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At 23, Pete Dunne has already accomplished so much in his professional wrestling career.
The man whose first experience in a ring was his first match in front of three people in a leisure centre has gone on to become a key figure in the rise of independent wrestling in the UK, and the face of WWE's United Kingdom brand that was launched in January, as he now holds the UK title having got the better over 20-year old Tyler Bate at NXT Takeover: Chicago in a barnstormer of a match - with the rowdy Chicago fans exploding into chants of "UK!", and A good portion of wrestling fans viewing it as the match of the year so far. The
Stone Cold Steve Austin, quite possibly the biggest star in professional wrestling/sports entertainment thanks to his beer-swigging and hell-raising antics back in the peak of the Attitude Era, spoke glowingly about what two young wrestlers from the Midlands had served up on a WWE Network special, and compliments in wrestling don't get much bigger than getting the approval of 'the Texas Rattlesnake' himself.
Speaking to the media before NXT's show at the First Direct Arena, where he slugged it out with Roderick Strong, Dunne reflected on the show-stealing encounter that saw him capture his first title in WWE:
"It was unbelievable really. To be honest when we were in there, we didn't realise what we had just done - we felt like it went well but it was only afterwards when they rushed me straight off to do media and I was on the phone with someone from ESPN and it was only just starting to resonate with me how it actually went.
"I think the big thing is that myself and Tyler have come from this small scene in the UK and somehow we've ended up on top of not just British wrestling, but wrestling at somewhere as big as Takeover, it was an incredible feeling."
Bate, who became the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Champion when he ousted Dunne in the final of the 16-man tournament that took place in Blackpool's Empress Ballroom over two days in January, is entitled to a rematch, and 'The Bruiserweight' is confident that the rubber match in their series can go up another level.
"My mindset is always to kill it every time because in our mind, with the UK [WWE Network] show, the future's uncertain with it - we don't know, we're in the dark live everyone else. All we can do is every time we go out there give one hundred percent and kill it as much as we can so that's my mindset going forward. I feel like myself and Tyler, we can top it - we can do it again."
The classic Dunne and Bate churned in inside the Allstate Arena was only the second WWE match called live by legendary wrestling commentator Jim Ross since he made his return to the company to call The Undertaker's retirement match at Wrestlemania 33, and Dunne felt that JR's words perfectly complimented the magic he and his 'British Strong Style' colleague produced in the ring.
"It was great," he said.
"Before the show he found us in catering and he came over and had a word with us, and gave us some advice and stuff like that so that felt really special and I think it really added to the match having him there.
"It helped it all feel much bigger than two guys who are relatively unknown to the audience, I think he did a great job of making us come across like superstars and feel like we fit in here."
The PROGRESS wrestling champion has drawn comparisons to William Regal, NXT's General Manager and talent scout, putting a modern twist on the hard-hitting, no-nonsense approach Regal was known for in his hay-day. Though they haven't been, and likely won't be able to lock up in the ring, Dunne and Regal have traded facial expressions on-screen and given that the 'The Real Man's Man' was responsible for Dunne getting in his foot in the door in WWE, he is loving having the opportunity to work with him.
"It's brilliant, I have him to thank for getting here [in WWE] in the first place," he explained.
"It's a funny story - I had a routine show in Mansfield, there was maybe 100 people there - so I'm sitting there at home and to be honest I wasn't really that motivated for it, it just felt part of the routine; I'm going to work.
"Then I kept getting missed calls from a number I didn't recognise, I'd never really had any contact with Regal before that. I kept getting missed calls and then on the third time I realised it said 'Stamford, Connecticut' and I was like, 'Oh, I better pick this up!' So I answer and it was Regal out of the blue and he said he was in England, and he wanted to come and see me wrestle on that show in Mansfield, so instantly my motivation went through the roof.
"I met him there, he watched my match and really liked it, set me up a try-out in the November and six or seven months on, here we are now. It's crazy how fast it's all gone and I have him to thank for a lot of it. And obviously getting to work with him on-screen is really special too - he's one of those in that down period in British wrestling, between it being off TV, he was one of the people out there keeping it alive somewhat and I think that's why the UK stuff has felt so special sometimes - it's how passionate he is about it, that's a really big part of it - and not just him, Robbie Brookside, having Fit Finlay work with us on the Blackpool shows.
"They're all so passionate about British wrestling because they saw it when it was on TV, then they saw it decline after - I think it feels special to them that it's back and their passion, along with ours, I think that's what's helped it so much."
As much as both Dunne and Regal would lap up the opportunity to test themselves against one another, the chances of that 'dream match' for Dunne happening are incredibly slim.
However, he is aiming sky-high with his other preferred bout, and fancies a go against Brock Lesnar, the current Universal Champion, and the only man to have held the NCAA Division One World Heavyweight Championship, the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, the UFC World Heavyweight Championship and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
"The big one for me is Brock Lesnar. I like that you believe in him because he is him, I try to carry myself that way and I hope to some day reach that level. I think it would be a match people wouldn't expect but it's one I'd love to have - I think it would be a good fight."
In terms of the United Kingdom wrestling scene, there are a whole host of performers who have been making waves up and down the country, and in some in cased all around the world, in the leading promotions, and Dunne name-dropped a few who he would like to see join him in WWE at some point in the future.
"There's so many to name, there's people like Chris Brookes, Kid Lykos - I don't know if you technically can but Travis Banks, he's actually from New Zealand but he's based here, and then of course there's your Zack Sabres, who was in the Cruiserweight tournament, Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll - obviously these people are contracted elsewhere but hopefully there comes a time where they can move over here.
"I think there's a whole wealth of talent and that's one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about it, it's not just four or five of us, there's a whole scene full of talented people who are unique and entertaining, and I can't wait for those people to get here."
The beauty of this WWE journey for WWE is that he has been able to share it with his 'British Strong Style' allies Tyler Bate and Trent Seven, travelling the world, and competing against them for the biggest wrestling company in the world, whilst also being able to maintain a good portion of his independent commitments.
'BSS' have cemented themselves as one of the top stables but when pressed about wanting British Strong Style to be a faction in WWE, Dunne is in no rush.
"Maybe not right now, in the future, never say never. We're just having fun, we're having a great time doing this - WWE have been great to us. To me, it doesn't matter if I'm wrestling Tyler or Trent, or tagging with them, I'm just going to try my best to kill it and have the best match possible - it doesn't matter what side they're on, it's not something I'm trying to push across to anyone."
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