When thinking of areas of the world that have created some of the biggest stars in the history of pro wrestling, a litany of places immediately spring to mind, such as Texas, Florida, Japan, Mexico, or maybe even Calgary, Alberta, Canada. But one area of the world that often slips under the radar is the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Over the years, the pro wrestling culture of the UK, which has roots in bare-knuckle brawling and “shoot-style” fighting, has provided some fairly talented wrestlers, many of which have become well-known on the international stage, even rising to heights within WWE. In recognizing this under-rated hotbed, here are some UK-born wrestlers who have represented their homeland with great success in their careers.
Before he became “The Man That Gravity Forgot”, Neville began his career in a small wrestling promotion in northeastern England, under the name PAC. After establishing himself in the UK, he moved on to the North American independent scene, starring in a number of promotions, including Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), Chikara, and Dragon Gate USA, as well as a short stint in New Japan Pro Wrestling. During that time, Neville established himself as one of the pre-eminent high-flyers in the industry, and soon enough, found himself with a developmental deal with WWE. In NXT, he was the first man to win the NXT Tag Team titles twice, and defeated the longest-reigning NXT Champion (a record Neville would go on to beat) Bo Dallas at the inaugural NXT live special, ArRival, in a ladder match to win the title. Neville was promoted to the main roster after WrestleMania 31, and had several incredible matches following his debut, including bouts against US Champion John Cena and WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins. At the end of his first year in WWE, Neville was voted by the fans as the “Breakout Superstar of 2015”.
9. Robbie Brookside
Currently one of the most respected trainers at the WWE Performance Center, Brookside came up in wrestling alongside friend and tag team partner William Regal. But while Regal found his way to WCW and WWE, Brookside remained an independent wrestler, making his name both in the UK and on the world stage, including Japan and Mexico, although he did make several appearances as enhancement talent in both major North American promotions. Known for his technical prowess and toughness, Brookside is one of the most decorated wrestlers from the UK, winning titles in most major European organizations, while also training some wrestlers who went on to greater fame in WWE, such as Sheamus and Wade Barrett. Since his retirement, Brookside has been heavily involved in WWE’s developmental system, and has been shown repeatedly as one of the top trainers of NXT talent, highlighted on shows such as Breaking Ground.
8. Wade Barrett
While his run in WWE ended on a fairly large down note, from the second he debuted as part of the first season of NXT, there was something about Wade Barrett that screamed “future main event star”. Barrett had the look, the charisma, and the wrestling skill to go far, but despite several opportunities, he never quite got over the hump. That’s not to say his time in WWE was a disaster, as he was a high-profile Superstar for most of it, beginning with his role as the winner of NXT Season 1 and the leader of the Nexus faction, which should have been one of the most dominant stables in WWE, but failed to reach its potential, mostly due to horrible booking. Barrett re-invented himself several times during his WWE career, briefly leading another faction known as “The Corre”, and most notably, reaching arguably the height of his popularity as “Bad News Barrett”, a gimmick that become so beloved by fans that WWE actually took it away from him so they would stop cheering for the ostensible heel. While in WWE, Barrett also won the Intercontinental title five times, and was the 2015 King of the Ring, notable achievements in a career that should have been far more successful.
7. Drew Galloway
Scottish-born Drew Galloway (also known in WWE as Drew McIntyre) was a longtime veteran of the ring before even setting foot in North America. He was an accomplished wrestler in the UK for several years, wrestling all over the country for every major promotion, winning multiple titles along the way. In 2006, the lanky Scot made his was to WWE on a developmental deal, and quickly became pegged as one of the company’s top prospects. After a brief and forgotten run as a face early into his tenure, he debuted as “The Chosen One” in 2009, endorsed by Vince McMahon himself. McIntyre was a high-profile performer on Smackdown for several years, but aside from a single reign as Intercontinental champion, he never managed to take the next step into the main event, as opportunities seemed to pass him by or be snatched away at the last minute. After a long tenure as part of the entertaining jobber stable 3MB, McIntyre left WWE in search of better options, resuming his original name in the process. Nearly immediately after leaving WWE, Galloway became one of the hottest talents on the independent circuit, winning titles in various North American promotions, including the TNA World Championship. Due to managing to raise his profile so much in such a short time, there are some who suggest that it’s only a matter of time before WWE comes calling for Galloway yet again.
The daughter of two British wrestlers/promoters, Paige leapt onto the scene at an incredibly young age, making her wrestling debut in 2005, when she was only 13. After making her name in a tag team alongside her mother, Paige broke out as a single competitor, making the move to North American promotion Shimmer. Once there, she caught the eye of WWE talent scouts, who brought her into the company on a developmental deal. Paige rose quickly through the ranks, becoming the first NXT Women’s Champion, then debuting on Raw the night after WrestleMania XXX, winning the Divas Title in her very first match, while still a champion in NXT. With that win, Paige also became the youngest Divas champion in WWE history, as she was still just 21. After vacating her NXT title, Paige remained on the main roster and became a multiple-time champion, helping to raise the bar for women’s wrestling in WWE. Since the promotion of several other NXT women to WWE, Paige has been a notable part of the evolution of women’s wrestling into a more legitimate part of WWE.
