wrestling / TV Reports

St-Pierre’s NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff Review

September 1, 2019 | Posted by Jake St-Pierre
Kay Lee Ray NXT UK Takeover: Cardiff
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
St-Pierre’s NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff Review  

We are LIVE from the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales.

Your hosts are Vic Joseph and Nigel McGuinness.

Travis Banks vs. Noam Dar
While this wasn’t anything special, it served its primary function wonderfully. The art of the opener is quite an easy one on the surface, but often times can overthought or under-served. Dar and Banks struck a great medium and made things easy for everyone involved, including a simple face vs. heel dynamic and oneupsmanship psychology regarding their work of the knees and arms. It blended excitement with the needed accessibility of an introduction, so you won’t hear any complaints from me. ***1/4

Cesaro vs. Ilja Dragunov
This was a total stormer of a match on paper, and even with its somewhat small time allowance, it delivered in earnest. Ilja Dragunov can be quite wacky, but that was exactly what he needed against the perpetually stoic Cesaro. It aided him in his lofty goal to beat the bigger star, and gave the Cardiff crowd just a slight bit of hope that the Russian could make it so despite the result not ending up in his favor. When you consider that this was likely the purpose of the bout, I’m quite confident in saying that they worked this match expertly.

Everyone knows the consummate pro that Cesaro is, but seeing him in this context drives it home emphatically. His presence, timing, and in-ring charisma are world class. He was treated here as a serious professional athlete in the midst of a fight. And while I can’t speak for everyone, it doesn’t surprise me that a world class talent is better suited in an environment where he’s treated with gravity and respect. One can only hope we see Cesaro continue as a long-term fixture of an underlooked NXT UK product.

However, this praise of Cesaro should not indicate a one-man show on his behalf. Ilja Dragunov is a legitimately fantastic talent, featuring some of the most pure excitement and explosion this side of a Roderick Strong hot tag. While I’d give Cesaro a lot of credit in the airtight format of these 12 minutes, Dragunov used it to his benefit perfectly in what is clearly his most significant NXT UK performance thus far. ***3/4

NXT Tag Titles: Grizzled Young Veterans (c) vs. Gallus (Mark Coffey & Wolfgang) vs. Mark Andrews & Flash Morgan Webster
Pardon the pun, but this match had the exact blend of mayhem, flash, and psychology that ended up making it a special coronation for the two hometown boys in Webster and Andrews. I loved how distinct all three teams felt, in particular. It wasn’t a maddening display of spots for the sake of it. They were done to establish momentum depending on who was in the ring with who. It goes without saying that the most athletic portions of the match were performed by Webster and Andrews, but they had distinct reasons and purpose behind them, giving the aesthetically pleasing moves some drama and use that they may not have had otherwise.

Speaking of the Welshmen, it’s impossible to deny that there’s a spark to them as a tandem. Morgan Webster never struck me as someone with legs as a singles talent, but he shines as bright as he ever has in this tag team environment. His athleticism is given the utmost spotlight, and his likability is amplified with the perpetually charming Mark Andrews by his side. The two gel magnificently as athletes, and while their personalities aren’t as outward as a Zack Gibson, they’re just lovable enough to provide a suitable background to their strikingly cohesive in-ring prowess.

It’s pretty obvious to say that in terms of pure excitement, that Webster and Andrews were the cornerstones of this match. But their four opponents did just as admirable a job of holding things together psychologically. Gibson and Drake have done a wonderful job as the heel stalwart champions in 2019, and they’ve come into their own in the ring as well. They were treated as serious competitors, and their role in desperately trying to keep the match from spiraling out of their pace was a great touch. They simply are not the athletes that Webster and Andrews were, and so it’s no surprise that their best offensive moments were done in the slower moments of this otherwise speedy contest.

Gallus may have been the least focused-on act of the match, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t essential to its layout. They were the most disruptive group of the bunch, in the sense that their size and power were the clear yang to the yin of their smaller opponents. They could throw a guy like Mandrews around and completely turn the tide of the match because they were just that strong. It forced the reprehensible GYV and the Welshmen to team up against the bigger Scots and forcefully keep their strength to as little a problem as possible.

