As one of your UK correspondents here at Lords of Pain, I was excited to sit down and watch the first episode of the new NXT UK brand. All in all, I was delighted by what I saw. It was fun, fresh, simple and well booked, set up some belt creation angles (tag and women’s) and above all, did not try too hard. It was a triumph of classic pro wrestling television writing, which it makes it all the more strange that the writing staff and producers can’t seem to get Raw and Smackdown remotely right for months on end. So, here are my eight takeaways from the show! Enjoy, and let me know what you guys thought down in the comments section, or tweet me @Neil_Pollock79
1 – The Opening Montage Was Suitably Bombastic
We’ve grown used by now to WWE production values and their epic opening montages. This one was so grandiose as to be almost camp. “What happens when a Kingdom collides with a Universe?” might be the grandest sounding rhetorical question in history, not to mention how little semantic sense it actually makes! Nevertheless, the ridiculousness was tempered by some emotional scenes of Wembley for Summerslam 1992, and some footage of William Regal in his pomp. All in all, I’m glad WWE is fully behind the venture and determined to sell it to fans.
2 – An Astute Choice Of Theme Song
Choosing a banging grime track as the intro music was undoubtedly a striking way to proclaim the show’s UK heritage, using a genre which is right at the forefront of British youth culture. They could easily have gone with some kind of awful parody of “British sounding” music, or even worse, just your usual generic wrestling theme music, but whoever was in charge of production nailed the song choice. Well done.
3- Cambridge Corn Exchange Was A Great Venue Choice
One of the best things about the NXT UK experiment for me is the fact that the tapings are touring the length and breadth of the country, unlike regular NXT which is largely confined to Full Sail University. There are some gorgeous old concert venues, ballrooms and opera houses in the UK which make a fantastic backdrop for pro wrestling, just as was the case with ECW and the Hammerstein Ballroom back in the mid 90s. Seeing the yellow brick arches and the beautiful ornamental windows of the Cambridge Corn Exchange lent a unique feel to the evening, and made it feel authentically British to boot.
4 – Mark Andrews Excels As The Underdog
Since entering the first UK Championship Tournament, Andrews has always impressed me with his ability to play the sympathetic high flying babyface, something that had been a bit of a lost art since Rey Mysterio’s injury and contract troubles at the back end of the 2010s. Andrews knows that high fliers need more than just the move set- they need to tell a story, and pick their comebacks for the time when it will affect the audience the most. He and Joe Coffey put together a very crisp big/little encounter to curtain jerk the first episode of NXT, establishing the Coffeys as heels to watch on the new brand, and furthering Andrews’ reputation as the second best underdog in the whole company after Mustafa Ali.
5 – Tag Team Wrestling Is In Rude Health (As Long As The Brand Uses The Initials ‘NXT’)
The crowd reaction to Moustache Mountain – who of course had a series of memorable tag bouts with Undisputed Era in regular NXT – tells you that there is still a massive appetite for tag wrestling in the fanbase. Unfortunately, the main roster struggles with the booking of the Raw and Smackdown divisions means that we never get the vibrant tag scene we should have, but at least the NXT and now NXT UK brands still put on great duos match after great duos match. I swear blind, almost all my favourite matches of the past three years have been tag affairs! The promo Moustache Mountain cut about the soon to debut NXT UK Tag Team Titles got me very excited. I can’t wait to see if they run a tournament for them.
6 – Dave Mastiff Is Getting The Braun Strowman Treatment
The enormous,freakishly athletic powerhouse Dave Mastiff has been given the traditional “squash jabronis” introduction to the brand, and I must say, the approach did him wonders, as he was able to show off his hard hitting offense, including that outrageous cannonball finisher. If I were putting my fortune teller’s cap on, I would venture to suggest that he will continue this path of destruction for a couple of months, Braun Strowman or Ryback style, before they begin to integrate him into more story based scenarios. It’s a classic approach and it works.
7 – The Women’s Division Is Off To A Simple, Yet Effective Start
Toni Storm was my favourite competitor from the first Mae Young Classic, so I was very glad to see her on the first edition of NXT UK, even if she is Australian! Nina Samuels, decked out in Bret Hart pink and black, presented an interesting opponent for her, and the former dancer and actor dominated the match up until Storm made a characterful comeback and hit her finisher to get a popular victory. The presentation of the match was of a simple, athletic competition, which is a simple, yet effective approach which should allow the talents involved to shine. Women’s wrestling works best when they are simply treated in the same way as the men (which is why this Evolution event has been such a catastrophic booking failure).
8 – A Rousing Main Event UK Title Match To Round Things Off
Was that Noam Dar’s best match ever? He has previously shone as a comedy character, both backstage and in the ring, but he was presented ultra seriously here, and a match for The Bruiserweight in every respect. The finishing sequence in particular, with the multiple submission reversals, was breathless, and I loved Dunne’s desperation in having to go after Dar’s joints at the crucial moment to allow himself to hit his Bitter End finisher. If we’re getting main events like that every week, we will be in for a treat.