5. Big Daddy
Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree may be the most famous professional wrestler from the UK to never work outside of the UK. Originally a heel when he debuted in 1952, Big Daddy found the greatest success of his career when he became a patriotic face character, turning into one of the most beloved characters in British wrestling history, especially among children. As Hulk Hogan was to American children in the 90’s, so was Big Daddy in the UK, and luminaries such as Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II have both stated that they were big fans of the massive Daddy during his career, while WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart spoke extensively about Big Daddy’s influence on his own career. Big Daddy was actually a minor cultural icon in England, featured in a comic strip, a music video, and even a popular stage play. In addition, his remarkable 64-inch chest also landed him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records! Unfortunately, Big Daddy never made his way outside the UK in the four decades he wrestled, but he did make a huge impact on his home country that will probably never be matched.
4. Fit Finlay
The son and grandson of wrestlers, Finlay is considered one of the toughest wrestlers on the planet. His hard-nosed approach, based off the UK “shoot” style of wrestling, made him a fearsome competitor over his thirty-plus year career. The pride of Belfast, Northern Ireland is also considered one of the best trainers in pro wrestling, and was largely credited for the rise in skill in the WWE Divas division in the 2000’s, a time period which saw women like Trish Stratus, Lita, and Victoria put on some of the best wrestling matches in the division’s history. In fact, Finlay was so technically proficient, when he was brought out of retirement in 2005 to fill a talent void, at the age of 47, he managed to not only hold his own against the younger generation of wrestlers, but he became one of the Smackdown brand’s most popular wrestlers and put on some of the best matches of his career, even wrestling for the World Heavyweight Championship in the main event of a Pay Per View (although his bid for a World title win was unsuccessful). After sticking around for several years as a prominent character, Finlay quietly slipped back into retirement, and a role behind the scenes in WWE as a road agent and trainer. His son, David Finlay Jr, made his pro wrestling debut in 2012, and looks to carry on the family tradition.
3. Johnny Saint
While you probably didn’t have the chance to see him in his prime, you may have actually heard the name of Johnny Saint coming from the lips of any number of current wrestlers, and for good reason. Saint was (and probably still is, even in retirement) one of the best technical wrestlers in the history of the sport in the UK. He was one of the biggest names in English wrestling for nearly four decades, debuting in 1958 and only retiring in 1996 (although he actually still wrestles, with his last match taking place in 2009, at the age of 67, and considers himself only “semi-retired”). While he never made it big in North America, he was known all over the world, wrestling not just in the UK and Europe, but also Japan. Saint was given the title of “Man of 1,000 Holds” (which likely inspired WCW star and fellow technical wrestling savant Dean Malenko’s “Man of 1,001” Holds gimmick), and believe us, he earned it. These days, Saint is considered an inspiration for a wide array of modern wrestlers, including Daniel Bryan, Enzo Amore, and NXT trainers Norman Smiley, Robbie Brookside, and William Regal.
2. The British Bulldogs
We thought about giving Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith their own spots on this list, but despite their careers diverging significantly, the large portion of their best and most memorable work took place as a team, both in WWE, and around the world. Their hard-hitting style was some of the stiffest in wrestling at the time, and they were truly one of the most innovative teams of their era. Kid, of course, was also a huge deal in Japan, and Smith definitely had the more impressive career in North America, spending time in both WWE and WCW, and finding success in both. Unfortunately, both Bulldogs found somewhat tragic ends to their careers, as the volatile Kid ended up alienating everyone in his life, and ended up confined to a wheelchair thanks to the injuries caused by his intense wrestling style, and Smith battled substance abuse issues for years before suffering a fatal heart attack in 2002. However, at the peak of their careers, the British Bulldogs were definitely one of the best tag teams in the world.
1. William Regal
Possibly the most lovable evil man on the planet, William Regal began his career in legitimate shoot fights, before moving onto the world of pro wrestling, where people at least weren’t attempting to injure him intentionally. After moving to North America, Regal had a lengthy career in WCW under the name Lord Steven Regal, winning multiple championships and putting on some excellent matches. Eventually, he left WCW for WWE, but it was at this point that his lifelong battle with drug abuse caught up to him, and he found himself out of work. Fortunately, Regal managed to turn his life around, and once again found employment in WWE under the new first name of William (during a rather silly period where WWE made sure everyone had unique first names to avoid situations like, and we’re not kidding, fans confusing “Steve Austin” with “Steve Regal”). Over the next decade, Regal was a prominent figure in WWE, holding many titles, and serving as on-screen General Manager several times. To this day, he is considered one of the best wrestlers to never hold a World title in WWE or WCW. Now retired, Regal spends his days as the on-screen GM for NXT, while also using his incredible knowledge of wrestling to train new Superstars behind the scenes at WWE’s Performance Center.