WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Review (Night One)
The United Kingdom Championship Tournament is another step by WWE -- more specifically, Triple H -- to dip their feet into the murky waters of independent wrestling, a drastic change to how the company has operated in the past. Even as little as five years ago I never would have thought I could tune into a WWE live broadcast where not only are other, much smaller promotions mentioned but given screen time and a chance to shine.
The success of NXT is a large part of that new direction, as Triple H’s pet project has grown into a global sensation that sells out wherever they go. Though the rumors go that WWE was threatened by a recent pilot of the revived World of Sport on British ITV and pushed for a competing product, I believe the company has the interest of pro wrestling as an entertainment medium.
And making money where there wasn’t money to previously be made.
The first night of the WWE United Kingdom title tournament was held at the historic Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England, with Michael Cole and new announcing addition Nigel McGuinness providing commentary on this WWE Network exclusive event.
Here’s what went down.
Opening Bout: Trent Seven vs. H.C. Dyer
The opening match of this tournament needed to be something to get the home crowd going -- which for British fans doesn’t take much -- while also putting your best foot forward for the audiences at home in America.
While this match has the same issue that almost every match this night suffered from in that they’re setting up who is clear and away the ones to watch, Trent Seven and the rough-yet-talented Dyer were the correct choices for starting the evening off right.
Seven’s charisma and ring presence shined through immediately, mugging to the crowd and conveying a real sense of who and what his character is for new fans. Meanwhile, Dyer showcased an impressive strength display while also selling, despite a few hick-ups. I found myself wondering during the match of Dyer wasn’t used to working with someone the weight of Trent Seven, as a few of his moves (notably the spinebuster and blue thunder bomb) looked like he struggled to compensate for the extra weight.
Trent looks like WWE’s guy for this tournament, but I wonder if his age and unique standing in indie wrestling might lead to a situation such as what happened with Zach Sabre Jr. and the Cruiserweight Classic. For now, Seven picks up the win over Dyer and moves on to tomorrow night.
The Finish: Trent Seven beats down Dyer before hitting his version of Okada’s Rainmaker for the pin.
The Time: 5:25
The Good: Seven displayed great showmanship, and both competitors looked strong, leading to the kind of opening match you want for a burgeoning event.
The Bad: Like most of the matches tonight, this felt a bit on the short side; Dyer looked uncomfortable working with Seven.
The Rating: **¾ out of *****
As expected, Michael Cole is already turning in a commentary performance superior to anything he’s done since the Beast in the East special last year. Likewise, the shots and the way their production crew is framing the beautiful Empress Ballroom is nice to see, given how twitchy the camera crews for RAW and SD Live have become.
Match Two: Jordan Devlin vs. Danny Burch
Devlin is a protege of Finn Balor, and WWE isn’t afraid to remind viewers of this, as he comes out to the ring with a Balor-esque leather jacket. Danny Burch, known as Martin Stone everywhere else but WWE, spend two years in NXT and was woefully underused.
Burch was given plenty of time to shine in this contest, making the most of that spotlight and turning in a short, if impressive performance. He has a real knack for making a variety of strikes look forceful, and Devlin returned in kind with an understated and efficient heel performance. Burch has clearly made strives for improvement since leaving NXT, and I hope this opened some eyes in Creative.
The ending of this match is the most glaring flaw, as a series of events led to either a convincing shoot ending or a sloppy botch that wasn’t planned. Devlin caught Burch with a tornado enzugiri, busting the back of Danny’s head clean open and bouncing his skull off the turnbuckle. Devlin made the pin, with Burtch kicking out at 3 and looking as if he wasn’t responding with 100 percent capacity.
The blood gushing from Burch’s head was the most blood I’ve seen in awhile, with a huge chunk of skin hanging off from the blow. As said, I’m not sure if this was planned or an audible, but it did wonders for making Devlin even more of the heel and using his interview time post-match to gloat about how he won “so decisively.”
The Finish: Devlin catches Burch with a fierce kick to the head, leading to what appeared like a three count that wasn’t meant to be. Either way, Devlin moves on.
The Time: 8:55
The Good: Burch has made impressive gains post-NXT, and it’s a shame that we won’t see more of him in this tournament, unless…
The Bad: Besides his heeling to the crowd and a pretty good post-match interview, Devlin was the definition of “meh.” He really does just look like an inferior clone of Finn Balor, right down to his look.
The Rating: ** out of *****
The shoutouts to other promotions continue throughout the night, as the heads from PROGRESS and ICW get on-air mentions during the show. I’m still weirded out by WWE’s willingness to namecheck so many indie wrestlers and promotions. I imagine each time they do that Triple H is making a list of who he’s buying next.
