WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament- June 25, 2018
by Samoa Rowe
-Show opens with a really nice video package putting over the history of Royal Albert Hall and Johnny Saint. It transitions to the current crop of U.K. competitors, with talking heads vowing victory spliced with footage of ass-kicking action. Consider me pumped up for what's to follow.
-From London, England. Our hosts for the festivities are Mauro Ranallo and Nigel McGuinness.
Quarterfinal Match: Jack Gallagher vs. Zack Gibson
I'm not familiar with Gibson, but the fans boo him during his entrance. Gallagher has ditched the suit and seems to have returned to his plucky, Vaudevillian-influenced character. Match begins with a crafty exchange of holds, and Gallagher annoys Gibson by encouraging the crowd to sing. The mind games continue as Gallagher rolls into a cradle and dares Gibson to run into a clever arm submission. I'm really not smart enough to be recapping this sort of match. Gibson punches the kidney area and drops Gallagher in a hammerlock unto the ropes. Gibson loses his temper and unloads some punches, and just like that I'm back in my element. Gibson relentlessly attacks the arm during a heat segment. Gallagher escapes a neck crank and rallies with punches and forearm shots. Vertical suplex by Gallagher wows the fans. Gibson comes back with a Codebreaker out of the turnbuckles for a good 2 count. Gallagher sells his bad arm big time as Gibson catches him with a Liger Bomb and Buckle Bomb. Gallagher is in danger but manages to slingshot over Gibson for a sleeper. Gibson manages to survive everything Gallagher can throw at him and thrusts through the ring post to the floor. Lariat and inverted Lungblower by Gibson gets a GREAT 2 count. Gallagher surprises with a drop-kick to the face but his diving headbutt is countered with a boot to the shoulder. Gibson stretches the bad arm again and Gallagher has to submit at 13:21. Very good opener with satisfying action and a story you could sink your teeth into, ***½.
Winner: Zack Gibson
-Video packages introducing ignorant people like me to Joe Coffey and Dave Mastiff. Both guys are big, bruiser types, and they face each other next.
Quarterfinal Match: Joe Coffey vs. Dave Mastiff
I've never seen or heard of either of these guys, but I'm in the mood for something new. Coffey is sporting a man-bun and roars rather amusingly during ring introductions. Mastiff has the sort of beard I can only dream of. They trade shoulder blocks and both wipe out with crossbody attempts. They resume trading shoulder blocks on the floor, until Mastiff finally knocks Coffey off his feet. Mastiff leads the action back to the ring, but Coffey comes back with a missile drop-kick. Coffey loses his man-bun in the action and flies into a forearm shot and suffers a back senton. Coffey takes a beating but stays alive with a pair of suplexes that seem to hurt him as much as his opponent. Mastiff kicks out of a German suplex and answers with one of his own. Mastiff misses a running cannonball and Coffey nails a springboard crossbody and lariat for the win at 7:27. Mastiff might have been huffing and puffing his way through this, but this was a great little power match, **¾.
Winner: Joe Coffey
-In-ring interview with Joe Coffey, giving Coffey a chance to establish himself as the favorite to win the tournament. He has a "no mercy" mindset and is gunning for Pete Dunne and the U.K. Championship.
-Video package catching us up on Flash Morgan Webster, who sports a motorcycle helmet and carries himself like a rock star (he'd be at home in Oasis).
-Video package for Jordan Devlin tells the narrative about his disappointment in coming up short in last year's tournament and quest for redemption.
Quarterfinal Match: Flash Morgan Webster vs. Jordan Devlin
I'm digging Webster's gimmick, but that Devlin video played to my sympathies (as much as a work can) so I'm a bit torn on who I'd like to see advance. I think that means I'm enjoying the show. Devlin refuses to shake hands and they aggressively lock up, with Devlin opportunistically palming Webster in the face. Webster hits a cool somersault senton but Devlin answers with running knees to the face. Uranagi and senton by Devlin gets an early 2 count. Webster strings together a series of quick attacks, and sets Devlin up for a trio of suicide dives. Devlin comes back with a Spanish Fly for only 2! No one is home for Devlin's moonsault and Webster hits his patented inverted DDT for the win at 7:03. Lots of neat tricks and MOVES in this one, but felt like the fast-forward button was on, **½.
