The WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament (UKCT) exploded into life last night, with a thoroughly enjoyable evening of British wrestling.
What follows are the random musings and reactions that I scribbled down in my phone as the first round show went on…
Trent Seven def. HC Dyer
A solid opening match, with an expected outcome. I can’t say I’d heard of HC Dyer before, but he certainly held his own against Seven, who has made a big name for himself in the last year or so.
There was nothing earth-shattering here, but both men had a good opportunity to demonstrate their core ability and make an impression on a worldwide audience who may not have seen them work before. After dodging a top rope splash from Dyer, Seven hit a series of clotheslines before going on to win via a clean pin.
The match was brief, to the point, and set the tone nicely for the rest of the evening. The crowd were into it, with “Progress wrestling” chants making an early appearance.
Bigger picture, either of these guys could be considered by WWE for roles going forward. HC Dyer has the look and is on his way to being up to scratch ring-wise. Trent has the popularity and ability, but WWE would probably ask him to work on his look before offering him a major contract.
Jordan Deviln def. Danny Burch
I wasn’t overly familiar with either of these guys – so I was looking forward to seeing something new.
Devlin’s pre-match video package was quite interesting, with WWE seemingly trying to closely associate him with Finn Balor (who apparently trained him). I’m not entirely sure this is a good idea, and it’s not actually fair on Devlin. He and Balor are from the same place, look vaguely similar, and have a similar(ish) demeanour in the ring. I worry, then, that people will just look at Devlin as “not-Finn-Balor”, or Finn Balor Light. I hope this isn’t the case, but they should tread lightly here.
Burch gave a very powerful performance, and looked convincing in the ring – which can’t always be said for guys who try and use a similar style.
The ending left some to be desired – Devlin’s double stomp could have been better, and indeed supported my fears about him being too closely associated with Finn Balor.
The ref’s over-counting felt a little contrived. I’m not sure if they rushed into a finish after Burch started bleeding, but the crowd were not digging it either way.
Still, another concise match and the controversial ending is something that can be picked up in the future and gave Devlin some great heel heat.
Sam Gradwell def. Saxon Huxley
Again, I was unfamiliar with both of these guys so went into this one with an open mind.
I can’t say I was really digging this one. It was fine, but felt a lot less put-together as the previous two and I found myself looking at my phone more than the TV, which isn’t a good sign. I’m sure both of these guys are good workers – or they wouldn’t have been selected for the show – it just felt a bit lacking in something for me.
Gradwell’s opening VT was interesting. It tried to establish him as a guy from a rough background with a troubled upbringing, but honestly I think came across rather near the knuckle. Maybe that really is his story, but with the editing and in the context it was in, it actually seemed more comical than anything else. At one point he says, “my mum, god bless her, had her alcohol problems” and I couldn’t help but chuckle just out of surprise. It felt so out of place and just a bit too… real?
I dunno, I just wasn’t feeling it.
Pete Dunne def. Roy Johnson
Pete Dunne’s stock is huge on the UK scene right now, and the crowd acknowledged it when he made his entrance.
Dunne’s trademark style was on display to the world for the first time here, so I would be interested to know how international fans received it. The home crowd seemed to enjoy it, and it does lend itself well to television.
I was especially impressed with Roy Johnson, who looked great in the ring and worked well with Dunne’s unique style. He’s been making a bit of a name for himself at Progress, and I think his appearance on the UKCT will propel him forward here in the UK.
This was another good match, with a slightly longer runtime to allow for Dunne’s slower style.
Wolfgang def. Tyson T-Bone
This was a really enjoyable match. There’s not much more I can say about it than that.
I’ve seen T-Bone wrestle countless times, and he consistently performs well. His style lends itself perfectly to WWE and he would easily fit in on NXT or the like.
I’d not seen much of Wolfgang before this, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The way he threw himself about, given his size, was very cool to watch and made for a very entertaining match.
His swanton bomb from the top rope really caught me off guard, and stands out as one of the most memorable moments of the evening (as was this moonsault because WWE haven’t put the swanton bomb on YouTube yet).
