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NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool lived up to some pretty lofty expectations

You know how they say “that was the moment that so-and-so truly became presidential?” NXT UK TakeOver Blackpool was the moment where NXT UK, a brand that has had months of hour-long WWE Network episodes, and a few specials, truly became an NXT brand.

The Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, at the start of the first NXT UK TakeOver
Triple H

From top to bottom, the sub-3-hour special out of Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom, had everything we’ve grown to love (and one thing that irks some) from NXT’s TakeOver specials, which are commonly regarded as the best wrestling shows in America, period.

Let’s break it down.

Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven and Tyler Bate) vs. Zack Gibson and James Drake for the inaugural NXT UK Tag Team Championship

The platonic ideal of an NXT TakeOver opener, these two teams — who are plenty familiar with each other from their time on the UK indies — smashed it out of the park and set the tone. Bate and Gibson, the respective winners of the first and second UK Championship Tournaments, started the match off with the good technical work that everyone’s grown to expect from the British scene, but these lads turned up the heat before you can say “SHOES OFF!”

Once the speed picked up, we got all the reversals and combinations that these teams have tested each other with across the last years, and then some. It was a perfectly fun match, and then these guys pulled out some of the crazier stuff I’ve seen outside of deathmatch antics.

First off, if Tyler Bate doesn’t keep doing these shocking feats of strength, picking up both Gibson and Drake for an Airplane Spin for Two, he’s gonna get cast as the new Hulk to replace Mark Ruffalo. Also, the kid is becoming something of a technical genius, showing off another inventive bridging escape.

Oh, and then on top of all the wonderful near-falls, you have the death-defying tope suicida into-the-doomsday-device. Maybe that’s not the first time anyone’s done it, but I’m pretty sure most of us have never seen insanity on that level. Can someone check on Tyler? I need to know that the b o i is OK.

And then the duo of Gibson and Drake got the win with their Ticket To Mayhem, where the lion-maned silent one picked up Seven and dropped him into a Code Breaker from Gibson. If you’re wondering why these teams work so well together, just go back and watch some Progress, before WWE buys and closes the brand.

That match also benefitted (most of the time) from a red-hot UK crowd. I say most of the time because, at first, they were so hyped for the match that they couldn’t help but run through all of the basic chants, including the aforementioned “if you hate Gibson, SHOES OFF!” gem, which I believe first came from Dahlia Black, as fast as possible. I can’t blame them, but I also wanted to tell them “save some energy for later, you might need it!”

Jordan Devlin vs Travis Banks Finn Bálor

Oh, joy, this was neat. NXT UK, eager to give its first TakeOver audience a memorable moment or few. The goal here was to build continue to Devlin, and I’d say they succeeded with flying stars, having the Irish ace earn the ire of the audience by attacking Travis Banks (former Progress World Champion, Kiwi Buzzsaw) both when the Auckland, NZ native entered the venue and before the bell could ring.

That left, Sid Scala, Johnny Saint’s assistant (who’s fantastic on the mic), announced they anticipated this, so they had a plan B (you always have a Plan B). Lights out, smoke on, Bálor Club music hits, and out comes Finn Bálor to face his trainee. While the shock of Finn’s appearance would have been enough, the match succeeded at the goal of making Devlin bigger than ever.

Yes, even though Jordan Devlin took the L (and with the push Finn Bálor’s got now, nobody should be that shocked), this match presented him as on-the-same-level as the first ever Universal Champion. Devlin landed a really solid line during the match, “Great wrestler, better coach!” showing that the youngster’s as comfortable in the ring as ever.

Dave Mastiff vs. Eddie Dennis (No Disqualification match)

Arguably the biggest question mark on the card, I absolutely loved this no-holds-barred affair. Over in Progress, Eddie Dennis used his promo skills to become become something of a beloved heel turned antihero, almost overshadowing his good-to-great in ring work.

Today was another story, making a star out of the Pride of Wales. Yes, Mastiff got the win, but wins and losses don’t matter as much as Cody wants them to. From Dennis catching his super-heavyweight opponent in mid-air, to repeatedly getting back up from serious punishment, this match showcased his fighting spirit, and left people tweeting about how they’re his newest fans.

