Time to take a look up NORTH again, as we lay our eyes a show that saw the unlikeliest of surprises to close out the year.

The VOD opens with footage of Nathan Cruz pinning Rory Coyle at NCL.13 – which apparently made him the number one contender. There’s also footage of Benji trying to pay off referee John Myers… but when he refused, Conor Renshaw “broke his hand” which means we need a new referee. Hey, we’ve also clips from the past, showing how the Landed Gentry were dumped by Spike Trivet, and replaced by the Anti-Fun Police. That’s all leading to Spike’s team – aka Team Shirt – against TK Cooper and England’s Hardest Men in tonight’s main event. Oh, and the appearance of a bitter HT Drake, who’s annoyed that he’s no longer in main events in NORTH…

We open with Stevie Aaron, who was back on ring announcing after missing the prior show. Andrew Bowers’ opening speech is routinely interrupted, this time by Rory Coyle, who calls out the red-and-white “candy cane ropes” (I’m surprised Newcastle didn’t riot over those). Coyle’s not happy, specifically with Nathan Cruz’s Team Sin – and Cruz’s “three finger plan” for NORTH Wrestling.

It turned out that Cruz has been sitting on a title shot for a while, so Coyle offers him his shot right now.

Rory Coyle vs. Nathan Cruz
Coyle jumps Cruz as he went through the ropes, as the match started with some brawling around the ring. The bell rings, and Cruz instantly throws Coyle to the outside… but the champion returns and lays a beating to Cruz, before whipping him into the corner.

Coyle takes the initiative as commentary scrambled to reorganise their notes. Just as well Coyle wasn’t going a million miles an hour, as he took Cruz down with a back body drop, only for the former PROGRESS champion to catch Coyle and hurl him outside. There’s a shoutout to Drake (not that one) as Coyle’s sidewalk slam’s good for a near-fall… but Cruz takes over in the corner with a series of knees to the champion.

Coyle hits back with a suplex, but Cruz nails a Thanks Tully for a near-fall as he quickly got back in front, looking to keep the beating on Coyle. They throw each other into the corners before a high knee from Cruz took Coyle back down to the mat as Cruz mocked Coyle by grabbing his camera and filming his own video.

A chop to the throat breaks that up as Coyle found his second wind, taking Cruz outside then slingshotting him back in before scoring a bulldog out of the corner for a near-fall. Cruz slips out of a fireman’s carry but can’t avoid a full nelson slam as Coyle then heads to his canvas bag of tricks, pulling out a video tape that the referee instantly confiscated. Cruz fights back and instantly lands the Show Stolen for a near-fall, prompting the crowd to get behind Coyle.

Instead of keeping up on Coyle though, Cruz grabs the prosthetic arm from Rory’s bag and whacks Rory with it to keep up the Doink/Crush 1993 vibe. That’s the DQ and an end to a match that was alright but never really threatened to click into a higher gear. There’s a reason for that… ***

Post-match, Lucas Steel and Myles Kayman come out to help with a 3-on-1 beatdown on Coyle, before Robbie X with a shillelagh made the save. Where the hell did he get that from?! Cruz takes the mic and calls himself smarter than Rory Coyle, saying that because he answered an open challenge, he didn’t technically cash in his title shot. He’s right,  you know…

Shax vs. Isla Dawn
It’s a NORTH debut for Dawn, who was in the midst of her NXT UK push here, facing an undefeated Shax.

Dawn started out as the early aggressor, taking Shax into the corner before they swapped headlocks en route to a takedown from Isla. Eventually Shax gets herself free, but she’s quickly tripped as Isla’s got another headlock on, only for Shax to pull the hair and get herself free.

Shax takes Isla into the ropes for some choking before a battle of forearms kept Shax ahead before she spun Isla into a corkscrew back cracker of sorts for a two-count. A chinlock’s thrown out by Dawn, who comes back in with some meaty forearms and a bicycle knee before a Saito suplex nearly ended the match. Out of nowhere, Shax hits an armdrag and a swinging Fisherman’s suplex for a near-fall, then quickly finishes it with the Psycho Driver double-arm DDT for what you’d have to call the upset. This was a little too brief for my tastes, but it’s a dominant win for Shax whom’ll be sticking around, so it’s the right result from that perspective. **¼

Mark Coffey vs. Cara Noir
Oh God, they dug up the Gallus theme here for Mark Coffey, whom you may recognise from NXT UK that time they accidentally called him Mike.

