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St-Pierre’s NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool Review

January 15, 2019 | Posted by Jake St-Pierre
NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool James Drake Zack Gibson
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St-Pierre’s NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool Review  

I can’t say I’ve been a loyal viewer of NXT UK in its brief existence. There are only so many hours in the day, and it’s not as if I’m rolling in minutes to watch the horrible main roster content either. But with the primary NXT Takeover events consistently being some of the best wrestling the world has to offer, the inaugural show for NXT UK has piqued my interest enough to earn a look. So it’s probably a bit irresponsible, but I’m going into this show a little blind after not seeing a lick of the weekly show. I can’t say I’ve heard the most groundbreaking feedback for the show itself, but this event has the chance to let me look past hearsay and see what the deal is firsthand… so let’s get to it.

We are LIVE from the gorgeous Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England.

Your hosts are Vic Joseph and Nigel McGuinness.

NXT UK Tag Titles: Moustache Mountain vs. James Drake & Zack Gibson
A solid opener here even if I can’t say I have ever found the tag team of Drake and Gibson more than acceptable in the ring. Their out-of-the-ring antics are always entertaining thanks to the perpetually loathesome Zack Gibson, so at least there will be a fun personality dynamic here.

The tag belts are AWESOME if we’re being honest. Amazing what a good looking belt can do to elevate things. Gibson and Bate start things off, largely as a backdrop to a very excited crowd. Bate bridges beautifully out of an opening wristlock, flustering Gibson in the early exchanges. James Drake tags in as Gibson backs Bate into the ropes, but Tyler is able to escape the numbers game and tag in Trent Seven. Trent schools Drake with a more strike oriented offense, and Bate tags back in to further put the hurting on Drake with wrestling. Trent tags back in and nearly finds himself the victim of a hot tag from the GYV, but is able to take out Drake with a Lope. Seven keeps working over Drake on the outside, but walks into a chop to the throat from Gibson for the heat. A Drake elbow busts open Seven somehow, but it doesn’t look too major despite the shitkicking he’s getting from Drake and Gibson. Trent is able to get himself in position for a hot tag, and here comes Tyler Bate! DOUBLE AIRPLANE SPIN FROM BATE~! Drake staggers to the apron, where Tyler gives him an Exploder onto Gibson on the floor! SHOOTING STAR TO THE FLOOR! Bate can’t get the Tyler Driver, so tags in Trent for the Bulldogs Powerslam/Headbutt combo! Bate dives out onto Drake with a Tope Suicida. BURNING HAMMER FROM SEVEN! Drake breaks it up. Seven tags into Bate who nearly gets pinned with a Sunset Flip, but Bate hits a Capo Kick. Bate springs off the ropes… INTO A GIBSON LUNGBLOWER! HELTER SKELTER! SEVEN KICKS OUT! SHANKLY GATES FROM GIBSON! DRAKE CUTS OFF BATE! SHANKLY GATES ON BATE! BATE DVD’S DRAKE ONTO GIBSON TO BREAK! DOUBLE CAPO KICK FROM BATE! LARIAT/ONE ARMED DRAGON SUPLEX! DRAKE KICKS OUT! RAINMAKER FROM SEVEN… BUT GIBSON DUCKS AND HITS A TOPE DOOMSDAY DEVICE ON BATE! TRENT SEVEN WITH A LOPE… BUT HE’S DROPKICKED OUT OF THE AIR! TICKET TO MAYHEM! Gibson and Drake are the first NXT UK tag champs in 24 minutes. ****1/4 The best match I’ve ever seen Drake and Gibson work, and it’s not like it was a carryjob from their opponents either. Gibson and Drake were absolutely incredible here I’d even say, finally able to harness their miserable personas into a match that not only stayed faithful to those characters, but rose to the occasion of adding onto it with a satisfying match. Granted, there aren’t many tag teams in wrestling that can create such an atmosphere around themselves like Bate and Seven, but they were working against a team that added to that atmosphere rather than tagged along with it. The divide between heel and face was so obvious that the tag formula was perfectly rendered, and every segment of the match was logical and exciting enough to add onto what came before it previously. When I checked the length for this match and read 24 minutes, I was blown away. I haven’t watched a match in AGES that used its runtime so well to the point that it felt ten minutes shorter. That’s a prime mark of a great match in my opinion, when the psychology and excitement consume you so much that the length becomes a non-entity. I wasn’t expecting to be this over-the-moon about a Grizzled Young Vets match, but if they keep up this sort of output as champions, I may have to change my tune. Wonderful stuff, and may end up being one of the best openers of 2019 when it’s all said and done.

