Tuesday, June 26, 2018

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Night One Review

WWE United Kingdom Tournament Night One
June 25th, 2018 | Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, London

Following the success of last year’s tournament that crowned Tyler Bate as the first champion, the WWE gave us another tournament this year. The first round of matches is available on WWE’s YouTube channel. Nothing bad in there, but the best match got ***¼ from me. The tournament marks WWE’s return to one of my favorite venues ever, the Royal Albert Hall.

The show began with a video package featuring Johnny Saint. It showed highlights of the eight men in the tournament, from their work in places like PROGRESS. For those who don’t know, Saint is the WWE UK GM.

Mauro Ranallo and Nigel McGuinness were on commentary.

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Quarterfinals: Jack Gallagher vs. Zack Gibson
Though Gallagher has been a heel on WWE TV lately, Gibson is one of the most hated men in all of wrestling. He played into it by refusing to shake Gallagher’s hand. Lots of mat based grappling in this one. It’s a strength of both men, so it was a good idea. Gibson held serve and was aggressive at every turn. Gallagher really is better suited to play the lovable babyface. There was a lot of fire in his comeback and the fans were totally into him. The back and forth submission stuff down the stretch was electric, as was Gallagher coming close on several occasions. The arm work from earlier in the match came into play for the finish, as Gibson applied Shankly Gates and Jack tapped in 13:26. A hell of a way to start. There was a lot of intensity to this and it escalated to give us some great late drama. [***¾]

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Quarterfinals: Dave Mastiff vs. Joe Coffey
Oh, baby. It’s a hoss fight. That’s exactly what I wanted coming in and that’s what they delivered. It was two big guys going toe to toe. They threw bombs at each other, giving their best shot to see who could take more punishment. Mastiff is the bigger man, but is the more mobile one. At least, until Coffey busted out a double jump springboard moonsault of sorts. He added the Black Coffey to secure the win after 7:31. I liked this. It was the kind of hoss battle I was hoping for. They hit hard, but also showcased an ability to be more than your prototypical big men. [***¼]

Post-match, the lovely Cathy Kelley interviewed Joe Coffey. He said he was going to win the tournament and beat Pete Dunne. Nothing special.

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Quarterfinals: Flash Morgan Webster vs. Jordan Devlin
The pre-match video package noted how Devlin was fired up after losing in last year’s tournament to eventual winner Tyler Bate. Like Gibson, Devlin decided against a handshake. Devlin was the aggressor, clearly out to make up for last year. Like Gallagher, Flash has been working heel but is best as an underdog babyface. However, this was more even, as Flash gave as much as he took. His tope con hilo after two tope suicidas was a highlight. Devlin hit a Spanish Fly, but it wasn’t enough to get the job done. He missed a moonsault and Webster scored with the Eton Rifle to win in 7:02. A great sprint. They made the most of their time and had a fun match. Devlin was so obsessed with advancing that he made a clear mistake of trying something too high risk and it cost him. Simple, yet effective storytelling. [***½]

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Quarterfinals: Ashton Smith vs. Travis Banks
No offense to Smith, but not a single person buys him as a winner here. Banks is a much bigger name and the current PROGRESS World Champion. Banks lived up to the “Kiwi Buzzsaw” nickname by lighting up Smith with kicks and strikes. Smith managed to get a few near falls that were kind of interesting, but he never really threatened. He came closest on a superkick. Banks nailed an impressive German and won out during a strike exchange. Slice of Heaven and Kiwi Krusher followed to put Smith away at 6:22. Good match with a fair amount of energy. It could’ve been better if they made us believe Smith had a shot. Since they didn’t it capped at good. [***]

Number One Contender’s Match: Isla Dawn vs. Killer Kelly vs. Toni Storm
Winner faces Shayna Baszler on night two for the NXT Women’s Championship. So, this was weird because it started as a four way with Jinny, but she injured herself on a dive during the match. However, it was edited to look like a Triple Threat match here. Charlie Morgan and Nina Samuels of the House of Couture in PROGRESS were shown in the front row. This was action right from the opening bell. I’ve only seen a limited amount of Dawn before and none of Kelly, but both impressed. Toni was tossed aside at the start, giving them an opportunity to shine. Toni got the win when she hit Dawn with Storm Zero (Air Raid Crash on the knee) at 4:13. It was short and strangely edited, but there was a fair amount of action. [**¾]

Shayna Baszler was shown watching in the crowd. She and Toni had a staredown. I’m so pumped for that.

At this time, Triple H came out to a huge pop. The fans sang along to “King of Kings.” He put over the talent that has gone on to become bigger names from the UK, like Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne, Mark Andrews, etc. Triple H said that they were here to give the UK fans more. He brought out Johnny Saint, who announced the commencement of the NXT UK brand. They’ll be introducing divisions for tag teams and women. They have dates already scheduled. Are you ready?

