It’s back! After nearly eighteen months WWE have returned to UK soil to host a two-night tournament under the NXT:UK banner.
The show opens on a 75% filled Royal Albert Hall, which doesn’t look great, until you consider that this was filmed on June 18th, the night of England’s first World Cup match. This was terrible double-booking on WWE’s part, it’s the English equivalent of scheduling WrestleMania for Superbowl Sunday. Although knowing Vince McMahon’s ability to penny-pinch, it could be that the RAH gave them a discount as a result of the fixture.
“So it’s settled, we’ll have Night One on June 18th dammit!”
“Very good sir. But just so you know, that is the night of the first England game.”
“The first England game of what?”
“Those limey bastards have the NFL?!? We need to start XFL:UK dammit!”
We kickoff Night One with the quarter-final matchups.
Zack Gibson vs Gentleman Jack Gallagher – A lengthy opening bout, with a lot of mat-based offence from Gallagher, along with some ground and pound from Gibson. It’s great to see Gallagher going back to his face, comedic-style of wrestling. It really makes him stand out from the crowd. Gibson is deceptively tall at 6 foot 3, and with his beard he looks like a thin Triple-H. Brit-tle-H? No. Winner – Zack Gibson
Joe Coffey vs Dave Mastiff – The two bigger men in the tournament are up next. Mastiff looks like the lovechild of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, which could well be true if the 70s British tabloids are to be believed. Coffey has a bit of a legit-fighter style, and is representing ICW in a very Progress-heavy tournament. Their two bodies slapping into each other sounds like a truck-full of cows colliding with a truck-full of pigs. Only, without the truck part. Winner – Joe Coffey
Jordan Devlin vs Flash Morgan Webster – Mini-Finn Balor is back! Devlin never looks like much, but is always technically impressive. He look as though he suffers from a Napoleon complex and has decided not to hide that frustration from the world. Flash is the self-proclaimed King of the Mods and has a wild-card style. It’s surreal seeing a Mod gimmick in the WWE. Does this mean we’ll eventually get New-Romantic, Britpop and Skins House Party gimmicks? I hope so. Winner – Flash Morgan Webster
Ashton Smith vs Travis Banks – This is my first time seeing Smith in action, he executes moves decently enough, but there’s a lot of awkward pauses in this match. It doesn’t help that he’s in the ring with one of the best independent wrestlers on the planet. Banks’ strikes, holds and dropkicks are on another level. He’s also a smaller guy from New Zealand, so not only is he representing the Kiwis, but also Middle-Earth. Winner – Travis Banks
We take a break from the tournament to see Toni Storm defeat Killer Kelly and Isla Dawn in the first ever NXT:UK women’s match. This was a cool little showcase for three very talented wrestlers with distinct gimmicks. Storm is a head and a solitary shoulder above her opponents. She’s one of the best young stars, male or female, in the world right now, so WWE have been smart to snap her up. It’s great to see the seed of what will hopefully grow into a show-stealing division for NXT:UK, and even the WWE as a whole.
Triple-H comes out with Johnny Saint to announce NXT:UK tapings over the next four months. It looks as though this’ll lead to a weekly show, which means we’re finally getting that second hour of NXT. This is one WWE brand that won’t see liberal use of the fast-forward button.
Back to the tournament and the semi-final matchups.
Flash Morgan Webster vs Zack Gibson – More innovative offence from Flash, including a modified 619 around the outside of the ring-post. Although, I can’t help but notice his resemblance to Jay from The Inbetweeners.
“UK tournament mate? Smashed it. Yeah I’ve got an uncle who works for WWE, he’s getting me a main event match at WrestleMania next year. Nah, you saddos can’t come. Nikki Bella? Had her. Only top-gash for the Flash. Simples.”
Gibson eventually manages to ground the Mod, and gets a relatively quick tap-out victory with his submission Shankly Gates. Which we’re told by Nigel is some Liverpool FC reference. Gibson certainly looks like he never wore cologne. Winner – Zack Gibson
Travis Banks vs Joe Coffey – A much better showcase for both men here. They both bring a tremendous amount of intensity, and a lot of strong-style strikes. I’m glad they’re establishing that NXT:UK isn’t just about UK talent, but it’s a defined territory where anyone can work. Watching this match makes me think that NXT guys like Kassius Ohno and Oney Lorcan would do well for themselves here. Winner – Travis Banks, who is attacked by Coffey post-match.
We take another break ahead of the final match-up to get the dream six-man tag match of British Strong Style vs The Undisputed Era. Just go and watch this match, please. It’s non-stop action and a textbook showcase of the new British style of wrestling. Seeing just how over BSS are, gives me hope about this years’ stars. The home-team defeats the American invaders, bloody yanks, but this match really isn’t about the winners or losers, it’s just world-class professional wrestling.
Shawn Michaels comes to the ring, and doesn’t really say much of anything. The crowd chant “One more match!” to a visibly embarrassed HBK. WWE fans asking for a continuation of the most perfect retirement angle of all time, is a great example as to why Vince doesn’t listen to us. He’s right, we don’t know what we want!
Zack Gibson vs Travis Banks – The tournament final and your main event. The winner will face Pete Dunne for the UK Championship on Night Two. This match gets a good amount of time, with a slow build to some impressive high spots. Both men are selling fatigue, but Banks is selling an arm injury sustained at the hands of Coffey. WWE picked the two best guys for the finals, and they both prove that they’re worthy of a main-event slot. After many signature moves and kick-outs, Gibson locks in the Shankly Gates for the third time, on the injured arm of Banks, for a tap-out. Winner and #1 Contender – Zack Gibson
Triple-H, HBK and Johnny Saint come out to raise the arm of Gibson. 76-year-old Saint looks as happy to be there as the twenty-something wrestlers. He’s either giddy and starstruck or he’s showing the effects of five-decades worth of head-kicks. Seeing both Papa-H and Gibson stood next to each other, it looks like a proud but concerned father celebrating the achievement of his problem child.
Pete Dunne comes out to pose with the title, and stares down the evil fifth Beatle to end Night One. John, Paul, George, Ringo and Zack. George Martin can eat a forearm.
Today is Tuesday, June 26th and my cat has learned she can annoy me by tickling my flailing elbows as I type. She’s a real piece of work.
What’re your thoughts on the first night of the UK Tournament? Or British wrestling in general? Let me know, in the comments below.