Winner: Flash Morgan Webster
-Video packages for Travis Banks and Ashton Smith. These guys are put over as a pair of strong style bruisers. Banks is from New Zealand but has made the U.K. a second home. Smith comes across as a subtle heel in his talking head segment.
Quarterfinal Match: Travis Banks vs. Ashton Smith
Fans chant "Kiwi Buzzsaw" in support of Banks at the opening bell. They sprint through a rapid fire exchange of holds, arm drags, and drop-kicks. Banks builds some steam by targeting the back with stiff kicks. Smith is selling wrist and rib injuries as he answers with leaping lariats, but Banks sets him in the turnbuckles for a running drop-kick! Smith (barely) hits a diving leg lariat, sending Banks to the floor to recover, setting up a dive. Banks comes back with a running drop-kick to the chest! I appreciate that these guys are wrestling as if they're trying to win as quickly as possible. It's FIGHTING SPIRIT time as they trade shots and Banks nails a Fisherman Buster for the win at 6:22. This was kind of an extended squash, as Banks had a good showing and was in control for most of the match. Smith was rough around the edges, but appears to have a high upside. Good stuff, **½.
Winner: Travis Banks
#1 Contender for the NXT Women's Championship:
Storm appears to be another likable Australian. Kelly storms out to industrial metal and is all business. Dawn has a goth appearance is billed as a modern day witch. Kelly and Dawn bully Storm in the early going, putting her down with a wheelbarrow DDT combo. Dawn turns on Kelly without a second thought. Kelly hits a big suplex and viciously knees the face to set up a running drop-kick. Storm returns but gets put down by a Dawn suplex. The action continues with a 3-way slugfest, all three women know how to throw a mean kick. Storm drops Dawn head-first onto her knee for the win (Storm Zero)at 4:03. Too short to amount to much of anything, but provided a nice break from the tournament, *½.
Toni Storm vs. Killer Kelly vs. Isla Dawn
Winner: Toni Storm
-NXT Women's Champion Shayna Baszler is in attendance and does not appear to be intimidated by Toni Storm for a single second.
-Triple H graces us with his presence and the fans give him a hero's welcome, including singing along with his "Bow Down to the King" theme song. He puts over how great the U.K. talent pool is, resulting in the high quality WWE U.K. events. Triple H welcomes Johnny Saint to the ring to help him announces the launch of the NXT United Kingdom brand! The fans seem to be on board.
Semifinal Match: Flash Morgan Webster vs. Zack Gibson
Gibson aggressively accepts a handshake, but is quicky rattled by Webster's fast paced offense, including swinging around the ring post for a headscissors takedown. Missile drop-kick gets a believable, early 2 count for Webster. Gibson recovers and lawn darts Webster into the turnbuckles to gain control. Perhaps encouraged by the crowd's singing, Webster retaliates with a springboard clothesline. Suicide dive by Webster, who seems to have hurt his wrist. Gibson counters a second dive with a nasty suplex onto the unforgiving floor. Webster avoids the count-out but gets immediately caught in Gibson's patented arm clutch and submits at 4:17. Another good short match, **.
Winner: Zack Gibson
-Aleister Black and Ricochet are enjoying the show from the front row.
Semifinal Match: Travis Banks vs. Joe Coffey
Coffey goes out of his way to sell his arm injury during his entrance, so I suspect he's about to lose. The feeling out process results in Banks slapping the face, so Coffey turns up the aggression. Coffey delivers a double underhook giant swing, which is admittedly pretty cool. Coffey applies a half Boston crab, followed by a straightjacket. Banks comes back with a series of chops and a superkick to the face. Banks nails a soccer kick on the apron, followed by a running knee to the head. Coffey answers with the pop-up uppercut (which misses, but is sold) and a power slam for 2. Banks kicks out of a German suplex, but the nearfalls aren't generating much excitement. Banks sprints into a double stomp, but his back is too hurt to hit another suplex. Coffey misses a springboard crossbody and Banks survives long enough to roll him up for the win at 9:18. This felt much more like an arbitrary exchanging of finishers and kick-outs than anything we've seen tonight, **¼.
