Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT UK: We got woefully behind trying to recap these every week, thanks to WWE’s interesting combination of “taping 400 episodes before the show started airing,” and “airing them all in a pile.” That’s hyperbole, but the weekly show hasn’t been much to write home about, and we’re considering TakeOver The First as a new jumping-on point.
Click here to watch the show on WWE Network. If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT UK, click right here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter.
And now, the Best and Worst of NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool, originally aired on January 12, 2019.
Best: The Perfect Way To Start The First UK TakeOver
The best booking decision of this entire event (for me, at least) was the decision to open the card with Mustache Mountain; more specifically, with almost 25 minutes of championship-level tag team wrestling in front of a molten hot crowd and so full of 2-counts you could’ve pulled it straight from the VOD of your favorite British indie promotion. That’s what this felt like to me: the closest thing WWE’s put on television to the British Wrestling people have been getting so excited about for the past several years.
It’s also indicative of an interesting trend NXT UK is going for; championship tournaments where one one person is obviously supposed to win, but the finals go an unexpected way, leaving us with a “first-ever” heel champion and the assumed top-spot babyface has to challenge and overcome them. It felt like Toni Storm was an obvious choice to win the NXT UK Women’s Championship tournament, but got hurt during the finals and Rhea Ripley ended up champ. At the first TakeOver, Storm got a marquee rematch and won, allowing the promotion to double up on “making history.” WWE will split a match into 10 if it can say it “made history” in some way nine times. And sure enough, the NXT Tag Team Championship tournament you assumed Mustache Mountain would win — because they are the brand’s signature tag team, former NXT Domestic tag champs, and the only people besides Pete Dunne who got a proper introduction within the WWE Universe — ends with them losing, cleanly, to the heels.
This had to be the best match of the night. The main event got great at points, but the two attempts at a big finishing spot that went awry kinda dragged it down. Here, you’ve got Tyler Bate being a post-human little vegan-ass Cesaro baby, kipping up on the apron, throwing people around, and doing an airplane spin with two people on his back. There’s even a face-to-face “don’t submit” homage to NXT Domestic’s tag team division, and its most memorable matches.
The biggest compliment I can give the match is that it finally got me interested in James Drake, who was the character with the least development (at least in terms of NXT UK as a television show) in the match. They worked hard to show Drake’s value as a partner, as he gets to control and hit most of the big spots for the team, and even plays good defense. Him countering Trent Seven’s dive with a running dropkick is one of those spots that happens so fast (and so soon after the Doomsday Device) that I don’t think enough people noticed or appreciated it, and while they probably could’ve hit in cleaner, that move’s got a HIGH degree of difficulty.
Anyway, really great stuff from all four corners here, and I couldn’t think of a better match than this to open the show. It tells you what the brand is, what they’re trying to do, and shows how effective heels can be when they just naturally elicit boos for being jerks who are Better Than, instead of having to hold the tights and get their feet up on the ropes for every single win.
Best: Don’t Wake Daddy
Jordan Devlin had a good idea: attack his TakeOver opponent Travis Banks before the show, then re-injure him during the ring entrances when Banks is too enraged to pay attention and keep from getting hurt. Devlin takes out his knee, sends him off to the Local Medical Facility, and assumes that means he’ll win the match by forfeit. What he didn’t take into consideration is that his trainer slash Instagram Ho Version Of Himself Finn Bálor is in the building, and that he’s never had a carb ever. Dude is in such good shape right now his entire body looks like a dickprint.
Once again we’re reminded that when you remove Finn Bálor from ridiculously meandering Raw stories and opponents who are three times his size, he’s very good at the pro wrestling thing. There’s a lot of “this was PRINCE DEVITT” stuff going around on social and while, no, I don’t agree with that at all, it was the best version of WWE Finn. He’s so much better when he’s allowed to tell stories with his physicality, and not by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with someone backstage smiling off into the middle distance until it’s his turn to talk.
I wouldn’t have minded seeing Finn put Devlin over here, since, you know, Devlin has to be here every week, but I get it. Especially for their first WWE encounter, assuming there will be more. Finn Bálor is a star and Devlin’s still new, and while the teacher may have taught Devlin everything he knows, he didn’t teach him everything he knows. Although now I’m wondering if Johnny Saint and Sid Scala have a bunch of Tower of Babel-esque contingency plans for everyone. Like, if Devlin had injured Finn, would they have been like AND NOW HERE’S FIT FINLAY? If you injured enough guys can you unlock Nigel McGuinness as a playable character?
Best: Twitter Every Time Finn Bálor Does His Entrance Now
I guess my biggest complaint about this show is that they tried to do a TakeOver without Poppy, which should no longer be allowed.
