This special seems tailor made as a coming out party of sorts for "The Bruiserweight" Pete Dunne, the clear standout from the UK Championship tournament despite not coming away with the inaugural title. The current PROGRESS World Champion faces off against fellow British Strong Style pioneer Trent Seven to determine the #1 contender for the United Kingdom Championship at tomorrow’s NXT Takeover: Chicago. Just who will be the champion in Chicago is also to be determined at this show, as champion Tyler Bate defends against Mark Andrews.
The United Kingdom tournament was a sleeper hit on the WWE Network, and provided stateside wrestling fans a taste of what they’re missing across the pond. And it’s not just the infusion of fresh faces–much like the Cruiserweight Classic, the United Kingdom Championship tournament didn’t attempt to present a WWE-Lite style and instead showcased what makes British wrestling different. Even the presentation felt different–the show wasn’t as brightly colored as Raw or Smackdown or even NXT. The darker lighting gave the show more of a rough, independent feel, one that is welcome amidst WWE’s usual hyper-produced shows.
Also like the Cruiserweight Classic, the United Kingdom tournament and this special will eventually serve as a precursor to a regular show. The United Kingdom seems to be the guinea pig for what some are calling the second coming of WWE’s territory raids. There are regionally successful pro wrestling promotions all across the globe, and with the global reach of the WWE Network allowing WWE to broadcast everything to everyone whenever they want, they have seemed in recent months interested in establishing their own regional promotions throughout the world. We currently have a United Kingdom Champion (and, obviously, a United States Champion), but don’t be surprised if by the end of the year we have a WWE China Champion, a WWE India Champion, and so on. This allows WWE to effectively run their own feeder systems, while increasing their foothold in every market interested in pro wrestling.
Last but not least, this special also marks the first fruits of the newfound partnership between WWE and their formerly estranged greatest announcer of all time, Jim Ross, since he called Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania just days after the tragic loss of his wife Jan. It was announced shortly after that Good Ole’ JR had signed a Legends-style deal with WWE, and would be calling up to 30 upcoming shows for the company. Teaming him with NXT color commentator Nigel McGuinness creates a dream commentary booth, and one that only helped further enhance the already exciting action inside the ring.
After an intro video covering the WWE United Kingdom Championship tournament and explaining how every competitor’s lives now have meaning because they finally wrestle for WWE, we get into the first match.
Wolfgang vs. Joseph Conners
Wolfgang is one of the members of WWE’s UK roster with the most upside: he’s got a good look, can go in the ring, knows how to sell and is very athletic for his size. Conners on the other hand hasn’t showed much on the WWE stage besides "I had half my ear ripped off." Their one on one contest here is sold as a typical big man vs. smaller guy match: Conners has to use his speed to tire out the big man and chop him down to size. The problem with this story is that while Wolfgang is larger than Conners and has a strength advantage, he’s also just as, if not more agile. This makes the match less of a styles clash and more of a mismatch.
Somewhat surprisingly, the match mostly plays out that way too: Conners tries to mount some offense, but nearly every big spot is performed by Wolfgang, including a stall suplex early, a cross body countered into a beautiful gutbuster, and another dive counter into a spear to set up for his Swanton Bomb, dubbed The Howling. Even though Wolfgang really wins the match pretty handily, he sells the hell out of his arm, putting Conners over just a little bit in his victory.
Rating: 3 stars
TJP and The Brian Kendrick vs. Dan Moloney and Rich Swann
Swann lands on his feet after being launched over the ropes to the outside, but he barely hit his opponents
By virtue of WWE’s main rosters being on tour in the UK when this special was taped, 205 Live stars appear on the card in this tag team bout. The Brian Kendrick gets an enormous pop from the Norwich crowd, but I’m still a sucker for TJP’s entrance theme and tron graphics. And now that he’s dabbing in an ironic heel way, I’m actually kind of starting to dig it.
They face off against Dan Moloney, a relative unknown to US audiences, and 205 Live favorite Rich Swann. Even with no creative behind him to speak of, Swann can always get a crowd behind him.
What results is the kind of match you’ve seen dozens of times on 205 Live and Raw‘s Cruiserweight segments. A fun, if ineffectual match that ends in a rollup win for the heels.
Rating: 3 stars
Trent Seven vs. Pete Dunne (#1 Contender)
Though there’s a championship match right after, all eyes are on the #1 contendership match between Trent Seven and Pete Dunne. Seven and Dunne make their way to the ring (yes, Pete Dunne had the PROGRESS World Championship with him and yes, he was announced as the PROGRESS Champion), and we’re underway.
Dunne’s offense is explosive and unique, employing a variety of interesting suplexes as well as his famed "joint manipulation," aka attempting to break his opponent’s fingers. Trent Seven creates separation, however, in the form of hitting a nasty dragon suplex on the ring apron to take out the Bruiserweight and elicit "holy shit" and "this is awesome" chants from the crowd.
Dunne is so good at portraying a mean streak and having the crowd truly believe he’s a straight up prick. The aforementioned joint manipulation tactic, the crux of his offense, is illegal
. It’s easy to get the crowd to hate you when your major form of offense shouldn’t even be allowed. He’s also a master of facial expressions and ring presence, making him a truly special talent to watch.
Dunne manages to reverse a torture rack from Trent Seven into his Bitter End pumphandle STO for the three count. The match is solid, with a lot of good back and forth and innovative offense from Dunne. Great match; it definitely met my expectations even if it didn’t necessarily exceed them.
Rating: 3.75 stars
Mark Andrews vs. Tyler Bate (WWE United Kingdom Championship)
Mark Andrews doesn’t really click with me, and it seems from the crowd’s reaction I’m not alone. There’s no denying his talent though, and Andrews keeps up with Bate every step of the way in this match. Their match consists of fast-paced reversals and signature British-style submissions.
Tyler Bate is an impressive specimen and though he hasn’t been able to show much of his personality in what little time he’s had on WWE airwaves just yet, it’s clear the 19 year old is going places in this industry. Bate dominates the first half of the match until Andrews is finally able to capitalize on Bates’ mistakes. At one point Andrews reverses a Tyler Driver 97 attempt into a hurricanrana that was a bit messy, but its messiness added to its believability.
From there, the two kick into high spot gear, including a standing Sliced Bread #2 on the ring apron (referred to as JR as "that debilitating surface") followed by a brutal DDT on the outside. The two bring it back in the ring as the match reaches its crescendo–back and forth punches transition into an airplane spin from Bate that gets reversed into a beautiful reverse hurricanrana from Andrews. Eventually however, Bate regains the momentum and doesn’t relent until he hits the Tyler Driver 97 for the 1-2-3.
Rating: 4 stars
After the match Dunne predictably makes another appearance to bully Andrews as he’s walking to the back and to face off with the defending champion. The two stare each other down with Regal in the background, and that’s the show.