This week’s episode showcased the rise of NXT UK.
The show kicked off with host Andy Shepherd in his living room. This edition focused on the inception of the NXT UK brand, and Shepherd would guide us through a handful of matches from those days.
Tyler Bate vs. Jordan Devlin – 2017 WWE UK Championship Tournament
If there are two men on the roster who have benefited from the NXT UK system, it’s Bate and Devlin. After Devlin’s match against Danny Burch ended prematurely the night before, he faced the eventual tournament winner Tyler Bate in the quarter finals. The match was simple and short, but it was a good showing for both men. Bate’s strength and resiliency was on show throughout and a pasty Devlin was clearly destined for greatness. Bate got the win here with a Tyler Driver ‘97 as the Blackpool crowd took to their feet in applause.
I was there live in the building as Tyler Bate was crowned the inaugural WWE UK Champion and have nothing but positive memories. It was a special weekend with an electric atmosphere.
Jack Gallagher vs. Zack Gibson – 2018 WWE UK Championship Tournament
London’s Royal Albert Hall played host to the second WWE UK Championship Tournament which saw the official launch of the NXT UK brand back in June of 2018. Unlike in 2017, this year’s tournament aired on a tape delay due to logistical difficulties, something which I feel negatively affected the feel of the shows. Nonetheless, this is one of the WWE Network’s hidden gems, pitching 205 Live’s Jack Gallagher against eventual tournament winner Zack Gibson. This match combined Gallagher’s evasive technical game with Gibson’s bullying tactics, resulting in a nicely flowing match.
Like the previous year, I have fond memories of being there live for these two nights. The nuclear heat for Gibson was a sight to behold and was something completely different in WWE at the time. Very rarely does a crowd voice such hatred at an individual in such a passionate yet creative way.
I still find it hard to believe how little involvement Gallagher has had in NXT UK. He has appeared sporadically in the past against the likes of Kassius Ohno, but he has never been a fully fledged part of the UK roster. Perhaps a Noam Dar-esque move back home would be best for him at this point. I also wonder what Gibson could have achieved had he have continued as a singles act.
Mark Andrews vs. Joe Coffey – NXT UK, October 17th 2018
Andrews and Coffey faced off in the first ever NXT UK TV match. This took place in front of a rabid crowd in Cambridge. Again, I have fond memories of this first TV taping. In a near sold-out venue, I don’t think a TV crowd has ever been as energetic at any other taping. I totally get the criticism of NXT UK as a weekly show, but these early shows did look great. Largely taking place in old theatres, the shows felt unique – an aspect that they lost by moving to half-empty echoey halls. It felt like a British adaptation of the established NXT show, not the budget imitation that many feel it is now.
Andrews came across as the perfect underdog in this match, as he so often does, before falling victim to Coffey’s discuss lariat. Mark Coffey came in handy at points, and the pair beat down Andrews after the match. Andrews’ eventual tag team partner Flash Morgan Webster ran out to make the save.
Pete Dunne vs. Trent Seven – WWE UK Special, May 7th 2017
Before RAW and SmackDown’s annual shows in London, WWE taped a weekend of shows from the Epic Studios in Norwich. Green-screened behind Jim Ross who was fresh from ITV’s World of Sport pilot – probably just a coincidence. You will be forgiven for forgetting about this whole show – even I forgot and I was there live. The atmosphere was great, though. It genuinely felt just like an NXT show out of Full Sail. Again, this is the type of venue they should be running.
British Strong Style stablemates Trent Seven and then PROGRESS Champion (he even came out with the title) Pete Dunne went one-on-one to determine Tyler Bate’s challenger for the UK Championship at NXT TakeOver: Chicago.
Man, I miss this Pete Dunne. A bitter youngster that would go to extreme lengths to satisfy his own greed. He would target limbs and joints all the time, something that would become a fundamental part of the Bruiserwright character as the world began to realise just how good our Peter is. He preyed on Seven’s injured arm throughout this match and kicked out of his lariat twice, before hitting a Bitter End for the win.
This was a fun look down memory lane. These early days of NXT UK hold some of my favourite memories in the show’s short history. There are some lessons here that the current format could learn from, and hopefully they will when things are back to normal.
Next week’s episode will follow a similar format, instead taking a look at some of the NXT UK talent’s personal picks.