Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT UK: Rhea Ripley nearly paralyzed Toni Storm en route to becoming the first NXT UK Women’s Champion, backstage interview correspondent Radzi suddenly got a lot shorter during promos, and Trent Seven was the victim of the most hilariously fake backstage attack you’ve ever seen.
Note: We’re still a little behind on these thanks to WWE taping 1,400 episodes and airing them all at once, but we’re catching up.
And now, the catch-up edition of the Best and Worst of NXT UK, covering episodes thirteen through sixteen, originally aired on December 5 and December 12, 2018.
Best: Fabian, Turn Me Loose
Up first for episode thirteen is the best match from the entire batch, for me: pop-punk Sami Zayn Mark Andrews versus the debuting (for NXT UK) Fabian Aichner. They can’t decide if they want to say his name as “Ache-ner” or “Aik-ner,” but people are still saying “Nie-omi” instead of “Naomi,” so whatever. You may remember Aichner from his unexpectedly fantastic appearance in the Cruiserweight Classic or as an infrequently appearing enhancement talent on NXT Domestic, but he recently held the EVOLVE Championship during NXT’s weird take-over — not like that — so they clearly have plans for him.
We’ve previously described Aichner as a Bond villain and kind of a “compact Cesaro,” and it remains hard to put him into words. That’s a good thing. Imagine if any of those nameless bald muscular guys WWE hired between 2005 and like 2012 could work, and do double-jump moonsaults for some reason. That’s Fabian Aichner. He looks like a total NPC, an unfinished create-a-wrestler, but he’s dope, and on NXT where Eddie Dennis is the Great Khali, a 6-foot-tall guy with muscles is the King Of The World.
My favorite thing about the match is that Aichner starts off doing the “I’m here for COMPETITION and to MAKE AN IMPACT” bullshit literally everyone in the company does, but when Andrews starts looking like he might win, Aichner panics and just goes buckwild on him. He throws him into the steps, running knees him into the steps again, then quickly dumps him into the ring and finishes him with a ga-RUESOME spinning powerbomb, DDP-style. He plants his little Yellowcard ass so hard neither one of them knows what to do with it, look:
It’s great. I hope Aichner doesn’t lose to a smaller, less physically impressive guy in a couple of episodes or anything!
Best: I Knew I’d Heard Nina Samuels Entrance Theme Somewhere Before
This seems like a good time for a drink, and a cold calculated speech with sinister overtones. A speech about politics, about order, brotherhood, power. But speeches are for campaigning. Now is the time for women’s division action!
Worst: How Nigel Says Travis Banks’ Nickname
Two fun naming notes:
- at the top of the episode, the Lupine Fiasco trio of Joe Coffey, Other Coffey, and Wolfgang officially name themselves, “Gallus,” which means [checks notes] “the Latin word for an inhabitant of Gaul.” In Scottish slang it means “stylish and impressive,” but it also apparently means “cock, or rooster,” so yeah, this team’s name is Cock.
- they’re confronted by a returning Travis Banks, who is the “Kiwi Buzzsaw.” Only when Nigel McGuinness says it in his monotone talk-shout he says “buzz-sawr,” so it sounds like he’s calling him the “Kiwi butt sore”
So the stage is set: on the next episode, it’ll be cock versus the butt sore!
Note: If you’re not familiar with him, NXT UK Travis Banks is a real Bobby Roode situation. He’s good at what he does, but right now he’s a heel in PROGRESS, and in ATTACK! Pro Wrestling he’s got a “stupid sexy” gimmick where he wears mesh shirts and booty dances on people. So making him another “he hits hard and knows some submissions, but from THIS country” guy is not necessarily playing to his strengths.
Worst: Speaking Of People Whose Name Nigel Says Funny
Tucker, the Man and his Recently Released Dream, pronounced “TAKAH!” in Nigel’s perma-yell, faces off against 6-foot-5 colossus Eddie Dennis. Dennis’ role on the show so far has been to defeat the promotion’s least important and shortest men, so it’s more of the same. He finishes him in part with his Razor’s Edge buckle bomb, which he calls the “Severn Bridge,” because if you’ve forgotten, every move in NXT UK has a name, and it’s either an unrelated location or an extremely lazy pun. And it doesn’t have anything to do with Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn, unfortunately. But hey, if he’s gonna keep using the Severn Bridge, he should make his entrance theme Severn Bridges Road.
