This has caused something of an uproar among a group of fans, those who don't like the idea that WWE's telescopic reach can interfere with the wrestling they like, asserting such substantial control. Others are taking a more positive view of the situation, believing that with most of the NXT UK roster now confined to only working for a handful of organizations, that opportunities will only increase for other UK-based talents to shine, much in the same way that the top US indies replenish themselves with fresh talent once WWE scoops up their stars.
After conferring a bit with my Cultaholic cohorts (they have the home field advantage), we've together determined 10 wrestlers whose array of talents and dynamic personalities ensure that the UK wrestling scene is far from deceased. There are many to choose from, but these 10 immediately come to mind.
(To clear up any confusion, we've left off names such as Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, and Zack Sabre Jr. - talented wrestlers that certainly still make up a vital part of the UK scene, but are predominantly seen as international stars these days.)
10. Jackie Polo
Insane Championship Wrestling - ICW/YouTube
I've never been to Glasgow, but I reckon that there aren't too many fellows walking the streets over there that look and talk like Texas oilmen. Polo not only nails the accent, but also complements that nuance with the sort of "insincere sincerity" that it takes to add authenticity to such a caricature.
The character work of Polo is so on-point that you sometimes overlook his in-ring performances. His rivalry with Lionheart (that extends back well before 2018) provided a number of highlights, particularly their match at BarraMania 4. A confident speaker with the ability to blend absurdity effectively with seriousness, Polo will only continue to epitomize the wrestler that fans love to hate, as he courses through month three as Insane Championship Wrestling's top titleholder.
9. Kip Sabian
"Superbad" is diminutive enough without standing beside the towering Iestyn Rees, but that's what gives the AlphaBad duo its charm, seeing the arrogant and irascible Sabian spit his pretentious musings on episodes of World of Sport while paired with the more menacing Rees. But Sabian's more than just a solid heel promo - he's got the in-ring talent to back it up, as evidenced in some high-profile bouts throughout 2018.
Respectable placement during Ring of Honor's Honor Reunited Tour in August demonstrated Sabian's increasing viability, particularly a 16-minute International Cup opening rounder against Flip Gordon. In a world where you can't have too many dynamic light-heavyweights, especially those who demonstrate exceeding competence on the mic, Sabian's future is a bright one, with plenty of rising stock.
8. Chris Brookes
The lean, maskless half of CCK made headlines earlier this summer when it was reported that he turned down an offer to sign with WWE. Perhaps one day down the line, he'll give a different answer should a WWE contract be placed before him, but for now, he has a chance to further his own career, with a suddenly less-crowded stage to perform on.
Brookes has been lauded by his contemporaries as a selfless peer, helping younger wrestlers stand out in various partnerships, as the likes of Kid Lykos and Tyler Bate have learned. Having attended the first night of PROGRESS' US tour in Philadelphia this past August, I can attest that Brookes and Lykos looked every bit the ideal babyface tandem in their Tag Team title win over The Grizzled Young Veterans, a treat for the wild Philly crowd.
She's Piper Niven to some, but to those who had seen Viper in her more formative days inside the ring, it was clear that she had much to offer long before WWE included her in the 2017 Mae Young Classic. Niven's advancement to the elite eight showed the faith that the tournament designers had in her, and she silenced many critics and sceptics with her work, particularly against Toni Storm.
Since the tournament, Viper has been in high demand across the globe, from SHIMMER in Berwyn, IL, to Stardom in Japan, to Beyond Wrestling in Rhode Island, to various UK promotions, including World of Sport and EVE. Given her still-growing following, it stands to reason that Viper's profile will only continue to increase, as more fans become aware of her diverse range of talents.
6. Joe Hendry
In the past three months alone, The Prestigious One has brought his wares to Canada and Mexico in addition to the UK, and it's not much of a surprise that both IMPACT Wrestling and Ring of Honor have made it a point to include him on their cards - his charisma is utterly off the charts, comparable to some of the very best wrestling stars on the planet.
