HRH Mag’s man on the wrestling beat – Andy Spoors – has been following the NXT UK Tour 2017 this month. Here’s his verdict on a whirlwind of Lycra-busting action.

 

It may now be unfair to refer to NXT as nothing more than WWE’s development brand. Such is NXT’s pull nowadays, the brand has just finished up another tour of the UK culminating in multiple shows at Download Festival for the second successive year.

Many of today’s WWE superstars cut their teeth in the NXT brand before moving on to become global stars in their own right. Unashamedly alternative in its substance over style approach, NXT has recently been forced to adapt for the first time in its relatively short but sterling history. Using the lure and pulling power of future main roster action, NXT has capitalised on WWE’s determination to include international stars on its shows.

Most recently WWE’s gaze has been fixed upon Britain – in particular utilising the depth of talent showcased up and down the UK on the independent wrestling scene. A 16-man UK tournament gained overwhelmingly positive reviews, with some of the participants going on to feature frequently on NXT’s weekly shows.

Interestingly, this UK tour seemed to rely heavily on overseas talent to bolster their ranks – the card giving off a USA vs the Rest Of The World vibe that worked well. Attending the Leeds date at the curiously designed First Direct Arena, the feeling was, however, of unity. WWE is one of the best companies in the world at tapping into current events, evident by its minute’s silence for those effected by the Manchester and London atrocities, quickly followed by a rendition of God Save The Queen, sang by WWE’s legendary ring announcer, Lilian Garcia. A fantastic gesture, matched by the offer of any fans due to attend the cancelled Manchester date to attend the First Direct Arena free of charge, as well as gain a full refund.

Unlike WWE’s live shows that frequent our shores, NXT draws an older crowd. The family friendly image the company adheres to is never threatened but the majority of the show is straight laced wrestling matches that may not keep a younger audience interested. If the size of the crowd was disappointing at the Leeds show, those in attendance gave their best shot at creating an atmosphere focused on the action in the squared circle.

NXT has always faced an obstacle of increasing its popularity with casual fans, as the show is exclusive to the WWE network rather than on Sky or cable providers. It’s a shame in some aspects that certain talent will only become known to the majority of fans once they leave NXT. The recent call up of Shinsuke Nakamura, for example, has been well received but as of yet his best work for the company has been undoubtedly with the black and yellow brand.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed, however, with NXT determined to drive itself into the public’s subconscious. For the second year running it took over Download Festival, putting on two shows a day as well as autograph signings and a Q&A all from the safety of their own tent. HRH Mag has previously commented on the special relationship between rock and wrestling and nowhere is it more evident than on the fields of Donington Park.

Wrestling t-shirts were evident in every corner of every stage, some even travelling to the festival purely for a weekend of NXT! From the exquisitely metal Aliester Black to the ridiculously catchy fiesta themed entrance of No Way Jose, every match and superstar was well received by the packed out tent all weekend. No match appeared twice over the six shows, with different rivalries and matches explored.

It was, however, what happened outside the ring that allowed NXT to take on a new dimension. British rising star Mark Andrews featured with his pop punk band, Junior on the Dogtooth Stage on Saturday before facing off with UK champion Pete Dunne for the UK Championship. In an interesting angle, Dunne laid out his challenger on stage at the end of Junior’s set, before a stage dive from Andrews set up the night’s main event nicely.

The weekend didn’t end particularly well for Andrews though. Participating in an eight-man tag match, the high flyer took a nasty fall spiking his head and neck into the ring before being stretchered into the back of an ambulance. Thankfully the Welshman later gave a positive update on his status.

Hitting the headlines for injuries is never great news but it does serve as a stark reminder that these stars put their bodies on the line every time they go out to entertain and deserve all the plaudits they receive. After trying fresh angles and reaching outside of their usual demographic on a huge stage such as Download festival, WWE and NXT are showing everyone they are not prepared to kick back on top of the mountain.

Recent questions have been asked about the longevity of WWE’s development brand but with an ever-expanding fan base treated to new and interesting angles in different arenas, there doesn’t appear to be any slowing down for the superstars of tomorrow.