We’re on the Highway to Hull as Yorkshire saw the debut of Ridge Holland on NXT UK and an absolute barn burner of a main event between Ilja Dragunov and Alexander Wolfe!

NXT’s hit a new venue in the fairly-new Bonus Arena in Hull – so expect a lot of orange and black from the locals! Ooh hey, a Heute ist Carat shirt in the front row, as Tom Phillips and Nigel McGuinness pitch to our first match…

Trent Seven vs. Kona Reeves
They actually did it. After months of fans trolling online that Kona Reeves would be the next wXw Shotgun champion… he’s on a NXT UK show. In England. It’s not Kona’s debut on this show, but it’s curious they’re moving onto using solely-contracted guys here.

Kona cuts a promo on the way to the ring to get booed, asking for quiet, so of course he gets chants of “Yorkshire”. Apparently NXT UK is NXT’s sister with bad teeth. Stereotypes. There’s LOUD “who are ya” chants for Kona, which is… justified, I guess. Reeves calls Trent “outta shape” and “out of date”, which just got the crowd even more on Trent’s’ side. Trent starts with a back body drop (hiya), as he chopped the hell out of Kona early on, suckering him onto the apron for a right hand. Reeves hits a nice leaping knee from the floor as Trent was in the ropes, before eventually pulling the ring apron up to unsight Trent. Back in the ring, Reeves got caught with more chops and a Dragon suplex, before an Emerald Fusion nearly put him away…

A clothesline took Kona back outside, with a low-pe following, before a Whisper in the Wind whiffed. Try saying that ten times fast. Trent’s still up for chops though, and quickly walloped Reeves with a Seven Star lariat for a near-fall, before Kona cracked him with a headbutt. He can’t follow up though, and gets caught with a Birming-Hammer, and that’s your lot. Not as much a competitive squash, more a thorough display of Trent’s Greatest Hits… but a solid way to get the show going. ***

Trent’s high-fiving everyone but gets stopped by Eddie Dennis, who doesn’t let go of the handshake. They have a staredown as STERN TRENT headed to the back.

RADZI IS ALIVE! He’s back, and tries to get a word with Ilja Dragunov. Sadly, he doesn’t try a Scottish accent, but he does acknowledge Alexander Wolfe training him in a former life. Ilja’s going to get his own back for his past and help decide his own future. This was real good.

They announce NXT UK Takeover Blackpool 2 for January 12, 2020 from the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool… it’s already sold out, so get ready for a 5pm on Sunday stream.

Jack Starz vs. A-Kid
I don’t think Jack’s leaving the no-televised-win club here. Even with some facial hair.

A-Kid’s here with the endorsement of Tyler Bate ringing in his ears, and starts by grounding Starz with a chinbar. Starz rolls free, then tries for an armbar, taking A-Kid to ground but a front facelock sees the Spaniard get back on top rolling in with a Cattle Mutilation. That’s quickly rolled into a standing surfboard stretch as A-Kid wasn’t standing still… especially when Starz picks the leg and trips A-Kid to the mat. A-Kid’s back with a triangle armbar to restrain Starz, who ragdolled him with a powerbomb to get free… and almost win! Out of nowhere, A-Kid came back with a backslide, before he rolled Starz into an omoplata for the submission. A flash finish, but they’re seemingly establishing A-Kid as someone who can get the win from anywhere… but I wish they’d stop “building up” with 50-50 matches with guys at this level. ***

They pitch to an interview with Jinny and Jazzy Gabert… Jinny derides the NXT UK women’s division as “girls”, taking aim at the departed Rhea Ripley, then at Piper Niven who she labelled the “superstar of the month”. Jinny reckons she’s really championship material, and sends Radzi on his way.

Tom and Nigel are live in the arena building up to the main event… but they’re interrupted by Zack Gibson and James Drake. Cue an increase in foot odour, and a jacket that looks not too dissimilar to your mum’s curtains. Jaysus James… Zack’s promos are good, but this team is rapidly losing their focus. Blah blah, they aren’t happy at having lost their tag titles in a three-way, and they want to bounce back. Alan Partridge. A-ha. WOW. It’s been ages since Zack’s had BORING chants. He wants to “make the people happy”… is this gonna be a campaign for a better NXT UK? Anyway, they want a title shot at Takeover, and this just highlights how shallow the tag ranks are in NXT UK right now.

A Jordan Devlin vignette has him wanting to show a highlight package of himself. He commentates throughout it, marking out for himself. He pauses in an unfortunate spot as what really feels like a pitch to creative turned into a shot at A-Kid. They’re facing off next week, and I cannot wait for that. As long as they gave it time.

Oliver Carter vs. Ridge Holland
Remember when NXT UK put some hype behind Oliver Carter? Two televised matches later, and he’s already cannon fodder for the latest flavour of the month – in the form of the debuting local lad Ridge Holland.

Ridge has a flat cap and a club… but that entrance video so does not fit the “gritty, Northern England” vibe the video packages had. Marty Jones is at ringside watching his student’s NXT UK debut (we don’t speak of his squash losses to Matt Riddle or Keith Lee in a former life on NXT…) We start with Holland tossing down Carter by the arm, before he came in with an uppercut and a hiptoss to send Carter scurrying. Carter replies with an enziguiri and some headscissors, taking him into the rope for a flying dropkick to the floor, but a crossbody back in was caught and turned into a uranage-like overhead suplex. I have no words. Stomps and clubbering forearms have Ridge further ahead, but he’s almost caught with a backslide, before countering into an overhead capture suplex.

