8/31 NXT UK Takeover Cardiff Report: Walter vs. Tyler Bate, Toni Storm vs. Kay Lee Ray, Ilja Dragunov vs. Cesaro, more

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AUGUST 31, 2019

Whatever you say about the self-styled “fastest growing brand in sports entertainment,” they managed to secure a victory after seemingly launching a kamikaze mission into the jaws of defeat. I mean, in terms of what WWE used to care about, they lost badly, with New Japan Pro-Wrestling selling over 2,000 more tickets in London than NXT UK did in Cardiff. But while those like me who were at Royal Quest live saw something special, so did the people at the Motorpoint Arena. And when NXT UK can come close to matching Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazuchika Okada, it warrants us all paying attention.

In the main event Tyler Bate and WWE UK Champion Walter turned the dial up to 11, as they did more and did it longer than their classic main event of Progress Wrestling’s Hello Wrestling. The last NXT UK Takeover main event saw two men not best suited to go long be exposed by the NXT main event formula, but these men navigated Shawn Michaels’s obstacle course with aplomb. After a somewhat diffident performance in Brooklyn over WrestleMania weekend, Walter was back to his best, with the Austrian bullying Bate for much of the match. But Dudley’s (the town in England, not the opining former Fed Governor) finest wasn’t cowed as, despite a shockingly inactive 2019 which has seen him have no noteworthy singles match, he was the perfect fiery babyface.

Ironically, the most impressive things Bate did was the weak point of the match, as the decision to have Bate lift up Walter early and often negated the drama of the Big Strong Boi doing that as part of the finishing sequence. Progress elicited genuine emotion from Bate doing a slam on the gigantic Austrian, whereas here it quickly became a party trick. It is, however, a pretty damn impressive party trick, with the deadlift German suplex being a particular highlight.

Eschewing the Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant framing did mean the match lacked a story, but the action was strong enough to almost overcome the lack of meaning, with both men letting it all hang out. They hit all their big moves, with Tyler actually hitting his Tyler Driver ’97 mid-way through the match for a near-fall. There was so much to come afterwards. They never took a backwards step, let alone a moment’s rest, with an uncannily frenetic 42 minutes being brought to an end by Walter hitting a thunderous lariat. What made the finish all the more remarkable was that Bate had spent the past few minutes literally hulking up in the face of Walter’s offense, having kicked out at one after the champion hit a powerbomb, but Walter’s arm connected with such force that you believed the finish. Afterwards Walter posed with his Imperium comrades, whilst Bate’s fellow West Midlanders in Trent Seven and Pete Dunne consoled him. Tyler’s nods in the match to both founders of British Strong Style, whether it be working over the fingers or hitting the burning hammer, coupled with the results of the NXT UK TV tapings the day after, suggest that this feud is far from over.

If the main event set the standard, only one of the other two title matches came anywhere close to meeting it. Toni Storm and Kay Lee Ray failed to show what they can do, as KLR won a passable match (in both meanings of the word) with a Gory Bomb. They were admittedly robbed off time, but the action was pedestrian and lacked psychology. The match would have been a good women’s match on a lazy Smackdown Tuesday, but it did not justify its semi-main event spot. Some have righty wondered whether WWE was reverting to their old tactic of using the women to give the crowd a breather before the main event. In NXT UK’s defense, the tapings put the new champion over strong, with her seemingly having plenty of promo time and even getting to defeat one of the most accomplished women wrestlers Britain has ever produced in Tegan Nox.

The other title match was a vindication for WWE pairing-up Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews. The two men have plenty of experience dagging on the indies, but the WWE team is a more natural pairing in terms of ring style than FSU, 198, Don’t Explain, etc. Of course they were gigantic babyfaces as the Welsh superstars going up the combined Anglo-Scottish heel forces. This was a match that made the most of Andrews and Webster’s local connection, with them alternating between being beaten up by or outsmarting the heels. What really added to the match was how much smaller the babyfaces were than the heels, with the away teams able to outmuscle the fan favourites, but not handle their high-flying. Every time the South Wales Sub-Culture got on offense they’d quickly do a fun double-team high flying move that pleased the crowd. Those moments were rare, with the Grizzled Young Veterans and Gallus alternating control over their mutual opponents. Whilst there was hints of dissension between the two team, which ever so slightly plays into the finish. Grizzled Young Veterans have the match won, but Gibson delays covering Webster so he can tell Drake to take out Gallus. That gives Andrews enough time to hit a Shooting Star Press, and pull his tag team partner over the prone Scouser.

NXT UK’s weird Scottish affirmative action programme was apparent in two other matches. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, we were treated to Dave Mastiff vs. Joe Coffey and Noam Darr vs. Travis Banks. Neither match would get far beyond the Largo Loop in America, but for some reason a multinational company feels the need to salve Scotland’s ego. The Coffey vs. Mastiff match was fought under Last Man Standing rules, which was apt, because most people couldn’t believe their careers were still standing in 2019. Joking aside, it was a thoroughly fine match, and actually had a cool sequence where they charged at each other with chair whilst flanked either side by fans. It was like the bizarro-duel in Fistful of Dynamite. Likewise, the finish was clever. Both men were using storage crates to pull themselves up off the floor after they crashed through a table, only for Coffey to kick the crate that Mastiff was leaning on. The Bomber crashed to the floor and so Mastiff secured the victory. Less spectacular but similarly awkward and overlong, Travis Banks fell to Noam Darr when the latter hit his Nova Kick to end an overly long opener that never got out of first gear.

This was a rare NXT Takever that didn’t have many surprise appearances, but WWE sent over Cesaro for a match. Ilja Dragunov embrassed himself in the pre-match exchanges, gurning throughout his backstage confrontation then delivering a weird and disjointed promo in the ring. But once they locked up in the ring, it was electric, with both men bringing the action in a remarkably hard hitting match by WWE standards. Cesaro was a huge star throughout the match, but Dragunov came across as his equal, with the NXT UK wrestler getting plenty of offense in before Ceasro managed to counter the Torpedo Moscow with a giant uppercut. He would quickly hit his Neutraliser to end an enjoyably physical match.

Overall, NXT UK Takeover Cardiff was a significant improvement over the previous show in Japan. More of the matches had stakes and storylines behind, the main eventers were better placed to conform to the format, and the crowd was crazy. It is worth saying that NXT UK must learn they cannot rely on super-long main events to ensure they hit their time cues for the Network. The roster is surprisingly deep, and the next Takeover should certainly made use of it, so that matches aren’t overlong. But when NXT UK presented a show that is being favourably compared to Minoru Suzuki’s first IWGP Title shot in over two years, you know for once, they did something right.

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