Ever since it was announced that the WWE would be coming back to the UK for it’s second United Kingdom Championship Tournament there has been a lot of debate about what this meant for the future of the division. The announcement that it would also mean the first WWE event at the legendary Royal Albert Hall for over 25 years gave it some early prestige. The original tournament being held in Blackpool, a town that has quite the history when it comes to Wrestling in Britain and the home of WWE legend William Regal was a great start for the new WWE UK division but coming to the capital and one of it’s most historic venues really does feel like a step up. The Royal Albert Hall has played a huge role in the history of British Wrestling and was once the pinnacle for British Wrestlers.
As fans arrived at the venue most were taken back by it’s sheer grandeur, there was an interesting buzz around as the England national football team were just about to kick off their World Cup campaign, something that I am sure played a fairly significant role in the company announcing that Triple H and Shawn Michaels would be appearing. I made sure to cram in as many minutes of game time as possible at the pub before rushing back to the venue to catch the start of the show and I noticed others doing the same.
The first match was a dark match featuring Jospeh Connors and Amir Jordan, both who had been eliminated from the UK Tournament in the build up to the Royal Albert Hall shows so it was good to see them get their moment at the historic venue as well. The “Bhangra Bad Boy” really won the crowd over early and spirits were high as fans cheered him on and danced to his theme music after he picked up the win over Connors. The show officially started not long after with the usual WWE hype and close up shots of announcers Mauro Ranallo and England’s own Nigel McGuiness to kick off the taping that will air one week after the show has taken place on the WWE Network.
Jack Gallagher faced off against Zack Gibson in a quarterfinal opener that saw the start of a theme for the night which was the crowd humorously chanting against the Liverpool native. Gallagher being the wrestler that has been on the roster the longest out of all the tournament’s contestants meant the most familiar face prior to last years tournament got the show under way with a sense of familiarity for those who aren’t as knowledgable of the British scene and even WWE’s previous UK branded events. Gallagher hit a beautiful hard hitting suplex but it was Gibson who picked up the win in an entertaining match that cemented him as the tournament’s favourite early on after beating arguably to companies most high profile active British Wrestler when it comes to main roster experience.
Next up was a match that was probably the one fans were least looking forward to and a noticeable amount of the audience saw it as a good time to get a drink or go to the toilet, but once the two big men of Joe Coffey and Dave Mastiff got going it put butts back in seats even though the early parts of the match started off a little sluggish. Mastiff and Coffey traded shoulder tackles and really put the work in to make a name for themselves on such a stage. To my surprise it was Joe Coffey who ended up picking up the win and moving onto the semifinals.
Flash Gordon Webster faced off against Jordan Devlin next and they did well to work on the dynamic of their characters. Webster’s Modfather character was well received and Devlin continued to be hated by the fans after the heat he picked up from previous WWE UK events. It’s clear that WWE see potential in the Irishman and it’s refreshing to see that they aren’t rushing things with the Balor trainee. He’s currently rebelling against Finn and the inevitable comparisons to him which I think is a good idea to use that storyline early on and shake it as quick as possible so that he can shine on his own further down the road. It would be good if Devlin changed his look though as it’s another thing that doesn’t help disconnecting him from Balor as they happen to look similar and chants of “You’re just a shit Finn Balor” continue to surround him. They’re all well and good for now and great for Devlin to act more heelish in reaction to them but they’re not something the company will want chanted once they do try to build Devlin up more prominently away from his Balor connection. Once again we saw a shock result in this one as the underdog both in fans minds and played to in the match came out on top. It’s another example of great character work as well, getting to see a character based around a uniquely British subculture makes it feel more genuine, just like last year when we saw the “Wavey” Roy Johnson and Tyson T-Bone get the limelight.
The last quarterfinal saw the Kiwi Buzzsaw take on Ashton Smith in a quick and to the point match. The crowd were hugely behind the New Zealand born Travis Banks who has been taking the UK by storm in recent years, climbing the ranks high enough to catch the attention of the WWE who could have something special on their hands here – especially since their last import from NZ were the Bushwackers! It was a match that served a purpose and thankfully was not too long as it felt like fans were starting to get tired of the quarterfinal round. Smith may not have won the match or become the clear focus going ahead but he definitely used his time on the show well to hopefully get another shot at moving up the ranks in the future.
Something that appears to have already been scrapped from the show is the original plan for the women’s match after an injury forced the WWE to cancel the match just minutes after it began. Toni Storm, Jinny, Isla Dawn and Killer Kelly kicked off a Fatal-4-Way that fans were very hyped for until Jinny got injured from a dive out of the ring performed by Toni Storm. It was a real somber moment as fans in attendance waited to see how serious the injury was but thankfully Jinny was able to walk to the back, albeit with some help from medical staff. Triple H came out not long after the injury to reiterate just how much the performers are risking their bodies for our entertainment to which the crowd showed their appreciation with a roar of support for the injured Jinny. After Triple H was done talking the match would restart as a Triple Threat without the injured Jinny. Going by WWE promotional material it seems that the original match and injury will not be on the main show when it’s released online. As with all of the UK based matches it’s great as a Brit to watch the guys and girls that you have seen on the local scene get their big shot with a real sense of them being “one of our own”, so it really was a shame to see Jinny’s debut end like this and possibly be scraped. Hopefully she gets another chance soon and it works out for her.