Match Three: Saxon Huxley vs. Sam Gradwell
Sam Gradwell’s introduction vignette paints the picture of an intense fighter who knows how to mug to the camera. Huxley, often referred to as Jesus by fans on the indie circuits, reminds me in many ways of Luke Harper, thanks to his movement and expressions.
This match is the first one of the night that just fell flat, with the only notable mention being the crowd’s flurry of Jesus chants, including a fantastic “Let’s Go Jesus/Jesus Sucks!” chant that I’m sure WWE would like to forget.
Gradwell was showcased here, turning in a gritty performance and displaying an excellent example of what the British independent style means in a WWE ring. This was short and dirty, with Gradwell coming out on top.
The Finish: Sam flies off the top rope with a Benoit-like headbutt, sending the Muscle Cat home.
The Time: 6:00
The Good: Gradwell looked as good as Burch, showcasing a bruising style with a mix of technical wrestling while possessing the kind of look and ring presence that WWE loves.
The Bad: Huxley just doesn’t look ready for the big stage, not showcasing anything particularly interesting.
The Rating: **¼ out of *****
The introduction video for Pete Dunne makes it clear that they think highly of the famed indie cruiserweight. All I learned from Roy Johnson’s video is that he should stop trying to make up his own words.
Match Four: Pete Dunne vs. Roy Johnson
Pete Dunne is a guy that’s been on Triple H’s radar since his CWC Qualifier match against Jack Gallagher, while Roy Johnson is a relative newcomer to professional wrestling. I’m not a betting man, but it was clear from the start that money should be placed on Dunne’s success in this tournament.
Johnson showcased some interesting power displays and attempts at in-ring charisma, but the real story is Dunne’s ferocity and psychology during the match. My biggest complaint is that the majority of the bout was spent building up Dunne damaging the hand of Johnson, which ended up having zero effect on the ending.
This was a foregone conclusion and the Bruiserweight moves on to face Sam Gladwell in the next round.
The Finish: Dunne blasts Johnson with The Bitter End, an elevated bearhug into a urnagi, for the win.
The Time: 7:30
The Good: Dunne displayed why WWE is so high on his work, and Johnson was the right kind of opponent for Dunne to make a strong showing.
The Bad: Johnson looks rough around the edges and the psychology- while interesting -- had zero bearing on the finish.
The Rating: **½ out of *****
WWE continues giving a shocking amount of exposure and love to ICW, which is well and fine by me. ICW is the most interesting of the UK indies, and Wolfgang is more than deserving of a spotlight in this tournament while also holding the ICW World Title.
Match Five: Wolfgang vs. Tyson T-Bone
I’m quite familiar with Wolfgang because of his role in ICW with The NAK and his current run as the promotion’s champion. I’m less familiar with Tyson, besides the fact that he looks like a Jersey Shore rip-off while still being imposing.
I’ll let down my critic hat for a moment and say that I love Wolfgang and would prefer to see him take this tournament over the likes of Trent Seven or Pete Dunne. Wolfgang has turned in a series of excellent matches and character work while in ICW, and I’d say that at 29 he’s the most “WWE ready” guy in this tournament.
We get a brawly, bruising hoss-fest here, with Wolfgang showcasing a Kevin Owens amount of agility, busting out a second-rope moonsault and a picture-perfect Swanton Bomb. I couldn’t help but laugh to immediately hear Michael Cole call Wasteland -- formerly a move of Wade Barrett -- as if on reflex.
Tyson and Wolfgang gave a great back and forth, and Wolfgang moves on in a performance that makes him a guy to keep eyes on.
The Finish: Wolfgang whips out a Swanton Bomb worthy of Jeff Hardy, putting away Pauli-- I mean, Tyson.
The Time: 6:20
The Good: Wolfgang looked great and cut a simple and effective promo afterward. A shame he’s most likely going to lose to Trent Seven in the next round.
The Bad: I would have liked this to go longer, as both guys worked hard and played the crowd well.
The Rating: *** out of *****
Next up is the “What Culture Pro Wrestling’s Tears On a Pole” match, featuring Joseph Connors and hometown boy James Drake.
Match Six: James Drake vs. Joseph Connors
The introduction videos for both guys continues the trend that every guy in this tournament has been mugged and beaten up their entire lives. Michael Cole stops to mention Connors’ lack of an ear multiple times, despite the fact that we never get to see the goods.