Cara Noir was making his debut here, meaning that Newcastle got to see his majestic entrance while Coffey just stared through him, wondering what to make of it all. Maffew sums up my thoughts – as good as the entrance is, just what IS Cara Noir?

Coffey took Noir into the corner as the camera got a view of his glittery abs (not a euphemism), before the favour was returned as we get clean breaks from both sides. The mind games looked to start as Noir threw Coffey outside, then held the ropes open with a cheeky grin so the Scotsman could go back in.

A knuckle lock gave way to Coffey throwing Noir to the outside, as we’re still doing the tit for tat stuff, except on his way back in Cara looked to edge towards Coffey, who responds by just leathering him with some forearms, including one that knocked him off the apron to the floor. The Scotsman keeps the offence up as he stomped on Cara Noir, taking him into the corner before a single stomp almost ended the match as he gets a near-fall from a simple boot to the chest.

Coffey busts out a stump puller before he whipped Noir repeatedly into the corner. A shotgun dropkick from Noir just about finds its mark as he makes a comeback with forearms and an uppercut, only for an upkick from Coffey to anger him as a rebound German suplex led to a near-fall for Noir.

Coffey has success with a neckbreaker and a baseball slide dropkick as he turned the match on its head, following up with a vicious double-arm chop to Cara for a near-fall. A pumphandle slam’s avoided as Noir returned a neckbreaker for a two-count, before he misses on an O’Connor roll allowing Cara Noir to… lick his way back into the match. Not a typo… and the match isn’t long after that as Coffey nails a discus enziguiri to put away Cara Noir. A little show to get going, but Coffey’s explosion at the end here showed a side of him you don’t see on NXT UK. **¾

The Outfit (Lucas Steel & Myles Kayman) vs. Gabriel Kidd & Robbie X
“The one who needs ID to buy energy drinks is Miles Kayman”. Oof. This is a match full of folks who are either undersung or unknown, so this could be quite an eye opener…

Kayman powders to the outside at the opening bell, before he hurriedly tagged in Steel as Robbie tried to charge at him. Some kicks from Robbie sting Steel, who powers away Robbie’s attempts at out-pacing him, before a flying ‘rana from Robbie earned himself a big clothesline from the newcomer Steel. Gabriel Kidd tags in to try his luck, but his shoulder tackles don’t budge Steel, only for Gabe to throw some uppercuts.

Kayman tries to make a save, but he runs into a chop as Kidd tried to throw his hand through the newcomer, producing a very satisfying crack. A rewind springboard from Kayman works, but his crossbody doesn’t as an attempt to slap Kidd ended with him getting caught in a stalling suplex a la the British Bulldog. Christ, Kidd even walks around in the suplex before he finally dropped Myles for a two-count.

A tag brings Robbie X in as Lucas Steel finally gets involved, grabbing hold of Kidd’s leg so Kayman can dropkick him to the floor for some attacks from behind by Steel. Steel’s tagged in next as he went toe-to-toe with Kidd, throwing him into the corners, then into Kayman’s boot as the Outfit looked to isolate Kidd. Steel chokes Kidd from the floor as the referee was distracted, before tagging in and scoring with a Downward Spiral for a near-fall. Ah, remember when that was seemingly everyone’s finish back in the day?

Steel calls for a piledriver, but Kidd counters with a back body drop to free himself, as both men tagged themselves out. Kayman is hurled into the ring by X, who unloads with a bunch of clotheslines as he made things too quick to keep up with. Jesus christ, that hiptoss dropkick led to insane whiplash on Kayman, who then ate an overhead kick while he was on the top rope as Steel’s attempt to interfere came to a quick end courtesy of a handspring kick.

Kidd provides a base as X hits a springboard body press to the floor, before a death valley driver in the ring and a Kidd lariat drew a ner-fall for X. Robbie flips out of a chokeslam before Steel returned with a pop-up flapjack, with Kayman coming close to a win with a springboard uppercut, but Kidd tags back in with more of his clotheslines. Steel’s knocked off the apron as Kidd blocks a clothesline and chops Kayman silly. A spinning backfist from Robbie led to a back suplex/slam from Kidd, who the deadlifts Steel up into a Finlay roll as Robbie X’s standing shooting star press and a Kidd moonsault drew a near-fall with Kayman pulling out the referee.

