I love me some tournaments so when I heard that the WWE was going to be running a tournament similar to the Cruiserweight Classic featuring the best wrestlers from the UK (and Ireland, which the WWE seems to think is a part of the UK) I was excited. That being said, when the announced the wrestlers competing I didn’t really recognize any of the competitors outside of Mandrews. Will that matter? I hope not!
We’re in Blackpool, England and as this is a WWE Network joint, Triple H in his, “I’m a good guy business man who wants to put on good wrestling shows,” guise comes out to welcome us to the WWEUKCT and say some stuff about empires before asking if we’re ready. I know I am! So let’s get it on!
Our announce team for the evening are Michael Cole and Nigel McGuinness. Michael Cole says “grapple fans” and they show us the brackets for the tournament and talk about their picks to watch in the tourney. From there it’s time for action!
Match 1: Trent Seven vs. H.C. Dyer
Like the CWC the competitors get little pre-match video packages where they talk about themselves and non-WWE wrestling footage appears courtesy of some non-WWE wrestling promotion. This is fantastic because, as I said, I really don’t know any of these guys at all.
Trent Seven gets hyped as a favorite in the tournament as he makes his way to the ring and the audience seems really behind him. I think he’s got a pretty great moustache and in his promo video he talked about hailing from Moustache Mountain which is just outstanding.
Dyer’s a little less of a character. He kind of looks like a default Create-a-Wrestler in a video game and his gimmick is a big punch.
They do the Ring of Honor handshake thing here and the match gets underway with a collar and elbow tie up. Early on the two go to the outside where Dyer roughs up Seven for a bit, but Seven gets back in control and delivers a series of chops while Dyer is leaning up against the ring post, but on the last chop Dyer ducks out of the way and Seven chops the fuck out of the steel ring post.
They head back into the ring and there’s some more back and forth between the two. Seven goes for a cocky pin (he twirls his moustache while kind of posing atop a downed Dyer) but Dyer kicks out easily.
The announcers play up that Dyer is looking for his big right hook throughout the match but because the two men have a similar reach he’s going to have a hard time pulling it off.
He finally does though, connecting with Seven’s jaw and sending the now glassy eyed mustachioed one to the canvas. Dyer goes for a pin, but Seven kicks out. Cole says that Dyer’s hesitation in making the cover (he stood in awe of what he’d done for a few seconds before making the cover) gave Seven a chance to recover from the devastating punch. McGuinness says it was a rookie mistake.
Dyer follows up a moment later with a Blue Thunder Bomb and goes for another pin, but in what McGuinness would call another rookie mistake, he doesn’t put enough weight on Seven’s shoulders allowing Seven to kick out again.
Dyer goes for a top rope splash, but Seven avoids it and gets back in control of the match. He hits a Seven Star Clothesline and gets the pin in the middle of the ring to have his hand raised in victory.
Winner: Trent Seven
This was a pretty good opening match. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a good hard hitting match without a lot of flashy shit so this fit the bill nicely. I like that they made both men look good throughout the match and that Dyer’s defeat came more from a lack of in ring awareness than being outclassed in the ring. If they’re planning on doing weekly or monthly UK shows it’s beneficial if Dyer doesn’t look like a chump.
Jordan Devlin is waiting for his match. Cole says that he is Finn Balor’s protege. They cut to Danny Burch elsewhere backstage before going to…
Burch used to be in NXT. I don’t really remember seeing him there so it must have been pre-2014 or in a very limited capacity post-2014. He explains that he’s been boxing since he was six years old and only feels at home in the ring. He’s in the tournament to win it.
Devlin talked about his in-ring style and describes himself as a technician trained in catch-as-catch-can style wrestling. He kind of looks like an off model Finn Balor.
Match 2: Danny Burch vs. Jordan Devlin
Before either man comes out we get a shot of Finn Balor sitting in the audience with some wrestling promoter guy who I probably would have recognized if I followed British wrestling prior to this, but I didn’t so I don’t. It’s still super weird to see other promoters or hear WWE announcers talk about guys being “one half of the Progress Wrestling Tag Team Champions.”