I feel bad for saying that this was probably the worst match of the night, with neither guy standing out or making a statement. The opening vignettes did a majority of the heavy lifting story wise, but neither performer capitalized and created something memorable.
Connors moves on to the second round.
The Finish: Joseph lands the Don’t Look Down, sending Drake back to his apartment a few blocks away from the Ballroom.
The Time: 7:12
The Good: Hey, did you know that both of these guys have been stabbed? Well, you do now.
The Bad: The most forgettable match of the night. Both guys worked hard, but it just didn’t amount to anything noteworthy.
The Rating: *¾ out of *****
Michael Cole mentions that “American viewers are very familiar with Mark Andrews.” No particular reason why. Let’s just say he leaves an… Impact.
Match Seven: Mark Andrews vs. Dan Moloney
Andrews is, of course, known from Impact Wrestling, while Moloney is a recent addition to ICW and relatively young. Dan gives a great introduction vignette, once again proving that each of these guys must have seen a guy get stabbed to death in order to qualify for the tournament.
The Welsh fan favorite Andrews showcased some much-needed speed and agility in this match, letting the casual viewer know that UK wrestling isn’t just about mustaches and European uppercuts.
Aside: Is a European uppercut still a European uppercut when done in Europe, or is it just an uppercut? Think about it.
Mark showed why he’s probably the most experienced guy in the tournament in regards to working a WWE style and could very well be a darkhorse to make the finals on the right side of the bracket. This will depend on whether or not Dunne wrestles still, as some post-show shenanigans led to an article on WWE dot com about Triple H reviewing Dunne’s continuing in the tourney.
The Finish: Andrews reverses a vertical suplex into a dynamic Stone Cold Stunner and finishes Moloney with a shooting star press.
The Time: 5:35
The Good: Mark Andrews showed a ton of potential and talent, working a fast style that livened up the middle of this event. Moloney worked a simple and effect style, including making use of a great soccer kick near fall.
The Bad: Once again, I wish this would have lasted longer. Andrews gave Moloney plenty of time to shine, and the right guy moved on.
The Rating: *** out of *****
I’m still weirded out by seeing Mark Dallas on WWE television. No witty comment. Let’s move on to the main event.
Final Match: Tyler Bate vs. Tucker
Tyler Bate is the other half of Mustache Mountain with Trent Seven and is also only 19 years old, instantly making me feel like I’ve wasted my life. Tucker is… Uh… A wrestling man who likes to wrestle? Honestly, his video didn’t give much information other than that he’s grateful just to be there.
This was hands down the best match of the night, and whatever Tucker lacked in character he made up for with dynamism in the ring. Tyler Bate is a fantastic personality in the ring and adds yet another kink into the left side of the tournament bracket, as he fast became one of my favorites of the night. This match held a great pace, with plenty of tense near falls and moments where both men shined.
Bate moving on to the next round is the right choice, and he may very well be the standout of the tournament.
The Finish: Tucker goes for a ride on Mustache Mountain, as Bate blasts him with the modified tiger bomb known as Tiger Driver 97.
The Time: 10:34
The Good: This was an exciting contest that was worthy of the main event, with a great back-and-forth chemistry between both men.
The Bad: Bate was clearly going to win this match, which killed a lot of the suspense. This didn’t stop Tucker from landing a crushing super kick towards the end of the match.
The Rating: ***¾ out of *****
Post-match is held on the stage by William Regal and Nigel, introducing tomorrow night’s matches to the crowd:
Tyler Bate vs. Jordan Devlin
Wolfgang vs. Trent Seven
Sam Gradwell vs. Pete Dunne
Joseph Connors vs. Mark Andrews
During the closing credits, Gladwell gets jumped and beat down by Dunne. This might be due to the fact that Dunne is scheduled for a PROGRESS show tomorrow night and thus may be forced out of the UK Title Tourney. If this is the case, I could see Burch being inserted back into the tournament, making the maybe-botch from earlier in the night have a purpose.
The first night of the WWE UK Title Tournament was a rousing success, providing an entertaining and hard-hitting show that was easily accessible for anyone not in the UK indie wrestling know. Now that the establishing, dare I say “jobber matches” are finished I expect night two to really demonstrate the terrific match-ups at work. My heart says Wolfgang vs. Andrews in the finals, but my head is saying Trent Seven vs. Pete Dunne.
Overall Grade: 7 out of 10 ears removed via bar fights.
Join us again tomorrow night at the same time and place for the second night of the UK Title tournament. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison during the tournament for live reactions as well.