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WWE UNITED KINGDOM CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENT
AIRED JUNE 25, 2018
TAPED AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL, LONDON, ENGLAND
AIRED ON WWE NETWORK
REPORT BY ALAN COUNIHAN, PWTORCH CONTRIBUTOR
The decision to air WWE’s second United Kingdom tournament on a one-week delay left many fans miffed. Further head scratching occurred when they announced the original airing would be at 3pm on a Monday afternoon on the East Coast, with the follow-up show the next day. If the shows really could not air live then it seems like a push towards getting them up for what was a relatively quiet weekend would have been at least the next best thing.
As a result of these decisions, there was little to no hype heading into these shows which took place at the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London, England. That said, the lineup for the tournament looked excellent and with an all-star trios match to boot, Night 1 had a lot of potential.
Quarter Final 1 – Jack Gallagher vs. Zack Gibson
Gallagher of course is a regular on 205 Live with a throwback character playing off his training under Billy Robinson and his connections to the famous “Snake Pit” gym in Wigan. Gibson’s only previous forays into a WWE ring were at the Download festival where qualifying took place for this tournament and on the Axxess shows this year in New Orleans. He couldn’t have asked for a more familiar opponent for his first big WWE showcase, as he and Gallagher go way back to well before they even broke out in the UK.
Both being North-West guys, Gallagher from Manchester and Gibson from Liverpool, they travelled in similar circles and competed against each other regularly in promotions like Future Shock. Their matches in PROGRESS in 2016 took them up a level and lead to Jack’s signing later that year. It’s a banker good match whenever these two lock horns and this was no different.
They used the match to firmly establish Zack’s heel character and the crowd were all over him with the usual chants that accompany his matches. Unfortunately this lead to one of the biggest issues with the show. Whoever was doing the post-production was way to trigger happy with their edit button and this show lost a ton of its natural feel. Chants were regularly, and obviously, muted and the audio was tweaked in a variety of ways that hurt the experience.
After surviving Gallaghers trademark offence including a corner dropkick and a beautiful roll through rear naked choke, Gibson snuck in his Shankly Gates submission hold to force the tap-out. The move is very similar to Nigel McGuinness’ old London Dungeon, and they played up on commentary how Nigel was a big influence on Gibson’s career.
Match Rating : 6/10
Quarter Final 2 – Joe Coffey vs. Dave Mastiff
This was a battle of the bulls if ever there was one! Both former competitors in PROGRESS’ Atlas Division (you have to be over 205 lbs to compete, and they certainly are!), Coffey and Mastiff are seasoned veterans with over a decade’s experience each. Coffey has been the top guy (and best wrestler) in Scotland’s Insane Championship Wrestling for years. His style is a bit of a mix. He blends the classical hold for hold British style with the straight ahead style of a Japanese power wrestler like Daisuke Sekimoto. However his work is a lot more “friendly” to his opponents than someone like Daisuke and is definitely on the lighter side of things when it comes to strikes. Mastiff similarly looks like someone who would destroy his opponents but he has a rep for being one of the safest, easiest matches a wrestler could have in the UK. He is highly respected.
They did a lot to showcase their respective power based offence, but the highlight was a fantastic counter & leapfrog spot on the floor which showed that both guys are light on their feet with agility to boot. Coffey won a short, compact match with a discuss lariat. Absolutely nothing wrong with this.
Match Rating – 6.5/10
Quarter Final 3 – Jordan Devlin vs. Flash Morgan Webster
Crowd reactions were very interesting here. For the past 18 months since the original UK tourney, Devlin has been one of the top 5 guys on the continent for consistent quality of performance. He’s been on a tear in OTT and has gotten over big in Fight Club Pro and PROGRESS to the most hardcore fans. Yet it feels like when you go outside the most clued in fans and get to the next level i.e. at least half of this crowd at the Royal Albert Hall, he’s not seen as a star to the level of a lot of the other guys. WWE have played up his student/mentor relationship with Finn Balór and the result has been “You’re just a shit Finn Balór” chants following Jordan around when he’s in front of more casual UK crowds. Ironic as his last 12 months has been as good or better than any year of Finn’s career in terms of match quality.
Webster was certainly the more over of the two but he wasn’t near his best here. He is a very good babyface when selling and taking a beating but oftentimes loses his charm when trying for a more spectacular match. He had an incredible bout against Nathan Cruz last year in PROGRESS where they wrestled a very traditional bout and it really worked well. That should be his bread and butter.
One of the issues Flash seems to have in WWE is getting used to the ring. This was obvious in both his Download match and on this show. He is taking an eternity to run the ropes in the bigger ring, and it feels like he takes a million steps every time. A stint in the PC would certainly help him with this.
Devlin looked as crisps as ever, and by the end of the match had certainly shut the boo birds down. His Shiranui Kai from the top looked incredible and was the highlight of the match. The finish came when Jordan missed a picturesque moonsault and Webster hit the Eton Rifle (similar to the Destino) for the win in just over 7 minutes.
Match Rating – 6/10
Quarter Final 4 – Travis Banks vs. Ashton Smith
Along with Ireland’s Devlin, Banks represents the rest of the non-UK contingent in the final 8. Hailing from New Zealand, the Kiwi Buzzsaw has risen to the top of the British scene since arriving over in 2016. He’s the PROGRESS World Champion, head trainer at Fight Club Pro and in demand by all the top promotions across Europe.
Ashton Smith, like Gibson, Coffey and Mastiff was one of the guys on the original ITV taping last year. Based on his promo you could tell he was delighted to have switched sides and now be working for the promotion he grew up loving. He has his biggest profile in Preston Championship Wrestling where he has had some great matches including a fantastic 2/3 Falls contest with the mat genius Dean Allmark.