Burch is out first to little fanfare. Devlin comes out second and stops to point at the UK Championship belt which is on a podium on the stage. McGuinness talks about Burch being a favorite in the tournament and says that Devlin’s going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to win.
There’s some early back and forth between the two with Burch wrestling surprisingly quickly and technically. The two go hold for hold for awhile, trading counters. Before Burch takes control.
A few minutes in Devlin rakes Burch’s eyes and gets admonished by the referee. Michael Cole notes that Devlin needs to be careful not to get warned again because it will earn him a DQ and allow Burch to advance in the tournament.
They fight back and forth a little bit more with Devlin getting the upper hand. Burch hits a desperation move that lays both men out. The ref beings the ten count. Burch kips up and gets a decent pop from the audience. He then lays Devlin out with some punches.
Burch runs the ropes, but gets caught with a forearm. He recovers quickly though and hits a lariat that gets him a two count. He’s a house on fire now and hits a spinebuster that he follows up with a knee and a headbutt, but again he only gets two.
Burch locks on the Crippler Crossface but Devlin gets to the ropes and the ref breaks the hold. The crowd is not pleased. Burch goes for a German suplex, but Devlin’s a flippy motherfucker and lands on his feet and quickly gets Burch in a pinning predicament.
Devlin hits a double stomp and then a spinning kick to the back of Burch’s head that splits him open. Devlin goes for the pin and Burch clearly kicks out at two but the bell rings anyway. There’s some confusion as to what happen and Cole and McGuinness watch the ending again in slow motion.
“Back and to the left. Back and to the left.”
They determine that the shoulder was up at two, but apparently the referee’s decision will stand. Devlin is declared the winner and in a show of good sportsmanship, Burch offers him a congratulatory handshake, but Devlin kicks him in the face instead.
He goes up to the stage area where Charly Caruso interviews Devlin as he made his way to the back. He said that people wrote him off but he was a thoroughbred horse. Okay whatever, Evil Twin Balor.
Winner: Jordan Devlin
The finish to this was weird. Burch got split open legit and after Devlin made the cover Burch clearly clicked out at two but the bell still rang. It wasn’t really clear if the ending got messed up because of the bleeding or there was always supposed to be a questionable ending to this one, but either way the blood, the cheap victory, and the kick in the mouth after the match really established Devlin as a great heel, so it all worked out okay in the end, except maybe for Danny Burch who was a goddamn bloody mess at the end of the match.
Michael Cole sends us to video packages for a man who “calls himself Saxon Huxley,” and Sam Gradwell. Huxley is up first and talks about how he reads books and meditates, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s some sort of nerd. He promises that he is going to truck through whoever gets in his way in the tournament.
Sam Gradwell’s mom was a drunk and his house was a “war zone.” He says the only thing he has in common with the other dudes in the tournament is the ring they’re in. He says that he’s here to win a permanent spot with the WWE and even though he might not be the best known name in the tournament, when it’s all over everyone will remember the name Sam Gradwell.
Match 3: Saxon Huxley vs. Sam Gradwell
This was probably the least action packed match yet. There was some sloppy back and forth between the two men, but Gradwell quickly took control and dominated for the bulk of the match. Toward the end of the match Gradwell hit a big clothesline and then went to the top rope and connected with a diving headbutt for the win.
Winner: Sam Gradwell
The crowd was annoying as fuck during this just singing random bullshit and shouting “Let’s go Jesus!” because I guess Huxley kind of looked like Jesus. I get that this wasn’t going to be a Five Star Mat Classic™ by any stretch of the imagination, but I wish they’d fucking cool it with the random garbage chants and just watch the match at least then I could have heard the announcers calling the action and shit.
Meanwhile In The Audience…
Hey! It’s Squire Dave Taylor! The Mothership…WCW Saturday Night baby! McGuinness talks about how Taylor was hella tough and also a great in ring technician. That must have been back in England because mostly I just remember him and Steven/William Regal getting destroyed by Harlem Heat or the Public Enemy a lot on WCW Saturday Night.
