Pete Dunne and Trent Seven front and center ahead of WWE U.K. Championship tournament

Pete Dunne and Trent Seven rose through the British independent ranks and made an impact far beyond the boundaries of the U.K. Now each looks to make an even bigger impact with an opportunity in front of a worldwide audience. Courtesy WWE

As the competitors involved in the WWE United Kingdom Championship tournament stood on stage at a December news conference inside the O2 Arena's Building Six in London, the framing of the photo opportunity was hard to miss.

WWE executive Paul "Triple H" Levesque was front and center, with 16 British and Irish hopefuls lined up to his left and right. Levesque's outstretched arms were around the two men standing on either side of him.

There in the middle of the shot, with the figurehead of this operation, stood -- fittingly -- Pete Dunne and Trent Seven. It isn't as if they were star struck, though, after mingling with a 14-time WWE world champion.

"It's special and brilliant, and reflecting on it is great, but also it feels right," Dunne told ESPN. "I feel like I should be here. I feel like all the people on that stage should be there. There's more a sense of achievement to me, like, 'OK, we've done it. Now let's focus on it and have the best show possible.'"

With Levesque whisked off to speak to the gathered media for two hours before flying straight to Pittsburgh for WWE's Roadblock: End of the Line pay-per-view, Dunne, Seven & Co. did not get the chance to pick the brain of "The Game."

"I didn't necessarily get time to sit down and enjoy a soy latte with Triple H," Seven told ESPN. "But he greeted me and said it was nice to finally meet me. I somehow resisted the temptation to give him a too sweet and tell him to suck it, but you know. We just shook hands, and hopefully he'll be shaking my hand on Sunday as I win the WWE U.K. Championship."

Those with knowledge of the British independent wrestling scene are looking directly at Dunne and Seven when it comes to picking a winner for this weekend's two-night tournament at the historic Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England, which will air live on the WWE Network at 8 p.m. BST (3 p.m. ET).

As two-thirds of the group known as British Strong Style -- along with 19-year-old Tyler Bate, who is also set to compete in Blackpool -- Dunne and Seven look the part with their old-school ring attire. They have brought British technical wrestling back to prominence, with some Japanese hard-hitting "strong style" sprinkled into the mix.

"Strong style" is certainly all the rage at the moment, especially after New Japan Pro Wrestling's spectacular Wrestle Kingdom 11 pay-per-view at the Tokyo Dome on Jan. 4, which was headlined by the instant classic between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada.

As Dunne lightheartedly tweeted after the show: "It's that time of year again where everyone becomes a Japanese wrestling expert!"

Both Dunne and Seven have walked the walk in that regard, picking up firsthand knowledge. Seven has wrestled for Big Japan Pro Wrestling, including an appearance at Tokyo's famous Korakuen Hall, and he has made several appearances during NJPW tour shows in the U.K.

Dunne, on the other hand, trained for three months at the age of 17 in a remote Japanese dojo in the middle of the mountains, eight hours north of Tokyo and a 15-minute walk from the main road. It was a far cry from the working-class estate he grew up on in Birmingham.

"That's the core training that I had, basically," Dunne told ESPN. "At the time in Britain, training wasn't really available at a high level. The scene was in a bit of a lull, and there weren't many places to go."

Dunne had previously been training once a week on Sundays at a school in Coventry.

"That's how I got my start, but it never really gave me the training that I necessarily needed," he said. "So I had to go away for that, and that's what Japan offered me. Then I was able to bring it back."

Two weeks after his return from Japan, Dunne went off for another three months of wrestling for independent promotions around the United States.

"To be able to create the scene that we've created, it's with people doing stuff like that and getting experience in other areas," Dunne said. "It's such a small space with such a deep talent pool. It's unique, in that sense, that this thing's been able to grow so strong so fast.

"I was always an advocate for getting out of the country, going traveling and experiencing that stuff," he added. "It's how I became the wrestler I have. Also, the life experience is invaluable. But now this U.K. Championship tournament changes everything. Now there's something here to aim for, which we've never had before. Not only for the people in the tournament, but now everyone can see a pathway all the way through to Wrestlemania even. It's like an access point."

Despite being just 23 years old, Dunne is a veteran with more than 10 years of experience. He started wrestling training at the tender age of 12 and had his first match in 2009.

"I feel like I'm at the start of my career," he said. "Even though I've got this decade of training and traveling and getting more experience behind me, now I feel like I'm something unique. I look different. I wrestle different. I've carved a niche, and ... I've spent the last year trying to create something different, trying to create a unique identity and a style that a lot of people don't have. I'm ready to showcase that."

That identity is the "Bruiserweight," a persona that has set him apart as a young diamond of the British scene. At PROGRESS Chapter 39 at the Electric Ballroom in Camden last November, Dunne captured the PROGRESS world title to go with the PROGRESS tag team championships he successfully defended with Seven on the same night.

Although they are undoubtedly a smooth, cohesive unit in the ring, the paths they have taken to get to this point are very different. They began their in-ring careers within a year of each other, but Seven was more of a late bloomer. At 35, he is 12 years older.

Seven began his foray into the world of professional wrestling by "taking it al fresco," as he puts it, rolling around with friends in his muddy back garden in Wolverhampton during the late 1990s.

"We went to a couple of seminars and started to get excited about it. But you know, life takes over," Seven told ESPN. "People get jobs and girlfriends and wanna go traveling. I kind of forgot about it for a bit."

In 2008, though, Seven decided to revisit his childhood passion by buying a wrestling ring to properly train. Starting with his first match in front of a live crowd at Alternative Wrestling World in Birmingham in 2010, he went on to wrestle part time for the next six years. Finally, in 2016, Seven enjoyed a breakthrough year, turning wrestling into a full-time gig and becoming a mainstay of the British scene with Insane Championship Wrestling, PROGRESS and What Culture Pro Wrestling.

He toured the United States with CHIKARA and even earned a slot competing on the card for NJPW on two of their London tour shows in November -- recognition, indeed, of his supreme talent. He is humble, though, when ESPN puts it to him that he is one of the jewels of the British scene.

"It's an absolute honor to be called that, to be honest," he said. "Thank you for that rather fetching compliment. I've always had a really strong passion for acting and performing since childhood. I've been able to combine that with wrestling and find out, it seems, that I'm quite good at wrestling as well."

Both Dunne and Seven have taken their opportunities as high-profile British wrestlers and earned an opportunity to showcase their abilities for an audience that, for the most part, has never seen them work. It goes well beyond this weekend's tournament, with Levesque promising upward of 30 events in the coming year and plans for the next four years going forward.

Winning this tournament, or even featuring prominently, would likely prove to be a life-changing opportunity for one or both of this pairing.

"People are throwing around names, and we [Dunne and Seven] seem to feature strongly as far as people's picks and as far as people who should be being watched quite carefully," Seven said. "That's good, but it's always good to make sure you keep yourself grounded. As good as it is to be very highly spoken of, it's a very humbling experience to see my name cropping up on Twitter, being able to see myself talking on adverts on WWE pay-per-views and Raw and SmackDown."

Although former Total Nonstop Action star Mark Andrews of Wales was announced as the final entrant in the WWE U.K. Championship tournament to a lot of buzz last week, both Dunne and Seven seem to be among the most likely to be the centre of attention come Sunday night.