Travis Banks vs. Jordan Devlin
This ought to be a sleeper hit for the night, as I rate Travis Banks quite highly and have come around to Jordan Devlin in my limited exposure to him. I thought he was horrible during the intial UK Tournament, but he’s since made me look foolish in his performances since and thus, has me quite excited to see what his chemistry will be like against the ever-consistent Travis Banks.

Banks’ theme music is a sorry ripoff of his PROGRESS theme, which is a shame. Banks interrupts Devlin’s entrance with a Tope Suicida, mirroring the pre-show attack from Devlin that hurt Banks’ knee. Devlin squares in on that knee too, stopping the punishment. Referees spill out and put a stop to it, so Devlin takes the mic and talks some trash as the officials take Travis to the back. Johnny Saint talks to Sid Scala at the head of the ramp though, and Sid says they have themselves a backup plan… FINN BALOR.

Finn Balor vs. Jordan Devlin
I’ve never been a huge Balor fan, but it’s hard to complain about a bait and switch when it’s this well-executed. Plus you have the story of both men being from the same town in Ireland, Balor training Devlin and that history, and the face that Devlin is basically mini-Balor with a square head.

Devlin opens with a bitchslap, which gives Balor enough fire to throw out a Slingblade and nearly hit a Coup De Grace. Devlin tries to run away, but Balor fetches him and continues the beatdown. Devlin catches Balor in the ring and boots the second rope into his crotch, and he fires off a double stomp in the ring to mock Finn. Balor fires back with the gamengiri from the ring apron, but Devlin dropkicks him as he tries for the Coup De Grace again and spills to the floor. Devlin hits a Uranage, and a Standing Moonsault complements it for 2. Balor tries for a reverse Bloody Sunday, but is able to fire off a Pele Kick instead. Balor hits a standing Double Stomp in retaliation to Devlin’s earlier maneuver, and finally hits the reverse Bloody Sunday for 2. Balor with a Slingblade, but Devlin superkicks him out of the John Woo and PULLS HIM INTO A BACKDROP DRIVER for 2. That was awesome. Balor fires back and tries the Coup De Grace again, but Devlin crotches him and nearly gets the pin with the ropes. Devlin tries his gorgeous Moonsault, but Balor gets his knees up. He hits Devlin with 1916 and the John Woo, and the Coup De Grace gets the pin in 12 minutes. **1/2 I just don’t think Finn Balor is anything more than an average pro wrestler, so this kind of hit its ceiling despite some fun moments here and there. Devlin didn’t get much in the way of shine either as this was largely the Balor greatest hits collection, but the offense he got in was fun enough to keep this above water. I’m aware that many find Balor to be a great worker and that’s totally fine, but his usual homogenized main roster midcard fare in the middle of an NXT show (UK or otherwise) didn’t really land for me.

No DQ: Eddie Dennis vs. Dave Mastiff
I’ve never been a huge fan of either man even if I did have a little bit of love for Mastiff’s goofy Origin schtick in PROGRESS. However, I haven’t seen their feud or output thus far in the weekly show so it’s not really fair for me to have an opinion on them in this context. I choose optimism.

They slug it out immediately as the bell rings before the action spills to the floor, where Mastiff gets the upperhand early. Dennis retrieves a cane from under the ring and shellacks poor Mastiff with it though, turning the tide. Mastiff catches a cane shot and wacks Dennis with a headbutt, and returns the favor with some shots of his own and a Powerbomb. Dennis catches a Mastiff High Cross and hits a GUNN SLINGER on the ring steps that were set up in the ring. Dennis fetches a chair, but Mastiff ducks him and hits a Finlay Roll. He tries to go up top, but Dennis catches him and hits a RAZOR’S EDGE! That only gets 2. Dennis doesn’t like that, so he goes out for a table to set it up in the corner. Mastiff tries to German Dennis out of the ring, but settles for giving him a Finlay Roll and a Senton on the exposed Ballroom floor. Mastiff rolls him into the ring, but misses an ARABIAN PRESS. NEXT STOP DRIVER FROM DENNIS! MASTIFF KICKS OUT! Mastiff escapes a Razor’s Edge into the table and NECKS Dennis with a release German. MASTIFF CANNONBALL INTO THE TABLE! Dave Mastiff wins in 11 minutes. ***1/4 I don’t think the crowd really bought this as a grudge match in the earlygoings, but it’s a testament to their match layout and ambition that they got there with few real risks taken. We were largely spared the bland WWE-isms of “street fights” (aside from the kendo stick, which even then had some good storytelling attached to it) and it showed, with both men working this like a proper fight and using the weapons for punishment rather than because the stip says they had to. It wasn’t super memorable or anything, but it was still a surprisingly intense little midcard encounter that gave me more than I was anticipating.