Dennis returns in this episode to interrupt a Dave Mastiff interview and challenge him to a match, setting up an Easily Resistable Force vs. Moveable Object battle for next week. I appreciate how swiftly NXT UK works to set shit up for the next episode, but Dennis needs to remember that in the history of wrestling monsters, “very fat but with hustle” trumps “moderately tall.”
Best: Pete Meets Joan
My favorite part of this episode is the announcement that since NXT Grandpa Johnny Saint can’t keep order alone, he’s appointed enhancement talent and top Sterling Cooper & Partners salesman Sid Scala to be the Assistant To The General Manager, Gareth Keenan style.
Scala’s immediately accosted by new NXT UK Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley, who is twice his size and demanding competition. Sid promises that they’re working hard to get her the best possible competition, so she pinches his cheeks. Literally the only thing keeping Rhea Ripley from being my favorite wrestler is that she cuts. promos. like she’s been told to. at the W. W. E. Performance. Center. The old. Charlotte. Flair thing. Where. You put too many periods. In, your sentences. By the time she gets to saying the promotion’s name you’ve gotta block two minutes out of your day. Just talk! You’re good at it!
Best-Ish: Devlin Really Shoulda Murdered This Guy
Jordan Devlin rebounds from his competitive loss to Pete Dunne by getting a somehow equally competitive win over Flash Morgan Webster, who I have not totally figured out yet. I love an innovative little guy, and I love an unconventional looking guy, but Webster just isn’t doing it for me. He makes Jack Gallagher look like Mason Ryan. The talk about how cool and innovative he is is hampered by the fact that the only really “innovative” stuff he’s done in NXT UK matches so far is avoid or hit moves in slightly different ways from everyone else, and are you really that innovative if your big move is an armdrag where your opponent has to hold you up in the air before selling it?
Just to reiterate if you’re new to the column or think that’s too severe a condemnation of the performer, I’m new to most of these guys, and I’m trying to judge them based (mostly) on what I see on the episodes. Webster seems like a good wrestler and a valuable hand, and I’m not taking anything away from him personally, he’s just in there with Also Finn Bálor, and I’m not sure anyone in the world should have mostly the same trouble wrestling him as they do Pete Dunne.
Still, it’s a decently structured match. Devlin’s good at playing a P.O.S., and Morgan’s certainly a scrappy underdog babyface. It never really picks up, though, and the distance between the top guys in the promotion and everyone else is starting to show.
Episode 14 is easily the worst episode of NXT UK so far, and feels like a hastily thrown-together clip show of whatever they’d taped during episodes 1-13 but hadn’t aired yet.
Worst: Joseph Conners
NXT’s most boring character in a walk has to be Joseph Conners. He defeats Damn Bolonga in a couple of minutes on episode 14 and Jack Starz in a couple of minutes on episode 16, and both of them feel like they’re 20 minutes long. Conners is absolutely the TJ Perkins of the company, where he’s ended up on an actual televised WWE roster in a featured role because you’ve hired literally everyone and can’t just have your two best guys out there for an hour every week.
The NXT UK roster feels like NXT during one of those post-Takeover transitional periods, where the top stars all just got called up and you’re trying to build a division out of, like, Aliyah and Sawyer Fulton, but the entire time.
Worst: Hey Look, It’s My Two Least Favorites!
Also in this episode, El Generico with a child’s swim-floatie on his head takes on Frankie Flank Steak in a battle of who could care less.
With not a lot of effort being put into character development beyond giving everyone nicknames and wacky names for the moves, NXT UK’s stuck with matches like this, where [Insert Babyface Here] has a competitive match against [Insert Heel Here], and they go through the motions of learning how to wrestle on TV until one of them hits [Underwhelming Move] to win. Tyson T-Bone seems like a perfectly fine wrestler who’s never had anyone tell him “don’t call yourself Tyson T-bone” or “don’t wrestle in cargo pants, it’s 2018,” but I still can’t figure out what anyone sees in Ligero. If you put Natalya in Psicosis’ gear, you get Ligero. His gimmick’s not original, he’s not even doing the gimmick since everyone’s just like “he’s from Leeds, lol,” and even his name is derivative of a better guy he watched growing up.
