A week on from New Japan’s biggest ever Wrestle Kingdom and a year to the day, and in the same venue the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, that NXT UK staged their first official Takeover event, NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool II took place.
While the brand has had its ups and down in establishing it’s weekly product (and there’s no doubt it is gradually developing in positive ways) it’s big shows have always delivered going right back to the first WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament three years ago this month, so, even before this show began, the bar was set high.
Trent Seven vs Eddie Dennis
With Seven having become the perennial elder statesman fan favourite of NXT UK the story here makes perfect sense as the dastardly Eddie Dennis looked to stake his place on the brand after being sidelined by injury for an extended period.
As a match it was a well done and solid affair, if largely unspectacular.
The highlight from Seven came as he delivered a snap dragon suplex to the tall Welshman followed by a low level suicide dive to the outside of the ring, but it was Dennis’ heelish antics that really stood out as he loosened the turnbuckle pad so when he dodged a lariat Seven went careening into the metal bolt.
After this he heeded the referee’s warning not to use the turnbuckle for his Severn Bridge powerbomb instead launching his moustachioed challenger over the top rope and into the security barricade with a brutal Awesome Bomb!
Despite surviving this it was a Next Stop Driver that gave Dennis the win and, while the match was well done, with the exception of a few moments, it seemed to fall a little flat — that said it more than re-established Dennis as the borderline psychotic bad guy capable of doing anything to gain victory.
NXT UK Women’s Championship
Triple Threat Match
Kay Lee Ray (c) vs Toni Storm vs Piper Niven
While the build to this match has certainly been intriguing, with the real life friendship between Piper Niven and Toni Storm being exploited by champion Kay Lee Ray to play the challengers off against each other and gain an advantage in the contest, it’s hard to avoid the idea that Storm looks to be on the verge of being selected for greater things given her appearance at WWE Survivor Series as well as her upcoming challenge to NXT Women’s Champion, Rhea Ripley.
While Toni might be the more widely known there’s no denying the popularity and response that greeted Niven, while it was great to see both her and Ray wearing tributes to late Scottish wrestling champion Lionheart.
The match began in nicely scrappy and chaotic fashion settling into a format that saw all three involved for much of the time, highlighted by some great high flying moments in and out of the ring by all three.
As the match neared its conclusion the relationship between the challengers came to the fore even more prominently with Ray again egging on the division but, as she attempted to capitalise on Niven, her attack was reversed into a Destroyer flipping piledriver for a near fall.
Storm was able to deliver her ‘Storm Zero’ Tiger Driver to the champion as well only for Niven to break it up and again Storm focussed on her former friend rather than the champion leaving herself open for the champion to capitalise and reclaim her title.
While this was another good match it seemed to work better in the room going by the audience’s reactions than on screen, but Ray really cemented herself (within the ‘WWE Universe’ at least) as a great classic heel as well as a convincing champion.
Jordan Devlin vs Tyler Bate
With a story dating back three years to when Tyler bested Jordan in the first WWE UK Tournament the story going into this felt like it had real stakes while the anticipation was high simply due to the fact that both men regularly steal the show, so the combination of the two looked set to do so in particularly spectacular fashion.
The match started with the crowd firmly behind Tyler but after a great opening sequence they were more split, something that continued throughout as, even at his most arrogant and despicable, Devlin is so good in the ring he can’t help but impress and raise a cheer.
With Devlin on simple but vicious form Tyler was able to show off his strength and skill, highlighted early on by a counter to the Devil Inside back drop suplex into a headlock takeover.
The story of the match though became an injury to Tyler’s ribs which was only exacerbated by a counter to a huge flying crossbody into a gut buster followed by a double crossbody from which Devlin gained the upper hand.
Later though Bate got back on top with a clever twist on his usual standing shooting star press while a following airplane spin was added to with a particularly nasty looking vertical drop brainbuster of the sort rarely seen in WWE these days.
A strike battle built into a trade off of signature moves with both men unable to secure the win as the crowd chanted ‘Are you watching Vince McMahon?’ before Devlin delivered an Avalanche Spanish fly and a Devil Inside for another near fall.
An attempt at the package piledriver was countered though and The Big Strong Boi again bested The Irish Ace with a flying tornado DDT, a Tyler Driver and a final Spiral Tap from the top rope.
As expected the match did indeed steal the show and, as Triple H, Johnny Saint and William Regal were shown applauding from the balcony, there’s already match of the year talk as, for my money, Bate and Devlin at least equaled Ospreay and Hiromu at Wrestle Kingdom in terms of excellent Jr Heavyweight wrestling that felt like a main event despite not being in that position on the card and, I suspect, this may have been Bate’s NXT UK swan-song as the bigger brother brand calls in Orlando.
NXT UK Tag Team Championship
Fatal Four Way Ladder Match
Gallus (Mark Coffey & Wolfgang) (c) vs Imperium (Marcel Barthel & Fabian Eichner) vs Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake) vs South Wales Subculture (Mark Andrews & Flash Morgan Webster)
With eight men involved, not to mention several ladders and, as the match went on, chairs and tables as well, giving a full breakdown of this match would be next to impossible, that said the build to it has been a good one arguably having started a year ago when Grizzled Young Veterans became the first NXT UK Tag Team Champions.
