30 long years had passed since the UK played host to a WWE Stadium show. Decades of British fans missed out on the opportunity to scream themselves hoarse in support of their favourite Superstars. The Attitude, Ruthless Aggression and Social Media eras of the company have come and gone. But on Saturday September 3, that all changed. Memories were made. Moments created. A new generation of WWE fans forged in an instant. A special evening in Cardiff, saw more than 60,000 pack into the Principality Stadium including our very own Andy Spoors. Here he recaps a night that will go down in wrestling history….
There is a certain intangible feeling that fills the air when WWE bring a Premium Live Event (PLE) to town. Whether it is WrestleMania, SummerSlam or Clash At The Castle, it’s palpable. Arriving into Cardiff, Superstar banners and flags adorned every lamppost. Bus stops, park benches, even bars and restaurants displayed WWE posters. Make no mistake, the city knew something special was happening well before Saturday’s main event.
The company’s official pop up merchandise shop in the city’s shopping mall had queues all weekend and not just a couple of people. At one point shop assistants informed hopeful guests that the wait time was likely to be two hours. Such was the fervour and clamour to own a slice of WWE history.
Meets and Greets sold out. Undertaker’s one man show stretched to a second performance. Even the refreshment stands in a stadium used to hosting international events were pillaged, food and drink completely sold out. The hunger to make the most of WWE’s first stadium show in three decades was insatiable.
The company’s changing of the guard has made many headlines and the fallout appears to have generated a buzz and a spike in popularity. Vince McMahon’s departure from WWE came just a couple of weeks before SummerSlam, leaving very little time for new creative angles and matches to be made.
Clash At The Castle realistically offered the first clean slate for Head Of Creative Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque to put his stamp on. More akin to the excellent NXT Takeover events under his watch, the card for Clash featured six matches. A far cry from the bloated numbers that fans had previously seen on PLE held in the States.
So who stood out? Who were the winners and losers of Cardiff? Were any moments created? Let’s dive into five talking points from the weekend…
And The Crowd Go Wild
There really isn’t anywhere else to start here. We all knew the British/European contingent of the WWE Universe were going to be loud. One of the main reasons WrestleMania weekends are the spectacle they have become is down to the company’s international fans. Conditioned to chanting at football matches, that same lively atmosphere was evident before a bell was rung on Saturday.
Serenading Bayley to the tune of Bruce Channel’s Hey Baby, social media soon began to light up with compliments on just how loud the UK crowd were. A giant singalong to Edge’s entrance theme Metalingus, by Alter Bridge, left the ‘Rated R Superstar’ and veteran shaking his head in sheer amazement.
It wasn’t just chants that made this crowd one for the ages, huge pops reverberated for every Superstar. Every match end. Every moment created. No matter the result, or the disappointment in missing out on the ultimate pop, those in attendance did themselves proud.
If ever WWE decides to host another PLE (or maybe even a Mania) on these shores it will be largely because of this crowd.
One of those aforementioned moments belonged firmly to Sheamus. The Irish Superstar faced off against Gunther for the Intercontinental Championship in a quest to become the first ever Ultimate Grand Slam Champion. Although this hasn’t been clearly defined, to be a grand slam winner you must capture all the titles available to you during your time in the company.
As Sheamus has also won the Royal Rumble, King of the Ring and Money In The Bank, winning the IC title would put him not only in rarified air but make him the first ever to win all accolades possible. If that pressure wasn’t enough, the main event of WWE’s last UK stadium show featured Brett Hart vs The British Bulldog for the Intercontinental Championship.
Although both men claimed that the legacy of that match did not weigh too heavily on their minds, many fans in the bars and pubs around the stadium listed this match as contender for match of the night. They would not be disappointed.
Many expected two meaty men slapping meat and that is exactly what we received. An old school throwback to two behemoths beating the shit out of each other only ended when Sheamus’ back gave up. Although Gunther is more than worthy and capable of elevating the IC belt, the night still belonged to the Celtic Warrior.
As Sheamus pulled himself to his feet after a disappointing loss, the Principality rose to show their appreciation for a valiant effort. But in some respects it felt like more than that. This was 60,000 finally giving Sheamus his flowers. For someone that has won as much as he had to only now receive the plaudits made this moment all the sweeter. The quest to become the Ultimate Grand Slam Champion for now, goes on.