This was the shortest and most uneventful match of the show so far. Smith will be hoping for more time than the 6 minutes he got here on future shows. He did fine but didn’t get a chance to look anything special and the atmosphere wasn’t good here (the post-production was particularly irritating).
Banks showcased his main offence with the Slice Of Heaven (Triangle Kick out of the corner) setting up the Kiwi Krusher (Low Ki’s “Ki Krusher”) to give him the win.
Match Rating – 5/10
NXT Women’s Title Contenders Match – Toni Storm vs. Killer Kelly vs. Isla Dawn
At the taping, this went to the ring as a four way with Jinny being the fourth participant. Sadly she got injured right away and the match was halted. It came back later in the taping as a three way which is what we saw on the end product.
Storm is the most well known and accomplished of the three having achieved great success in Japan for Stardom, competed in the Mae Young Classic and won the Womens title in both PROGRESS and wXw. Kelly is a rising star from Portugal who is currently based out of Germany where she is a regular for wXw. Similarly Dawn is from Scotland but has travelled around for her training – having worked a lot with Tommy End (Aleister Black) in Holland and spending time based out of Florida working various US indies.
Given the circumstances, these three ladies did well. They only had four minutes but they made the most of their time with an intense, fast paced match. Storm used her trusty Strong Zero piledriver for the win. She will face Shayna Bazler on Night 2.
Match Rating – 4.5/10
Semi Final 1 – Zack Gibson vs. Flash Morgan Webster
This was more Webster’s style with Gibson totally dismantling him and after Flash got off to a fast start before the cut-off. Another very short match but it told a good story. After four minutes, Gibson hit the Helter Skelter (twisting suplex) on the ramp. Flash barely broke the count but Zack clasped on the Shankly Gates straight away and forced the tap.
Gibson was doing an awesome job as a heel before, during and after the match. His facial expressions and body language set him a part.
Match Rating – 5.5/10
Semi Final 2 – Joe Coffey vs. Travis Banks
A battle of former Zero 1 dojo boys, and they wrestled a good hard match that Masato Tanaka, Shinjiro Ohtani and co. would be proud of.
They did a good job of trying to get across their desire to finish the match quick and move on. There was no messing about here. There was nothing overly spectacular but it moved the tournament on in a positive way. Banks won but was jumped by Coffey after the match – the first and only angle on the show.
Match Rating – 5.5/10
British Strong Style vs. The Undisputed Era
Ohhhhh this was good! Easily the match of the night to this point. All six men came off as stars in different ways. Pete Dunne seemed like the absolute ace of the brand, Tyler Bate the supreme talent that can do anything, Trent Seven the charismatic everyman, and Adam Cole, Roderick Strong & Kyle O’Reilly like polished world class workers.
For those that have a lower tolerance level for tongue in cheek, meta style comedy, BSS trios matches on the indy scene can be an exercise in frustration – particularly with Bate and Dunne capable of so much more as athletes. However it has made them very popular with a large segment of the fanbase. In WWE though, everyone’s a winner. They reign themselves in from the schtick and the overly contrived spots and they are much, much more palatable.
The match only went 12 minutes but they did so much that you felt like you got a lot more. Still it felt like these six could have gone another half hour and kept the audience engaged and excited. Tyler’s giant swing/airplane spin combo was a crowd pleaser, as was Pete’s beautiful Orihara Moonsault to the floor to set up the finish. Moustache Mountain combined to hit a rebound lariat/Dragon Suplex double team on Kyle for the three. The crowd were super hot and not even the show’s annoying audio editing could mess it up.
Match Rating – 8/10
The Final – Zack Gibson vs. Travis Banks
Each man was out for their third match of the night and they were following an electic star-powered tag, so you could forgive them if they had a tough time delivering the goods. But this didn’t come close to disappointing and ended up surpassing the BSS match for match of the night honours.
Banks had what was one of his best outings in a while with Gibson proving to be the perfect opponent for him. Amazing that PROGRESS never paired them up for a programme because it worked so well here. As good as Banks was with his selling (he shoulder was taped from the Coffey attack) and his fire, this was the Gibson show ultimately.
A total tour de force heel performance by the Liverpudlian. Gibson’s arm-work was clever, engaging and always seemed just that bit more mean than it needed to be. The crowd were all over him and he did a great job riling them up and bringing the heat to a boiling point with his ruthless attacks.
The last few minutes were nearfall heavy with Banks coming within a hair of winning off his Slice Of Heaven and Kiwi Krusher. His fight-back after taking a hammering throughout the match never seemed unrealistic, as he did a great job coming off as a fiercely resilient competitor who would not die. Gibson was fantastic selling the peril he found himself in and trying to catch a desperation win with his feet on the ropes.
The finish saw Banks over-extend himself with a topé attempt. Gibson rolled him into the ring, hit the Helter Skelter and locked in the Shankly Gates. Unlike in previous matches where opponents tapped instantly, Banks valiantly held on for 20-30 seconds before he had to tap. Superbly well done final.
Gibson moves on to face Pete Dunne for the title on Night 2 in what should be a great match.
Match Rating – 8.5/10
FINAL THOUGHTS: This show was not without it’s problems (mainly on the production side) but it’s main goal was to get you excited going into Night 2 and it certainly did that.
Overall recommendation: Give it a watch!
NOW CHECK OUT ANOTHER REPORT ON THIS EVENT: 6/25 WWE UK Championship Tournament: Gallagher, Gibson, Mastiff, Coffee, Devil, Webster, plus Undisputed Era vs. British Strong Style, Triple Threat women’s contender match