A big tope from Robbie X quickly dealt with Kayman, but Steel low blows Kidd behind the ref’s back, before a powerbomb gets the win. A cheap win, but my God, Robbie X and Gabriel Kidd blew me away here. I’ve not seen much of Kidd’s in-ring in recent months, but this was a revelation, while Robbie X’s outing just reminds us all of how criminally underused he is on the upper levels of the UK scene. ***¼

Post-match, Kidd echoes those sentiments and said that Robbie “may not be here in a few years”. Thankfully that wasn’t leading to a turn or anything sinister!

Zeo Knox vs. Primate
I think this was Zeo’s singles debut in NORTH – and with this being the NORTH return of Primate, this could well be as close to a squash as you’ll see without a steamroller being involved.

Newcastle came unglued for Primate’s return, but he’s attacked by “a small child” who turned out to be Benji as the Landed Gentry both tried to weaken Primate before the bell. Benji uses his polo mallet on Primate as Tom Campbell went all Brexit on us in commentary. They drag Primate towards a support post in the arena and wrap his legs around it as the Gentry didn’t let up on Primate.

A double-team back suplex onto the apron sent Primate into the ring, before a big splash from Benji off the top led to the continuation of the mugging. There’s a running knee to Primate in the corner, then a series of Stinger splashes, as Primate finally fought back, booting away Benji then pulling Knox into the corner ahead of a German suplex.

Primate charges in with a spear to both Knox and Benji, before a barrage of fists kept this virtual handicap match going. We get a German duplex to the Gentry out of the corner, sending Benji hurtling into the ropes ahead of a missed spear as Primate sends himself into the corner. Apparently the match still hasn’t started, so Benji gets involved again with a diving knee to aid Knox’s side Russian legsweep before he headed up top… and leaps into a powerbomb as Primate got him some.

Benji rolls to the outside as the bell rings… one spear, and Primate wins. Told you it’d technically be a squash!

Post-match, Conor Renshaw appears in the ring and decks Primate with a big boot before Rory Coyle made the save as Benji prepared to finish off Primate with the mallet. Coyle cuts a promo, saying that the two have a lot in common (mostly, metal in their skulls) before offering a match to Primate for the promotions’ show in February.

I’m happy with that, but there’s a big risk in having someone who’s cannon fodder in one part of Newcastle being presented as a threat here. Oh yeah, and the whole “Primate and Coyle are feuding in Defiant but are rather more cordial here”. Still, those are relatively minor complaints given how much of this roster Defiant’s started to use. Zeo Knox for Loaded, perhaps?

HT Drake vs. Boris Koslov
Since we last covered NORTH, Boris Koslov has become a fixture in the promotion, playing the comedic part of a drunken Russian with a bottle of vodka in hand. From the “Russian Quarter of Yorkshire” – I wonder if that’s next to the Mexican part of Leeds…

I also wonder if Boris is related to Vladimir?

We open with Drake doing after the arm of Koslov, pulling him into a hammerlock that Boris rolls out of… only for Drake to take him down in an armbar as Koslov laboured in a bid to escape. He eventually does so, taking Drake down into a headlock on the mat as we cycle through some of the basics, until Koslov Cossack danced out of some headscissors.

More headlock takedowns kept Boris ahead, as did a dropkick and a backdrop suplex as Koslov went back to the Cossacking. Drake turns it back around with a suplex and a stomp, before a knee strike drew a near-fall on Boris, who then had to fight out of a full nelson and return with a leaping forearm. A clothesline in the corner sets up Koslov, but Drake caught him up top with an enziguiri ahead of the Tyne Crossing – a coast to coast dropkick – for a near-fall.

Koslov’s right back with a spinebuster as the crowd sounded to turn on him it seemed, with a crossface forcing Drake to stand up and into a Samoan drop. The pair exchange forearms as they fight back to their feet, ending with a spinning heel kick from Drake and duelling crossbodies as the pair clattered into each other. Boris heads into the corner for a mouthful of vodka, which he sprays into Drake as a roll-up gets the win! The ref didn’t DQ Koslov as it was apparently an accident thanks to Drake’s kick causing the spray, but that was not a popular result for some parts of the Newcastle crowd. **¾

Post-match, Drake attacks Koslov from behind as he put a beating to the Russian before storming backstage… returning with a toolbox that he blasted Koslov with. Drake even empties it afterwards to show it had something in it, including a spare turnbuckle, before he spat vodka into Boris’ mouth.

