With the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament now in the books (and airing next week), lets take a look at how everyone made it to the Royal Albert Hall!
Drew Gulak vs. Jack Gallagher
Taped at Full Sail University, we’ve got Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness and Percy Watson on commentary. Gulak goes for the lock-up straight away, but they end up in the ropes time and again as they tried to get the upper hand. Gallagher takes it to the mat with headscissors, but Gulak rolled out to escape and found himself suddenly restraining Gallagher with an armbar. That too is escaped as Gallagher trips Gulak and pulls him into the ring for a good old-fashioned toe-hold that morphed into an ankle lock… but still they counter back and forth until we get to another rope break.
From the restart, Gallagher succeeds in another leg trip as he tried to look for a knee bar, but Gulak rolled through and ended up in a spinning toe hold. The tension’s cranked up as Gallagher made it an Indian deathlock, but in doing so he fell into a Dragon sleeper as Gulak was looking to snatch any and every opportunity going. Fortunately for Gallagher, he’s right by the ropes and can get free, only to get taken down with an arm whip as Gulak worked into a hammerlock-come-cloverleaf. Like the old Lasso from El Paso!
Again, Gallagher rolled out, and into the ropes to avoid the cloverleaf, and things suddenly get aggressive as cheapshots gave way to uppercuts and chops. Some criss-crossing in the ropes gave way to a roll-up from Gulak, before Gallagher’s forced to absorb a tonne of strikes, only to crack Gulak with a headbutt as he slumped on top of him for the win. This was short, but really good British-style graps. Both men showed their technical chops, but once it turned into a striking battle, Gulak was forced to stray from his comfort zone the most – and it showed. ***¼
The rest of these matches come from the NXT shows at the Download music festival earlier this month…
Flash Morgan Webster vs. James Drake
Don’t hold your hopes out for the Jam, or even those Hot Tag Media songs here… it’s all library music here! Nigel McGuinness and Vic Joseph are on the call for these Download matches.
Drake went out in the first round in last year’s tournament, while this is a tournament debut for Flash after having made appearances on 205 Live. It’s Drake who has the upper hand early as the crowd get on his for his arse-face trunks, with Drake wringing the arm and forcing Flash to reverse it in the ropes. A forearm from Drake looked to cut-off Webster, but Flash is back with a spinning armdrag before scoring another one out of the corner.
A leg trip dumped Drake to the mat as the Special Brew flip gets him a near-fall… and we’re into the Strangler guillotine, except Drake’s able to make it to the ropes with ease. An unclean break has Webster staggering before a forearm decks him ahead of a rear chinlock… but Webster fires back with some bodyblows, before Drake hits another forearm for a near-fall. Another chinlock keeps Flash on the mat, but an escape and a roll-up nearly nicks the win, as Flash mounted another comeback, flipping over Drake before a twisting Rude Boy cracked Drake in the head.
Forearms from Flash keep Drake in the corner, before a bicycle knee took Drake to the outside for a tope con giro, following up with a crossbody… but Drake rolled through and nearly scored the win there. Drake keeps up with more forearms from the apron, but he takes too long in the ropes and gets caught with a gamengiri before a top rope ‘rana sent him flying down to the mat for a near-fall.
Drake stuffs Flash’s attempt at the Eton Rifle and turns it a tombstone facebuster, before they traded near-falls from roll-ups. A running dropkick into the corner shuts down Flash, but a 450 splash off the top misses, allowing Flash to counter right back in with the Eton Rifle for the win. Fun stuff for the time they had, with the right man progressing… although Drake exiting in the first round in successive years kinda establishes where they’ve slotted him here. ***
Ashton Smith vs. Joseph Conners
I’m wondering if Smith was a late replacement, since the folks at WWE hadn’t even created an entrance video for him.
We start with lock-ups as Conners tried to wrestle Smith to the mat – and instead ended up in the ropes. Some shoulder blocks from Conners led to a dropkick from Smith, as the former Natural PROGRESSion Series semi-finalist looked to get the upper-hand… only to get caught in the ring apron by Conners as some clubbering forearms left him on the floor. As a side note, it’s mighty odd to see a WWE ring surrounded by tufts of grass…
Back inside, Conners keeps on top of Smith with stomps, before pulling him up by the ear for a clothesline. Because WWE can’t help but talk about Conners’ half-ear… Smith tries to fight back with a sunset flip, getting a near-fall only to get caught with a backbreaker as the match remained even. In the corner, Conners drills Smith with some elbows as commentary surmised a match between Pete Dunne and Joseph Conners (as I scream into a pillow having seen that!)… Conners keeps up on Ashton with a chinlock on the mat, before tripping Smith after he’d fought free. Smith gets dragged to the outside as Conners stretched him around the ring post as Conners screamed in frustration… the fightback looked to be cut off as Conners catches Smith in an abdominal stretch for a brief moment. Some body shots rock Ashton after he’d gotten free, but that’s the start of his comeback as a leaping clothesline and a back elbow put Conners on the back foot.