Michael Cole says that a lot of people compare the next competitor’s toughness to that of Dave Taylor. Time for a…
Pete Dunne looks like a smarmy motherfucker and calls himself a Bruiserweight. He says he doesn’t think anyone can beat him. The non-WWE wrestling footage that airs shows him biting a dude’s foot. The dude in question was wearing boots, which makes it seem more like a gross out thing than a move that would inflict much pain (on the person being bitten).
Roy Johnson gets the next video package. He was a power lifter so he’s strong as fuck. He says that he’s “wavy” but he can’t tell us what “wavy” means. Thanks for nothing, asshole.
Match 4: Pete Dunne vs. Roy Johnson
Dunne gets a much larger pop from the crowd as he makes his way to the ring than Johnson does. Cole compares Pete Dunne to “The Belfast Bruiser” Fit Finlay. Johnson does some dance moves in the early going which apparently ties in to his waviness, but Dunne just scowls at him and gets him in a front facelock. Johnson uses his power lifting power to power up and power out of the hold and hit a suplex.
Dunne gets back in control and targets Johnson’s wrist. He gets Johnson set up for a surfboard, but instead of executing it he removed Johnson’s power lifting glove and focused on the wrist again.
Johnson eventual fights his way out and eventually hits a shoulder block off the middle rope. Dunne responds with a kick to Johnson’s dome. Johnson is dazed, but hits a Samoan drop and goes for the pin, earning a two count. Cole and McGuinness said it would have been a huge upset if Johnson had gotten the pin there.
Johnson goes back to the second rope and leaps off of it right into a punch from Dunne. Dunne wastes no time and goes for the cover. but Johnson kicks out at two. The audience is completely behind Pete Dunne as he hits his finishing maneuver a weird pump handle flatliner thing to pick up the win.
Post match Johnson offers to shake Dunne’s hand, but Dunne just slaps it out of the way. Cole opines that Dunne never learned any manners before saying that Dunne will face Sam Gradwell in round two.
Winner: Pete Dunne
This was a pretty good match and one that was helped by the preceding video packages and the commentary. Knowing that Johnson was a power lifter made his power moves seem more devastating than they might have seemed if I just thought he was a regular guy doing a Samoan Drop.
Dunne’s a pretty great heel and I could really see him showing up in at least NXT very easily.
We get videos for the next two competitors: Wolfgang and Tyson T-Bone.
Wolfgang is the self-proclaimed King of Scotland. He talks about working in a pub and how that prepares him to fight. He’s been wrestling for ten years and isn’t afraid to cheat to win.
Tyson T-Bone has hella tattoos and is a gypsy or something.
Caruso interviews T-Bone who talks about traveling up and down England knocking fools out. He promises to knock out Wolfgang and then wonders who’s next.
Match 5: Wolfgang vs. Tyson T-Bone
Wolfgang and T-Bone come together to shake hands before the bell rings, but T-Bone just headbutts the fuck out of him. The ref checks with Wolfgang to see if he’s fit to fight and then rings the bell to get the match officially underway.
Wolfgang comes back with uppercuts and a dropkick that he follows up with a couple of splashes. Wolfgang goes up top and hits a double ax-handle earning himself a count of two.
Some more back and forth before Wolfgang gets back in control and hits a goddamn moonsault off the ropes and scores another two count. T-Bone makes a come back and hits Wolfgang with a German suplex and then a superkick to the face as Wolfgang gets to his knees. T-Bone goes for the cover and gets a two count.
He dumps Wolfgang out of the ring and goes out after him. T-Bone shoves Wolfgang into the ring post. Wolfgang recovers and knocks him away and goes for the ropes, but is cut off by T-Bone. T-Bone goes for a superplex, but Wolfgang shoves him off and hits a Swanton Bomb for the win.
