Friday 3 June 2011

British Invasion

The last ten years has seen an increase in the number of British wrestlers getting work in US promotions. While it’s been particularly noticeable in WWE, TNA and Ring of Honor have gotten in on the act too. It’s a stark contrast to how things were fifteen years ago, when pretty much the only British wrestler the average American fan (and a lot of British ones) would have been able to name was the British Bulldog.

Each company has its own reasons for using British wrestlers. For RoH it was about showcasing different styles of wrestling and finding talent who complimented their core roster. For WWE it was about trying to find another source of big, muscular wrestlers, the fad of former footballers and amateur wrestlers signing pro wrestling contracts having passed. For TNA it was originally part of a drive to introduce international talent to the X Division, though in the last few years it’s been more to do with emulating Vince McMahon.

I thought it would be a nice idea to have a look at the Brits currently plying their trade in the land of opportunity and giving thoughts on who has the potential to make a lasting impression. So, in no particular order...

There’s no better person to start with than Sheamus. Within six months of his WWE television debut he won the WWE championship and had a not inconsequential three month reign. He regained it a few months after losing it and enjoyed a slightly longer second reign, showing that the WWE office has faith in him to be one of the top guys. While he’s done very good work as a heel I think he has the potential to become an even bigger star as a face: he has a unique look and a clear sense of humour, plus the size WWE fans are accustomed to. As he’s been in the company for around two years now we could be seeing that turn some time later this year. If and when the turn happens the best approach would be to let him be himself. I’ve said before that he could very quickly become the lead man on SmackDown and I stand by that. WWE has chosen Orton and he’ll work in the short term but long term it will be fans who chose the show’s lead guy, as was the case with Edge.

Over on RAW there’s muscled up Welshman Mason Ryan. The size of the former Gladiators star is what got him his contract, not his wrestling ability. But in WWE size can sometimes be all you need. Unless he makes drastic improvements when it comes to his ring work or verbal skills I don’t think he’ll ever become someone the company relies on to carry a show, but he does have the potential to evolve into a decent hand. One thing he’ll never be bettered at is grimacing. When it comes to that he will always be world class.

Wade Barrett was someone that WWE originally had big hopes for. He did well during his time on NXT, standing out as one of the show’s better wrestlers and its best talker, but the bungled Nexus angle and painfully protracted feud with John Cena has ruined his chances of breaking into the main event scene any time soon. Right now I think that’s for the best: he’s a good heel talker and works well as a mid-card champion. Personally I think that’s his niche.

On the women’s side of things for WWE is Layla (yes, she’s from London!). During her stint as one half of LayCool she was one of the promotion’s top female heels, her above average wrestling ability complimenting Michelle McCool’s good microphone work nicely. She’s currently sidelined with knee problems and is expected to return to TV as a face. I’m interested to see how she’s used without McCool. She’s one of the better workers in the company, but she’s never going to have a standout career in WWE’s women’s division.

If Layla were to move to TNA she would make a fine addition to the Knockouts’ division. This is a move Winter has made and she’s been rewarded with a program alongside TNA’s most established female act: the Beautiful People. The subject matter is a little questionable (it’s been implied Winter is spiking Angelina Love’s drinks each week on IMPACT in order to get her to turn on Velvet Sky, for mysterious reasons yet to be made clear (and knowing TNA, they may never be made clear)) but everyone involved seems to be making the most of the situation. It’s unlikely TNA would use her as a regular wrestler now, but if they did that would be ideal: Winter is one of the best workers the company currently has. That ring name is horrendous though.

Rob Terry is similar to Mason Ryan, only with a silly haircut and without Gladiators on his CV. I don’t think he’ll ever amount to anything in TNA and if WWE was interested in him they would have signed him by now. Frankly he’s lucky to have a job.

Doug Williams and Brutus Magnus, Terry’s former teammates, are the best examples of Brits in Total Nonstop Action. Williams got his US break working for Ring of Honor, and is now regarded as one of the best technical wrestlers in the world. TNA are lucky to have someone of his calibre to utilise in their X Division. Magnus, another former Gladiator, is an underrated worker and a great talker. They’re a team that compliments each other very nicely: between them they have the complete package of wrestling skills, verbal ability, look and “It Factor”. If they were booked as consistently as the Motor City Machine Guns or Beer Money they could easily carry the division. The team’s just been slapped back together because TNA had no plans for either man as a singles competitor. I don’t know why: I could easily see Williams in the X Division and Magnus as world champion.

I’ve saved the best two until last. First, William Regal. He’s one of the greatest examples anywhere in wrestling of how to get a character across to the audience. He’s also one of the very best technical wrestlers in the world, and one of the best two in WWE (the other being Bryan Danielson). It’s never mattered to British fans that he’s never going to become WWE champion. He is loved because he has been booked consistently for years and because even though his character is unrealistic it is identifiable, and one that had national pride written into it. He’s proud of where he comes from and represents Britain, and its wrestling fans, well.

Finally there’s Nigel McGuinness (now working for TNA as Desmond Wolfe). His TNA career sadly faltered due to an undisclosed medical problem, but his RoH career alone contains enough stellar material to make him one of the greatest of all time. He worked his way up from the bottom of the company to become one of its most reliable stars, having some of the greatest matches in company history against the likes of Austin Aries, Chris Hero, Takeshi Morishima, Tyler Black, Roderick Strong, KENTA, Samoa Jow, and, of course, Bryan Danielson. He is the only man to ever hold the world championship throughout one calendar year (in a company where such accolades mean something). McGuinness (or Wolfe) is the complete package: a great talker, a great character, and a great wrestler. It’s not known when, or if, he will wrestle again, and the business is a sadder place for it.

At the moment I think the future looks pretty bright for British wrestlers in the United States. WWE may be cobbling together a patchy TV show on a regular basis, but they tour Europe twice a year and have been signing more foreign talent over the last several years than at any time previously. When RoH launches their new television show in September I imagine they will begin to increase the size of their roster. They’re a company that has used many high profile British wrestlers in the past and I’m sure they will again. And when they do it will be someone more talented than Rob Terry who gets the spot.

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