NXT Women’s Title: Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Toni Storm
I’ve liked Ripley in the limited amount of times I’ve seen her, but she’s always felt like less than a finished product in the ring. She has enough presence to make that largely irrelevant though, and it’s quite difficult to not deliver in a match against Toni Storm, so I can’t say I have any bad feelings going into this one.

In case you had any doubts, Toni Storm can, in fact, pull off bangs. Toni brings the fight to Rhea early, but Rhea fights back and tries to run away. Toni follows her to the floor with a Tope Suicida and continues the onslaught. Rhea goes after Toni’s hair though and starts taking over. Rhea gets posted and nearly sees Toni Storm come back, but a dropkick puts a stop to that. Rhea keeps throwing the punishment at her, but she gets stunned with a Toni Storm headbutt out of nowhere. Toni lands two nice German Suplexes, but Rhea counters out and tries Riptide, only for Storm to crossbody her for 2. Rhea counters out of Storm Zero and puts in her wacky inverted Cloverleaf, but Toni gets out and hits a hip attack followed by her third German for a two count. Rhea looks for Riptide and gets it, but only for 2. Storm headbutts Rhea and hits Storm Zero, but that only gets 2. Storm counters out of Riptide and hits another Storm Zero for the win in 15 minutes. **1/4 There were some moments to like here, but there was not enough focus or cohesion for it to come together into a satisfying match. It really reeked to me of a main roster women’s match where they try to do the big nearfalls and get the aesthetically nice big pops (which worked at points for the Blackpool crowd, admittedly) without actually doing anything to get those ovations. They just thought the false finishes would make the match, rather than using the nearfalls to complement the story they told. Beyond simple layout, Rhea Ripley was simply not interesting in her role as the bully heel, resorting to the cliched WWE “yell really loud at the babyface” heel work rather than anything of actual substance. She looked like she was playing wrestler, and that’s death when you want to be taken seriously in a main event style wrestling match. The difference in polish between her and the comparatively tight Toni Storm was exposed far too much to make this match a success. I still think she has potential and needs a little more seasoning to be ready for this sort of undertaking, because this was not a good coronation for Toni Storm despite their efforts to make it so. You can’t win ’em all, I suppose.

WWE UK Title: Pete Dunne (c) vs. Joe Coffey
Having seen little of Joe Coffey admittedly, I found this a slightly curious choice to main event the first UK Takeover event. Not in a negative way or anything as again, I’ve not been watching the weekly show, but it kind of surprised me. It makes sense though given NXT UK obviously wants Gallus – Coffey’s stable with Mark Coffey and Wolfgang – to be a centerpiece act in the promotion, and Joe Coffey is probably the best representation of them in the ring. Pete Dunne is clearly the star here and carries the main event on his name more than anything, but I’ve seen enough of Coffey to at least expect a good match out of this.