Post match Caruso interviews Wolfgang on the stage, Wolfgang promises that in the second round Trent Seven will find out why they call him the Big Bag Wolf. He then promises to have a party once he wins the UK Championship.
I liked this match a lot and hope to see more of Wolfgang. He kind of reminded me of mid-90s Hugh Morris (only hopefully less of a prick in real life) in that he was a bigger dude who could still hit some high flying moves.
I’ve watched a lot of NXT and 205 Live as of late, and think I may have built up a tolerance to high flying high spots, but here where most of the matches have been either technical grapple fests or straight up brawling seeing a dude (and a bigger one at that) hit a moonsault caused me to mark out.
Joseph Conners’ ear is all fucked up. He will do whatever it takes to become champion. James Drake is 23, but claims to be one of the most experienced wrestlers in the tournament. Both guys look like Jesus.
Match 6: James Drake vs. Joseph Conners
The audience shit all over this, chanting a bunch of stupid shit like “he’s got his whole face on his ass,” because Drake had a picture of his face on the back of his trunks. Cole puts Conners over and says that Conners is Cedric Alexander’s pick to win the whole thing because the big names Conners has faced in the past.
The two guys go back and forth for the bulk of the match. Conners keeps showing his fucked up ear as a taunt. I want that taunt in WWE 2K18. The bout comes to a close when Conners hits an elbow into a backbreaker that he follows up with his finisher, Don’t Look Down, to pick up the win.
Winner: Joseph Conners
The finish to this was pretty badass, but the crowd was bullshit during the bulk of the bout.
Hey it’s Mandrews guys! The pop-punk guy from TNA! He had a skateboard and a backwards baseball cap! He’s the only Welshman in the tournament and he says it would be a huge honor to win because he’d get to represent an entire generation of wrestlers.
Dan Moloney is a hardass. He comes from a bad place and has seen and done things people his age shouldn’t have seen or done. He doesn’t give a fuck about anybody except himself.
Match 7: Mark Andrews vs. Dan Moloney
Big pop for Mandrews as he comes out to the ring. The match gets underway with Moloney throwing Andrews around for awhile. Looks like it’s going to be power verses speed here.
After the early going, Andrews gets the advantage and hits Moloney with the 619 and a couple minutes in, Andrews hits a standing moonsault for a two count.
He sends Moloney out to the floor and hits a moonsault off the apron that the crowd loves. They head back into the ring and Moloney makes a bit of a comeback, scoring a two count on a rollup. He hits a running kick to Mandrew’s head and goes for the pin, scoring another two count.
Moloney goes for a suplex, but Andrews counters it into a stunner and then hits a Shooting Star Press to pick up the win. He’ll face Joseph Conners in round two.
Winner: Mark Andrews
Mandrews was the one dude I knew before this began. I liked him when he was in TNA so I’m glad to see him get a chance here in the WWE. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but I really like that there’s a mix of styles here. Mandrews could have been in the Cruiserweight Classic where he’d just have been another high flying guy who does moonsaults, but here, where he’s the only guy who does flippy shit it stands out a lot more.
Tucker is from Northern Ireland. A year and a half ago he had knee surgery and was told his wrestling days might be behind him, but he’s here now.
Tyler Bate has a magnificent mustache that belies his 19 years of age. He’s from Dudley, England and says his age isn’t important since the only numbers he cares about are “1-2-3!”
Match 8: Tucker vs. Tyler Bate
Tucker is even more wrecked than the promo video let on as Cole points out a scar on his chest from where doctors inserted some sort of breathing apparatus when he was born 8 weeks prematurely. Bate, meanwhile, is said to be likable but having a short fuse.
At the start of the match Tucker goes for a superkick, but Bate avoids it. There’s some chain wrestling in the early going that the fans eat up. Less than a minute in and this is probably the match of the night for me.
The two play to the crowd and jaw with one another. Bate holds up his right hand and then punches Tucker with the left. Tucker responds with a back elbow off the second rope. Bate gets Tucker in a headlock, and then grabs his own foot to hit Tucker with it.
