Last time in the last Best and Worst of NXT UK: Cesaro declared his intentions to come to TakeOver, the tag team contenders and champions brawled, and bunch of stuff happened that had nothing to do with TakeOver. 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.
And now, the Best and Worst of NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff:
Worst, But Not That Bad: Caught Beneath A Landslide
Here’s the part where I say that Travis and Noam are both great wrestlers who can really go in the ring, and this match was certainly an example, in the abstract, of a quality wrestling match. But this is an NXT TakeOver card, UK or not, and it takes more than quality wrestling to stand out on a card of this caliber. I mean, the rest of the card is three title matches (two of them with dramatic title changes, and the third with the most drama of all), a surprise bout between two European comic book characters, and two large men trying to murder each other with every object they can find. So to have Dar and Banks wrestling just to wrestle, just because the story is that Dar is guaranteed a TakeOver match by his contract, doesn’t really do much for me.
And speaking of Noam Dar’s contract, hopefully that story pays off in the next TakeOver, because it sure didn’t here. With super-heel Dar going around bragging for a month that he’s contractually guaranteed TakeOver glory, I figured he’d at least get humiliated in the match if it didn’t somehow get taken away from him at the last minute. But no, he just got to have a pretty good match at TakeOver, which he won. I guess we’ll revisit the contract storyline later, then.
Best: Swing Daddy Swing
Remember Cesaro? The Cesaro who had baller matches with Sami Zayn in NXT? The guy who we nicknamed after Superman because he’s not only built like Superman, he moves almost as fast and hits almost as hard. Cesaro has been one of the “he could be so much more” guys of WWE for years now. He’s the King of those guys, with his former rival Sami as his Hand. This match? Even with no build whatsoever beyond “Cesaro’s here and he wants to fight somebody,” this match was a glimpse of the Cesaro that could have been, a Cesaro that perhaps still could be. Not just Cesaro the king, but Cesaro the kingmaker.
I’ve wrestled with the weirdness of Ilja Dragunov in these columns since he joined NXT UK. Not just his own weirdness of character, but the sense that he’s an odd fit on the roster, and that booking doesn’t have much of a place for him right now. Those things may still be true, but after this match with Cesaro, Dragunov seems like a star. Cesaro won of course, but it wasn’t easy, and both guys came out looking like a million bucks. I don’t know if Cesaro’s sticking around NXT UK at all (or if he’s coming back, rather, after losing to the Miz on Raw), but I’d love it if he does. There are so many more exciting matches he could have here. But even more importantly for the brand, this match made me excited to see what Ilja Dragunov does next too. Before this I would have said it was too soon, but honestly now if he wants to go ahead and take a run at WALTER while British Strong Style regroups, I’d be into that.
Best: The Boys Are Back In Town
Sometimes it all comes together and you can still just do the thing. Just build two nice young men as hardworking underdogs and tell a story about them overcoming. Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster had to fight just to get into this match, which was originally announced as a heel versus heel affair between the UK Tag Team Champions, a pair of English hooligans aptly called the Grizzled Young Veterans, and Gallus, a couple of rednecks from Scotland. It was a pretty intimidating field for two normally sized young Welshmen to dive into, but Mark and Flash were determined to fight for the gold on their native ground, and they didn’t just do it, they won.
At times it kind of felt like Gallus were extraneous to this match. Not that they didn’t do anything, it just never felt like they might win. This felt from beginning to end like a struggle between GYV and Our Heroes Andrews and Webster, with the big Scotsman just around to make things more dangerous. On the other hand, they were essential to the ending. Veterans James Drake and Zack Gibson were neither one ever hesitant to stop the other one from getting pinned, and they could have kept breaking pins all night if Gibson hadn’t sent Drake on a Suicide Dive mission to stop Gallus from getting involved when they thought Gibson had an easy pin on Webster, and that distance gave Andrews room to change the ending. And with Andrews hitting his Fall To Pieces press on both men and then switching their positions so that a stunned Webster was pinning Gibson instead, it certainly justifies the two-on-two rematch that the Grizzled Young Veterans will definitely ask for an receive. When Andrews and Webster win that match as well, they’ll look even better, but they may never be treated like bigger heroes than when they won the belts here, in their hometown, and celebrated with the ecstatic Welsh crowd.
Pretty Good: Last Ringrope Standing
The best part of this match, by a wide margin, was toward the beginning when Bomber Dave Mastiff hurled Joe Coffey into the corner and the turnbuckle fully snapped off the ringpost, bringing that whole side of the rope down and rubberbanding Joe back toward the middle of the ring. After that Dave took the unpadded metal turnbuckle (the part indie wrestlers get tattoos of) and put it in Joe’s mouth like a horse’s bit, pulling it back from behind to gruesome effect. That’s some Tully/Magnum level brutality and I’m here for it.
The rest of the match was a much more by-the-books Last Man Standing affair, but these guys are well-suited for it. As wrestlers go, Joe Coffey looks like he got his start in pub fights, and Dave Mastiff looks like the best hand-to-hand combatant the Dwarfen Kingdom of Svartalfheim has ever seen. Especially after the build-up to this match, where Dave just refused to back down in the face of the Coffeys and Gallus, this was a choice that makes sense. But at the end of the day, you’re just going to see a lot of the same spots we get every time: Hitting each other with stuff (although cricket bat added a nice touch of Britishness), going through tables, and falling from high places.
I did like the ending, where both guys were leaning against those wheeled production boxes as they dragged themselves to their feet, and then Joe just kicked Dave’s box, so he fell to the floor as the ref finished the ten-count and declared Joe the winner. I don’t know where these guys go next, but if the Bomber wants to have a hardcore match of some kind at every TakeOver, I’m probably good with that.
