WWE made history this weekend by crowning the first ever WWE United Kingdom champion and spotlighting some of the incredible talent in the UK & Irish wrestling scene.
The first round of matches, much like the opening round of the Cruiserweight Classic, was mixed back of decent matches with some inexperienced talents there to spotlight and establish the bigger names that would be going further.
The Empress Ballroom in Blackpool was an incredible venue and was a completely different presentation from anything WWE usually do. It was almost like watching a major indie show with better production and WWE logos. Michael Cole was outstanding on commentary. He came into this likely never seeing any of these wrestlers before and came across like an expert on every one of them. This want Cole, the sports entertainment guy with Vince McMahon shouting in his ear, this was Cole as if he was announcing a legit sporting event. Nigel McGuinness was excellent in his WWE debut weekend too and added even more legitimacy to the matches with his knowledge and insight.
The final night was one of the most exciting and fun WWE broadcasts since the early NXT Takeover shows and had a feeling of being something really cool and fresh where just about anything could happen.
Pete Dunne defeated Sam Gradwell
The big story from night one was that of Pete Dunne attacking Gradwell as the show went off the air. WWE did an amazing job covering this on social media. The story was that William Regal was pissed off at Dunne ruining a great night, while Triple H was almost impressed that Dunne stepped up to make a name for himself. After the attack Gradwell came into this looking for revenge, so we ended up with a really good match with lots of intensity behind it. Gradwell looked good in defeated as he fought through a back injury, but Dunne was the star here. His facial expressions as he taunted and messed with Dunne were excellent. Dunne came across as the school bully that was proud of himself for getting over on one of the popular kids. The finish was creative and gave the feeling that a match could end at any stage. Dunne slammed Gradwell into the ropes with Gradwell landing on the back of his head.
Mark Andrews defeated Joseph Conners
Conners was one of the most impressive lesser names in the first round. He was a relative unknown to many fans, including those that follow the UK scene, but he stood out with his grittiness and frantic behaviour. This was a really good match. Andrews was incredibly over as the pure babyface and looked very smooth in this match. Conners has some very unique moves, such as back elbowing his opponent and having them land across his knee. There were some good near falls and dives in this leading to the finish with Andrews hitting a Shooting Star Press.
Wolfgang defeated Trent Seven
These two are no strangers to one another, as they have been feuding over the ICW Heavyweight Championship. This match was very different to the previous too and was not the type of match you’d normally see on a WWE broadcast. This was a hard hitting match with lots of big bombs thrown early on. We had Wolfgang moonsault of the barrier, and Seven suplex Wolfgang onto his head. Seven describes himself as “British Strong Style”, and strong style is exactly what this was. We saw the biggest upset of the tournament here as Seven, a favourite to win, was eliminated by the big man after he hit a Swanton Bomb. Wolfgang stepped up big time in the tournament. He didn’t have much buzz going in, but he turned lots of heads this weekend.
Tyler Bate defeated Jordan Devlin
On night one Devlin became the biggest heel in the tournament when he attacked Danny Burch after the controversial finish to their match and had the crowd all over him because of his likeness to Finn Balor. It was a case of a bad situation turning out in his favour. Devlin played it up heading into this match and was as smug as it gets. It was a good heel performance from Devlin and he looked more comfortable in the ring here than he did on night one. Bate got an incredible reaction here. This was a great match. These two had an outstanding match in OTT this past summer, but this was very different. This was more of a tradition babyface vs heel match with lots of good striking in display. The finish saw Bate win with the Tyler Driver 97 to advance to the semi finals.
Pete Dunne defeated Mark Andrews
What a story it was for these guys. Dunne had his second ever match against Mark Andrews in a field. They are close friends that have grown up in wrestling together and have clashed all over the world from the UK to Ireland to BOLA this past year. Now they got to meet in a WWE ring. This was one hell of a match. These guys have amazing chemistry together and this was a classic tale of the hard hitting, gritty, piece of shit heel against the pure high flying babyface. It spoke volumes of Dunne’s talent and the great booking job from WWE to take Dunne, who was arguably the most over guy in round one and manage to successfully have the crowd turn on him in favour of Andrews. Dunne does so many little things. His facial expressions sold this match so well. There were some excellent near falls and false finishes along with many great counters to play up just how well these guys knew each other. In the end it was Dunne advancing after dropping Andrews with The Bitter End. This was the match of the tournament up to this point and something that could easily be one of the best matches in WWE this year.
Tyler Bate defeated Wolfgang
The simple story here was that Wolfgang broke his nose in his previous match, and he wanted to end this one as quickly as he could. We also had the traditional big man vs small man story. This was a relatively short match, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted. Bate got more and more over with the crowd with every match he had. By the time Bate hit the Tyler Driver 97 and won the match he was the crowds favourite to win the whole thing.
After the match Dunne attacked Bate targeting his shoulder. Dunne again played the school bully, and just like last night he coward and ran off when the “school headmaster” William Regal showed up to tell him off. This was a great piece of business to get over Dunne as the guy that was willing to risk it all to get an advantage over his opponent.
Neville defeated Tommy End
What a fantastic surprise this was. Neville has been a revelation as a heel and again his angle was that he was yet again left out of another major WWE tournament that he was made for. Then his surprise opponent for the evening, Tommy End came out to a huge ovation. End had competed against Jimmy Havoc in Progress earlier in the day, presumably as a make good from WWE as they were using much of Progress’ top talent. The UK crowd are no stranger to End as he spent the majority of his career here. End is a really special, unique talent that can go far in WWE. He is an extremely serious, straight ahead, no nonsense sort of individual. His striking is on a whole other level and we got a small taste of it here. This was a really fun match where you spent most of it in disbelief that it was happening. This just added to the atmosphere and feeling of excitement in the show. Neville won with the Red Arrow.
WWE UK Championship Tournament Final
Tyler Bate defeated Pete Dunne
This was an incredible match. WWE talk about making history a lot, but this really had that feeling. Everyone in the building treated this like they were about to watch something monumental and there was a sense of pride as the UK wrestling scene was finally getting its due and two of the very best were about to take part in one of the biggest pro wrestling matches ever in Britain.
At this point the crowd were all in on Bate and had completely turned on Dunne due to his fantastic heel work. Bate sold his shoulder from the earlier attack and that was the story of the match. Dunne had a sense of arrogance as he went after the injury as the 19 year old Bate fought through the pain. This was a world class performance from both. Bate showed that he can do just about anything when he pulled out a fausberry flop and a 450 double foot stomp! The near falls and drama here was off the charts. We had lots of big moves and Dunne went after the arm and shoulder with submissions. The finish here was excellent as Bate fired up with two kopo kicks which allowed him to finally hit the Tyler Driver 97 and achieve the biggest height of his young career.
This was amazing moment. At 19 years old, Tyler Bate is jaw dropping. His poise, confidence and the range of things that he can do are staggering. There’s no telling how great he can be. Pete Dunne, also only 23 was the standout of the weekend for me. He showed that he is up there with the very best in the world.
The sense of accomplishment from those involved in the UK and Irish wrestling scene is overwhelming. There is also a huge sense of excitement over what might happen next as Triple H has stated that this is just the start of big things.