As for Triple H’s involvement, he came out to announce the new NXT UK brand and a series of shows as well as the new General Manager for the brand Johnny Saint who joined him in making the announcement. The crowd let out a huge roar when the news was announced and it seems that WWE will be treating the brand sort of like a territory, which is something I spoke about with Tom on our Talk and Beans WWE UK “One year on” recap video. Triple H announced a number of shows throughout the UK that would serve as the first NXT UK tapings. The crowd also let out a huge chant of “We want ‘Mania”, making it known to the C.O.O to which he likened to what he has to sometimes tell his children “You’ll get what you get and you won’t get upset”, which got a few laughs but hopefully also gave the company something to seriously think about.
The re-started women’s match seemed quite rushed and it’s understandable considering the delays the show had now experienced, but it was Toni Storm who came out on top and earned herself a number one contender spot to face NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Bazsler who herself made an appearance after the match for nice little stare down between the two.
Flash Morgan Webster saw his Tournament run come to an end after losing to Zack Gibson via submission in a match that saw the two really hype up the crowd. Once again Gibson got the bad side of the crowd as they continued to root against him and cheer on Webster. The scouser pulled out a great win after some back and forth which also included Gibson catching Webster on a suicide-dive and turning it into a spinning suplex.
The other semifinal saw Joe Coffey take on Travis Banks, it was good to see Coffey get the chance to work a different style of match than his previous and he really shone here. It was Travis Banks that picked up the win to head to the final but in similar fashion to last years antics from Pete Dunne, he mercilessly destroyed Banks afterwards leaving thoughts of “Will this effect Travis’ chances of winning the whole thing?”.
To break things up with the Tournament we were treated to the match that had been given the most hype leading up to these two events and that was the 6-Man Tag Team match between the Undisputed Era and British Strong Style. The crowd were so behind this match and it was definitely the highlight of the evening, delivering just like we knew it would. As always, I was overjoyed to see Kyle O’Reilly’s guitar strut and the crowd couldn’t wait to shout along to “Adam Cole Bay-Bay“. It was great to see the three British guys team up like they had done before and since the original UK Tournament whilst on the British and Indy scenes. It’s clear the WWE are onto a winner with all six of these guys as this match felt like one of your regular NXT TakeOver main events, it was great to see these guys do it together in the prime of their careers. Roderick Strong is really coming into his own as a heel and a member of the Undisputed Era and the love the fans have for each member of both teams was evident throughout this match, a match that was full of great spots and memorable moments such as Tyler Bate somehow spinning Adam Cole around on his shoulders and Roderick Strong by his legs …I still can’t figure out how he did it.
Pete Dunne continued to build an aura as one to watch for the future with his unique style of submission wrestling and athletic ability thrown in with his infamous strong style. Trent Seven also shone quite well in this match showing he deserves a more prominent role going forward alongside Dunne and Bate who got most of the love from WWE last year. It was British Strong Style picking up the win and leaving the fans happy and refreshed after an already long night of wrestling.
As advertised Shawn Michaels made an appearance and to be honest, he didn’t really say or do anything special but just him being there seemed to be enough to make the crowd go wild as his music hit. It was a shame that he didn’t get to do anything significant with any wrestlers or even with Triple H, it would have been cool to see them as DX having a war of words and hitting a few moves on a heel at least.
Finally we saw the main event that was the Final of the United Kingdom Championship Tournament to crown a new number one contender to Pete Dunne’s championship. Zack Gibson came out to the same heat he faced in his previous matches and it really cemented him as the bad guy against the already popular Travis Banks. It was Gibson picking up a third win on the night after working on the apparent injured shoulder of Banks throughout the match. Looking back it was a good choice for the final, not only the heel/face dynamic going on between the two but also the fact that each one of their previous matches were quite different. Triple H, Johnny Saint and Shawn Michaels came out to congratulate the winner as he had a stare down with current champion Pete Dunne to close the show.
All in all it was a fun and enjoyable event, the distraction of an England game for quite a section of the audience wasn’t the best thing for the show as I did find myself constantly drifting to my phone for results, but once the game was over and we could fully focus on the show it felt much better. It was a shame not to see Michaels do much and some of the wrestling did feel a little basic at times, but for the most part we did see some solid performances from people like Zack Gibson, Travis Banks and Flash Morgan Webster and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for them. I wasn’t sure what to expect from night one with so many names on the card that were relatively unknown to the global and even the British audience but I was impressed by a lot of them and it was great to be there for the history making announcement of NXT UK just like I was for the original WWE UK Press conference and just like then, I can not wait to see where this goes!
Check out my review of Night Two of the WWE United Kingdom Tournament.
Check out the video below discussing the future of the title, possibility of a regular WWE Network show, the chosen five & the forgotten original tournament entries, Triple H showing up in ICW and getting Finn Balor when you ordered Mick Foley.
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Listen to the Talk and Beans WWE United Kingdom Championship 2017 Review Podcast here.