Best: You’ve Got To Stand For Something Or You’ll Tall For Anything
The biggest surprise of the night for me is that I really enjoyed the no disqualification match between Dave Mastiff and the Accursedly Tall Eddie Dennis. We’ve seen the match before on UK weekly and Dennis being booked as a “Monster” has always been hilarious, but again, it succeeds because of simple storytelling: Dennis had a (lame) undefeated streak going, ran into a guy with a slightly more legitimate win streak in Mastiff, and lose to him. Now he’s trying to “take away” from Mastiff what the big man took away from him. Neither guy can really anchor a story about believably feeling emotions, but the “hitting each other with sticks” parts are good.
I also like the story that Dennis is surprisingly strong, to the point that even he wasn’t expecting it, and how that costs him. He’s able to pick this extremely round man up over his head and walk him around the ring, but he appears to be learning he’s able to do this in real time, and can’t (or doesn’t know how to) follow up quickly enough to make it count. Mastiff’s bombs hurt more than Dennis’, and that’s all it takes for Bomber to last long enough to put Dennis between a breakable object and an unstoppable cannonball.
Best: Alpha Ray
I’ve made a lot of jokes about NXT UK being Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate and then a dozen people who aren’t as good as them, but that’s even more of a criticism about the women’s division. You’ve got Rhea Ripley and Toni Storm, and … that’s it, really. While some people who were supposed to be a big part of it are injured (like Tegan Nox), there’s just not a lot of depth. Adding Kay Lee Ray and especially Jazzy Gabert to the show will severely help that.
It’s still interesting how few people in the NXT UK women’s division are from the UK — the women’s championship match is Australia vs. New Zealand — and I wonder if Gabert showing up is their way of doing a backdoor pilot for NXT Germany.
Best: Expected, But Not Unwelcome
As mentioned earlier, NXT UK loves to subvert your expectations in a tournament final to set up a one-on-one match with the result you expected for a little ways down the road. Not a criticism, just an observation. Storm vs. Ripley for the NXT UK Women’s Championship did a very difficult thing by taking a wrestler’s real, in-ring injury during a match and believably weaving it into the narrative. Storm got injured in their first bout, to the point that she lost feeling in her legs and thought for a moment that her entire career was over. Ripley’s offense revolves around attacking your back to set you up for the Riptide, so that sorta writes itself.
I thought the match itself never really got going to the level it could’ve, and that when Toni Storm matches de-emphasize her energy to make her a more sympathetic babyface instead of a dynamic one, it hurts the match quality a little. Only a little, though. I’m also starting to notice Storm selling anything that isn’t pain like Taylor Swift from 10 years ago finding out she’s just won an award. Trust me though, it’s all good, and the default setting for an NXT UK Women’s Championship should be Storm desperately hanging onto the title while facing increasingly challenging, physical opponents. Rhea Ripley to Alpha Female, and whatever’s beyond. Once she’s done that, she can lean closer to the Toni Storm we know from everywhere else, and unsteadily maintain the championship in the face of a division growing to meet her level.
Best/Worst: Pete Dunne Vs. Coffee Coffey
Finally we have the main event, in which Pete Dunne should earn some kind of creator grant for wrestling Joe Coffey for 35 minutes and keeping us invested in most of it. It’s certainly far from a perfect match — I’m not sure Coffey is believable enough as a threat to the championship to necessitate this epic of a match structure, nor can I see him wrestle for even a second without thinking he’s Hugh Morrus — but Dunne is kind of a wizard at adapting to his opponent’s style while still being able to work them through a creative and entertaining match.
The sad thing is that they blew what you could assume was the finish of the match twice in a row. The first time they go up to the top rope, Coffey goes falling off the back to the floor and Dunne tumbles into the ring. The second time, they BOTH fall off into the floor. I’m guessing the finish was some kind of reversal into an arm-bar off the top, or maybe a top rope Bitter End, but they couldn’t make it work and had to end with the signature Dunne Thigh Smother and Pinkie Murder.
This was good, and bordered on very good for a lot of it, but I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest they could’ve cut 10, or maybe even 20, minutes and accomplished the same story tell. Especially if the payoff is WALTER, and WALTER just non-chalantly booting Coffey into oblivion as an afterthought. I didn’t think it vibed very well with the whole “battled as equals for almost 40 minutes” thing.
Best: The Shape Of WALTER
If you aren’t familiar with WALTER, imagine that Officer Rod Farva was a 6-foot-4, 300-pound Austrian man who will chop you the fuck to death. While opinions vary on how impressive it is to hold a championship for 600 days when the brand didn’t exist for the first eight months of your run, it’s great that we finally have someone positioned to really, honestly threaten Dunne’s United Kingdom Championship, and that we have an instantly believable foil for him. There’s a marked difference in someone like WALTER and someone like Joe Coffey or Eddie Dennis, and I think everyone involved realizes it.
Dunne vs. WALTER is going to rip, and I can’t wait.
All in all, this is the kind of show NXT UK needed, and if they were going to do a TakeOver this early into the promotion’s existence, I’d almost rather them have started with this show and launched weekly TV from there. Hopefully this’ll be a turning point for the brand, and they’ll continue to try to have their own vibe and presentation and rhythm, and not feel so much like the NXT Performance Center cramming a bunch of square pegs into a bunch of circular holes.