Best: The North Remembers
This match grew perfectly out of the storyline that led to it. Being her former best friend, Kay Lee Ray did a masterful job of manipulating Toni Storm’s emotions and putting her in a very dark place. Of course that means KLR took a bit of a beating in this match, but she came in ready for that. Because the Toni Storm who wants to beat up her ex-bff for hurting her feelings is not the Toni Storm that wins matches. Certainly not the Toni who became NXT Champion back in January. In a sporting, “let’s prove ourselves” pro wrestling match, you’re going to have a hard time beating Toni Storm. But in a brutal, “I want to hurt you because I’m mad” fight, Kay Lee Ray suddenly has the upper hand. That’s not to say that she’s not a great wrestler too — quite the opposite — it’s just that Kay Lee’s more adept at channeling her worst impulses into her wrestling. That’s where she lives, and Toni’s just visiting.
I do wish they’d gotten to fight for longer. They had plenty of story to support it, and we know they can both go at length. This was the shortest match on the card, shorter even than the surprise match, and there’s just no reason for that to be the women’s wrestling situation when you have talents like KLR and Toni. That said, I didn’t mind how it ended, although the live crowd seemed take aback that it was over. KLR hitting her finisher twice in quick succession really highlighted the level of brutality she’s comfortable with, especially since that first Gory Bomb sent Toni down onto the ropes, and then the second one planted her on the mat for a pin.
I’m pretty excited to have Kay Lee Ray as our new UK Women’s Champ. Obviously I’m biased because I’m a big fan of hers, but I think there’s a lot of stories to be told with her at the top. Since she’s not as physically dominant as Rhea Ripley, someone like Xia Brookside has a lot more potential to take a believably competitive run at the belt. Plus Tegan Knox is back, and she seems like a fantastic rival for KLR. Not to mention Piper Niven, who’s the equivalent of three or four KLRs, and will definitely come for that Title sooner or later.
Best: Clever Jack And The Giant
This match was magical. I don’t even want to describe any of the specific spots (not that that’s my usual style anyway) because you really need to go watch it yourself. WALTER is a monster. We all know that. A guy like Tyler Bate, who’s very muscular but so short that Vince McMahon doesn’t even know his name, has no business in the ring with somebody WALTER’s size. But he did it here anyway, because he had to. Because WALTER and his cadre of track-suited jerks beat him up just for fun, and then beat up his best friend just to show that they could. Tyler, along with Trent and Pete, were representing UK wrestling in WWE before this show even existed. This is their playground, and Imperium has made it not fun anymore. Something had to be done, and Tyler Bate was the only one left who could do it. So he did, and even though he lost, he came out as a hero.
I saw somebody say there were too many “feats of strength” in this match. Too many moments when Bate was able to physically lift or otherwise manipulate his much larger opponent. Personally, I can’t say there were too many, because I enjoyed every one of them. At its core this was one of those matches where the babyface just keeps getting up long past when it seems like they should be able to, but getting up wasn’t enough for Tyler Bate. 35 minutes into this 40 minute match, Tyler wasn’t just overcoming his exhaustion enough to kick out and stand up. He was still lifting WALTER off the mat, like Spider-Man lifting half a building so he can go save Aunt May.
This match got me. I was mad when Tyler lost, viscerally mad, and I’m usually too meta-minded/slash/cynical to just full get worked like that. But as happy as I would have been if Tyler had regained the UK Championship, this match was still spectacular. I hope Tyler gets a rematch at some point, but after his moving curtain call with Trent Seven and Pete Dunne I’ll be fine if they go somewhere else too. I want to see WALTER get his, but I know that’s how I’m supposed to feel about a bad guy like him, and when the booking is this good, it gives me faith that this story will pay off in the biggest and best possible way, even if I’m not sure what that is yet.
Epilogue: The Pre-Show Matches (Aired Post-Show)
As is standard with TakeOver, the kickoff matches aired in place of a regular NXT UK episode in their standard time slot. The first was Rhea Ripley versus Piper Niven, and it was great. Piper is extremely over with this crowd, and comes off as a superstar on TV as well. I can’t help but want all the best things for her. Rhea Ripley is a star in her own right, and with the addition of red leather to her black leather ensemble, it really feels like she’s finally found her signature look.
The beginning of the match was the fastest moving, most energetic lockup I think I’ve ever seen, and things only got more aggressive from there. At one point Rhea tried to get Piper into a Steiner Recliner sort of hold, but once she realized she wasn’t going to be able to lock it in, she just slammed Piper down onto the mat and stomped on her instead. I think that’s the epitome of Rhea Ripley. She wants to be a great wrestler, but at the end of the day she’ll choose hurting people over technical wrestling wizardry. This match absolutely should have been on the main TakeOver card in place of Dar/Banks. Not because I’m an SJW feminist who demands a certain quota of women’s wrestling on every show (although I might be), but because it’s better. That’s just a fact.
The other match was supposed to be an exhibition between Jack Gallagher and Kassius Ohno, but Gentleman Jack couldn’t make it, so General Manager Johnny Saint told Assistant To The General Manager Sid Scala to wrestle Ohno himself, and Sid stepped up and did it. Ohno won without too much trouble, as he should since Scala isn’t a full-time wrestler or the son of Vince McMahon, but it was cool to see Sid kind of hold his own. I don’t know if this points to more of Sid wrestling or if it’s really just a one-time thing, but after seeing how he came off here, I’m up for either one.
That’s all for this installment. Join me next week, when the Grizzled Young Veterans get their rematch against Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews for the Tag Team Titles, and Tegan Nox returns to action in her NXT UK debut!