Sports

NXT UK Returned With A Small Show That Sets Up Big Things

NXT UK is finally back. After five and a half months of running clip shows because they had no taping plan amid the pandemic, they’re doing audience-free shows from the BT Sports studio in London, and while it’s no Thunderdome, it looks pretty good. Obviously we’ll miss the ballroom ceilings and singing fans for a while to come, but at least the show is happening again.

Their relaunch episode wasn’t a big extravaganza, which took me by surprise at first, but makes sense on reflection. NXT UK is returning with no momentum whatsoever, and they need a little time to set some things up and get all the pieces running. So this episode felt relatively minor, but it set up one big match, and another important segment for next week, as well as re-starting a bunch of storylines for down the road. Of course I’m laying this out like NXT UK is on its way back to the top, when we all know that almost nobody watches this show. For the record, I still maintain that more people should, because it’s a very good wrestling show.

Ilja Dragunov started the show, reminding Sid Scala and the rest of us that he earned a shot at the NXT UK Championship right before quarantine, and he’s ready for that match anytime now. Then Noam Dar showed up with big quarantine hair, and they set up a match for the main event.

When that match came around, it turned out to be really good, which was no big surprise from these two. Ilja Dragunov brings a bananas intensity that makes him seem simultaneously heroic and unhinged. Noam Dar, of course, is great at both wrestling and coming off like an absolute dirtbag, which some would say is part of wrestling.

The actual first match on the episode featured tag team champions Gallus (seemingly a two-man team for now, with only one remaining Coffey) vs. Kenny Williams and Amir Jordan. It was a perfectly cromulent match, but several minutes into the Face In Peril sequence featuring Jordan, I did find myself wondering it this was the thing to relaunch with.

But then, after Gallus inevitably won the match, the rest of the tag team division came out and they all sort stand around sizing each other up from a distance. South Wales Subculture is there, as well as Ashton Smith and Oliver Carter, Pretty Deadly, and the Hunt. Even Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner, the half of Imperium that’s currently trapped in Florida, show up on a screen. The Grizzled Young Veterans are noticeably missing, but even without them, this is an excellent reminder of how strong the tag team wrestling is on this brand.

The only other match on the card was Isla Dawn vs. Aoife Valkyrie. Valkyrie is definitely somebody they’re setting up for a push, and I get it. She’s a got a great look and she’s very good in the ring. Of course, that means Isla Dawn is still being used as enhancement talent, but I guess it’s a job somebody’s alway got to do.

In more immediate women’s division news, we get an in-ring confrontation between NXT UK Women’s champion Kay Lee Ray, and number one contender Piper Niven. Piper reminded KLR how many times she’s beaten her in Japan and elsewhere, and Kay Lee seemed a bit shaken despite her tough demeanor. Whatever else goes on next week, that much is going to be a must-see.

Over in the men’s division, there’s going to be a tournament for a “Heritage Cup,” which will be contested and British rules similar to the match Kassius Ohno had with Sid Scala some months back. So that should be really fun. Next week, Pete Dunne will be on the show to help with the drawing that sets up the order of the tournament matches. As for the tournament itself, it’s going to feature A-Kid, Noam Dar, Flash Morgan Webster, Alexander Wolfe, Dave Mastiff, Joseph Connors, and Trent Seven, so it looks pretty strong.

With this new reality of wrestling coverage here at Uproxx, I’m not sure if I’ll be recapping every episode of NXT UK going forward. But I’ll definitely keep watching and let you know when anything really cool happens.

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