“We were blown away with the difference between Pete (Dunne) in the Natural Progress Series to Pete (as) he is now”, says Jim Smallman, one of the owners of PROGRESS Wrestling in a recent podcast, and it’s clear to see what he means.
He debuted at Chapter 13, before returning at Chapter 15 and then wouldn’t be seen until Chapter 28 where he would tag team with Damien Dunne. This was a pre-Bruiserweight Pete Dunne, “Dynamite” Pete Dunne who was an incredibly capable in-ring performer, well respected by many of his peers and a section of British wrestling fandom, but very much still finding his feet. A man who, in 2016, already had hundreds of matches under his belt, and far more years of experience than most his age. This would be the story of Pete Dunne, the almost-next-big-thing.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of speaking to Pete Dunne will likely tell you that he’s an introspective character. If you want proof this, Morgan Webster’s Wrestling Friends where Flash Morgan Webster interviews both Pete and Mark Andrews. Andrews is a ball of unbridled energy and enthusiasm, as is Flash Morgan Webster, and they bounce off each other with almost kinetic energy. Dunne, however, considers his responses, not to be “on message” but just because that is, it seems, the way he is. He burns with an intensity of intelligence that has made him the respected man he is today – “he helped me more than he’ll ever know”, says Webster.
Dunne was taught “the basics” by Steve “Psycho” Edwards before he would eventually meet and face Andrews for the first time and would become a fixture in backyard wrestling as well as pro wrestling shows. It would be a lifelong friendship that would lead to ATTACK! Pro Wrestling and a whole new generation of wrestlers benefitting from Dunne’s enthusiasm for the business and desire to be seen by as many people as possible. Andrews and Dunne have worked magic in the ring for years, from “a field in Coventry”, at PWG, at PROGRESS and on WWE NXT. Long may this rivalry continue, because it’s going to be an event wherever they go.
Before being the in-demand performer of recent years, Pete Dunne would travel the length and breadth of England just to be seen. “Pete was the guy who got us all bookings”, says Andrews. Dunne attributes this a Scotty 2 Hotty seminar where he told the trainees “don’t worry about getting paid, get on every show”. Many wrestlers say that the best way to be seen is to actually be seen! Get in a car, go to shows and network – it works for those willing to put in the effort, it seems, and those close to Dunne benefited from his enthusiasm in long journeys where the reward may have just been putting the ring up, but at least they were seen and remembered.
Pete existed on the fringe of greatness for years. He had all the in-ring ability and an intense intelligence for the wrestling business, yet he just couldn’t find that extra thing that would elevate him. He’d flown out to the US, on his own money, and found success over there along with Andrews and it was a risk, especially in a business where paying for your own flights in anathema. There can be no doubt that it’s a huge risk, but with the talents of Dunne and Andrews, it certainly paid off. He was recognised as talented by many of the companies who repeatedly booking him and he had the drive to succeed. He just needed that unique selling point that would make him the star everyone around him knew he could be.
It was, oddly, a trip to China alongside Zack Gibson, who was on the verge of truly breaking out himself, that saw the next transformation of Dunne. The WWE Cruiserweight Classic was coming into being whilst Dunne was in China. He was in a tag team with CJ Banks and needed a name for their team. Both men share traits – they have the size of cruiserweights, they’re technically gifted and they know how to brawl. The Bruiserweights were born.
Returning to the UK, Dunne was approached to bring his Bruiserweight gimmick to Revolution Pro Wrestling and he accepted. “I was trying to stand out as much as possible and the term Bruiserweight really fit my character and people seem to like it,” says Dunne.
From there, Dunne caught people’s imaginations and he captivated with a new presence that capitalised on his abilities. The name stuck, the fans got behind him and it was obvious what Dunne was reinvigorated. He revolutionised his diet and exercise regime and developed an appearance that is unlike anything else in British wrestling. Aggressive and combative, he’s capable of being as athletic as a cruiserweight, but with the sheer stopping power of much bigger men. And, that’s the curious thing, billed at 205lbs, Dunne doesn’t look it. He looks like he could be a heavyweight and acts like one, too!
It was this new Bruiserweight Pete Dunne that caught everyone’s attention. That “next big thing” label, the “he’s going to be a huge star” comments from his contemporaries was paying off. This was a new Pete Dunne and it was a Pete Dunne that companies across the United Kingdom and around the world wanted more than ever before.
As soon as he appeared in the WWE United Kingdom Tournament, it was clear that he was going to be a star. He may not have been the first WWE UK Champion, but he was the one everyone was talking about. His surly demeanour, no-nonsense in-ring style, an economy with words and interaction with William Regal cemented him as the one-to-watch in that tournament, although it would be the supremely talented Tyler Bate who would raise the title.
Since WWE UK, Dunne has continued to be the focus of PROGRESS Wrestling and see his stock rise at select other companies across the United Kingdom. He’s become an ambassador for British wrestling around the world and uses his position in WWE to represent the country. He’s not resting on his laurels, every appearance on the WWE Network has become a must-see. He would go on to have a fan-voted match of the year at NXT Takeover Chicago with Tyler Bate. His work alongside Bate and Trent Seven, as British Strong Style, cemented the trio, bringing out the best in all of them and driving their popularity even higher. A trio of shrewd businessmen with indescribable charisma and outstanding entertainment value on so many levels, they may be the best lodestone British wrestling has had in years!
He doesn’t stop, though, when it comes to entertaining the masses, something that has served him well not just in ATTACK!, but further afield. Teaming with the likes of Session Moth Martina (The Boozerweights), Millie McKenzie (The Bruisermates) and an ATTACK! Pro Wrestling match where Bate and Dunne swapped characters at Press 5Start in June 2017, all these demonstrate Dunne’s ability to turn fun ideas into must-see wrestling and he can do it anywhere in the world. His sense of humour bleeds through in matches like these, something you perhaps wouldn’t expect from a man who rarely seems to smile.
There can be no doubt, and it seems to be a sentiment shared by many of his peers, that Pete Dunne will have great success in WWE, beyond NXT UK and the WWE UK Championship. He doesn’t rest on his past achievement and, at only 24, he’s achieved a global success that few in this generation have achieved. His peers look up to him, wrestling fans love watching him work and there’s every chance that this isn’t the best we have seen of the Bruiserweight. Success doesn’t come easy, and Pete Dunne is clearly up to the challenge.
Images courtesy of The Ringside Perspective
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