Holland pulls up Carter by the nose, then ragdolled him with a cobra clutch as Carter had to fight back to his feet… which he did. Body blows stun Holland briefly, as did an up-kick and a spinning heel kick into the corner, before Holland responded with a POUNCE and a headbutt. All that’s left was a sit-out side slam, which they’ve dubbed Northern Grit, and there’s the explosive debut. Your usual competitive squash, but I liked what I saw out of Ridge here. Holland looks extremely promising – much like he did on his brief UK indie swing before he got signed. Give him time, and he’ll be a star. **¾

Ashton Smith came in to check on Oliver Carter afterwards… as they segued to what Joseph Conners did last week, attacking Ligero and Travis Banks as he tried to dub himself as “Takeover Worthy”. Travis Banks is in the UK PC talking about it, as was Ligero, as they say a whole load of nothing. Conners gloats.

During the break, Ashton Smith’s walking with Oliver Carter… and suggests they team up in a bid to get their first run. Noam Dar’s there too, mocking them, and that led to a challenge of Ashton Smith vs. Noam Dar for next week.

Also next week: Jinny vs. Piper Niven.

Ilja Dragunov vs. Alexander Wolfe
It’s been four and a half years since these two had a singles match, with Prague (of all places) being the host as they feuded over the wXw Shotgun title. It all goes back to that.

We’ve got less than 15 minutes left in the show, so I’m smelling a rat… The pair shoot out of the gates, locking up and rolling to the mat as there was clearly a lot more needle in this than just “Ilja spurned Imperium”. The lock-up continues until a break was forced in the corner, from where the pair headed outside as Ilja and Wolfe brawled around ringside.

Wolfe shoved Ilja back-first into the guard rails, but he’s back in with a forearm to knock Wolfe off the apron, forcing the Dresden native to duck a 619-like swivel in the ropes as Dragunov simply wouldn’t stop. Wolfe’s hurled into the barriers, but he’s back in the ring, catching Ilja in the ropes, kicking the middle strand into the Russian’s groin. A hanging neckbreaker brings Ilja back in the hard way, before Wolfe put the boots to Dragunov in the corner. Forearms from Ilja show some resistance, but he’s quickly mauled and taken to ground as Wolfe employed a chinbar. It’s fought out of, as Dragunov then stopped himself from being tripped into the ropes… but Wolfe’s straight back on the offensive.

Wolfe tosses Ilja outside again, then commandeered a chair from the ring announcer… but again thought better of using it. That’s twice he’s thought against weapons. A boot rocks Ilja on the apron, as a side headlock allowed Wolfe to torque Ilja on the mat. Dragunov tried to hit back with a backfist and a leaping boot, but was stopped with another uppercut as he finally lands a reversed suplex to buy him some time. Dragunov and Wolfe went back-and-forth with forearms, before Ilja blocked one and began to pepper Wolfe with chops to the neck. An enziguiri followed as Wolfe tried to fight back, before a lariat from Dragunov took Wolfe into the corner, which led to Ilja going up top… where he was caught with a roll-through uppercut! Wolfe’s dropped throat-first on the ropes as Ilja flew with a knee drop off the to, before a Gotch-style powerbomb came off for a near-fall.

Another knee from Ilja looked to set him up for a teardrop suplex, which Ilja deadlifts and bridges for a near-fall. Dragunov heads up for a back senton, but Wolfe rolled away… and into the path of a Coast to Coast for a near-fall. The back senton off the top’s next, but Ilja lands in Wolfe’s knees as we cross the top of the hour, with Wolfe booting Dragunov down and snapping him in with a German suplex for another two-count. Ilja tries for a corner death valley driver, but Wolfe slips out and takes him up top… following in with a superplex for a near-fall. Dragunov slaps Wolfe, but the German likes it… and we descend into tit-for-tat palm strikes as the pair slugged it out until a backfist from Dragunov took them both down. Dragunov perhaps telegraphed Torpedo Moscau, and got met with an enziguiri from Wolfe, who then ate a Konstantin-Spezial… before Ilja went back for a Torpedo Moscau, only for Imperium to hit the ring.

Barthel and Aichner are dealt with, but Dragunov’s Torpedo Moscau’s turned into a DDT for a near-fall, before a sit-out powerbomb gets Wolfe the win. A superb sprint of a match that held its pace, and delivered through – even if the post-match shenanigans felt a little rushed. Perhaps NXT UK TV’s first true “notebook match”? ****¼

Imperium attack Dragunov after the match, but Gallus run out for the save… which led to a worrying tug of war for the NXT UK title between WALTER and Joe Coffey. Yes. Yes they are. The show closes with Gallus’ music as Imperium left with their tails between their legs, with Ilja still down on the mat.

It’s probably not the cool thing to say among some fans, but this is two weeks in a row that NXT UK’s produced a good show. Yeah, a lot of the same old issues persist, but there’s something resembling momentum now… can they keep it going throughout the Hull tapings into Takeover next year?