Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT UK: Hey, there wasn’t one!
Welcome to the very first episode of NXT Smackdown — the red brand! — aka NXT UK. If you haven’t seen the episode (which airs on Wednesdays at 3PM eastern on WWE Network, because time zones), you can and should watch it here. This is a long time coming and far overdue, and now we don’t have to keep making jokes about how Pete Dunne’s been the 500+ day champion of a division of two dudes.
If you missed this episode, you can watch it here. If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT, click right here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter and anonymously shit on me for not knowing enough about British wrestling.
And now, the very first Best and Worst of NXT UK for October 17, 2018.
A Brief Disclaimer
In the interest of transparency, I wanted to start off the column by saying that despite being a fan of NXT from four seasons before day one, a day one devotee of Lucha Underground, a comedy historian for both WCW Monday Nitro and Raw Is Wars from 20 years ago, and devote like 10 hours of my life every week to recapping both Raw and Smackdown in their entirety, I am not and cannot be an encyclopedia about everything good happening in pro wrestling. I wish I didn’t have to pass off New Japan columns to Emily, and I wish I could go back and watch all the British wrestling shows people have been losing their minds about domestically and abroad for the past several years.
So what I’m going to do with the NXT UK columns is treat it like a WWE show, and let my impressions and knowledge of the characters come from what I’m given on the show in matches, interviews, and video packages, and supplement that by asking my Britwres savvy friends questions from time to time. If I get some stuff wrong or illogically dislike a person who is super good, trust me, I’ll figure it out. I mean, everybody seems pretty good. Is there a British Kona Reeves?
I will also avoid making hacky stereotypical British jokes as much as possible, so no “innit” jokes or whatever. Not gonna compromise on the terrible puns and suggested team names that brought me to the dance, though.
So welcome to the Corn Exchange (innit) (sorry), aka your local record store after you got through your nu-metal phase, lit in bright red to make it look like the castle you’d have to pass through on your way into Hell. Vic Joseph and Nigel McGuinness are your hosts, as in my opinion Nigel fits in with the vibe much better here than in Florida, and Vic is kinda like Mauro Ranallo if he ate a bunch of pot brownies.
Enough with the introduction, let’s get right to it.
Best: Like The Drink, Only Not Spelt The Same
Our very first NXT UK match pits Mark Andrews against Joe Coffey, one of two matches to pay off angle development from June’s two-night UK tournament.
You may know Mark Andrews from TNA’s British Boot Camp 2 — something we could say about a lot of people from the NXT, NXT UK, 205 Live, and Mae Young Classic tournament rosters, shout-out to TNA for not knowing how to use anybody ever — or from his time as “Mandrews” on Impact. In a nutshell, he’s British Sami Zayn if you replace ska with pop-punk. He shows up dancing to a song from the band he’s in, which is either embarrassing or endearing as hell depending on your point of view. His opponent is Joe Coffey, one half of the Scottish bruisers The Coffey Brothers. They are a couple of drips, am I right? Hey, I told you my commentary about them was going to be unfiltered. Please send me my Webby Award. Joe Coffey kinda looks like Jim Neidhart and Marty Scurll had a baby.
So yeah, this is happening because The Coffey Brothers (who we should really call the Hundred Years War Raiders) interfered in the fatal four-way to name a number one contender on the June show and attacked everybody. Andrews was on the receiving end of that attack, and wants some retribution. Bless WWE production values for actually putting together some clips of this and showing it to us so we know what’s going on if we’re tuning in for the first time. I’m used to watching WCW shows, where they’ll spend two years building to Hogan vs. Sting and not even bother putting a video package together before it happens, so if you just stumble across their biggest show ever out of context you won’t know what anything’s about.
