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The Week In British Wrestling: NXT invades the UK, Tidal's rise in Yorkshire

William Regal

By Alan Boon for WrestlingObserver.com

We’ve all got our decorations up here in the UK, but that doesn’t mean things have shut down for Christmas! Here’s 5 things you need to know about British wrestling this week.

1) William Regal came home.

When Darren Matthews decided he wanted to become a professional wrestler in 1983, his path into the business was learning his craft in a “shooter’s” booth on Blackpool Pleasure Beach where he’d take on all-comers in one of the last remaining remnants of the earliest days of the worked game. This weekend, he got to come home and show off his baby when he brought NXT to the town for a sold-out show at the Winter Gardens Ballroom.

Also in tow was Robbie Brookside, working for NXT as a coach, and the two met up with Frankie Sloan, a fellow veteran who broke in with Brookside in Liverpool. While the Pleasure Beach is now home to Nickelodeon Land, the three posed for photos in front of “where it all started”. Aside from John Freemantle’s Premier Promotions holding on in Worthing, British wrestling is all but unrecognisable from those heady days – mostly for the better – but it’s nice to be able to recognise that history when the time comes around.

2) WWE got a taste of the UK indy scene.

When WWE comes over for their twice-yearly tours, condescending to us with their telephone boxes and London taxis, there are always a few of the hardcore British fans that pop along, especially to Raw. But I’ve not seen such an enthusiasm for an imported tour as there was for NXT this week with barely a PROGRESS, ICW or PCW fan not hitting up at least one show, and most more than one. The fans took their usual chants to the shows, shocking the wrestlers and organisers with their passion, sheer loudness, and wacky chants. To the talent, these fans would have seemed like old friends, because a healthy proportion of the NXT roster spent some of their formative years on the UK indy scene, and the fans reacted to them accordingly.

Take Sami Zayn, who reminisced about his past visits (as el Generico, obviously) to the UK on Twitter, and Apollo Crews, who was PCW champion earlier this year as Uhaa Nation (and got the chants at the NXT shows to prove it). Finn Balor, of course, grew up on the UK scene, and Samoa Joe was no stranger to our shores as both men appeared for PROGRESS in the last couple of years in show-stealing matches. Further down the card, Scott Dawson tweeted a reminder that he’d toured the holiday camps earlier in his career, and at the Performance Center, the likes of Biff Busick, Rich Swann, Axel Tischer, and more have all done time in the clubs and halls of the UK. It just goes to show that you never know when that guy who locked up with your favourite Brit at your local show will make it to the big time...and it’s a fun ride following them.

3) The US indy scene got a taste of the UK.

The first Wrestling Road Diaries followed Colt Cabana – along with Bryan Danielson and Sal Rinauro – as he travelled around on the US indy scene, giving fans a glimpse of life on the road outside the big leagues. The second instalment – Wrestling Road Diaries Too – again trailed Cabana, but this time with Cliff Compton and Luke Gallows. For the third in the series, Cabana picked up Japanese indy star Kikutaro and somehow made the decision that having Grado along would be fun. Anyone who watched the second Insane Fight Club documentary, in which Grado and the other ICW stars toured the cities of the UK, promoting their upcoming tour, will already know that this isn’t the smartest of decisions, but it will make for great footage.

It’s been a banner year for Grado, with TNA’s British Bootcamp II elevating him to much-deserved stardom on both sides of the Atlantic, even if he is primarily known in the US as a TNA prelim guy (much like his fellow Bootcamp alumni, the criminally-underrated Mark Andrews). He ended 2015 as ICW champion, and has had crowds on their feet at PROGRESS, Rev-Pro, IPW:UK, and all over the UK. But he still divides opinion, and that’s fine, because if we all liked the same people, it would be dull, right? Well, we all like Will Ospreay (except that one guy), but you know what I mean. Speaking of Ospreay, he, Andrews, and Marty Scurll returned to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla this past weekend, and once again impressed. With on-demand services giving access to our shows for overseas fans, US indies are wising up to the talent – and drawing power – of our top guys. 2016 will be very interesting for some of the big UK names.

4) Tidal ends the year as Yorkshire’s number one promotion.

PROGRESS always make a point that they were told it was impossible to run professional wrestling in central London. While that may not have been strictly true (although doing it and making a profit, as they no doubt do, is another matter), it’s perfectly understandable why a London-based concert promoter might have looked elsewhere to start promoting wrestling shows. Just over two years ago, that’s what Tidal Concerts did, focusing on the north and north-east of England – with home bases in Leeds and Darlington – and they’ve built a tidy little operation since. A year ago, they were fighting over Leeds with True Grit Wrestling, although it was a friendly fight and they used much of the same talent, but the disappearance of TGW has left England’s fourth city wide open for Tidal, and they’ve cemented their place as the White Rose’s top operation.

Last weekend, they held their year-end spectacular at Leeds University’s Student Union, and brought in Tommy End to butt heads with Rampage Brown in a hard-hitting, show-stealing bout. At the top end of the card, Dara Diablo defended his TCW title in a three-way against Mexican Yorkshireman el Ligero and Liam Lazarus. Ligero came out with the gold, adding it to the PROGRESS tag team titles he won last month. With two Leeds show already scheduled for the first six weeks of the New Year, and a sensible booking policy based around a handy band of local regulars, Tidal should continue their growth, from a hidden gem to a solid player in an increasingly healthy scene.

5) Shows, shows, we got shows.

While Mark Dallas and the ICW top boys were enjoying the hospitality of NXT at the Hydro in Glasgow, Scottish wrestling continued to take the grappling to the masses with big shows in Inverness and Ayr, and a double shot from Scottish Wrestling Entertainment in Dundee. In Inverness, Grado headlined Rock N Wrestle’s Winterslam at the Ironworks, beating Liam Thomson in the main event of a card that also featured James Storm, Drew Galloway, and Davey (Boy) Blaze. Galloway also turned out for Pro-Wrestling Elite, at their Jingle All The Galloway show in his hometown of Ayr. Well, with a show called that you’d hope so! He took on Dave Mastiff – and lost – in the standout match on a card that also had Storm, Grado, Big Damo, Noam Dar, and just about everyone who is anyone in Scottish wrestling.

In the Midlands, AMP ran their monthly show at the Alan Higgs Centre in Coventry, while Leicester Championship Wrestling presented Christmas Cracker in, erm, Leicester, which was headlined by a title change as Joseph Conners – stablemate of Jimmy Havoc in Southside – downed Alex Gracie, on a show that also featured The Hunter Brothers, Xander Cooper, and the veteran Stixx, who trained both men in the title match. In the wrestling hotspot that is Bristol, Pro-Evolution promoted their Xmas show on Friday (and followed it with another in Worcester the next day), bringing in the tattooed brawler T-Bone to face Ricky Diamond. Pro-Evo have one of the hottest tips for 2016 in Justin Sysum, and he worked both shows, beating out Tiger Ali (not Singh) in Bristol, and downing T-Bone in Worcester.

And that’s all you need to know about this week’s BritWres. Next weekend sees shows by Attack-Pro, Lucha Britannia, IPW:UK, ICW, and HOP & HOP:E going head-to-head in Nottingham! Join me then for the down low!