Super flat, super nothing. Send Sami Zayn over to NXT UK for the weekend to shit on Ligero and future endeavor him back to an indie where they’ll think the gimmick is fun and at least try to do something entertaining with it. “Guy you’re supposed to cheer for just because” ain’t cutting it.
Worst: Flossed In Translation
Rhea Ripley gets to handpick an opponent for her first defense of the NXT UK Women’s Championship, so instead of her picking someone who can have an actual match with her and add some prestige to the new title, she does the heel thing of picking a can and then getting *super surprised* when the can gets mild offense. That can? CANDY FLOSS, who Nigel McGuinness explains for us North American types:
That … still doesn’t explain a lot, but hey, she’s named Cotton Candy and looks like a thing of cotton candy. What, was Xia Brookside busy? In the UK (or Australia) if you start wrestling before you’re 20 is your only gimmick choice “idk I’m just kind of a DORK, check out my Tumblr,” and then when you turn 20 you have to be Mad Max? Anyway, please enjoy her Jumpin’ Jeff Farmer-esque post-match interview where she says that the next time she’s in NXT UK she’s “gonna be a lot more stronger.” I guess the jump from Candy Floss to Isla Dawn’s not that wide a chasm.
Worst: Can We Swap Wolfgang And Dave Mastiff?
The main event of the episode is Travis Banks defeating Wolfgang of Goofus, and while it’s a perfectly fine match, I can’t help but wonder how Wolfgang of all people keeps main-eventing these shows when Dave Mastiff is right there.
Mastiff gets a fun squash win over Kevin Sullivan and Chris Benoit’s love child “Wild Boar” Mike Hitchman earlier in the night en route to his HOSS vs. NORMAL PERSON showdown with Eddie Dennis, and yeah, think about how much better this would’ve been if they’d just run Travis Banks vs. Mastiff. There’s nothing Mastiff’s doing I haven’t seen Keith Lee do ten times better, but shit, he’s at least got a vibe and a Great Value Vader singlet and some fun-to-watch signature moves. Wolfgang is a character from WCW World Tour that nobody uses.
Just So I Don’t Dump On The Entire Episode
There are two things that (unintentionally) made me laugh out loud.
1. Johnny Saint
NXT Grandpa is so funny. He has maybe his best moment yet (not counting his awesome Michael Keaton Batman head-turn when he’s standing backstage and realizes Radzi’s trying to interview him) when he breaks up a parking lot dispute between Gallus and Mustache Mountain by standing between them and shouting,
DO AS I TELL YOU!
AWAY WITH YOU!
It makes five wrestlers and a handful of security go silent INSTANTLY and ends the dispute. It’s like Gandalf showed up to tell the Balrog it shall not pass. I’m surprised he didn’t book Wolfgang into next week’s main event against the Flame of Udûn.
2. Where is tall man, where is tall man?
Here I am!
Shout-out to the first year film student filming NXT UK who let him build a scene around a dramatic rack focus. They should’ve had Eddie Dennis’ internal monologue do a voice-over. “He says he’s going straight to the top … but first, he’ll have to go through me! Which is hard, because I wear a size 10 shoe!”
Worst: Okay, Yeah, Isla Dawn
Three major problems with Isla Dawn, as I see it so far:
1. The wrestling’s just not very good. In both her win over Nina Samuels in episode 13 and her win over Killer Kelly in episode 15, we see that NXT UK’s trying very hard to build her as a competitor for Rhea Ripley, but she just doesn’t seem to have it. She’s supposed to be this hard-hitting kickboxer, but in a WWE Universe with Asuka and Shayna Baszler and plenty of other people laying in their offense and making it look great, there’s no place for big lazy CM Punk style roundhouse kicks masquerading as “martial arts.” You can tell she learned how to do Aleister Black’s moves, but learning how to do something and being able to do it well are two different things. I don’t think she’s a bad wrestler, but slow kicks and a hip-toss finisher aren’t doing a lot to make her seem special.
2. She’s still not doing anything witchy. She’s the “white witch” of NXT, but the only things she’s done with the gimmick are mention “the goddess” in interviews, and that one vignette where they added some special effects to the background while she walked around in front of a green screen. WRESTLING WITCH is something that can be weird and fun. Give me Mama Shango already, or if you don’t want to be goofy and stereotypical, at least explain what the hell she’s talking about as it relates to her wrestling character and don’t just say “she’s a witch” while we watch her do hip-tosses in a one-piece.