Tucker hits Bate in the dome with a kick. The audience begins a “This is wrestling,” chant as Tucker and Bate trade blows. I hate that chant. It’s all wrestling. A Mantaur squash match is wrestling. Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat Five Star Mat Classic is wrestling. Chikara is wrestling. A FMW match between Mr. Pogo and some dude in a janky horror movie mask throwing each other into barbed wire is wrestling. But I digress…
Tucker hits a running hurricanrana that he follows up with a forearm to Bate in the corner. He goes for a second, but Bate has the ring awareness to toss Tucker over the top rope. Tucker lands on his feet and slaps Bate and then hits a flatliner through the ropes earning a two count.
Tucker sends Bate to the floor and is setting up for a suicide dive when Bate catches him with a European uppercut. He follows up with a suplex attempt on the floor, but Tucker is like a goddamn cat and lands on his feet. He tries to shove Bate into the steel steps but Bate just leaps over them. Tucker follows after him, leaping off the steps and hitting a hurricanrana on Bate onto the entrance ramp.
Back in the ring Bate gets Tucker in an airplane spin for a count of two. Tucker gets back to his feet and nails Bate with a superkick that sends him rolling out of the ring. Bate gets back in and hits Tucker with a kick. Tucker punches him in reply and then Bate hits an insane rolling kick thing. He follows up with a Tiger Driver to pick up the win.
Winner: Tyler Bate
This was great. One might even go so far as to say that of all the wrestling that took place this evening, this was the wrestlingest of all. Tyler Bate was great and Tucker was no slouch either.
Meanwhile With Michael Cole…
Cole says that Nigel McGuiness is headed to the ring for a ceremony and goes on to say he’s losing his voice. There’s a brief recap of the the matches that took place this evening. Cole then hypes tomorrow night’s event and tosses it to Nigel for the ceremony.
Michael Cole is a liar. Nigel McGuinness is not in the ring. He is on the stage with the eight quarter finalists and William Regal. Regal’s all like, “You fellows are some fine competitors. I wonder what manner of superb grappling awaits us on the morrow.”
Nigel breaks down the matches for the following night. Bate and Devlin get called first. Both step forward and talk shit at one another. Seven and Wolfgang do the same. Dunne and Gradwell have a tough guy stare down as do Mandrews and Conners.
Regal wishes them all luck and reminds them that the UK Championship is not a tag team or trios championship so only one of them can walk away the champion tomorrow.
Off camera, Cole’s like, “Tomorrow night, someone will fulfill their destiny,” and then Pete Dunne nails Gradwell in the head with a forearm. The other competitors suffer from bystander syndrome and just stand there, but William Regal pulls Dunne off Gradwell and gets all up in his grill and is like, “DON’T YOU DARE MESS THIS UP!”
This was by and large a lot of fun. Unlike the Cruiserweight Classic, where I’d seen probably two thirds of the guys in it compete before, I wasn’t really familiar with anyone on this card (except Mandrews) so it was kind of neat to go in with no idea of who anyone was and with no preconceived notions as to who would win. On that note, the video packages were well done and helpful for people, like me, who know little to nothing of British indie wrestling. After day one I like Wolfgang, Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, and Pete Dunne the most and look forward to seeing what they have going on on Day Two.
How was the in ring action? By and large it was pretty good. Were there some dud matches? Yeah sure, but that was kind of to be expected because the in ring action was a lot more varied than the Cruiserweight Classic was. Here you had mat technicians, high fliers, colossal jostlers, brawlers, and everything in between which made for some more dynamic bouts.
Michael Cole and Nigel McGuinness were both really good on the mic, proving that Michael Cole can be decent when he’s doing stuff that Vince McMahon doesn’t give a shit about (he was also really good on Beast from the East or whatever that Network Special was called).
I liked what the did at the end with Dunne and Gradwell to hook people into watching the second night. I mean, I was going to watch it anyway, but the “What’s going to happen with Gradwell and Dunne?” hook has me more excited than I would have been for “Let’s see some more amazing bouts of grappling.”