T-Bone’s gimmick was a bit… odd. I’ve met him several times now, and I don’t recall him having an Irish accent. T-Bone has a decent look and style, I don’t think he needed this more cartoonish persona to get over.
Still, another really good match and Wolfgang has won himself a new fan.
Joseph Conners def. James Drake
I’m aware that I’m starting to sound a bit repetitive now, but this was another really solid match. Joseph Conners is another dude who has been making a lot of noise on the UK scene as of late, notably in NGW and WCPW.
A pattern is emerging at this point too; whoever the bigger name is in the match is going to win. Not especially surprising of course, and makes total sense. But if you’re plugged into British wrestling in any sort of way, then the booking of this show becomes very predictable.
The actual wrestling in this match was great, with a finish that felt much more intentional than some of the others we’d seen so far. They did have a little more time to play with, which may explain this. A strong elbow followed by backbreaker and into the ‘DLT’ was enough for him to pick up the win, and move on to the next round.
Mark Andrews def. Dan Moloney
Well this one was a turn up for the books. Mark Andrews had previously been signed to TNA after winning their British Bootcamp show. As far as I was aware, he was still signed to TNA when the surprise announcement came that he would be joining the UKCT.
Still, it was very exciting to see Andrews in a WWE ring alongside many of his indy colleagues.
The match itself was another solid performance, with a few slip ups at times and some noticeable hesitations, but I’m happy to chalk that up to the pressure of performing on an international broadcast. Let us not forget after all that Moloney – who looked great out there and is too on the cusp of being a big name in the UK – is only 19 years old.
Andrews’ high-flying abilities felt more exciting in this setting. Indy shows are known for occasionally turning into flip-fests, so in a context of more traditional performances, Andrews’ style could be appreciated a little more.
I was sad to see these two paired only because I really quite like them both. Mark Andrews is one of the first indy wrestlers I started following and, by all accounts, is a super nice chap. I was the introverted, nerdy tech guy at show he was on once and he made a point to introduce himself anyway – he’s a good egg. I predict he will eventually go far with the WWE.
Tyler Bate def. Tucker
This match was a lot of fun. I’ve seen Tyler Bate live several times now, and I was happy to see his style and personality translated well for television. Indeed even his indy theme music (Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer) very obviously ‘inspired’ his new WWE theme.
I’d not heard of Tucker before, and after this match I can’t say I know much more about him. Bate was the star of this one, and Tucker came as close to as being a jobber as is possible on this kind of show. That’s not to throw shade at the guy – being selected and then appearing on an event of this magnitude is a big deal, and will only be a positive influence in anyone’s career going forward.
This was one of the longer matches of the night – though extra time had to be allotted for that lengthy extended airplane spin, I’m sure.
Bate perfectly blended athleticism with comedy, and quickly won my dad over as his new favourite – though I think he may just enjoy a Dudley accent. This was a perfect way to end the evening, putting everyone is a good mood and looking forward to the second part of the tournament.
This was a very enjoyable show. We’ve all been wondering how this would turn out, but I am pleased to say that I am totally on board with what WWE are going for here. Their long-term strategy for the UK remains to be seen, but this tournament is nothing but a positive for British wrestling as a whole. The platform granted to these guys is like no other, and – for the most part – they have all risen to the occasion.
Michael Cole and Nigel McGuiness were really enjoyable on commentary, and did a fab job of putting the stories behind each match across. They have also been great spokespeople for the tournament, both men appeared on Blue Peter (an iconic BBC kids show, for the unacquainted) this week and were really good sports. A particularly enjoyable exchange from last night’s show went as follows:
“NM: Have you been to Birmingham, Michael?
MC: I have.
NM: Did you stay long?
The final moments of the first show saw Pete Dunne attacking his round two opponent, Sam Gradwell. Not only does this raise the stakes for the second night, but brings a much needed narrative thread that can be picked up on well into the future. This is sports entertainment after all, and in order for a UK show to be adopted by a larger audience, great wrestling must be coupled with the theatricality WWE is known for.