3. She has Hanging Tongue Syndrome. Whether she’s wrestling (see above), talking, or preparing for a post match interview, she’s always fighting a battle to keep her tongue in her mouth. Not overly shading someone for having an overbite or anything, but NXT UK keeps putting her in these spots where she’s gotta talk on the fly after she’s wrestled, and it just ends up looking like this:
A big bruiser Australian Mad Max type versus a Scottish witch should rule, you know? Instead, they’re so focused on everyone having the exact correct WWE television presentation that it’s “slow, word, sayer?” against a lady who can’t stop biting her own tongue.
Best/Worst: Killer Kelly’s Mouthpiece
While We’re Talking About Weird Production Choices:
The NXT Tag Team Championship belts get announced and revealed via this video recap of a segment that actually never aired on NXT UK TV. That’s just super weird to me. It’s like the Clerks cartoon or that one episode of Community where they do clip shows with “clips” from shows we never saw. I guess since they announced the belts on social media before the first episode had even aired it’s old news and we have seen it, it just … probably should’ve been a segment on the show? Probably?
Anyway, I’ve been calling them the Spaghetti Dinner titles for months, because look at them:
Give them to Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan, you cowards.
What: Aichner Loses Already
Episode 15 quickly gets back on track with a Fabian Aichner vs. Flash Morgan Webster opener which sees … [checks notes] [squints] [checks to make sure these are the correct notes] [checks to make sure we’re still doing the “checks notes” joke] [we aren’t] [squints again] Webster defeat Aichner via Whoopsie. Huh. Okay.
This is upsetting more from a personal preference as a fan point of view, as I think Fabian Aichner kinda-sorta rules and should immediately be the third or fourth most important guy on the show. It’s strange to see him show up, kick Mark Andrews’ ass, and then immediately lose to Andrews’ less threatening tag team partner via slipping on a banana peel and tumbling down a flight of steps. From a “guy who writes about wrestling on the internet” point of view, though, I get it. It gets Aichner involved in the actual universe of characters, shows that he can win or loses matches without a lot of unnecessary fanfare, and avoids making him another “unstoppable monster who pins guys who shouldn’t even be in the ring” in a promotion that’s already got too many of those running concurrently.
I like that the finish called back to the match with Andrews, only this time with Andrews being there to prevent it, allowing his tag team partner to capitalize on Aichner being thrown off his gameplan and score a flash (cough) pin. This is a much better example of Webster’s talent, as he plays a great combination of Spike Dudley and early NXT Alexa Bliss with his combination of having more guts than brains and a +5 in roll-ups. Not too worried about Aichner, since he looked like the star of the match even while taking a loss, and it took two guys to beat him.
Best: Refocusing On The Better Characters And Performers
One of the best things about NXT Domestic is that they have a deep roster of talent but only an hour a week of television, so you’ll go a week or two without seeing an important character, and it doesn’t hurt anyone. It helps them, honestly, because it’s hard to get tired of seeing NXT characters. You can get tired of someone like Seth Rollins, who is one of the best workers in the world, on a single 3-hour episode of Raw. NXT UK has a similar but opposite problem: they only have an hour of TV every week but their roster goes from “great” to “fine for a local promotion” pretty quickly, so if you go a week or two without seeing one of the top names, the show suffers.
This week’s show gets a lot better because we get a lot of the top names back, from Liverpool’s #1 Zack Gibson and his tag team partner Monsieur Mayhem, to at least one member of Mustache Mountain. The NXT Tag Team Championship tournament looks like it’s going to work a lot like the Cruiserweight and Mae Young Classics, where the second and third round bouts are the good ones, because the first round gets packed with easy wins.
The Grizzled Young Vets get one of those against Kenny Williams and Amir Jordan via a very important thing for modern heels on wrestling shows: they win cleanly because they’re being ruthless and opportunistic and smart, and not because they cheated. It’s almost impossible to buy heels these days if they put their feet on the ropes or hold the tights all the time, or win via fuck-ups and luck, because they never seem like a threat. A heel has to be GOOD in addition to being “a heel” if they’re going to be worth anything. Gibson and Drake win because they isolated Williams and ran up on him with the Damned Numbers Game® until they were able to win with the Knacker Machine.
Good stuff. And as a reminder, Kenny Williams is gonna be great when he stops pretending to be KUSHIDA.