These multiple threads ended up making this match one of the most satisfying tag team affairs of WWE’s 2019. It was simple yet layered at the same time. It was exciting as well as calculated. All bases were covered to make this match into something memorable, and it’s a testament to all six men’s talent and ambition that this came off so well. ****1/4

Last Man Standing: Joe Coffey vs. Dave Mastiff
The finish itself was a little anticlimactic for my tastes, but up until then, I was head over heels for this match. I’m a sucker for two bulls just beating the tar out of each other for no reason but for the pure expression of pain, and this delivered gorgeously in that aspect. It wasn’t a fancy display of hardcore spots, nor was it expertly choreographed to capitalize on the most high-octane moments of the night. It was a FIGHT between two massive men with an ax to grind, and the smoke and mirrors to complement it were done tastefully enough to add to the intensity rather than manufacture it. I can see the slow pacing and crowd brawling not appealing to some, but in a rare display, I think it worked its magic for this match, and the pace actually made it a successful choice to follow the velocity of the previous bout. Me and my love for hosses strike again. ***1/2

NXT UK Women’s Title: Toni Storm vs. Kay Lee Ray
I admire what they were going for here, but it’s impossible to carry off emotion in a match whose sole quality is its mediocrity. The layout was much too messy to give anyone a sense of dramatic flair, for one. They decided to start kicking out of finishers about 6 minutes in, but got absolutely nothing out of it because they used it as a crutch rather than a payoff to something useful. They wanted the reaction, but failed to do their homework on what creates it. You can’t expect an audience to care about something that does nothing to involve them.

Beyond that, nothing here gave me the sense that Kay Lee Ray can carry her end of the bargain as the detestable heel champion. Her in-ring charisma is borderline negative, and the audience clearly saw her as filler for the much more distinct Toni Storm. That could have been overcome by an exciting and distinguishable performance, but Kay Lee Rae offers nothing of the sort. Perhaps I can be proven wrong, but as it stands, I don’t have much positive to offer here either. You can’t win ’em all. *1/2

WWE UK Title: WALTER (c) vs. Tyler Bate
WALTER is the model that any promotion’s monster heel champion should follow. Not only is he legitimately one of the best workers in the entire world, but he stays true to himself like no other wrestler does. He never loses sight of his identity. He wrestles the same way every time he steps into the ring. He has zero time for showing he can flip with all the other small guys. He wants to hurt his opponent in a methodical, brutish manner that never fails as compelling viewing. Simply put, WALTER is a special talent that this NXT UK brand is rightly using to its full potential, seeing as this was one of the best bouts of 2019.

This match gave us a fabulous spin on the age-old Big Guy vs. Little Guy trope. That’s not to imply that said trope is necessarily stale or unwanted, but Bate and WALTER created a wonderfully unique spin on it. Clearly, the size was the main topic of discussion here. Their silhouettes are not similar. So on the surface, it’s clear that WALTER has the strength and brutality advantage. But there were points that strength was not the home run WALTER thought it would be. After all, Tyler Bate’s entire repertoire is centered around his sneaky power. You could probably call him a Big Strong Boy. So in stature, it was a clear mismatch, but Tyler Bate’s strength was actually on par with WALTER’s throughout much of this contest. So with that advantage out of the window, WALTER only had one clear path to victory, and that was his lumbering manner of offense. And through much of this bout, WALTER sailed that sea with staggering success.

But wouldn’t you know it, Tyler Bate had very few expectations of quitting. He took everything WALTER had to give him, and spat it back in the Austrian’s face. He withstood every maneuver that his stablemates Dunne and Seven could not. He looked like he was the lone king of the promised land for the UK Title, but he simply could not out-fight his foe. That’s what this all came down to. He had all the gall, perseverance, and talent to win this match… but he didn’t have the grit. If there is something clear about WALTER as a wrestler, it’s that you cannot win a war against him. And that’s exactly what this match ended up being; a war. Tyler Bate had everything but that one intangible, and even if the match went 42 minutes, he couldn’t make that last gasp count.

And in a way, that’s the beauty of this match in a nutshell. We saw the best of what both men had. It’s indeed true that Tyler Bate lost, but there’s not a sensible wrestling fan watching that didn’t gain respect for him in spite of the result. Not only did his character show incredible will, but Tyler as a worker showed that he is a true elite, main event, world class talent. Despite a clean loss, he came out of this match with something he didn’t have before. For lack of a better, more eloquent term, Tyler Bate now has the street cred of pushing WALTER to a limit no one else seems to have a chance at. But still, you look at WALTER as the clear king without having a single reservation about the claim. That’s when wrestling is at its pinnacle as an artform, and you’re unlikely to find a better example of that under the WWE umbrella than this match here. ****3/4

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
While there was a lot to like about NXT UK's previous foray into the Takeover format, it lacked in true memorability and punch. I'm pretty confident in reporting that the Cardiff edition had no problem delivering that in style. People will point to the main event and - rightfully so - laud it as the highlight of the night, but there's a lot to love here beyond that. The Last Man Standing match delivered on the MEAT end, Cesaro did a fabulous job making Ilja Dragunov a star in defeat, and the tag title match is the textbook definition of a show-stealer. Sure, the women's title match slowed things down a bit, but when so much talent surrounds it, it's easy to forgive in hindsight. You won't find many easier 3 hours to watch this year, so I would recommend you take the time out of your day to track this down.