The final day of the WWE’s first ever UK Championship Tournament builds off a predictable first day and provides proof of concept that a British wrestling program could indeed have a place on the Network. The day saw a number of surprises and at least two matches that stand out as phenomenal.
Without further ado:
Match 1: Pete Dunne Vs. Sam Gradwell
Kicking off the night is the tournament’s hard nosed villain, Pete Dunne, AKA Vanilla Tazz, versus local boy Sam Gradwell, AKA Jason Statham with alopecia. At the end of the previous night Dunne sucker punched Gradwell at the closing ceremony and left him laying him out with a release suplex on the entrance ramp. As the first match with an actual story going into it, the bout has a real sense of urgency about it and gets off to a rolling start.
Despite Gradwell being a hometown boy, the Blackpool crowd is huge into Dunne–and though it’s smarky to cheer for the heel in a match, he definitely earns the praise throughout the night. He hits a snap german suplex mid match that is absolutely gorgeous. Gradwell controls much of the contest, hitting a nice tope and underhook suplex on the arena floor to showcase some of his skills.
Of course, it’s not long before Dunne has wrested control back in his favor by pushing Gradwell off the top rope and onto his head. The balding blackpool native manages to climb back into the ring to beat the 10 count but eats a powerslam into the turnbuckle and lands on his head, eating the pin moments later. I’m not sure if that was meant to be the finish, but they made sure to let Dunne hit his finish on Gradwell after the bell. Gradwell sells it huge and Dunne heads up the ramp to spit hot fire at Charlie Caruso about how he’s got one match down and two to go. In the opening 12 minutes of the night, Dunne makes it clear that he’s both the best talker and character in the tournament. That kid’s going to be a star.
Match 2: Mark Andrews Vs. Joseph Conners
After the booking of this match I feel very confident that Hunter is running the show. In the first shock of the evening (though thankfully, not the last) the guy who is more entertaining goes over the bigger name. Andrews wins the match with a shooting star press, busting most people’s brackets wide open but earning a pretty huge pop from the crowd.
This match was more competitive and entertaining than either of their other matches the previous night, with Conners actually getting to play up his motif as a compelling predator while Andrews played the plucky babyface in peril. Great counters upon counters ultimately leading to Andrews countering his opponent’s finisher into a stunner that helped set up the shooting star press and the win. This sets him up to face Dunne in the next round.
This is another match that made it clear that one of the wrestlers (in this case Andrews) is sure to be a star. He’s got a great look, a super exciting moveset, he’s super relatable because of how small he is and his energy is infectious. If he can beef his arms up considerably, I could see Vince bringing him onto 205 Live by the end of the year.
Match 3: Wolfgang Vs. Trent Seven
The hits keep coming as the overwhelming favorite of the tournament (and one of the only guys I had heard of before this tournament) gets knocked out of the tournament early by the large Scottish guy that still works in a pub. Not only does Trent Seven lose, in an admittedly competitive match, Wolfgang actually manages to kick out of his finish.
This match does allow Seven to shine a bit more than his previous bout. He hits a pretty sweet dragon suplex (on a guy as big as Wolfgang, no less) and then lands an amazing tope suicida that Wolfie sells like he got hit by a freight train. Wolfgang, who it should be mentioned appears to have broken his nose at some point in the match, get set up for some sort of piledriver from the top rope, but manages to knock Seven off and hit the swanton bomb on his opponent’s back for the pin.
Not a bad match, but it was a little deflating. Wolfgang moves like a compelling performer and can definitely go, but there’s something missing about his presentation. I feel like he may be a more natural heel, so working face may be a bit of a drag for him.
Match 4: Tyler Bate Vs. Jordan Devlin
Up next, Tyler Bate takes on the Alvin and the Chipmunks version of Finn Balor in what gives us a hint of what the squat Brit can do. His subtle crowd work whipped the Empress Ballroom into a frenzy with little more than a wave. He also showcases some phenomenal footwork and selling for Devlin. The Irishman gets in some decent offense too, though it doesn’t hit a crisp as his mentor who…oh right, we’re not supposed to mention him.
Unfortunately for Devlin, he’ll more be remembered for the big head chants he gets during the match. While, yes, dude’s a bobblehead in shinguards, it’s a little harsh.
Anyway, the match is less competitive than previous bouts, and they’re clearly keeping it short to save some energy for later matches. Bate hits the Tyler Driver 97 for the win and he moves toward the quarterfinals against Wolfgang–an interesting matchup, as it gives us a taste of what Bate can do against bigger competitors.
Match 5: Pete Dunne Vs. Mark Andrews
If the final weren’t such a spectacle, this match would’ve stolen the show. There’s a lot of history among a lot of the competitors in the tournament, with these two–evidently–having their first professional match against each other. This is the two best characters in the tournament and the size differential lets Dunne utilize his bully persona and Andrews his wiley underdog offense to their fullest.
The match is quick and hits a lot of great spots. Dunne controls most of the match, snarling at the camera during rest holds and generally making the most of his screen time. Andrews, meanwhile, is back to countering power moves into crazy spots, notably his stunner counter (which hits a little sloppy to be fair, but Dunne sells it like it only hit halfway anyway). This match also features a lot of work on the outside, which again plays to both characters’ strengths–Andrews hitting insane high spots and dives while Dunne can use the ground, barriers and ringpost to inflict more damage.