The main event plays out similarly, with the build to Gallus vs. British Strong Style continuing by giving Gallus’ best guy (Joe Coffey) a ruthless win over British Strongstyle’s “worst” guy (Trent Seven), with worst in quotes so you know I’m not saying he’s bad, it’s just hard to be even the second best guy in a three-man faction with Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate. Seven is SPECTACULAR as a babyface because he’s so normal and identifiable, which is crucial for not only British Strong Style but Mustache Mountain. Tyler Bate is awesome, but he’s clearly not a normal person. He’s like three feet tall and could throw a bus into space. Pete Dunne is a beautiful ugly man who can kill you by smothering you with his thighs and ripping off your pinkie. Seven’s just an average dude with an average build and an average everything, except he’s also really good at wrestling. It’s the Dusty Rhodes thing.
Seven’s vulnerability is what made those Mustache Mountain vs. Undisputed Era matches in NXT Domestic work so well, not only in the one where Bate throws in the towel, but in the followup where Seven’s forced to choose between “mothering” his best friend so he doesn’t get hurt, and trusting him to fight through it and BE special. I would pick British Strong Style to win over Gallus 100 out of 100 times, so having Seven take a loss and get attacked backstage and shit is a great way to build to a blowoff match and give Gallus some kind of believable entry point into a believable victory.
Isn’t it weird how this show is really good when the five or six really good people in the promotion are on? I think they’ll figure out how the roster works eventually, even if they have to keep sending over dudes they’ve previously poached (like Danny Burch) to even it out. Instead of NXT UK and NXT Germany, can we just throw WALTER and Alexander Wolfe and presumed general manager Alex Wright into a big NXT Europe or something?
And then, boop, back to episode 15. Let’s just burn through this one, since we’re already 3,500 words into our catch-up.
Eh: The other guys from Gallus, Mark Coffey and Main-Event Wolfgang, win another “TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE GLITTERING ON THE HORIZON, NIGEL, BUT WE’RE NOT SURE WHY THESE AREN’T TOURNAMENT MATCHES” match against the all-star squadron of Ligero and Stratford-Upon-Maven, Ashton Smith. We know the tournament finals are going to be Mustache Mountain and the Grizzled Young Veterans, and that’s not me looking up spoilers, that’s just me visually understanding that the show’s really only got two good tag teams.
Gallus wins to keep rolling on, and it’s pretty hard to have a heel faction in a promotion before they’ve figured out and introduced all the stuff the wrestlers are supposed to be fighting for.
Best: Jinny gets a strong win over Flossier Candy Xia Brookside, who is going to be an awesome women’s division babyface when she gets more experience and figures out what her character’s supposed to be. I like Jinny more than I actually like “Jinny,” if that makes sense. I like that she HAS a character, even if it’s just a vague “showing up to wrestle me in ugly clothes is an insult to fashion itself and I must punch you over it” thing, but I think it’d work a lot better if she didn’t wrestle in that ill-fitting gear. If you’re the fashion lady, you need the most boss gear on the show. It’s why Aliyah (not to weirdly namedrop her twice in one column) shows up in intricately designed new gear every time she shows up. Still, it’s good to see two women from the UK having a match in the NXT UK women’s division, which might as well be NXT Australia.
Best: Finally we have Baron Corbin vs. Bull Dempsey, which ends when Corbin … wait, sorry, this is actually Eddie Dennis vs. Dave Mastiff, and I apologize retroactively for putting Mastiff into an analogy as Bull Dempsey. This is a Monster vs. “Monster” battle that sees the end of glorious 14-foot tall Eddie Dennis’ undefeated streak, as for the first time he runs afoul of a guy who can at least bench the bar and gets his ass kicked. This is good for everyone, because Mastiff is clearly a better horse in the hoss race than Dennis, and now maybe Dennis can develop a character beyond “very tall” and serve a purpose on the show beyond me making jokes about how funny it is a normal sized guy is England’s King Of The Giants.
We hopefully get caught up with four more episodes from NXT UK’s backlog of 30 years of tapings, featuring:
- the debut of THIS Lucha Underground-looking motherfucker
- Rhea Ripley defending her championship against someone not named after carnival food
- just kidding, she faces Francis Funnelcake
- more build to the NXT Tag Team Championship tournament, which probably happens about 15 episodes from now, which means we’ll see it in two weeks
Thanks for putting up with us, we’re almost there!