Team Shirt (Chief Deputy Dunne, Los Federales Santos Jr. & Spike Trivet) vs. Too Hard (Lou Nixon, Shreddybrek & TK Cooper)
I’ve gotta say lads, these team names could do with some work… although the match graphic for Too Hard being a spoof on Too Cool was on point. Especially with TK being Samoan and all…

Shreddybrek’s out with a light tube, which was a throwback to Lou Nixon working a Taipei death match a week or so earlier for RISE Wrestling in Leeds. We finally get going with Lou against Dunne, as the latter’s taken down with a waistlock. Dunne ducks some kicks but can’t avoid a leg lariat and a Judo throw as swinging and missing forced Dunne to beg off as the ring fills. It quickly breaks down into a six-man brawl inside and out of the ring, which led to a monstrous tope from Santos into the pile on the outside!

Returning to the ring, Dunne drops Nixon with an enziguiri before he raked away on his face. Spike tags in to keep up the focus on Nixon, catching him with elbows and clotheslines for a two-count. Santos tags in next, changing things up with a press slam to Nixon as TK came in to break up the count.

Dunne’s back to choke on Nixon in the ropes, as the shirt-wearers swapped frequent tags to keep themselves fresh on the inexperienced Lou. A dropkick keeps Nixon down for a two-count, but finally Lou makes a break for it and tags in TK who makes a beeline for Spike with forearms to the head. There’s a snapmare and a Kotaro Krusher to Spike, before a gamengiri in the ropes from Dunne stopped TK from an incidental dive… but he’s able to rebound with a springboard legdrop as Dunne was caught in the ropes.

Spike’s still legal though, and he tries to attack the distracted Cooper, only to get clocked with a scissor kick and a springboard moonsault for a near-fall. Santos comes in and headbutts TK, but it’s a rookie error… you know the rest! In comes Shreddybrek with a hot tag as he charged through Dunne and Trivet with ease, following up with splashes and overhead belly-to-bellies, before Santos came in and overwhelmed him with body blows.

Somehow, Shreddy slips out of a slam, but he can’t pick up Santos as Spike sprays water at him. TK and Nixon surround him, as Shreddy gets up and pulls up Spike into a Go To Sleep for a near-fall thanks to the save from the Anti-Fun Police. Shreddy tries to be a one-man wrecking crew, but he’s met with a back cracker from Trivet and an assisted Big Ending from Santos for another near-fall as Shreddy was definitely in peril.

A triple powerbomb on Shreddy’s fought out of, as he went crazy with press slams, before TK Cooper runs in with a boot into the corner… Santos takes a splash and gets slammed, as Nixon returned for a head kick… and that’s all folks! A little too “out of nowhere” for my tastes, but that was a heck of an entertaining brawl to end the show. ***

So, the surprise? After the match, TK, Shreddy and Lou celebrated as Tom on commentary looked forward to Too Hard doing the Too Cool dance. TK gets the sunglasses, as they start to shuck and jive… except it’s there’s one last shock. TK exits the ring as England’s Hardest Men celebrated… then blew up as Shreddy kicked Nixon low, smashing that light tube over his head. The Riverside were in a mix of shocked silence and disgust as Shreddy left the ring, leaving Nixon behind in a dazed and bloodied mess to close the show…

I’ll be honest, seeing clips of this on NORTH’s Twitter was what compelled me to write up this show. Having skipped reviews (but still watching, I hasten to add), I was interested to see how this played out. Well, I’d needn’t had worried – the turn was played out in a classic style, suckering everyone into thinking that all was well before that light tube, which could well have gone over the heads of a lot of people, proved to be the sword that dished out the final blow to England’s Hardest Men.

Comparing NORTH today to where they were on their debut two and a half years ago, there’s been the expected changes in the roster – some of which has been exacerbated for the obvious reasons. Apart from that though, NORTH have seen the same venue undergo a makeover. Extra lighting makes the venue look more attractive, and the shows therefore are easier to watch. But I digress; looking at the rest of NCL 14, we had a card that was impressive in a low-key manner. That tag team match with Robbie X and Gabriel Kidd against the Outfit was a match that highlighted Kidd and X while showing that their opponents weren’t as far behind as you’d have expected for a pair of newcomers – and of course, the ongoing story with Nathan Cruz and Rory Coyle continues to intrigue. Could the match that Coyle’s given Primate in February be the start of his downfall.