Disappointment For Drew
We could have had it all. The night and noise felt like it was destined to build to a crescendo. A string of great to excellent matches led to the main event of the night: Drew McIntyre vs Roman Reigns for the Universal WWE Championship.
The former had long been championing the cause for a UK PLE. So when the Superstars finally came to town, after all the talking, all the media coverage, it came down to Drew to bring it home. His first WWE Championship win came in the bizarre and eerie confines of an empty Performance Centre at WrestleMania 36.
Vanquishing Brock Lesnar, the Scottish Superstar looked directly down the camera and said this was for all of us. We felt it. We could see how much it meant. But to win the big one in front of a sold out stadium, in the UK? That would be something else.
Even with the added curiosities of Tyson Fury and Karrion Kross sitting ringside, it still felt destiny. When McIntyre’s old theme music Broken Dreams began to play, the Principality erupted as one. The hometown hero. Britain’s only WWE Champion to date. Surely he couldn’t lose.
Until he did. Near fall after near fall and without the help of The Usos, Paul Heyman or Sami Zayn, Roman Reigns cut a frustrated figure. Jeered from start to finish. Refused an acknowledgement. The Tribal Chief spent the majority of the match shaking his head in disbelief. But we should all know by now, Roman will always find a way.
As McIntyre hit a final Claymore Kick, everyone (including this particular writer) lost their composure as the referee began to count. One…Two… but the three would never come. Queue bedlam as a hooded figure pulled the referee out of the ring. That figure would be revealed as the third Uso brother, Solo Sikoa.
One spear later and it was over. Roman continues to reign. Even one of Tyson Fury’s post match karaoke sing-alongs to American Pie failed to send the crowd home happy, that palpable feeling dissipating somewhere into the valleys. It will take something special to end what is turning into a monumental title run and whoever claims the championship will instantly be shot to stardom.
One of the main criticisms facing the event was the lack of title changes. In the interim period between stadium shows, PPVs like Rebellion and Insurrextion served up opportunities for UK fans to see some of the biggest Superstars of the Attitude Era. However, these events only streamed in the UK and Canada and remained unavailable for US fans until years later when the WWE launched its own network.
This effectively hamstrung the powers that be into booking cards with little to no consequence. After all, the WWE’s biggest market is the USA and having said audience in the dark about a title changing hands or a feud reaching its climax, could prove problematic in the pre social media era.
In 2022 this should have been different. Although booking decisions need to make sense in the long term, the Universal WWE Championship not being held aloft by a UK Superstar did feel like a missed opportunity.
Admittedly patience needs to be practised, as WWE are going through a transitional phase where new creative voices and directions are being taken. But with one of the loudest crowds in recent times, history being made and excellent matches on display, was Saturday the time to be brave in their booking?
There were some major talking points that would be addressed a couple of nights later on Raw, Bayley pinning Raw Women’s Champion, Bianca Belair. Dominick Mysterio turning his back on Edge and his father Rey. Most shockingly of all, the introduction of the youngest Uso brother costing Drew McIntyre.
It wasn’t devoid of consequence, but it could have been so much more…
NXT UK Waves Goodbye
Just one night removed from Clash At The Castle, NXT UK faced its final curtain call. Last month WWE announced that the brand would be shutting down and transitioning to NXT Europe in the new year.
Details have remained somewhat under wraps but the vast majority of NXT UK’s roster have been released and taking independent dates for the foreseeable: a bitter pill to swallow as the brand has consistently laid on banger matches since its return from the covid hiatus.
Just as NXT had become a conveyor belt of talent for the main roster, NXT UK has established stars of their own, Rhea Ripley was the first NXT UK Women’s Champion, Butch (fka Pete Dunne), Ridge Holland, Pretty Deadly, Tyler Bate, Dakota Kai and Gunther all known to the wider WWE Universe.
The brand’s final swansong would come in the shape of Worlds Collide, with a number of unification matches pitting the current champions for NXT and NXT UK against each other. Sadly every single match saw Superstars from NXT claim victory. A hammer blow for the likes of Tyler Bate, who admittedly still has a long and promising career ahead of him.
While this might be the end for the UK brand, the plans for NXT Europe will no doubt be even more grandiose. With matches like WALTER vs Ilaj Dragunov, Moustache Mountain vs Undisputed Era, Heritage Cup tournaments and nights in some of the UK’s most stunning arenas, memories of the UK brand will live on for years to come.