It feels like we've been waiting a long long time for NXT UK to finally begin. The rumours, the non-starts, the Takeover classics, Pete Dunne battering Enzo Amore on RAW, the three sets of tapings with no episodes aired...it had been almost two years since WWE UK first began to take shape. But on 17th October 2018, WWE finally aired the first episode of NXT UK on the WWE Network, with footage coming from the 28th July taping at the Cambridge Corn Exchange in Cambridge, England.
The premiere episode brought us a United Kingdom Championship main event as Pete Dunne put the title on the line against 205 Live regular Noam Dar, whilst Moustache Mountain's Tyler Bate & Trent Seven, Toni Storm, Mark Andrews, Dave Mastiff and Joe Coffey all appeared. But was it any good? Lets take a look.
A big ol' pompous opening that felt very Triple H, as it discussed building an empire and showed some of WWE's history with the UK.
The first match of the show saw ICW's Joe Coffey get the better of PROGRESS' Mark Andrews in a battle of UK Championship Tournament semi finalists. The pair had a rock solid bout, that played to their strengths, with Coffey able to display his power and Andrews pulling out a lot of very pretty fast paced offence, with a healthy dollop of the underdog babyface fire that made him a top name on the BritWres scene. Mark Coffey's distractions at ringside worked well to develop the dynamic between the brothers, whilst also building to the spot of the match nicely when Andrews nailed a moonsault onto both men at the same time. Cambridge was super hot for Mandrews from the very beginning and I think that had a massive impact on my enjoyment of this one, as it bought a new dimension to the dynamic and meant that every fight back from the smaller man felt that little bit more important. I'm still unsure whether WWE realises how much of a diamond they have in Mark Andrews. On that note, Coffey would pick the win moments after the moonsault spot, nailing an overhead belly to belly suplex and the Aw'ra Best for the Bells lariat to earn the first ever victory on NXT UK.
Stat - The only other match between the pair had the same result when they battled at Discovery Wrestling in Edinburgh, Scotland back in November 2015.
After the match, the Coffey Brothers began to lay into Andrews, with "Flash" Morgan Webster heading out for the save. A nice early bit of storyline and what could a fun feud between these two teams. All good so far.
Moustache Mountain were seen wheeling their suitcases through Cambridge, looking like a pair of b i g s t r o n g b o i s.
Eddie Dennis made his debut in a video package, discussing his history with Pete Dunne and Mark Andrews, with some classic pictures of all three flashing on screen, before Dennis revealed he had some stories to tell. This has a lot of potential and was one of the elements of this episode that made me most excited to see what was to come from the brand.
Former NXT Tag Team Champions Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) came out to say a few words. I don't really know what else I can say here, because nothing really happened, with the segment seemingly acting as a way to simply shoe-horn Bate & Seven onto the first episode without having them compete. I mean, there was nothing wrong with the pair interacting, they're both entertaining to watch and managed to hold the crowd with their banterous chat, but there also wasn't anything resembling substance. There was no feud to push or surprise interruption, this was just a thing that happened for a bit. Even the discussion of the NXT Tag Team titles ended up abruptly, because at this point there's not enough teams to have a division, which is an odd thing to have to point out on your first episode. The rest of the promo was a bit circle-jerky, discussing the achievement of NXT UK and how the fans had been a big part in it happening. I'm hoping NXT UK doesn't continue this habit of repeatedly patting it's own back, because it will get old fast.
Dave Mastiff is in action next, so we get a little look at what Mastiff is all about, which is basically bodying lads.
A recap of how Noam Dar earned his WWE United Kingdom title shot last June, with his four-way victory over Travis Banks, Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews.
Dave Mastiff picked up his first victory on WWE TV in a quick, one-sided match with the debuting Sid Scala (IPW:UK). Mastiff looked very impressive here, showing off not only his range of power moves, but also his innate charisma as he laughed at any offence that Scala managed to get in on him. The 16 year veteran owned the space, showing off his range of agility with a wicked closing sequence of moves that included a front dropkick, release german suplex and a 315 lb cannonball. Scala is someone who could offer a lot to NXT UK in the future and his bumping performance here should have put him in good stead to do just that.
Match stat - This was Dave Mastiff's first televised victory since defeating Grado to win the vacant World of Sport Wrestling Championship on New Year's Eve 2016.
Blue Peter presenter Radzi Chinyanganya (strangely uncredited) interviewed Nina Samuels backstage as Samuels said she wanted to make a name for herself at the expense of Toni Storm. For me, the promo felt a little forced, with Samuels coming across as nervous throughout, whilst it also taught me very little about Samuels or her character, with a general "insert name" here feel. This could have been anyone.
