WWE Clash at the Castle: What now for British wrestling?

Curt and Aluna
Image caption,Ali and Curtis are among the trainee wrestlers in Newport excited about the future, despite the closure of WWE’s UK division

British wrestling fans got a rare chance to see their idols perform live over the weekend when WWE crashed into Cardiff. But the company’s recent closure of its UK division meant the spectacle was a bittersweet experience for some, who are wondering what the future holds for Britain’s budding pro-wrestling superstars.

“And still the undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns.”

As the result of the main event was declared, WWE’s biggest UK show in 30 years ended in heartbreak for Scotland’s Drew McIntyre and his British fans in Cardiff on Saturday night.

But there are hopes Clash at the Castle will leave a longer and more meaningful legacy than a title win.

“It can inspire future generations, just like WWE’s last UK stadium show in 1992 inspired me,” McIntyre tells me Radio 1 Newsbeat.

Yet it comes at an uncertain time for the British wrestling scene.

Image caption,WWE says 62,296 fans were at the Principality Stadium for Clash at the Castle, where Drew McIntyre took on Roman Reigns in the main event

‘Weird timing’

Weeks before arriving in Wales, WWE announced it would be ending its British division NXT UK and relaunching it as NXT Europe next year.

Many of the biggest British stars were released from their contracts, including Cardiff’s Mark Andrews, who describes the timing as “weird”.

“It does sting that it [was] two weeks before the only stadium show in Wales to ever happen”, Andrews said on his BBC Radio Wales podcast.

“This was a huge opportunity for Wales, for Welsh wrestling and for all the years that we’ve put the graft in.”

“It would have been lush if one of us could have had the moment to be celebrated. Being released, I can takeā€¦ [but] this is something that might never happen again.

“That’s the bit that hurts.”

Image caption,Curt, 23 and known as Curt Atlas, says NXT UK ending makes him ‘want to work that much harder to get where I want to be’

‘A sour point’

At the New Wave Wrestling Academy in Newport, where Andrews is idolised, young trainee wrestlers are staying positive about their prospects.

“NXT UK closing is a sour point,” says 23-year-old Curtis, from Swansea, who goes by the name Curt Atlas.

“But it also opens up the scene for people like ourselves, coming out of places like New Wave, to capitalise on the next stage of professional wrestling and make the British scene something even better than it already was,” he says.

Fellow trainee Ali, who’s 26 and wrestles as Aluna Blue, is similarly optimistic about the opportunities ahead, with former NXT UK performers now free to wrestle elsewhere.

Image caption,Ali from Cheltenham – known as Aluna Lee – admits ‘you have to be a special type of person to learn to wrestle, but it’s great fun’

“We’re very lucky now that we’ve got these incredible former WWE superstars around us on the scene,” she says.

“We’re only going to get better by wrestling them, we can learn so much.”

‘Shows were hurt’

NXT UK has been divisive since it was launched in 2018, following a rise in the popularity of independent British promotions such as PROGRESS Wrestling and Revolution Pro.

Many of the domestic wrestling scene’s biggest names were signed by WWE, which then limited their appearances for other UK companies.

“NXT UK’s influence has been good in some respects,” says New Wave’s owner and head coach Brendan ‘Bronco’ White.

He highlights the way WWE ensured there were “medics at shows” as an example.

However, “the independent shows the wrestlers were on previously were probably hurt a little bit, because in a lot of cases, I don’t think the shoes were filled,” he says.

Image caption,’British wrestling will be on the rise again soon’, says New Wave Wrestling Academy boss Brendan ‘Bronco’ White

“NXT UK closing is bringing all those guys back on the scene, and I feel like that’s going to bridge the gap between the great wrestlers and the good wrestlers. It’s exciting and I think we will be on the rise again soon.” https://katasungokong.com/

“Not everyone wants to get to WWE,” adds Bronco, who says “there’s money to be made on the independent scene”.

British wrestling is also recovering from two separate crises that started in 2020, leading to politicians getting involved.

“The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wrestling came together in 2020 as a group of MPs who love wrestling,” the group’s co-chair Alex Davies Jones MP tells Newsbeat.

“We were incredibly disheartened and shocked at the current state of British wrestling at that time,” she says.

“It had been through its own ‘#MeToo’ movement called ‘#SpeakingOut’, where wrestlers spoke out about the horrendous abuse that they were suffering from within the industry.”

“British wrestling was also struggling with Covid,” Ms Davies Jones adds, “with not being able to put on live shows, and [companies] weren’t getting any support from the government because wrestling falls in that really difficult in-between scene of not being sport and not being an art form.”

‘Wrestling is for everybody’

This led to the group publishing a report last year, aimed at improving safeguarding, safety and financial sustainability within the industry.

Seventeen months on, the Labour MP for Pontypridd is optimistic about British wrestling’s future, and the legacy WWE’s Clash at the Castle will leave.

“I’m hoping that this event will inspire new fans seeking out their own independent wrestling schools, wrestling promotions, and also encouraging people to give it a go,” she says.

“Whether you become a fan or whether you decide that you want to give it a go, wrestling is for everybody and I cannot wait to see the impact that this has.”

This is echoed by Drew McIntyre, who says there is “absolutely” still a pathway for young British talent to follow in his footsteps, despite the closure of NXT UK.

Image caption,Scotland’s Drew McIntyre says wrestling is now ‘much more accessible’

“There was no pathway when I did it,” he says.

“I had to forge my own path and it’s so much more accessible now.”

So what advice would he offer the new generations he hopes to have inspired in Cardiff?

“Believe in yourself, put the work in, find a reputable wrestling school that has produced quality students.”

“The trick is, when everybody tells you, ‘you’re insane, that’s not possible, that’s an American thing’, just nod and smile.”

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