NXT UK TakeOver Blackpool II
January 12, 2020
Blackpool, Lancashire, England
Venue Empress Ballroom

Watch: WWE Network

Some say that NXT UK doesn’t exist, but as many of us catch up on TV like we’ve skipped our homework,  we find that not only does it exist, it’s actually quite good. In fact, the last Takeover – a show that contained two ****+ matches – was a great show.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter.  When William Regal saw the imaginary dagger, and the bell summoned BritWres to heaven or to hell, it was decreed that anything from NXT UK will be shrouded in anger and frustration.  Meltzer might have broken the rating scale for Walter vs Bate, but it was all a bit too late. NXT UK had taken over, Progress had evolved into the promotion of overemotional, bearded Brewdog Tory punks and the excitement of European wrestling had gone.

NXT UK feels like an unfaithful spouse.  I might love the people involved, but it will never be the same again.

Eddie Dennis def. Trent Seven

Trent Seven is a wonderfully smart worker.  He’s getting old, out of shape and he’s hardly a workrate legend.  But, what he can do is twizzle a towel around and have an audience smiling and cheering.  He has an undeniable charisma and he uses this to yield fantastic results. He understands his limitations so he buries them.  He also understands his strengths; he pushes these to the fore.

Eddie Dennis, on the other hand, is not charismatic.  At least, not in the way NXT UK want.. The mask made him look like a Poundstretcher SANADA, and the forced scowl is unconvincing.  He needs to learn some of Seven’s self-awareness.

At the risk of sounding like Cornette, this match didn’t really make any sense.  This was a spotfest from two wrestlers who would have been better served by a narrative.  It felt like a succession of moves that make any coherent sense.

I enjoy a dangerous-looking Razor’s Edge as much as the next man, but the work felt dangerous in an uncomfortable way.  The moments of narrative – such as Eddie Dennis removing the turnbuckle – felt like forgotten spots remembered a second too late.

The kick-outs were unconvincing and even one of Seven’s glorious top rope blunders couldn’t do much to save this. **¾

NXT UK Women’s Championship
Kay Lee Ray (c) def Toni Storm and Piper Niven

The story behind this match is so simple and so pure that it should have worked.  Piper and Toni’s friendship was being torn apart by their individual desire to be champion and the ensuing chaos played right into the hands of the reigning heel.  It’s exactly the kind of story that makes pro wrestling sing, but the match has to be the pivotal moment or it all falls apart.

Storm is a clear star, and Ray is only a slight step behind.  Storm’s likeability is equalled by Ray’s abrasiveness. Unfortunately, Piper Niven is not on their level.  In GIF form, her work will look great. She ruins pin attempts with thunderous senton bombs and her powerbomb is a spectacle, but she always looks like she’s thinking about what she’s going to do next.  Whirring cogs are almost visible as she clumsily plods around the ring. Her wrestling is as stunted as her promos, and I feel like I’ve been waiting years for her to turn the corner.

The great setup was lost in a match that was clearly designed by a committee.  Ray finding a chair underneath the ring was met with apathy and the friends standing nose to nose was ruined by a cackling heel on the apron.  It was a clear instance of wrestlers positioning themselves for camera shots and it screamed artificiality.

The big leaps from Kay Lee Ray were crowd pleasers, but there was little beyond that. **3/4

Tyler Bate def Jordan Devlin

Devlin is one of the best storytellers in wrestling.  His work in OTT has been stellar, and this match gave us a glimpse of why that run has been so critically acclaimed.

The presentation of this match was simple, and it goes back to the inaugural NXT UK Championship tournament.  Bate was perfect all weekend, whereas Devlin suffered misstep after misstep. Bate went on to be a champion and Devlin was forgotten.  The self crowned Irish Ace was left to seeth while Bate went on to rule the company.

That story was infused into everything Devlin did.  He held onto to armbars for longer than he needed because he wanted to show that he was every bit as good as his opponent.  He shook his head whenever the crowd chanted for Bate, his face scarred into a mixture of jealousy and hatred. Every control period was dripping with mockery and it bred a heat that was anything but cheap.

Bate is undeniably a star, but he is invisible.  It feels like the only exposure he gets is through his own Twitter account where he is defined by ridiculous grammar and bad fashion.  Perception has become reality for many, but I would implore those who have given up on Bate to watch this match. A gorilla press, a leap to the top rope or a breathtaking corkscrew are reminders of the wonderful potential he still has.  We’re finally past the silly hand waving, and he is ready to tell his opus.

This story of this match can be summed up by the brilliant surfboard Devlin locked onto Bate.  He wrenched his neck back so far, the two men’s eyes were locked. It was a wonderful moment of intimate violence that said far more than it first appeared.