Considering Toni Storm's only previous WWE losses have come against NXT Women's Champions Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler, it was no surprise to see her pick up a clean victory over the debuting Nina Samuels (Pro Wrestling EVE) here. This match didn't click for me, with Samuels looking awkward when on both attack and defence, whilst she also struggled to stand out as anything other than a generic heel foil. Obviously the match was designed to showcase Storm, but considering the amount of offence Samuels got in, I felt like I learnt next to nothing about her from this performance, with the character coming across your basic wrestling villain. This wasn't helped by some sloppy offence, including a poor tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. That isn't to say that the match didn't have it's bright spots, because some lovely stiff forearms from Storm as part of her comeback and an early tease of the running double knee smash that would later help Storm on route to her victory. The finish felt a little familiar with a similar set-up to how Dave Mastiff went over Sid Scala a few minutes earlier, as Storm hit a German suplex into the corner to set up the knee smash, with the addition of a Storm Zero adding a little differentiation.
Stat - These two had previously faced off at WrestleForce in Southampton in 2015, British Empire Wrestling in Tooting and Westside Xtreme Wrestling in Tufnell Park both in Greater London in 2017, with this match leaving Storm with a 3-1 record.
Next week - Tyler Bate vs. Wolfgang in a 2017 United Kingdom Championship tournament semi-final rematch.
The main event saw Pete Dunne successfully retain the United Kingdom Championship in a very good match with Noam Dar. A strong example of the meshing of a classic British technical outing and WWE style main event, this clash gave plenty of hope that NXT UK will be able to find its own distinct style, whilst still appealing to a wider audience. The match managed to be both all-action and storyline-based with the early part of the match showing this off perfectly as whilst numerous threads for later in the match were being woven we also got a great spot as Dunne's trademark backflip out of the corner was thwarted by a chop block, before Dunne also used his signature X-Plex and then a sitout powerbomb for a near fall. Dar worked as the matches aggressor, targeting Dunne's knee in anticipation for the Champagne SuperKneeBar, but the crowd split about 70/30 in favour of Dunne, which created a cool football match type atmosphere on the screen. A series of delicious back and forth strikes, followed up by a superb submission exchange seemed to have the Cambridge Corn Exchange rocking and would be my pick for the best wrestling in the match, although the gorgeous Bitter End reversal into the CSKB by Dar was also a major contender. I'd have loved to see these two go another ten minutes, because their work was so crisp and precise and it felt like they'd only scraped the surface of their creativity together. The finish had been hinted at all match with Dunne attempting the finger snap on Dar multiple times and Dar repeatedly flashing his pinkies up with cocky swagger, so therefore it was only fitting that Dunne would eventually bend Dar's pinky back and stomp it right into the mat. The spot looked horrible but in the absolute best way and set up for the Bitter End to seal the victory. For me, this was the best that Dar has looked in his time with WWE, given the opportunity to work a type of match that suits his style with an opponent capable of helping him to raise his game when needed.
I was half expecting a big attack angle to close the show and lead into next week, but instead the commentary posed the question of who could possibly take the belt off Pete Dunne. This was a pretty cute way to end the first episode, especially because, as of now, it's rather difficult to pick someone from the pack as the person who could do it. Building the show around a dominant champion is an interesting move to kick off the brand with, but one that should provide plenty of scope for storytelling, as well as a number of top class matches. With the thought that it can surely only be a matter of time before Dunne finds himself on an even bigger stage, I can't wait to see who will the one chosen to step up from the pack and take over his role as the face of the brand.
Stat - Pete Dunne continues to be undefeated in singles action on WWE TV since losing the final of the 2017 United Kingdom Championship tournament. With the run now at 16 matches, Noam Dar joins a list that includes Roderick Strong, Ricochet and Adam Cole, Dunne's overall singles records stands at an impressive 19-1.
A strong debut episode for NXT UK, booked ended by a good opener and a very good main event. The middle of the episode could have been tighter, with the women's match and the Moustache Mountain appearance not really working for me. There's certainly lots of space for improvement, which will come as the wrestlers become more acclimatised to regularly working with WWE and WWE becomes more aware of the performers it has on it's books and what they are capable of both in the ring and within the various storylines and feuds that we'll hopefully see develop. It's clear that this isn't the finish product, just like the early episodes of NXT only showed glimpses of what that show would become and Iooking forward to seeing how the show finds it feet and who from the roster of talented performers steps forward and takes this considerable opportunity by the horns.
Written by James Marston