It’s a slow, intense start until Dunne starts working over Coffey’s fingers, working him on the mat to wear him down. They crisscross, but Dunne clubs Coffey to the mat and puts in a Regal Stretch. Dunne tries to pull guard for a guillotine, but Coffey pulls him up into a suplex and shitcans him. Dunne flips off of the steps outside to crack Coffey, but he runs into a pop-up Powerslam on the ramp. Coffey uses that to go to work on Dunne’s back with a pendulum backbreaker in the ring, followed by a Sidewalk Slam. Dunne tries going after Coffey’s nose, but the Scot tosses him back with a Belly-to-Belly for a two count. Dunne starts building up some momentum though, roundhousing Coffey to the floor for an ORIHARA MOONSAULT! X-Plex scores inside the ring, but Coffey kicks out. Coffey fights back with a nice double jump Crossbody, and he gets two with a Powerbomb. He puts in a Boston Crab, but Dunne is able to struggle to the ropes. They tie up and headbutt each other forever until both collapse. Dunne hits a German, but Coffey pops up, so Dunne counters a lariat into a Koji Clutch. Coffey tries to counter into a Tombstone, but Dunne counters THAT into an Ankle Lock. Coffey escapes Bitter End and tries the Double Jump Crossbody, but Dunne ELBOWS HIM OUT OF THE AIR! BITTER END! COFFEY KICKS OUT! Dunne tries another Orihara Moonsault, but Coffey counters and tries to German him on the apron. Dunne escapes, so COFFEY GIVES HIM A LIGERBOMB ON THE APRON~! Yikes. They both make it back into the ring at 9.999, and Pete Dunne is on the ropes. Coffey stomps and forearms him to death, but DUNNE STOMPS HIM OUT! ROUNDHOUSE… INTO A POP-UP UPPERCUT! ENZUIGIRI FROM DUNNE… INTO A DISCUS LARIAT FROM COFFEY! DUNNE KICKS OUT! TRIANGLE FROM DUNNE! COFFEY BRINGS HIM UP TOP! SUPERPLEX WITH THE TRIANGLE STILL ON! THEY STARE DOWN AND SLUG IT OUT! DUNNE WITH PUNCHES! COFFEY WITH A PUNCH! CROYT’S WRATH FROM COFFEY! DUNNE KICKS OUT! BITTER END FROM COFFEY… COUNTERED INTO A DDT! BITTER END FROM DUNNE! HE CAN’T FOLLOW UP! COFFEY MOVES! COFFEY BRINGS HIM UP TOP… BUT DUNNE SHOVES HIM TO THE FLOOR! DISCUS LARIAT ON THE FLOOR FROM COFFEY! BITTER END FROM COFFEY… INTO TOUR OF THE ISLANDS! DUNNE KICKS OUT! DUNNE DRAGS HIM TO THE FLOOR! BITTER END! COFFEY KICKS OUT!!! MOUNTED TRIANGLE FROM DUNNE! HE BREAKS THE FINGERS! Pete Dunne retains his title in 34 minutes. **** Had it not been for the pair of wonky top rope spots near the end here, we’d be talking an early Match of the Year Candidate with this one. I wasn’t sure what to expect given I’d never seen Coffey in a main event position before, but he delivered in spades here and made a tremendous account of himself. He didn’t do anything overly special, but he was a rock solid foil for the immensely popular Dunne, throwing him around and destroying him with aplomb. It provided Dunne with ample opportunity to not only show his selling prowess, but his incredible knack for explosive bits of offense. Dunne shouldn’t be the stellar babyface he is, but it just works. There’s something immensely likeable about that brash, never-die sadism he likes to work with, and it translates like crazy as a good guy. You want him to break someone’s fingers for daring to mess with him. It’s the sort of babyface many promotions are either too afraid or too stupid to do correctly, but Pete Dunne’s talent gives him that opportunity to be different. It’s a breath of fresh air in a WWE umbrella especially, where babyfaces are impotent morons that no one likes. Pete Dunne is the sort of guy modern audiences attach themselves to, and they’re rewarded for doing so with matches like this. That’s what a babyface should be, and Pete Dunne’s performance here was a masterclass in it. Of course, it helps that he had an entertaining, ass-kicking heel to dance with in Joe Coffey, who as I mentioned earlier looked fantastic. He chained together really interesting moves in the heat segment, doing a fabulous job of giving Dunne a taste of his own medicine. It was slow without being overly meandering, and it was a nice piece of subtle psychology to push the match along. It looked like Dunne met his match, and they worked a match around that with the necessary intensity and scale it deserved. They had a few broken moments with the top rope moves, but I thought they recovered fabulously from them and kept the crowd in it, like they hadn’t even seen a botch. It still kind of felt amateurish when they tried it again and failed, which definitely did bring the match down a couple notches, but that’s largely a nitpick. This was a tremendous main event and while a little long in the tooth, provided the drama and intensity to end the night with a bang.

We look to be signing off, but who should make his debut but WALTER~! Chop scars in tow, the big man saunters into the ring to stare Dunne down. Joe Coffey gets in the ring to spoil the party, so WALTER boots him back to the floor for his stupidity. WALTER squares up with Dunne, and they have a POSE DOWN~! to end the night. Well, there’s your Match of the Year sorted then. Keep him off the main roster like has been reported, and my money is yours.

The final score: review Good
The 411
So it would be a bit unrealistic to put this in discussions with even the worst US Takeover events, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a fun watch. The UK branch's inaugural event was bookended by two tremendous outings - all involving British Strong Style in some way, imagine that - with an undercard that breezed by despite some misses that probably just boil down to my personal taste rather than any actual lack of quality. Two and a half hours is a perfect length for shows like this, allowing for variety while also not sacrificing brevity and ease-of-consumption. There's a lot to build on from this show given WALTER's last-minute appearance, and I'm excited to see where it all goes. Thumbs up despite some of the matches in the middle.