For any British wrestling fan, the main event of Tuesday’s SmackDown Live was a moment they may have been forgiven for thinking would never happen.
For those who were fortunate enough to witness AJ Styles’ WWE Championship victory live and in person—including myself—it was a moment to truly cherish.
Not once in its 54-year history had the WWE’s most illustrious championship changed hands outside of North America. You could count on one hand the number of times it had been defended in the United Kingdom, too.
That alone made Tuesday night worthwhile. It was the chance to see a legitimate title match, rather than the stuff WWE serves up at routine house shows throughout its twice-annual European tours.
But when Styles pinned Jinder Mahal—clean, for good measure—to win his second WWE Championship, it hopefully sparked enough interest to justify WWE’s decision to switch the title outside of North America for the first time.
The Shield & @TripleH want Wrestlemania in the UK.
Hey @VinceMcMahon lets make this happen.
#WWELondon #Wrestlemania https://t.co/xh9ydISkwW
And more importantly, it should be seen as WWE’s faith in the United Kingdom scene, which appears to be growing, could now lead to the company being brave enough to move a major show to these shores in the coming years.
The UK is the company’s biggest and—arguably—best market in terms of potential and fan numbers outside of North America. Triple H said that himself last year in the lead-up to the WWE United Kingdom Championship tournament (h/t Sky Sports).
At the time, he said: “The UK is our biggest and most exciting fanbase outside of the U.S. We’ve always wanted to plant a bigger footprint here and we’ve been able to find the talent and the people we want to do it with.”
Now, this is not an impassioned plea from one UK wrestling fan that the time has now come for WWE to move WrestleMania across the pond. As great as that would be, it remains an unrealistic prospect while the company is not regularly having pay-per-views in the United Kingdom.
After @TripleH’s hints about a UK @WrestleMania I wonder if last night’s @WWE Title change was a test to see how the UK / USA six hour delay affects spoilers in the US?
But now, with Styles winning the WWE Championship in Manchester, England, on Tuesday, it feels like the right time for WWE to show they trust the UK to put on a major event beyond Raw and SmackDown twice a year.
Think of a Backlash or a Hell in a Cell. A show that almost tests the water for WWE in justifying its decision to, one day, bring WrestleMania to England, Scotland or Wales. Heck, Triple H himself even said during this tour that only WWE CEO Vince McMahon can be convinced to make the call on Mania in the UK.
He said (h/t Daily Mirror): “There’s only one man who can make WrestleMania in London happen. Shout loud enough and maybe he can hear you across the pond!”
WWE has experience of major pay-per-views in the UK, of course, with the rip-roaring success that was SummerSlam 1992. In the ring it was a triumph, with Bret Hart’s Intercontinental Championship defeat to The British Bulldog, but outside of the ring, it worked also.
Per ProFightDB, only three WWE pay-per-views drew a greater attendance than the 80,355 that watched SummerSlam live in London: WrestleMania 29 (80,676), WrestleMania III (93,173) and WrestleMania 32 (101,763).
What’s more, with WWE’s commitment to the British wrestling scene, given the United Kingdom Championship still in existence, it makes sense to do something like hosting a pay-per-view to boost that division’s prestige.
The stars of that division, such as champion Pete Dunne and the ultrapopular Tyler Bate, got a rare outing on TV this week, but most of the wrestlers were confined to 205 Live. Only Dunne, representing the United Kingdom as its champion, got on either Raw or SmackDown.
WWE’s tour of Europe also gave fans to see their favorite wrestlers in the flesh, as well as allowing for cool crossover opportunities you don’t normally see. For example, Sheamus, Cesaro and Kurt Angle went behind the scenes at leading English Premier League soccer club Manchester City this week.
Away from the usual gimmick segments in the published YouTube video, such as trying their chances at penalty kicks and such, there was an interesting conversation when they stepped out into the Etihad Stadium, another venue that would certainly be capable of hosting a big time pay-per-view.
Sheamus, a longtime soccer fan and patron of his native Ireland, declared some of the UK’s big stadiums as better than some of the ones the company has already hosted WrestleMania events in. “I don’t see why there’s no reason why we can’t have a WrestleMania in the UK,” Sheamus said. It brought an approving nod from the Raw general manager in the video you can see above.
WWE is beginning to work its way into the country’s independent scene, too. Only last week, Dunne and Triple H showed up at an Insane Championship Wrestling show, a promotion where Dunne still actively competes. He even showed up with the United Kingdom Championship, which you can see below.
It’s a sure sign WWE is serious about building its profile more and more in the UK. Pinning the WWE Championship on Styles in Manchester was proof of that, but the next step is now obvious.
The United Kingdom is a drop in the ocean compared to the United States in terms of size and population, but with a now rebuilt Wembley Stadium boasting a capacity of 90,000 for events such as boxing, you can guarantee it would be packed if WWE takes any major event back across the Atlantic.
Yes, this writer is indeed biased, but it’s incredible that fans on these shores have had to wait 25 years. Styles winning the WWE Championship here in Manchester certainly made up for that lengthy wait, but if the E is brave enough to do that outside of the United States, it should feel confident it can bring a pay-per-view here and allow the British public to make it a massive success.