The momentum really ratchets up toward the ending sequence, which sees Dunne hit a picture perfect release German suplex into the turnbuckle and followed it up with his flatliner finisher for the win. The right guy won, but both men left looking like stars.
Match 6: Wolfgang Vs. Tyler Bate
When the competitors square up in the center of the ring you see how staggering the size difference is between these two. Bate clocks in at around 5’7” and 170lbs, while Wolfgang is 6’1” and 260. Naturally this means Wolfy’s working a more heel style in this match, hitting much fewer high spots and a lot more power moves to exert his dominance.
The action gets intense for a while, with Wolfy hitting a killer spear on Bate for a near fall, but the smaller competitor manages to power through, eventually hitting his Tyler Driver on the much larger competitor for the win.
As he celebrated in the ring, Pete Dunne runs out and wrecks Bate to set up their match in the finals. Once again, Dunne makes the moment interesting as he’s chased off by an irate WIlliam Regal. Classic.
Bonus Match: Neville vs. Tommy End
To give Bate some time to rest up before the final out comes heel Neville, the best part of the cruiserweight division, to cut a promo on the tournament itself. In the midst of claiming that none of the competitors could lace his boots (true by the way), when out comes black metal and MMA enthusiast and recent NXT signee Tommy End for an exhibition match against the King of the Cruiserweights.
A lot has been made about how End (and another European export to NXT, Big Damo) was forced to undergo a name change while other indie darlings like Eric Young and Shinsuke Nakamura would keep their familiar monikers. While there’s merit in that complaint, within moments of the 6” Dutchman walking through the curtain a familiar chant of “Tommy Tommy Tommy Fuckin’ End!” breaks – so one could see why he may’ve been rechristened Aleister Black.
The match is pretty good, though it doesn’t have the pace of many of the two competitors’ more stirring bouts, though allegedly End worked another match in the Newcastle before his appearance in the tournament. Still, End clearly works stiff and the back and forth between the two men was competitive to the en….uh…finish. Neville wins with the Red Arrow, which sucks for End, but given that the tapings for NXT are set through February, it should be long enough before he debuts so he won’t be devoid of momentum.
It should also be noted that there was a moment during the match where charisma vacuum/backstage interviewer Charlie Caruso tries to update Cole and McGuinness on the status of Tyler Bate–an update that is accidentally shared over the venue’s PA system instead of in Cole’s headset. The crowd was not pleased and let any producers within earshot know exactly how they felt about it, though it did tell the audience (that could make it out at least) that Bate separated his shoulder in Dunne’s attack earlier.
Final: Pete Dunne Vs. Tyler Bate
Before the two competitors come out, Finn Balor appears and talks up the prestige of the title. He’s soon joined by Regal and the two welcome Dunne to the ring first. Regal is staring a hole straight through Dunne the whole time and it’s pretty fantastic. Bate comes out taped up from the assault and also locking eyes with his opponent for the whole walk to the ring.
After the pomp and circumstance of the introductions, the match starts in earnest and almost immediately a “Tyler’s Mustache” chant breaks out. That shouldn’t suggest the crowd isn’t into Dunne, as the crowd is super hot for both guys. Unsurprisingly, Dunne spends a lot of time working the arm and shoulder of Bate. Again, stellar character work from both guys–Bate’s face lights up in pain with each wrench of the shoulder and Dunne really looks like he gets off on the damage he’s inflicting.
With Triple H’s newfound love of independent wrestling, it should be no surprise that the false finishes start coming fast and thick as the match weighs on. There’s a sick sequence where Bate hits a reverse tope followed by a 450 knee drop on Dunne only for the Bruiserweight to kick out. Dunne looks like a beast surviving that, and follows up by tossing his trademark mouthguard before hitting his finisher–only for Bates to kick out. Excellent selling from both men, as their disbelief when neither of these major moves finish things is palpable.
Eventually Bate, having hit two rolling head kicks back to back, is able to get Dunne up for the Tyler Driver and the win. His face after the ref counts three really tells a great story of a guy that no one, not even he, expected to win. It’s a weird mix of shock and disbelief and elation and pain all in one, and all subtly portrayed by an immensely likable performer.
Trips, Regal, Balor and the Fit Finlay dressed like an accountant come into the ring to try and put the comically oversized belt on Bate as the crowd chants “you deserve it.” I won’t imply that he doesn’t, and convention says to have your first champion be a babyface, but Dunne was the best part of the tournament, and may’ve made for more compelling TV whenever WWE gets around to building whatever weekly series they’ve got planned.
Overall the tournament, though uneven in pacing, proved that British wrestling really has something to offer the American fans. The event made stars of Dunne, Bates and Andrews, introduced a number of midcard talents like Wolfgang and Conners, and provided a proof of concept for the rumored international tournaments expected to come in the next few years.
It was an unequivocal success, so let’s rate the days:
Day 1: 7/10
Day 2: 9/10