Since then they lost the belts at NXT UK Takeover: Cardiff to Webster and Andrews who in turn dropped them to the Gallus duo of Coffey and Wolfgang while throughout the Imperium duo of Barthel and Eichner have been a constant part of the hunt.
With all four teams so equal this match was made to decide victors once and for all and from the off it was a cavalcade of spectacular moments and death defying feats of athleticism.
While Andrews and Webster may have stolen the show with the high flying moments, including a one legend shooting star press off a ladder from Andrews and a tandem dive on the floor through a table to Wolfgang, the others all brought their own flair too.
Gallus’ rough and ready style was perfectly suited to the use of the heavy ladders, culminating in Wolfgang driving Eichner through a ladder with a spear.
Imperium were, as befits their mantra ‘the mat is scared’, more focussed on using their established, more technical attacks, but when called for didn’t seem shy at augmenting them with weapons.
GYV meanwhile did what they do best, being consummate tag team wrestlers and adapting to any situation using all the tricks at their disposal, along with their range of high impact offence, all of which combined to see all four teams nearly grab the gold.
In the end it was Gallus who were able to incapacitate their opposition enough to climb the ladder and reach the titles and in doing so took another step forward in establishing themselves and their ‘firm’ as a real force to be reckoned with, but the match really acted as a showcase for, and helped further cement, the NXT UK tag team division as a whole as one with a lot of promise and arguably being the strongest (in the WWE Universe at least) today.
WWE United Kingdom Championship
‘Der Ringgeneral’ WALTER (c) vs ‘The Iron King’ Joe Coffey
When the clash between WWE United Kingdom Champion WALTER and Gallus leader Joe Coffey was first announced I’ll admit I wasn’t all that excited for it.
After losing to Pete Dunne in Blackpool a year ago Coffey had often come across as a lot of bluster without much backing it up — a good upper mid card heel for certain, but little threat to the Teutonic Terror of Der Ringgeneral.
As this match neared though things seemed to shift, not only with the story of Coffey looking for revenge against WALTER for his overshadowing arrival last year in Blackpool but also as Coffey’s character shifted to one of a tough man just looking to be the best he could be in the face of the implacable Austrian, though it was hard to escape the fact that there was a sense of two heels facing off here and the crowd seemed more up for cheering WALTER as the match began.
This balanced out reasonably well as the match went on and it became clear the crowd was just into this match of two big men doing their best to beat each other up.
Coffey gained an early advantage with a tactic that became his calling card throughout, literally using his whole body as a weapon to attack the bigger champion, as he threw himself at his opponent including a spectacular drive from the audience, over the guardrail and into WALTER and a hugely impressive standing vertical suplex back in the ring.
A chop to the champion’s chest angered WALTER though and this seemed to turn the tide as the champion responded in kind both in and out of the ring gaining a terrific reaction from the audience with the ferociousness of the chops, before an Earthquake splash got the champion a near fall.
Now in control the champion proceeded to stretch his challenger with a range of holds but Coffey absorbed and survived WALTER’s assault striking back when the opportunity arose and, seemingly, gradually wearing him down despite the strength of some of the chops and even delivered a deadlift German suplex to the Austrian.
After Coffey survived a powerbomb which WALTER has used to finish many opponents the referee was caught in the crossfire of a dodged shotgun dropkick and, while the challenger capitalised with no official he couldn’t score the fall.
With crowd chanting for VAR all hell broke loose as Imperium member Alexander Wolfe hit the ring, attacking Coffey, before Ilja Dragunov attempted to make the save hitting Torpedo Moscow to Wolfe but with the challenger getting caught up in it and suffering an injured knee.
With WALTER smelling blood he attacked Coffey’s knee further on the floor before returning to the ring and scoring a two-count when a new referee finally appeared, still fighting the challenger even survived a top rope splash after this but was all but done for as WALTER hit a sleeper suplex before locking in a modified sleeper choke hold to which Coffey finally succumbed.
While I hadn’t been looking forward to it this match far surpassed my expectations with both men looking great, but particularly Coffey showing he can really deliver when it counts and be an effective ‘tweener’ contender as well while WALTER once again played the dominant heel he’s made his name as to perfection.
I do wonder though where another loss on the big stage like this leaves Joe Coffey going forward while the champion seems all but unbeatable, with only Ilja Dragunov looking anything like a potential contender.
With Imperium all in the ring celebrating their leader’s win the show seemed to be over with the European team reigning supreme.
That was until NXT’s Undisputed Era appeared from the crowd and beatdown the night’s victors who they will face at World’s Collide in a few weeks.
While they got a big reaction from the crowd the show ending with the NXT team standing tall somewhat runs the risk of making the UK team look like the weak link, so I’m hoping they get to shine on the bigger stage at Royal Rumble weekend.
As a whole NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool II started somewhat slow but in the final three matches was a terrific event with Bate and Devlin putting on Match Of The Night, and potentially a Match of the Year contender, while the ladder match was the spectacular thrill ride it should be and the main event was a great example of the classic heavyweight style with a modern twist added thanks to the sheer physicality of both men, but especially Joe Coffey.