values localism over nationalism!). The eventual winner was British, for the second year running, and the wrestlers invited have gone on to earn contracts with WWE and Ring of Honor, as well as feature for other US independent groups.

The slew of British workers signed by WWE for its NXT developmental and cruiserweight strands -- Nikki Storm, Big Damo, Noam Dar, Jack Gallagher, End, and soon to be joined by Nixon Newell -- was augmented by WWE launching a WWE UK brand with a United Kingdom Championship to be decided at a two-day tournament in January shown live on the WWE Network, with the prospect of a regular WWE UK show to follow.

We've come a long way since the only people even looked at by the major promotions were 6 feet 6 inches and built like the proverbial!

Furthermore, Will Ospreay has blazed a trail in Japan, winning the Best of the Super Juniors tournament and competing for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title as a member of New Japan Pro Wrestling booker Gedo's CHAOS stable, and signed that ROH contract, along with Marty Scurll. They won't be the last, especially with UK promotions showcasing their wares over WrestleMania weekend in Florida.

3) Some new players entered the game

With the current healthy state of the UK wrestling scene, it is inevitable that it will attract new promoters, of varying size and ambition, to take advantage of the rewards on offer. The biggest of these in 2016 was What Culture Pro Wrestling, with backing from the What Culture "clickbait" empire ranging into the high six figures, allowing them to bring over imports from the more expensive end of the range, but also putting the spotlight on some home-grown talent like Joseph Conners, Martin Kirby, and -- of course -- Will Ospreay.

While no other promotion could match WCPW for size and geographical range, there were plenty of others who popped up to provide provincial fans with a taste of the new flavour of the British scene, from North Wrestling in WCPW's Newcastle backyard to Chester's Pro-Wrestling Legion, and Milton Keynes-based GOOD Wrestling to Big League Wrestling in Devon.

And it looks like there'll be no let up in 2017, with tantalizing first looks at promotions like UnProfessional Wrestling, Lucha Forever, and Pro Wrestling Subjective already piquing interest across the UK graps community.

In addition, several established promotions upped their game in 2016, with Wolverhampton-based Fight Club: PRO chief amongst them, ending the year at the top of many fans' Promotion of the Year ballot. They weren't alone -- Ireland's Over The Top Wrestling became a player this year, Tidal Championship Wrestling in Leeds moved to a much bigger venue with an accompanying rise in crowds, and Pro Wrestling EVE came back and brought joshi puroresu legend Manami Toyota with them.

The jump in quality across the scene is marked and will only increase as production values become more accessible and essential.

4) The landscape changed

When 2016 began the only UK wrestling on any sort of TV was New Generation Wrestling's British Wrestling Weekly on several local cable channels, as well as a monthly round-up broadcast on Challenge TV, then home of TNA in the UK.

This year, however, things have quietly blossomed, with the NGW show also available on the Fight Network, where it was joined by Insane Championship Wrestling's Friday Night Fight Club. That show was also sold to the Italian TV channel Nuvolari, with the prospect of more international sales -- something that the World Association of Wrestling are also seeking with their show, currently broadcast on the local cable channel for Norfolk, Mustard TV.

The emergence of FloSlam has also touched on the UK scene. The streaming wrestling channel -- which has signed up the likes of EVOLVE, Shine, and Tommy Dreamer's House of Hardcore in the US for worldwide consumption -- has secured the rights to IPW:UK's supershows, showing the latest one on a delay and promising to broadcast all 2017 supershows live. OTT have also signed on the dotted line, with their latest show going out on the network in Christmas week, and all these shows will be available for on-demand watching into 2017.

British wrestling has been absent from non-cable or satellite TV for 30 years but that changed in 2016, too, with the taping of a pilot show that (sort of) revives the World Of Sport brand of yesteryear. If the show -- broadcast on New Year's Eve in a decent time slot -- is a success, there is the prospect of a regular show and touring brand.

While it is very much family-friendly stuff, which doesn't reflect the current hot product that has brought wrestling back into mainstream attention, it can do much to swell the business and perhaps even make stars of some of the featured players.

And all that's before you get to the WWE UK project and what that might do for the unsung heroes of the UK scene, who are already becoming cult heroes because of their appearances on streaming services like Demand PROGRESS, ICW On Demand, and more -- I'll do a full run-down of what's available next week!

Yes, the landscape has changed, and will continue to evolve -- more eyes on the product should equal more bums on seats, which can only be a good thing.

5) For such a small country, the UK has a BIG scene

From Cornish Wrestling in the far south west of England to Rock N Wrestle in Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland really isn't all that far, at least not to readers in the US, used to long drives with low gas prices. The UK, though, is very regionally diverse, and there are half a dozen distinct scenes-within-a-scene, ranging from north to south, and east to west.

Although some of the bigger names -- and some who are not afraid of the travel -- do appear nationwide, the separate regions have their own distinct crews, so that the regulars for Insane Championship Wrestling in Glasgow are likely to be the same faces you see at Premier British Wrestling or British Championship Wrestling. The same is true of the Midlands/south Wales crew, the north west around Manchester, and other local scenes.

Where the UK scene is strong, though, is that these same wrestlers are often used by different promoters in startlingly different ways, from risqué over-18 shows to foam-finger waving family-friendly fare, with only a handful unable to make the transition either way.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than at Lucha Britannia, an adults-only wrestling and burlesque cabaret, who cast moonlight on family-friendly shows by WrestleForce, HOP:E, and, British Empire Wrestling. Truly versatile.