They wrestled the entire match like they’d been studying tapes as they dodged punches and built believable near-falls and an epic closing stretch.

It’s easy to dismiss NXT UK, but dismiss this match at your peril. ****1/4

NXT Tag Team Championship Ladder Match
Gallus (c) def Grizzled Young Veterans, Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel, Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews

It’s almost impressive how these teams managed to incorporate every ladder match cliche into this pithy twenty-five minutes .  It served as a reminder of just how repetitive gimmick matches are in the WWE. They were all there – someone finding a bigger ladder, the slow climb to the top, the leap from the ladder through a table, the rickety structure, all the competitors climbing battling at the top – and it was impossible to care about any of it.

Gallus, who apparently are now babyfaces, are mirages.  As soon as they grab any attention, they immediately disappear like foxes in the night.  They shout abstract claims like “this is our kingdom” yet come across as lads that brag about how spicy they like their curry and treat going on a pub crawl as an epic adventure.  They’re unlikeable.

The spots were good.  Fabian Aichner did an excellent moonsault and it’s impossible not to respect Andrews and Webster leaping from the top of a ladder through a table, but my mind was so bored by the time the finishing stretch arrived that it all melted into lights and sounds on my screen.

They cleared the ladders out of the ring for the final act of the match, and it served as a reminder of what could have been.  I would have enjoyed more spots such as Fabian Aichner catching Andrews and transitioning into a brainbuster, but the producers of this mess seemed to spend more time worrying about where to put the illogical kendo sticks.

This tag team division should be a booker’s dream.  Instead, it’s a shambles. **¾

WWE United Kingdom Championship
WALTER (c) def Joe Coffey

There were two things wrong with this match: the presentation of Joe Coffey and the presentation of WALTER.

It would be very easy to be critical of Joe Coffey.  He’s a mid-card level talent with a sprinkling of charisma who has found himself promoted way beyond his ability.  That’s not really his fault. It would be unfair to claim he wasn’t working hard here, because he leapt over a guardrail like a man possessed.  I wouldn’t expect him to argue with his bosses about pushing him and it would be absurd to think that he would try to persuade them that he’s not good enough for the main event.  But the fact is, he isn’t. He’s the prototype midcarder who should serve as a gatekeeper. Instead, he’s wrestling thirty-minute matches in front of sold-out crowds.

Joe Coffey isn’t to blame for Joe Coffey.  The producers – whether it’s the Three Mates, Regal, or the King of Kings himself – are at fault here.

The relentless push of Joe Coffey is merely secondary evidence in the argument that the NXT UK crew sniff glue.  Exhibit A – they can’t book WALTER.

WALTER is the easiest wrestler to book.  He’s a big bully who batters everyone. That’s it. Everything about him – from his moves, to his look, to his promos, to his ring gear, to the look on his goddamn face – build the unstoppable heel.  Every other promotion in the world knew this and used it to amazing effect.

Not NXT UK.  NXT UK has WALTER lying on the floor for the first section of this match as Joe Coffey lays the boot in.  This is the same Joe Coffey that leapt off the apron to crickets in a promotion that values “moments” more than anything else.

As I watched Walter lie on the mat in a fetal position, I was reminded of what we once had.  I loved the build we would get towards the first thunderous chop and the wonderful, violent release when it finally happened.  Here, I got Joe Coffey trying to suplex WALTER to silence.

The producers of this show care so little about professional wrestling that they walk straight past the wonderful, easy story of WALTER.  There is nothing of what made WALTER such a refreshing revelation and nothing to suggest it would ever get any better.

There is nothing more depressing than an unearned forearm exchange, but they barrelled on with it anyway rather than just put this dying dog of a match out of its misery.

A shotgun dropkick to the ref was the bugle call for a line of supporting actors – Ilja and Wolfe – as a reminder that everybody loses when they sign with NXT UK.

I watched Joe Coffey lift WALTER  off his feet twice and I felt nothing, like I was wasting my time on a barely passable covers band.  

The ending of this match was a lobotomy – Coffey botched his finisher and WALTER won with a side headlock.

Do not waste your time on this match. **

Final Thoughts

It says a lot that the biggest pop of the night was for the Undisputed Era setting up the angle for the Worlds Collide show.  I am an unashamed fan of independence and wrestling spirit, and I recognize more than anyone that NXT UK was always going to struggle in the hardcore circles we inhabit.  The laziness of the storytelling on this show is a clear indication that the producers of this show aren’t trying to win us over. They aren’t even trying to put on good shows.

Watch Bate vs Devlin and skip the rest of this bollocks.