NXT UK started a year or two back presumably as WWE's attempt to stretch its tendrils into parts of the world where there isn't already an established professional wrestling brand. Europe had plenty of indie promotions, but they took a hit when WWE hoovered up some of their best talent to appear on the weekly TV show. Like the American version of NXT, these shows are taped in batches and then edited together as episodic storylines to air over the following month.
The best thing to happen to NXT UK has been to add wrestlers who aren't from the UK.
The first power duo to pop up in NXT UK was Marcel Barthel (Germany) and Fabian Aichner (Südtirol, Italy). Barthel is picturebook übermensch - jacked, blonde, clean-cut and fond of militaristic taunts. Aichner was dopey Eurotrash when he appeared on the American brand, but since he moved to the UK he has leaned into the neo-fascist thing and now struts around in slick black trunks with a mean look on his face.
Here comes the inevitable Brexit shoehorn.
You can tell that the writers tried to leverage Brexit to generate heel heat. Barthel's trunks have a German flag and Aichner's trunks have an Italian flag, but they both have prominent EU flags. The presenters briefly flirted with calling the tag team "European Union". Fortunately for the forces of good, wrestling fans are nowhere near as obnoxiously conservative as the human trash running the WWE, so trying to sell the EU as evil flopped. Fortunately for the writers, Barthel and Aichner were doing a great job of being arrogant and looking sinister regardless of the flags on their trunks, so everyone hates them anyway.
Then WALTER arrived. Yes, his name is all capitals. He is a giant from Austria who wears a fucking Schutzstaffel coat. But everybody loved him because he is big and bad and kicks people in the face with DAS BOOT.
Let me just pause to say wrestling is amazing.
Anyway, WALTER ends up beating former UK champ Pete "The Bruiserweight" Dunne, who is a scrappy, long-haired lad who looks and acts exactly like the bully who stole your lunch money. Of course everyone loves him because he's a working class hero. For a moment it seemed like WALTER and Dunne would have a gentlemanly feud... Until "European Union" arrived and put the beatdown on Dunne. Then WALTER, Barthel and Aichner reunited. In German indie wrestling circles, the three of them were part of a stable called Ringkampf, but here in WWE they are... Imperium! I guess Axis would have been too on-the-nose.
The good news is that having a trio of German-speaking baddies means there is now a reason for Dunne to team back up with Moustache Mountain - aka Trent Seven and Tyler "Big Strong Boy" Bate. The three of them together are British Strong Style and their war with the Imperium will likely be epic.
While all of this is going on, there is another trio of baddies called Gallus, which is apparently Scottish slang for confident. Joe Coffey, Mark Coffey and Wolfgang are all big ugly Glasgow boys who talk tough and fight rough. They never really broke through as the heels they were supposed to be because they aren't as spectacularly detestable as Zack "Liverpool's Number One" Gibson and James Drake (aka tag team champs the Grizzled Young Veterans) or Jordan "The Irish Ace" Devlin.
And then NXT UK filmed in Glasgow.
The last few weeks of Glasgow shows have been the reboot this brand deserved. This is the first time they are filming in Scotland. The crowds are less rowdy than the English, and they don't sing any of the fun supporter songs, but they sure do get behind the local boys. You can tell in the first taping that Gallus was a bit thrown off by suddenly being goodies. They weren't sure how to cut a promo where people would cheer every time they said something offensive. (Contrast with "Liverpool's Number One" who is so hateable that even in Liverpool everyone took off their shoes and jeered him.) But by this third or fourth taping, you can see they are just embracing the fact they are heroes north of the border. I think they will have a much better time being bruisers who face in Scotland and heel in England.
But there's more. Kassius fucking Ohno. The dopiest jobber of NXT. They could never figure out a storyline for Ohno because his name is ridiculous and he looks like a big teddybear. His sole job in America was to lose to whichever new signing WWE enticed over from Japan or Mexico. Then he moved to the UK.
It's amazing how a wrestler can go from being completely unremarkable to a top guy just by tweaking the gimmick. Now, instead of being the guy who loses to all the indie talent, he is the douchey American who cuts promos about how he knows all about the "true" European wrestling, how he understands the "authentic" British style, and he is here to show actual Europeans how it's done. He is exactly like that very fucking annoying brand of weeaboo who thinks they get the local thing even more than the locals do. And everyone (rightfully) hates him.
It's brilliant. He is such a wanker. Last episode he wrestled Jack "The Gentleman" Gallagher, a Mancunian so white he's almost transparent. Gallagher looks and fights like he has been teleported out of 19th century England, and it was genius booking against Ohno. The match is the best wrestling match i've seen all year. I want to watch it again. They wriggled and twisted in the "British" style for the better part of 15 minutes, with Ohno painfully trying to show off how he's not just a big dumb American and can do all the technical tricks the Europeans do. And then in the end he snapped and won by being the big dumb American we all know he is.
Hey, in a few days i leave for England. I won't be doing any wrestling, but i'd happily wear an EU flag on my bum.