NXT UK is not the WWE capitalising on one of their very best markets, NXT is a culture that has been carving its own way for generations, but in the last decade it has really forced people to stop and take notice.
The new subsidiary of NXT is a culture that has bred a generation of talents who no longer look longingly across the pond, imagining what might be if they were only American.
No, the core of NXT UK has grafted from the ground up to bring a boom back to British grappling and now, under the WWE umbrella, the world can enjoy what many Brits have known for years.
Eddie Dennis, now 32-years-old from Wales, has played his part in helping the British wrestling scene wake up from its dormant state and many fans might have enjoyed his year-long programme with Mark Andrews - who is also signed to NXT UK - that culminated at Progress: Hello Wembley earlier this month.
The Pride of Wales is the kind of wrestler who fits the criteria WWE normally look for. Standing at 6'6", he has the height, look and if you put a microphone in his hand, you will not be disappointed. But for Dennis, much like the rest of the locker-room he shares at NXT UK, his chance with WWE didn't come easy or without risk.
Growing up, Dennis started watching wrestling at five-years-old and lived through the Monday Night Wars, but saw more of WCW in the early going because that was all he could get with no cable television in Wales. Once he was exposed to the WWE (WWF back then), he was hooked. GiveMeSport spoke to the Welshman ahead of the NXT UK shows in Plymouth and got some fascinating insight into his journey in the business.
"When I was growing up, my favorites were your Stone Colds [Steve Austin] and your Shawn Michaels and people like that," Dennis recalled. "As I got into pro wrestling, and you talk more about influences, then I probably got interested in independent wrestling and it was your Chris Heros, your Nigel McGuinness' and people like that I took influences from as opposed to being just a fan."
Although the former Progress tag team champion has 10 years of wrestling experience under his belt, he performed only part-time as a hobby while serving as a teacher and then headmaster at a primary school. It was by chance his passion was reignited.
"I took my degree in mathematics, fell into a teaching position and then I was doing my PGC for doing my teacher training course when I went to be a fake crowd in a friend of mine's music video and they were using a local wrestling company for the music video," Dennis said. "Off the back of that, I went training and thought 'Oh, this might be something that I can explore'. For the longest time, ultimately, I would have to say it was a hobby. But, the hobby got more and more serious and it's obviously grown into something quite a lot different now."
In July 2017, Dennis would take the decision to leave a rather lucrative headmaster role behind and pursue wrestling full-time and without the WWE's acknowledgement of the burgeoning wrestling scene, he isn't sure he would have.
"It was definitely a gamble. I didn't go from my teaching position to a position within the WWE. I went from my teaching position to just being solely employed to be a professional wrestler. But, the goal for me was always WWE. When I left teaching, they'd already run their first United Kingdom Championship tournament and I'd seen people like Pete [Dunne] and Mark [Andrews] succeed, Tyler [Bate] as well and of course, they're friends of mine for a number of years and I sort of thought - I backed myself, if you like - if I can dedicate myself to this then I can be with them.
"But I took a fifth of my pay [laughs] during that year because I had gotten up to being a headmaster of the primary school. But, it was a dream come true from a childhood perspective, but also from a 32-year-man needing some financial stability perspective as well," Dennis laughed.
"I could unequivocally say that if the United Kingdom Championship tournament hadn't happened in Blackpool, I would probably have retired from wrestling by now," Dennis asserted. "Without the WWE deciding to expand into this marketplace, I don't think I would be a professional wrestler right now, to be honest."
You're probably thinking given that Dennis is now a member of the NXT UK roster, it was happily ever after. Au contraire. After Dennis' tryout with the WWE in November, disaster would strike in January and nearly cost him his shot at the big time.
"I left teaching in the July and I set myself targets to see where I was in the first 12 months to assess if this was a viable option. One of the big targets was to get a tryout with the WWE. I tried out in the November and William Regal ran my tryout, so I met Regal there and made my initial connection with the WWE, but was very much of the mindset that something regional to the UK would have to launch for me to have a real shot at being involved.
"But then in January, I ruptured my pectoral muscle, so I couldn't wrestle for six months," Dennis explained. "During my road to recovery is when the WWE contacted me about the formation of NXT UK and being apart of that and that's why when the second UK tournament came along, I was under the employment of the WWE but I still wasn't cleared to wrestle.
"But since then, it's just been a whirlwind. You know, you see these people that you grew up watching on a weekly basis - I guess if you take a step back it's a bit overwhelming - but in reality, they're just colleagues who have a wealth of experience, so you just try and learn from them"
So what's the NXT UK locker-room like? Being able to showcase their brilliance on a platform like the WWE and their WWE Network which has nearly 2 million subscribers is close to the ultimate justification, and they are making sure they won't disappoint.
"It's a super exciting locker-room to be apart of. You got to remember, for a lot of us, we've known each other for years and year and years and this is something that I'm sure has been in the mind of the WWE business model for years, but also, everyone who is involved with it has been grafting away at this British wrestling scene for years to build this to a point where this was a viable option.
"There's people who have been working, say on average, for a decade to make this a reality. So we're pretty keen that the product we present to you on Wednesday [October 17) and 8pm [BST] is the best it can be, blows peoples socks off and can grow from there."
The tradition when signing for the WWE has been to establish yourself in developmental and work your way to a spot on the main roster. For Dennis - and it's a mindset shared by many of his colleagues - it's about being at ground zero of NXT UK and making sure this brand is here to stay.
"I have a mortgage and a family in this country so I'm invested in making this product the best that it can possibly be. For now, I want NXT UK to be it's own brand with its own merits and people want to come here [NXT UK] to work as opposed to using it as a springboard to go elsewhere," Dennis said.
The first episode of NXT UK will air on the WWE Network at 8pm UK time [BST] and will run weekly from there. The NXT UK crew are in Plymouth this weekend doing more shows too and Dennis believes there's "there's no way you're not going to blown away" when you watch the NXT UK product.
"I'd tell them [fans] to tune in on Wednesday and they'll realise it's a WWE level of production, but it's got a distinctly British feel to it. It's almost entirely British talent - we've got a couple of international talents - but its very much got a British flavour to it but that WWE sheen and polish on the top of it. So, if you're a fan of British wrestling, there's no way you're not going to blown away by what you see on Wednesday and hopefully, it's going to open a bunch of other peoples eyes who weren't aware of how terrific the British wrestling scene is."
NXT UK will be in Liverpool on Saturday, November 24 and Sunday, November 25 at Liverpool Olympia.
Tickets for these events are available via www.livenation.co.uk. Further information is available at www.wwe.com/events.
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