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Semi-Finals: Flash Morgan Webster vs. Zack Gibson
Gibson shook hands this time, but is still a dick while doing it. Flash came out of the gates with a dropkick that kicked off a flurry of offense. It stunned Gibson, who took a bit to recover and take over. Gibson continued to excel at drawing all the heat. The “If you hate Gibson stand up/sit down” chants were brilliant. Webster found openings for hope spots that the fans bit into. It included a corkscrew plancha and tope suicida. However, when he went for a second tope, Gibson caught him and delivered Helter Skelter onto the ramp. Though Flash beat the count back in, he tapped to Shankly Gates in 4:18. One of the better sprints you’ll find anywhere. Maybe this is the style Flash should work more often. The surprise start was great, the crowd was hot, and the finish was cool. [***½]

Aleister Black and Ricochet were together in the front row. Tomorrow, they face EC3 and Velveteen Dream.

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Semi-Finals: Joe Coffey vs. Travis Banks
Coffey was selling the ribs after his bruising match earlier. Despite that, he used his size to gain the upper hand. He worked a single leg crab, wearing down the explosive Kiwi. Banks got to join the list of guys working heel elsewhere and playing the face on this show. He had to fight from behind and showed a lot of the fire that made him work so well in his build to becoming PROGRESS Champion. The intensity picked up late, as did the near falls. You got the sense that both guys were desperate to make the finals, which is what you want from a tournament like this. It feels important. The double springboard that worked for Coffey earlier failed this time around. From out of nowhere, Banks caught Coffey with a wheelbarrow rollup to advance in 9:19. The string of good stuff continues. It wasn’t great, but you got the sense of urgency from it. Coffey’s rib selling was solid, Banks had a lot of fire, and the action was intense. [***¼]

Post-match, a frustrated Joe Coffey jumped Banks.

British Strong Style (WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, and Tyler Bate) vs. The Undisputed Era (NXT North American Champion Adam Cole and NXT Tag Team Champions Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong)
This wasn’t just WWE throwing two great stables against each other. There was actual build here, especially between Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong. That came into play early, as Strong was fighting Bate and tried to run when Dunne got tagged, but was held in place, allowing Dunne to get some revenge. The Undisputed Era took over when Seven became the face in peril. It built to a hot tag for Dunne to again kick Strong’s ass. Though he’s not a consistent tag guy, Dunne’s hot tag run was great. The Explex dropping Cole onto Strong was fantastic. However, it was nothing compared to STRONG BOI Tyler Bate. He got Cole in an airplane spin while giant swinging Strong AT THE SAME TIME. Cesaro would be proud. The final few minutes of this was pure insanity. Tons of big spots coming at a furious pace, making for one hell of a closing stretch. The finish itself was also great, as Bate and Seven combined for a springboard clothesline/dragon suplex combo that beat O’Reilly in 12:21. Incredible. One of the better six man tags you’ll find anywhere. A blast of a trios match that furthered existing stories, gave us some awesome interactions, and had no slow down through the entire duration. Awesome. [****¼]

For no real reason, Shawn Michaels came out to talk to the crowd. They sang his entire theme after it ended, which was very cool. The fans also chanted for “one more match.” Shawn just spoke about how cool it was to be part of history.

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Finals: Travis Banks vs. Zack Gibson
The PROGRESS World Champion against a PROGRESS Tag Team Champion. They worked this at a slower pace than other tournament matches to start. It made sense since that style suits Gibson and Banks, who is usually explosive, came in with his shoulder taped up from the Coffey attack. Like a shark smelling blood, that was Gibson’s target from bell to bell. He was vicious in every attack. Despite the injury, Banks still had fire, bringing intensity with his strikes and offense. The Shankly Gates was put over so well in the first two matches, so combined with Banks’ arm, the fans completely bit on that as a finish once it was applied. Banks survived and began throwing his desperation shots at Gibson. You could tell he was on his last legs, but he wasn’t giving up. Gibson stopped a Banks tope suicida and hit Helter Skelter. That wasn’t enough, so he locked in Shankly Gates. Banks fought his hardest, but was forced to tap out at 16:59. Great capper to the tournament and the best match of the entire thing. The arm work was fantastic, the crowd was hot, and the late drama ruled. [****]

Post-match, Gibson finally offered a handshake, but Banks didn’t accept. Triple H, Johnny Saint, and Shawn Michaels came out. They congratulated Banks on the ramp, before giving Gibson a bigger congratulations in the ring. Gibson attempted to cut a promo to a ton of heat, but Pete Dunne walked out and they had a faceoff to close things.

Overall: 8.5/10. Such a great show. Much better than the tournament we got last year. Every match in the tournament ranged from good to great and got at least three stars. The women’s match was still solid despite being edited for issues. The tournament ended on a very high note, we got the NXT UK announcement, and BSS/Undisputed was all kinds of rad. A winner of a show.