The most grizzly moves of the match came from Mastiff smushing Dennis with a rolling senton onto the exposed hardwood floor and Mastiff hitting a cannonball splash onto Dennis, and through a table. That Dennis skulked away under his own power, and wasn’t carried out by a squad of medics, impressed me.

Also, I have to give the NXT UK team credit for taking a moment to show Dennis walking away. These moments, when you see the loser of match and how they leave, show a lot of character when handled properly, and I’m happy that the PROGRESS lads working behind the scenes at NXT UK, have managed to bring that touch from their programming to this brand.

Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Toni Storm for the NXT UK Women’s Championship

Another TakeOver hallmark — the sole women’s match on the card being a title defense that could have used more time — still worked well enough for its purpose. (Oh, and before I get to that, Hi Kay Lee Ray and Jazzy Gabert! Great to see you there!)

I’d argue the obvious success of this match is due in part to Storm being allowed to be the underdog. Fighting under a dominant, thirst-inspiring (have you seen her Twitter mentions?) Rhea Ripley, the audience got to see a side of Storm they don’t often get, considering how she steam-rolled through legends in the 2018 Mae Young Classic.

Not only did Storm sell Ripley’s offense well, but when she’s not spending the whole match acting unbeatable, her Snap German Suplexes come across as even more exciting.

A great bit of bookending also added to this match. Ripley got a ton of heat off of torturing Storm, tugging on her hair while it was wrapped up in the ropes, and then Storm’s comeback included grabbing Ripley’s hair during a reversal, giving some edge to the eventual winner.

That being said, this felt a wee bit rushed, and could have stood to have some of the time chewed up by the main event.

Pete Dunne (c) vs. Joe Coffey for the WWE United Kingdom Championship

Again, a babyface working from under helped build a good simmer, but two things hurt this otherwise solid main event. For starters, Dunne’s record-breaking reign has been overshadowing any storytelling, as Coffey, just like every other one of the Bruiserweight’s recent challengers, just didn’t seem like a threat to be the new champ. Fans have become smart enough at this point that anyone following NXT UK’s TV never got a sense of Coffey as someone you could build a whole brand around.

And while this match had plenty of good moments, it never really gelled together for too long. Not only was its middle was a bit soft, but the commentary team over-reached to try and save the match. While I loved Coffey’s vicious submission work, including some Dunne-bending Boston Crab-esque maneuvers, my engagement with the match was broken by the moment when commentary’s Vic Joseph stated “Nobody is sitting” right before the camera showed maybe two rows of fans standing, and many more sitting behind them.

Fortunately, Dunne is so beloved that it didn’t really hurt the match too much, as they stayed awake, and woke up for the finishers. Loud, audible gasps following Coffey kicking out after Pete hitting the Bitter End — and Coffey landing that powerbomb onto the apron —brought the tension back. Then, a ton of stomping from both fighters seemed to ratchet up the mood, but by the end of it, we may have been given more scares than were intended though.

Twice, the men worked their way to the top rope, and both times, they fell to the ringside area before a move could be hit. While I didn’t think the first was an obvious accident, the second seemed much more apparent.

Dunne won via submission during some nasty digit manipulation, as his malice is truly his greatest weapon. As much as I liked this match at times, it reminded me of Bobby Roode’s less-than-memorable TakeOver main events.

WALTER is here

And then NXT UK delivered in the way we’ve been trained for NXT TakeOvers to deliver. As Pete posed with his title, as if everything was happy and settled, we heard the all too familiar chords of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 IV.

They even did it with the title bug on the bottom right corner of the screen, just as it was when Kevin Owens turned on Sami Zayn, and when Ciampa turned on Gargano.

And The Ring General himself — Big Daddy WALTER — entered, with his tron graphics showing that WWE was keeping the name right. WALTER, fit with a shiny new pseudo-facist coat that has “Ring General” branding on the back, just like one of those tacky back of the shirt graphics on WWE shirts, in WWE.

Shocking all those who didn’t read my Hot Stove article published earlier that day, WALTER got into the ring, and stuffed a big boot into the face of a rising Joe Coffey, knocking the man out of the ring. Then, WALTER hit the pose, Pete puffed his chest up, and that was it. Walter left the ring, respectfully, and Pete’s music played. And everyone went home happy, as that moment was enough to take any bad taste from the length of the main event away.

I’m not keen on ratings systems, so I’ll just say this was a damn good show, especially considering the expectations that come with the word TakeOver.

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