Sunday, January 15, 2017
Triple H opened the show with a short promo to hype how special the night is. They setup and look of this venue is spectacular. Seriously, it’s one of the prettiest WWE shows ever.
Michael Cole welcomed the grapple fans and introduced Nigel McGuinness. Just seeing Nigel on WWE TV is mind blowing.
Both guys got short video packages beforehand. Seven was super over and got “Mustache Mountain” chants. He was even referred to as a PROGRESS Tag Team Champion. This was even for the most part until Dyer connected on a stiff right hand. He said in his promo stuff that he liked punching people. Dyer busted out a nice blue thunder bomb for two and Nigel expertly noted how he didn’t put enough pressure on the shoulders during the pin. Dyer missed a D-Lo like frog splash and fell to Trent’s seven star (take that Dave) lariat. Fun opener. The crowd was way into Seven, Dyer got to show some of his skill in a short time and the right guy went over.
Devlin was trained by Finn Balor and his look seems to be inspired by him as well. Burch has appeared on NXT a bunch and is better known as Martin Stone. Burch brought a more aggressive and vicious style, while Devlin had to play the resilient underdog and I think those styles worked well for this match. Devlin survived some big blows and a crossface that I thought was going to finish the match. The finish seemed to get messed up because Burch got hurt. Devlin delivered a big kick and Burch kicked out, but the back of his head was busted open. Outside of the finish, I rather enjoyed the dynamic here. Brute Burch and underdog Devlin worked well, including his flash pins. I think it would have worked better if the crowd was more into Devlin.
Wisely, Devlin turns heel with a cheap shot kick on Burch after the match. Interesting call with Finn in the front row, but at least the negative crowd response works now.
Gradwell got the hometown pop for being from Blackpool. I’ve never seen either guy before. Gradwell looks like a shaven Sheamus, while Saxon looks like a better-groomed Luke Harper. Neither man gained a clear advantage until Gradwell hit a double underhook suplex and Huxley had to take a breather. Lots of “Jesus” related chants for Huxley. Gradwell eventually won with a diving headbutt in a match that I didn’t care for. The only thing I enjoyed here was the crowd. They were fun.
I love Pete Dunne. I just wanted to point that out. He slapped away the hand of Roy “The Most Wavy Guy” Johnson. Nigel pointed out that Dunne wears the color gear that he does as a homage to Daniel Bryan. Roy had the power advantage but Dunne was vicious. Johnson countered a choke into an impressive suplex. Dunne came back by stomping on Roy’s hand while it was on the steel steps. I love people using the environment as a weapon. Dunne continued to pick apart and stretch Roy. Dunne seemed to toy with him, allowing Roy back into it because the power kept being too much for Dunne. Dunne won after a rebound German and the Bitter End. Dunne was the clear star of the show thus far. Roy was just there. Dunne showed what he was capable of and it worked as a strong preview of what he can do in later rounds.
Tyson said he isn’t here to wrestle, he’s here to fight. He got pre-match promo time. Before the bell, he headbutted Wolfgang like a dirty heel. This was the hoss fight I wanted it to be. They wailed on each other, while showing off some other skills in between. Wolfgang pulled out the Wasteland, following by an awesome looking moonsault for two. Dude is agile. T-Bone looked for the countout after sending Wolfgang into the ring post, which I liked. Someone has to be willing to try for the easy advance. Wolfgang blocked a superplex and nailed a sweet swanton bomb to advance. My favorite match thus far. I’m a sucker for a good hoss battle and that was fun. Wolfgang is an impressive big fella.
Two more guys that I am unfamiliar with. Michael Cole put over both guys harder than most so far. He also noted that Conners was left for dead in a nightclub once and lost half an ear. Yikes. The guys started off with some solid back and forth, but for the first time tonight, the crowd seemed to quiet down. Conners The things they did were good but not great and though both guys looked good, it never got into second hear in my eyes. Conners did one of the most impressive moves of the night with an elbow into a backbreaker before winning via Flatliner. Good work from both parties.
Mark Andrews is probably the biggest name in the tournament. Maloney looks like a British Andrade Almas judging by his haircut. They played up the obvious size difference when Maloney blocked some arm drags. Nigel made a good point when Andrews tried to work a ground game. He is the only true flier in the tournament and should play to his strengths. He was in trouble in the early goings but turned things around when he began to fly. Makes sense. Some fans bought into a near fall when Maloney hit a big kick. Andrews countered a suplex into a stunner and advanced following a shooting star press. About what I expected. Similar to the Dunne match, this was a showcase for Andrews. I’m still not sold on Andrews but he did what he does well here and it worked.
Surprised to see this going on last. Tyler Bate is just 19 years old, while Tucker looks like TNA’s Eli Drake. They wrestled to a stalemate early and then Bate used the “bop and bang” (names of his fists) stuff he said in his vignette. Brilliant. The crowd was way into this as they continued to battle for the upper hand. Tucker snapped off a rana and sprung into the ring with Paydirt. He went for a suicide dive but was met with a great uppercut. Bate had a suplex countered outside and Tucker then jumped off the steel steps with a rana. Bate retaliated with a lengthy airplane spin spot inside for a near fall. Tucker kicked the hell out of Bate, nearly knocking him out. After Bate got his knees up on a swanton, they exchanged shots until Tyler hit a rolling kick. He won with a Tyler Driver to cap the best match of the first round. Great action from start to finish and it felt different from the rest of the show. Something about it just clicked and both men came off looking like stars.
Nigel McGuinness and William Regal stood on the stage with the UK Title and brought out the eight men who advanced. They all hade face offs with their opponents for tomorrow. Dunne attacked Gradwell, causing Regal to get in his face and shout him down for his actions. If Regal laces up the boots for a match with Dunne at some point, sign me up please.
Overall: This was about what I expected from the first round. A lot of these guys were lesser known and because of that, some matches were obvious. Dunne, Andrews, Seven and others were locks to advance, which took out the drama of some matches. The Gradwell/Huxley match bored me and I didn’t care much for Devlin until his heel stuff. However, the show succeeded in terms of production (lighting, setup, vignettes and commentary were all great), setting up the rest of the tournament and making us care about some of these guys.