A leg lariat off the middle rope’s good for a near-fall as we’re treated to a crowd shot, returning in time for Conner’s slingshot DDT for a near-fall. Conners looks for a crucifix bomb, but it’s shoved off as he tried to cradle Smith instead for the win, before a tiltawhirl ripcord DDT out of nowhere got Smith the win. This was a decent match, but neither man seemed to be able to connect much with the crowd, hurting the reactions. Then again, I’d dare wager a lot of the crowd here were a mix of casual fans and perhaps PROGRESS fans, who’d never really cared for either man, so it’s not a surprise. **¾
Amir Jordan vs. Zack Gibson
There’s a bit of a gap in experience here, with Jordan less than three years in… and it showed from the off as he was caught in an armbar from Gibson, who was looking to make light work of the Yorkshireman.
Jordan’s right back in with a hammerlock, but Gibson shoves that off and follows in with strikes, countering a hiptoss into a backslide before he tried to slingshot Jordan into the corner. Amir avoids that and plays up to Zack before charging him down with a crossbody as Amir and his one-legged-tights stalled a little. Rather than staying on top of Gibson, Jordan stops for a bit and then comes back in with strikes, only for Zack to hit a hammerlock DDT as the tables turned once again. Gibson puts the boots to Amir, who does try to fight back, only for Zack to take him down with a wristlock and a stomp as the Scouser continued to trash-talk and wear down the relative newcomer. Yay, YouTube adverts…
Gibson keeps up on Jordan’s wrist in the corner, but Amir tries to fight back… and gets elbowed for his trouble as a arm-lift suplex kept Jordan down. Finally Jordan gets some freedom with bodyblows and a chinbreaker, eventually working into a dropkick as Gibson’s sent to the outside for a tope! Gibson’s taken straight back in as Jordan headed up top for a crossbody, connecting for a near-fall, before following in with a rolling Flatliner for another two-count.
From the kick-out though, Gibson’s right back on top of Jordan and comes back with a tombstone’d gutbuster, before he started to go for Jordan’s arm once more. An enziguiri from Amir keeps both men down, but when Amir looked to head up for a tornado DDT, he finds it caught and turned into a Helter Skelter as Gibson quickly moved to the Shankly Gates for the tap-out. This was solid without being enthralling – somehow the same Download crowd that railed on “arse face” James Drake weren’t in the mood to add to the already-stifling heat by throwing some Zack’s way. ***
Kenny Williams vs. Dave Mastiff
Both of these men were involved in the ITV project last year, but with Williams having appeared on 205 Live lately, this meant this was just a debut for Dave Mastiff.
There’s a massive size difference between these two, with Williams having to stick and move… but his early effort at what looked like headscissors was easily shoved off by Mastiff. Kenny’s taken up to the top rope, where he leaps over Mastiff as he again looked for that sunset flip… and instead works his way into a running PK that barely gets a one-count. Williams’ attempt to out-do Mastiff with speed came to a crashing end as he bounced off of Mastiff with a crossbody and ate a back senton as Big Dave started to impose himself. Some arm work sees Mastiff restrain Williams, as did some elbows to the jaw, before Mastiff crashed into Kenny with a dropkick.
From there, the guy we can’t call the Bastard whips Williams into the corner before Kenny rebounds with a jawbreaker… only for his springboard to get whacked away with a forearm to the back. A low dropkick out of desperation from Kenny keeps Mastiff down, before he’s tossed ot the outside for a springboard elbow drop that just about kept him on the floor. Williams connects with a dropkick through the ropes, then a tope as commentary called Mastiff a “mastodon”… aah, this being posted days before Vader’s passing hits you right in the feels… a flying elbow off the top almost gets Kenny the win, before his attempt at a satellite DDT was shoved away, with Mastiff coming back in with a shotgun DDT! With Kenny in the corner, a cannonball’s next, and that’s your lot! A competitive squash, but this felt a little rough at times – a good showing, with Mastiff being dominant in the end. **½
Travis Banks vs. Ligero
Another short one this – we start with a tie-up as Banks grabbed the head of Ligero, who returned the favour before he was thrown into the corner.