Hendry got something of a late start, beginning his wrestling career at age 25, but his energy, creativity, and personality have served him well in just five years. Though he may be more known for his colourful entrances than wrestling ability at this time, Hendry is ever-improving and has all the necessary tools to be the true face of just about any company he works for.
5. Martin Kirby
Range is an important quality for performers in any field, and wrestling is certainly no exception. Kirby is someone whose wealth of talent registers in many places on the spectrum, whether he's entertaining fans with comic zaniness, or ratcheting up the intensity in highly-physical matches. Such adaptability goes a long way in explaining Kirby's continued value and popularity, alike.
Fans came to appreciate Kirby when he and the late Kris Travis spent eight years making their bones together as Project Ego, a tandem that demonstrated each man's duelling propensity for both enjoyable humour and ambitious in-ring performances. Kirby continues to display such versatility for a variety of promotions, the patrons of whom have found themselves spellbound by the absurd Zoidberg Elbow.
4. Kay Lee Ray
Like Viper, Kay Lee Ray has spent much of her recent career crossing oceans. She's made her mark as a featured player at SHIMMER events in Illinois, as well as hitting up all of the top promotions over in the UK, not to mention an extensive run in Japan's Stardom promotion earlier in 2018. Put simply, she's been busy.
Kay Lee has made her mark as a boundless daredevil, putting her body on the line without a second thought, all in the name of drama and excitement while trotting the globe. Her visibility has increased as the World of Sport Women's Champion, defending the belt against the likes of Viper and Bea Priestley, and given her hectic schedule, her stock should only continue to rise.
3. Rampage Brown
The hyper-aggressive Rampage has been such an ever-present fixture and captivating performer on the UK scene that it's sometimes forgotten that he spent some time in WWE developmental, pre-NXT. The name Monty Lynch gets yellowed in the attic of wrestling history, as WWE let a real force of nature slip through their fingers. Of course, he wouldn't have been able to use his wicked Piledriver, anyway, so perhaps it was a blessing.
Brown is the embodiment of what a heavyweight brawler should be: intimidating, ferocious, and iron-strong. Promotions like PROGRESS, All Star Wrestling, and World of Sport have understood that Brown has a presence that allows him to stand out from the pack, putting their top belts on him at different points. About two decades into his career, Brown remains a unique and special talent, someone that instantly makes an impact as a top guy.
2. Jimmy Havoc
American fans have seen what the manic and ghoulish Havoc can do up close. His appearances in Combat Zone Wrestling proved that he fits right in with the unfettered mayhem that the company offers, while MLW fans have come to a similar conclusion. You don't make that many cross-Atlantic trips without bringing so much to the table.
Havoc's character work has awing nuance to it, able to delve into hellish rage with the simple flick of a switch, and deftly turn it off again (as I learned personally, during an interview for Fighting Spirit Magazine). Some unfairly dismiss Havoc as a "deathmatch guy", mindlessly carving himself up for spectacle. On the contrary, Havoc has shown himself to be a brilliant storyteller, whose medium so happens to be in the horrific and extreme. Put another way, his fans know well that there is indeed a method to his madness.
1. Mark Haskins
My first memory of Haskins came in July 2011, when the then-23-year-old answered Doug Williams' opening challenge at TNA's Destination X pay-per-view. Fans in Orlando's Impact Zone received him coolly, expressing confusion at what they saw as a letdown of a "mystery opponent". Seven years later, fans in Philly treated him like a genuine star when he wrestled Flash Morgan Webster during PROGRESS' US tour. How things change.
It's hard to fathom Haskins getting the head-scratch treatment today, having made such a considerable mark in PROGRESS, IPW: UK, and wXw over the past year, not to mention noteworthy matches in PWG in parts of 2016 and 2017 (facing the likes of The Young Bucks, Marty Scurll, and Cedric Alexander). Haskins has blossomed into one of the most genuinely-impressive wrestlers on the planet, owing to smooth execution and brilliant innovation alike.