Andrews excels at fighting form underneath, and he gets to do that a lot here. Coffey’s got a lot of powerful offense, and pairing them up to start off the brand with an exciting back-and-forth match is a really good call. It sets the tone early, letting us know that WWE UK will probably be just like the NXT Domestic brand, with a little more emphasis on the in-ring competition and a little less of the insane characters. We don’t think about it a lot because the wrestling’s so good, but some of NXT’s top characters are a Dutch occultist who can teleport via Satanism, a genderqueer pansexual Prince who lives in his own mystical purple smoke dimension, a tiny Japanese woman who is somehow both a pirate AND a princess, and a 1950s housewife who is also a Marine.
If I’m looking for a criticism here, they might’ve overbooked it a little for an opener. There are a ton of kickouts to get everybody hype and some outside interference, and a post-match attack with a save, and it’s just a lot all at once. If this had been a little more straight-forward it might’ve made the main event pop a little more, but still, that’s probably a good complaint to have. Flash Morgan Webster makes the save for Andrews, by the way, and he’s the “Mod-father,” or to put it in terms American audiences might understand, cruiserweight Austin Powers. So maybe that thing I said about the characters was wrong, too.
Best: Scala Mush, Scala Mush
Match two on the card is a spotlight squash for Dave Mastiff, an extremely fast, extremely agile 300+ pounder who kinda looks like what would happen if Sanity convinced Otis Dozovic to join and then got him hopped up on Go-Go Juice. He’s pretty much the best, if you couldn’t tell from that screenshot of him almost breaking the bottom turnbuckle by throwing his entire everything into his opponent’s face at top speed. Death to WWE “cannonballs” where the person gets a running start, then stops their momentum completely before the flip. This is how you do it, Naruki Doi style.
His opponent is my favorite person on the show so far and maybe the most British person I’ve ever seen, Sid Scala. Look at him. Dude looks like he should be commanding the First Order. I need my British wrestlers to look like the dudes who’d show up to reprimand Giles for being too liberal with Buffy’s training.
Anyway, Scala gets legally murdered, and my number one match for the inevitable NXT vs. NXT UK super show is Dave Mastiff vs. Keith Lee. Or maybe Mastiff and Otis doing a Prince and the Pauper gimmick and switching places for a few months.
Best, But Not The Best: Storm Vs. Samuels
While not bad, the only match on the show that didn’t totally work for me was Toni Storm vs. Nina Samuels. Samuels seems fine and Storm is a legit star, but Samuels probably got in too much offense, and Storm didn’t really get a lot of opportunities to shine. I haven’t been as big on Storm in the Mae Young Classic as a lot of folks, but she’s clearly got an incredible upside, and I’m sure we’ll get to see more of that going forward.
Plus, you know, infinite love for this:
Best: Pinkie, Swear
Last and certainly not least we have an NXT UK Championship match (thank God) between two characters we know very well; 205 Live’s Noam Dar, he of Alicia Fawwwwwggghhhhhhsssssss fame, and UK Champ Pete Dunne, who is so good at this that he can wrestle a great 12-minute championship match on his brand’s first show and it barely even register on his best matches of the year. He’s so good he got something watchable out of ENZO.
The story here is the story of a lot of Dunne’s matches; his opponents come into the bout well-prepared and do their best to go toe-to-toe with him, then make one mistake late in the match that costs them DEARLY. Sometimes it’s them deciding to show off and mess with his mouth guard. Here, it’s Dar getting confident enough to do his pinkie taunt, not taking into consideration that (1) he’s like a foot away from Pete Dunne, and that (2) Pete Dunne wants to break all of your fingers as soon as he can. Dunne jumps on it, makes it worse by stomping his fingers into the ground vertically (Jesus Christ), then Bitter Ends him to win. If you can’t find anything else to love about Dunne because you’re blind or ridiculous, you’ve got to love a wrestler who establishes that you can’t even make one fucking mistake against him or you’re doomed.
A really great way to cap off a really great first episode of, hey, surprise, a really great brand. I’m looking forward to see where the show goes in the next few months and what kind of identity it develops for itself, especially with its champ so entangled with major NXT US stories. I’m also interested to know how Trent Seven grows such a beautiful head of hair and how Tyler Bate’s legs are so muscular they look like giant baby legs, but everything in due time.