Arnold Furious: January 14 2017. We’re in Blackpool at the Empress. She is a beauty. Hosts are Michael Cole and Nigel McGuinness. Nigel knows very little about the British scene but he is one of the biggest available names, due to jumping ship from ROH where he made said name. Cole is the voice of experience and to train for this show he’s been watching tapes. No really, he’s actually been at the tape libraries to prepare.
Triple H welcomes us to the show. My word, he’s got bits of white in his beard. He looks like an aging Superman. He encourages us to build our own Empire. Starting now! Nigel calls Pete Dunne the tournament favourite before throwing out red herring Danny Burch. Cole pitches Trent Seven and Joseph Connors.
All tonight’s matches are first round bouts in the title tournament.
Trent Seven vs. HC Dyer
Dyer the flier also has tasty hands. He’s working heel against mega-babyface Trent. Seven is over everywhere that’s important in UK wrestling so it’s almost inevitable he gets the most love. Trent hurts his hand doing his chop spot, allowing him to sell for most of his own offence from then on. Dyer is fairly bland, by international standards, but he has a nice punch. Seven spends most of the match selling for him before finishing HC off with a harsh lariat for the win.
Final Rating: **1/4
Jordan Devlin vs. Danny Burch
Danny, aka Martin Stone, was in NXT for two years. He’s dropped a tonne of weight, getting down to the cruiserweight area. Devlin was famously trained by Finn Balor who’s at ringside to witness Devlin’s Network debut. These are ridiculous times. Burch has been over in the USA for a couple of years so he’s not that familiar to modern UK fans. He’s had a lot of experience at this level so he takes this in his stride. Devlin is heel, which is a sensible choice based on his OTT work of late. He works a very dull style, continually going to the chinlocks. Burch ends up looking really strong by comparison, which is intentional. Danny gets the back of his head busted badly open from an Enzuigiri and the referee calls it for Devlin. This match was really poor before the rough stoppage. Devlin cements his heel spot by superkicking Burch post match like an asshole. Our Martin deserved better.
Final Rating: *1/2
Saxon Huxley vs. Sam Gradwell
Huxley, the “Muscle Cat” is from Hartlepool, home of world renowned monkey hanging scumbags. Gradwell looks like a partly finished CAW. Huxley looks like Jesus so the crowd chant “let’s go Jesus” and “Jesus sucks”. Huxley has good basics but horrible lower body definition. The match plods along while the crowd sing songs about Jesus Christ, our lord and saviour. Gradwell gets virtually ignored so he gets all fired up and starts imitating Tommy Billington. Diving headbutt finishes for Home Town Sam, The Blackpool Hero. Fans weren’t aware that was a narrative here.
Final Rating: **
Pete Dunne vs. Roy Johnson
Roy is really green and it’s a pity they don’t let him spit some rhymes pre-match as that’s how he gets over. Dunne is a firm favourite. Roy gets to show a little power but he’s basically here to get Pete over. Dunne’s focus is destroying the hand/wrist area. It doesn’t really go anywhere and Dunne can’t do biting on the Network, which is unfortunate. Inexperienced Roy tries hard and certainly gets into position for Pete’s spots but he’s basically just here to count lights. Drop Dead finishes, although it’s now called “The Bitter End” because there’s no death on the Network.
Final Rating: **1/2
Tangent: quick shout out to how solid Michael Cole has been on this show. He’s done his home work and sounds both knowledgeable and comfortable. When he’s not being produced to shit on RAW he’s actually a good announcer. They need to stop barking in his ear every Monday.
Tyson T-Bone vs. Wolfgang
Tyson is a ‘gypsy’ fighter with loads of tattoos. Wolfgang is ICW champion and based on that alone should be a favourite to progress. Which would set up an interesting ICW main event vs. Trent. He’s the only Scottish wrestler in the tournament. T-Bone headbutts Wolfgang at the bell to sync the crowd up on the heel/face alignments. Wolfgang looks surprisingly good, considering his usual standard being mediocre, and delivers with all his big spots. In particular his spots off the ropes. The moonsault is nailed and so is the swanton. That finishes and Wolfgang progresses. Cole pays him the backhanded complement of saying it’s the best he’s seen of the ICW champion. The bizarre thing is he’s completely right.
Final Rating: ***
James Drake vs. Joseph Conners
Drake is a rock solid technician and Conners is really good too so we could be in for a treat. Conners has that WWE body, albeit on a cruiserweight frame. Cole seems to be a big Conners mark. I think he scouted him. Drake works heel but Conners doesn’t have a lot of sympathy so it’s tough to get the heat going. Conners nearly lost his ear in a night club attack, which is the theme of the match. Drake goes after that ear and the combination of his intensity and technical work makes him look like the actual star. Conners manages to take over right at the end with a nice elbow into a backbreaker before the Righteous Kill (renamed “Don’t Look Down” because there’s no murder in WWE) puts Drake away. I’m still not sure if he was supposed to be wrestling face.
Final Rating: **3/4
Mark Andrews vs. Dan Moloney
Dan’s pre-taped promo is fucking great. They give Andrews the live promo because of his TNA experience. He’s also the only Welsh guy. It bodes well for his progression to the later stages. Dan is a really good for his age but Andrews is the horse to bet on. Dan cuts Andrews off nicely to limit the flipz. Mark still hits a lot of flipz because that’s what he does. I like that Dan is good enough to tease a few false finishes but Andrews gets a counter into the Stundog Millionaire and the SSP puts Andrews into the quarters.
Final Rating: ***
Tucker vs. Tyler Bate
Tyler is incredibly good for his age and has developed some boxing strikes. The fact he’s on last suggests WWE are keen on Tucker, being from Northern Ireland. Tyler does his fantastic boxing jab in the early going. The crowd are very into Tyler but Tucker does good work across the ring from him. Tyler’s technical work is phenomenal for his age. He’s so smooth. The addition of punches has given his offence credibility too. His selling is also on point here, some of the best work on the entire show. Tucker’s range of wrestling skill is equally impressive and they have the stand-out match on the show by some distance. Tyler’s power and the way he throws Tucker around is a joy to behold. Tucker hits a superkick in this that’s so on point the crowd lose their shit for it and Tyler falls clean out of the ring. Tyler Driver ’97 finishes and Tyler advances in a thrilling night one main event and Bate looked like a goddamn star. WWE swooped in here and decided to pluck one of our youngsters and turn him into their guy. Absolutely the right decision and Tyler grabbed that brass ring. Good showing from Tucker too.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Post Match: Nigel has a special presentation and William Regal joins us for it. Bate vs. Devlin, Seven vs. Wolfgang, Dunne vs. Gradwell and Andrews vs. Connors will be the quarter finals tomorrow. The big news is Dunne smashing poor Sam in the face with a forearm and getting chastised by Regal for it. The facial expressions and timing on everything was mint.
Summary: A reasonably poor show, from an in-ring perspective, but it was suitably surreal and the choice to showcase Tyler Bate and Tucker was an exceptionally good one. Those lads really took the chance with both hands and stole the show. The crowd was also a big part of making the show special, as they always are. Tomorrow should be an improvement over this with more important matches and bigger stars colliding. This was a nice little introduction to anyone completely unfamiliar with BritWres who wants to dip their toes in our fiery hot water.