Winner: Travis Banks
-After the match, Coffey snaps and attacks Banks from behind. Banks is selling arm and back injuries as he helplessly eats a lariat. It would seem that Banks is being served on a silver platter to Zack Gibson, so WWE logic says that Banks is winning it all tonight.
British Strong Style (Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, and WWE U.K. Champion Pete Dunne) vs. The Undisputed Era (NXT North American Champion Adam Cole, Roderick Strong, and Kyle O'Reilly)
The crowd is jazzed for this as O'Reilly and Bate start tearing into each other. Bate is dragged leg first into to the Undisputed Era's corner, but he ends up serving up Strong for hated rival, Dunne. The match threatens to break down early, but British Strong Style clears the ring with stereo face slaps. The match restarts with the UE attempting to isolate Seven, who saves himself with vicious chops to Cole. Unfortunately, Strong hits a backbreaker onto the barricade, and Seven is your official isolated babyface. Dunne shortly gets a hot tag and completely unloads on Strong. A fresh Bate enters the match and suplexes O'Reilly onto Strong and then simultaneously spins Strong and Cole. Dunne nails a Tiger Driver on Strong, but the pin is broken. Dunne finds himself on the receiving end of quick UE tags and brutal finisher attempts. O'Reilly absorbs a sudden German suplex and locks on the Dragon Sleeper. Bate breaks the hold with a double stomp, and the match breaks down with bodies flying everywhere. Bate eventually catches O'Reilly with the Dragon Suplex for the win at 12:22. British Strong Style are emotional in victory. This was the obligatory balls-to-the-wall crazy spotfest that this live crowd needed, ***¾.
Winners: British Strong Style
-Shawn Michaels makes what I assume is a surprise in-ring appearance. The crowd continues singing HBK's theme song after it's done playing. U.K. wrestling fans sure are adorable, eh? Michaels says he's never been scared about following any act in wrestling, at least until he had to follow that six man tag. He congratulates himself for performing in WWE's first match in Royal Albert Hall back in the day and he's excited to be a part of history again. He puts over the new NXT U.K. brand as being a gift to these fans for years of support.
U.K. Tournament Final: Travis Banks vs. Zack Gibson
The winner gets a shot at Pete Dunne and the U.K. Championship the following night. Banks is now sporting a taped shoulder to put over his injuries suffered earlier. Gibson refuses a handshake and talks some smack before the bell rings. Gibson goes right after the bandaged arm, which is scary since the previous matches have established that he can win quickly with an arm clutch. Banks gets virtually no offense in the first 5 minutes as Gibson just relentlessly attacks the bandaged arm and shoulder. Banks finally starts to show life and sprints through a quick sequence of offense, including a suicide dive. Gibson kicks the bandaged arm again and hits the inverted lung blower for a 2 count. Banks stays alive by countering an Irish whip with a springboard kick off the guard rail! Both men summon their inner FIGHTING SPIRIT and slug it out in the ring. Gibson gets the arm clutch, but Banks survives via rope break. Banks follows with a double stomp off the apron and Slice of Heaven kick. Gibson kicks out and tries to make a cover with his feet on the ropes. Banks hits a Lariat and Kiwi Buster for another close 2 count. Gibson blocks another suicide dive and hits Helter Skelter for 2. Gibson poetically applies the arm clutch and this time Banks taps at 16:55! Really smart match here that paid off all the stories being told throughout the night in Banks' and Gibson's matches. Gibson gets to look like a beast and Banks looks admirable in defeat, ****.
Winner: Zack Gibson
-Gibson offers Banks a handshake, but FAKES HIM OUT! Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and Johnny Saint offer their respect to Banks and join Gibson in the ring to make his moment extra special. Gibson tries to cut a promo, but Pete Dunne shows up for the epic staring contest.
Final Thoughts: Just a smart, breezy show that showcased great in-ring action and managed to build to a satisfying crescendo. This is well worth your time. Thumbs Up.
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