Last time in the Best and Worst of NXT UK: It was Takeover: Cardiff II, the first NXT UK takeover at which no titles changed hands. 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 if you want.
And now, the Best and Worst of NXT UK from January 23, 2020.
We Demand To Be Taken Seriously
The show opens with Johnny Saint and Sid Scala presenting WALTER with the new NXT UK Championship, replacing his previous WWE UK Championship. It’s a real thing that had to happen (for branding reasons, and so probably they can refer to both WALTER and Kay Lee Ray as the NXT UK Champion), but it’s also a great chance for WALTER to cut a promo about how he’s proud to have his own title that’s never been sullied by former WWE UK Champions Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne.
That leads directly to the big guy addressing Undisputed Era’s attack on him and the rest of Imperium at Blackpool. Even though this is undeniably a heel-vs-heel feud, it works because UE really does embody exactly the stuff Imperium is against in wrestling. They’re little shitheads who don’t care about the sanctity of wrestling, they just care about winning and looking cool with their friends.
I’ve never been inclined to cheer for Imperium before, but honestly against Undisputed Era I find it hard not to. Sure, they’re jerks who want to homogenize wrestling, but at least they’re not obnoxious like Kyle O’Reilly playing his title like a guitar. Who does that?
Imperium also interrupts an interview with Kay Lee Ray (probably the worst thing they do in this episode) and get interrupted by South Wales Subculture in turn. Later in the show, Aichner and Barthel ask Saint and Scala for a match against Andrews and Webster, and are told they’re getting a trios match with Wolfe versus Andrews, Webster, and a partner of their choosing. I’m not sure who that will be, since Wolfe’s old nemesis Ilja appears to be feuding with Gallus now, but it ought to be a fun match regardless.
The Devil And The Man With Horns
Ligero isn’t my favorite guy on the UK roster, but as an opponent for Jordan Devlin to defeat on his way to an opportunity at the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, I have to admit he works pretty well. This isn’t a squash match by any means, but it’s obvious from moment one who’s winning, and it’s fun to watch him do it.
Ligero also helps get Jordan over as a heel just by having a mask that he can mess with and try to pull off. There’s no worse guy in pro wrestling than the guy who goes straight for the luchador’s mask. It’s one of wrestling’s ultimate asshole moves, so naturally Jordan Devlin’s all about it.
Wouldn’t it be great if Jordan Devlin won the Cruiserweight Championship and brought it back to the UK show just so he could lord it over everybody? I don’t think that’s going to happen, but for the record I do think it not happening is kind of a shame.
Under The Dragon’s Foot
Ilja Dragunov’s on his way to a fight with Finn Bálor on Saturday, so he gets a squash match against Josh Morrell, the ultimate NXT UK everyman. That’s going to be a really fun match, which Ilja is definitely not winning, but at least they’re trying to make us thing he might.
Honestly, seeing Finn and Ilja doing wrestling moves to each other will be great, but I’m equally looking forward to the two of them just pointing their tight, pale bodies at each other. If Bálor and Dragunov ever wanted to have a pose-off I’d be totally into that.
After the match, Gallus shows up to call Ilja out for injuring Joe Coffey’s knee at Blackpool and contributing to his loss against WALTER. It was a total accident, but Ilja did it, he knows he did it, and he’s not going to deny it. Also it looks like Gallus are pretty much heels again now that their feud with Imperium is over, and I think that’s a fine decision.
But what makes that choice more complex and interesting is that you think Joe Coffey’s going to promise to mess with Ilja’s match against Finn on Saturday, but instead he promises not to do that. Dragunov is representing NXT UK at Worlds Collide, and Coffey wants NXT UK to look good. It’s the brand his brother and their best friend are Tag Team Champions of, after all. But sometime after this weekend, when Ilja least expects it, Joe’s going to come for him. That’s good wrestling storytelling.
First Name ‘The’
I wish I could be one of those people. The kind of pure wrestling fan Imperium probably respects, who can be won over by great wrestling no matter who’s doing it in what context. I think those people probably enjoy WWE more than the rest of us these days, because they can be like “Sure Raw was a mess, but they randomly gave Ricochet and Buddy Murphy eight minutes and those guys killed it.” I’m not one of those people. I enjoy the matches and the athletic display, but at the end of the day I want a story that’s been built between characters I care about.
So when I hear “Travis Banks versus The Brian Kendrick in our main event” and I think “What is Kendrick doing main-eventing NXT UK? Hell, what is Banks doing main-eventing NXT UK for that matter?” it’s hard for me to clear thoughts like that out of my mind even if the match turns out to be objectively kind of a banger.
Admittedly, I wasn’t watching WWE during Kendrick’s original run, so to me he’s the guy who coached Eva Marie on Total Divas, came back for the Cruiserweight Classic, was on Raw for a while, and then kind of got forgotten. And Travis Banks is a guy who’s had some solid matches in NXT UK, but comes off as pretty generic most of the time and has never quite differentiated himself from the field of smallish white guys with short hair and thin beards that make up half of this brand.
So the point is that this was a very good wrestling match, and I didn’t really care about it. And that makes me feel guilty, because it’s my job to recap this show for you, and I want to do it justice. So let’s compromise, WWE UK. I’ll work on being more open to random good matches without much story behind them. And in return, the next time you want to send a Cruiserweight over to lose to a UK guy, make it Akira Tozawa. That guy rules.
That’s all for this installment. Join me next week when Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch return to UK for a match with the Hunt, and hopefully there’s a women’s match too.