A low kick from Banks takes Ligero down, with a superkick getting a near-fall, but Ligero’s right back in with some headscissors as he tried to outfox Banks on the way to a roll-up and a low kick of his own. Ligero comes close with a suplex, before we return from a crowd shot as Ligero sweeps the leg and gets a near-fall from a standing moonsault on Banks. Ligero slipped in the ropes as he went for a springboard, and Banks capitalised with a diving knee as the crowd chanted for Botchamania. Arses. From there, Banks trips Ligero into the corner and followed in with a cannonball for a near-fall, before Ligero charged into the ropes to send the Kiwi to the outside from a waistlock.
A tope con giro from Ligero keeps Banks down, before he countered a counter to his springboard DDT, taking us into the indy’riffic pinning attempts for a bunch of one counts. Banks’ clothesline rocks Ligero, as does the Slice of Heaven… but it’s not enough as the PROGRESS champion finished off Ligero with the Kiwi Krusher for the win. Decent, but achingly short – a common thread throughout these first round matches, unfortunately. **¾
Tucker vs. Joe Coffey
Another returnee from last year’s tournament, Tucker’s been fairly quiet since then. He’s up against a debuting Joe Coffey, who made the leap from ITV for this.
We start with Coffey taking Tucker into the corner as the Scotsman tried to rough-house his opponent, before the pair exchanged wristlocks as the feeling out process continued. Eventually Coffey takes Tucker to the mat, only to get caught in a headlock as we enter shoulder-block territory… which Coffey quickly leaves with a bit of a pounce. A back elbow out of the corner surprises Coffey, but Tucker can barely get a pin in as he ends up running into a bicycle kick as Coffey swings him around in a front facelock. The resulting suplex is good for a near-fall, as Tucker’s forced to give and take some shots as he started to find himself on the back foot.
An Irish whip sent Tucker recoiling out of the corner, but Coffey remains rather methodical as he used a Japanese stranglehold to restrain the Northern Irishman, who tried to escape, only to get caught right back in the hold. Coffey forces Tucker to the mat and starts throwing some stomps before he charged Tucker between the ropes in what looked like an awkward moment. A kneedrop to the back gets Coffey a one-count, and Tucker’s right back in with a slingshot Flatliner… only for Coffey to land in such a place that Tucker had a leg under the rope, so his cover wouldn’t count. Tucker heads up for a senton bomb and lands in some knees as a shotgun dropkick and the Black Coffey lariat gets the Scotsman the win. Solid enough, but again, way too short for these guys to establish themselves and break through. ***
Jordan Devlin vs. Tyson T-Bone
They’ve gotten new music for Devlin, as opposed to the song that some indys picked up in lieu of the Hans Zimmer remix…
T-Bone tries to be all over Devlin early as he tried to impose his size difference on the match… but Devlin’s able to use his speed to stay ahead, taking down Tyson for a one-count, before running into a nasty clothesline in the ropes. Devlin’s kept in the corner with some boot chokes, before pulling Devlin into an old-school backbreaker for just a one-count. A knee drop followed as T-Bone used his brawling to keep the Irishman down, before a knee to the head in the corner left Devlin flat out. He’s pulled out of the corner so Tyson can pick up a two-count, as Devlin tries to fight back with some kicks… which are easily shoved off as T-Bone pushes Devlin down for an elbow drop as he picked up a near-fall. Devlin’s pulled up for a punch, as Tyson’s not giving him a moment’s rest… but a low dropkick finally gets him a bit of respite.
A gamengiri’s next as is a slingshot cutter as Devlin slowly started to fight his way back in, but a Jackhammer-like suplex from T-Bone almost gets the win. Tyson tries to follow up with a powerbomb, but instead he swipes away Devlin before missing a shoulder charge into the corner, as a spinning enziguiri out of nowhere from Devlin got the win. That was an extremely abrupt finish, and perhaps not the match I’d have put together… but they did what they could with the same limitations as everyone else. **½
All in all, these first round matches were a bit of a disappointment: while we had some matches that had promise, all of these felt way too short, and struggled to establish the tournament entrants in front of a casual crowd. Fortunately, the main tournament at the Royal Albert Hall didn’t suffer from this, but watching these matches as a warm-up for the tournament specials were hardly going to get the anticipation up.