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As Co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wrestling, we take much pride in singing the praises of our UK wrestling industry.
Some readers may be unaware but up and down the country each week, numerous shows, training sessions and other wrestling-related events take place.
The ‘For the Love of Wrestling’ convention took place in Manchester recently and saw hundreds of fans meeting wrestling heroes of today and yesterday, dressing up and even taking in a show by one of the largest wrestling companies in the UK, Progress.
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For others, their engagement with wrestling might have been watching late night or Sunday morning wrestling shows as a child, whether that be the UK’s own World of Sport programming or perhaps WWE or WCW when these were on our terrestrial airwaves.
Those two American companies are well known, not least for their battles in the 90’s for wrestling supremacy. In 2023, there are numerous companies operating in the US – Impact Wrestling, the NWA and WWE but perhaps the most plucky contender is All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
AEW was started by a number of top-tier wrestlers, many having worked extensively on the independent circuit, with the backing of Tony Khan.
Mr Khan is no stranger to these shores, being Director of Football Operations for Fulham Football Club.
As soon as AEW was established, fans demanded a UK show – and the Craven Cottage connection was expected to smooth the way for such an appearance from the All-Elite brand.
It was therefore with some surprise that the company announced to fans it was planning to hold a show – named All In – at Wembley Stadium, the first wrestling event since WWE’s Summerslam 1992, at which the British Bulldog beat Bret Hart in the main event.
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The show is AEW’s first outside of North America, because as Tony Khan himself said “The UK is one of the most important markets in professional wrestling”.
The company reportedly draws decent ratings on ITV4 where it airs but it came as a shock to many that the initial presale allocation of some 65,000 tickets sold out, netting millions of pounds in just a few days.
This in of itself is a win for Britain.
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It is a mainstreaming of wrestling, a showcase of our ability to support this great industry and it neatly establishes a competitive edge between the two largest wrestling companies here in the UK, given WWE held its own ‘Clash at the Castle’ event at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff and is soon to hold another major event at London’s O2 arena.
We are beginning to better understand the legacy of these events.
The Welsh Government reports that the Cardiff event provided a 10:1 return on investment, channelling £21.8 million back into the Welsh economy, and with fans coming from across the continent for AEW, no doubt there will be significant returns in August for the Wembley show too.
There are of course other legacy efforts in place.
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These shows do inspire young people to want to become wrestlers
Key to our effort as the All-Party Group is ensuring that when they do go to training schools, for example, these are safe environments.
The law was changed in parliament to strengthen the provisions relating to coaches in positions of responsibility, something we called for in our All-Party report, and more recently, the Government published its concussion protocols – something else we had called for.
We are working with Loughborough University on a conference specifically focussing on concussion, and a good practice guide to inform industry-wide practices. AEW’s venture to the UK is very welcome.
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This is a magnificent opportunity for wrestling fans and others to enjoy some of the best entertainment in the world, not least some of AEW’s British stars like Jamie Hayter and Saraya.
Its success will not just be judged by a crowded Wembley but by the wider impact that such shows can have on driving improvements and supporting our economy.
We look forward to working with AEW and others to ensure these events and further such shows in the future are a major British benefit.
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