Saturday night at the packed out Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff saw NXT UK’s second-ever live WWE Network special.

    Following the success of the brand’s first showing in Blackpool earlier in the year, expectations going into this show were high across the board, and with a strong card almost selling out a bigger venue, NXT UK had every reason to stand up to its North American counterpart.

    Travis Banks vs. Noam Dar

    If WWE were to look for two men to have a hot match and set the tone for the rest of the night, they would look for Travis Banks and Noam Dar. Dar has been tearing it up on weekly NXT UK TV for months and Banks has always impressed whenever he enters the ring. It is therefore a nobrainer to select these two to provide an in-ring-focused match based on a short build to kick off the show. I would be lying if I said that this match did not leave a bit to be desired (which might be an indication of how highly regarded I hold both performers), however the match itself was more than adequate despite maybe not quite shifting up to the top gear. I would like to see both competitors square off once again on TV down the line.

    Ilja Dragunov vs. Cesaro

    When published the video of Cesaro announcing that he would take a hands-on approach as he visits NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff, speculation was everywhere on social media. Some predicted Pete Dunne, some predicted Jordan Devlin. Ilja Dragunov, however, was the opponent that I did know I wanted, and boy did this match deliver on all levels. Live in the arena, none of us saw the backstage segment where Dragunov eyed off Cesaro, which is why the crowd erupted when Ilja said Cesaro’s name in the ring.

    What followed was an excellent match that not only reminded us of Cesaro’s world-class wrestling ability, but s also established Dragunoov’s intensity and hard-hitting style on the big stage. I believe that this will be the looked back on as the match that made Ilja Dragunov in NXT UK, and that his tepid crowd reactions will shortly become a thing of the past. It is worth noting that this is Ilja’s second show-stealing performance in the space of two weeks after his superlative main event match against Kassius Ohno a couple of weeks ago.

    NXT UK Tag Team Championship – Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake) vs. South Wales Subculture (Flash Morgan Webster & Mark Andrews) vs. Gallus (Mark Coffey & Wolfgang)

    NXT in North America has built up an esteemed reputation when it comes to tag team championship matches, and I dare say that NXT UK just put them on notice after this exceptional match. As much as I’m not so keen on a WWE-style three-way tag team match, all three teams had a perfect clash of styles that played into each other’s strengths beautifully. Of course, this match was about hometown heroes South Wales Subculture who were undoubtedly the standout performers from the entire show. Their perfectly-synchronised outside dives and tandem offence was a sight to behold and I believe it was enough to convince anyone that South Wales Subculture are a tag team to be reckoned with. 

    In the perfect culmination to an underdog story, Webster and Andrews finally overcoming the odds and becoming the first-ever Welsh champions in WWE will go down in history as one of the best organic stories ever told in NXT UK, and I am more than hyped to see the continuation in their first title reign.

    Last Man Standing – Dave Mastiff vs. Joe Coffey

    After seeing almost none of this match live due to most of the action taking place in the crowd, I had to watch this one back on the Network; and I’m glad I did. I’ll be honest, I was not expecting much from this match going in despite enjoying both Mastiff and Coffey’s work on TV. I was therefore very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this match. It had great moments such as Mastiff Irish-Whipping Coffey into the corner and breaking the top turnbuckle which was later used as a weapon, and both men running towards each other with chairs, showing what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.

    Every card needs variety and something to reset the crowd, and this match did a very good job at that.

    NXT UK Women’s Championship – Toni Storm vs. Kay Lee Ray

    The culmination of the longest-built match based on the most personal rivalry was also much better on the Network rewatch. Kay Lee Ray scoring the shocking victory after two consecutive Gory Bombs sent the crowd into an eerie silence reminiscent of Jordan Devlin’ OTT World Championship loss to WALTER last year. It was quite surreal seeing what we thought was such a dominant champion in Toni Storm lose the NXT UK Women’s Title in her first TakeOver defence.

    Storm’s Tweet of gratitude following the show could potentially signify her departure from NXT UK, especially seeing as she was absent from the TV taping the following day, though I certainly hope that she is far from done on our shores. As shocking as Ray’s title victory was, the prospect of building her up as someone who gets inside her opponent’s head and breaks their spirit to the point where it impacts their performance, fuels me with excitement for the future of her title reign. Storm looked gotten-to throughout the match as a result of Ray’s prolonged personal attacks, and I hope to see Toni get her redemption one day.

    WWE UK Championship – WALTER vs. Tyler Bate

    WALTER and Bate’s second high-profile title match (the first being for PROGRESS in 2018) was never going to be anything short of phenomenal, and this example delivered in spades. Bate’s superhuman strength clashing with the champion’s ungodly power was a sight to behold, and I will never tire of seeing these two performers go toe-to-toe. Despite having stunning singles matches in the past against the likes of Pete Dunne, Zack Sabre Jr. and Travis Banks, I believe that this is the match that will be looked back upon as the match where Tyler Bate broke out as a bonafide singles star. I would even say that at this point, he has exceeded the world-class in-ring level of Dunne, and I cannot wait to see what his future holds.

    This match was a perfect example of professional wrestling. Two completely different competitors giving it their all when the stakes are at their highest, and I loved every single second of it.

    Simply put, NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff was my favourite show of the year so far. It had the perfect balance of heart-warming and shocking moments that had me walking to Nando’s after the show with a big grin on my face. First it was Blackpool, now they knocked it out of the park in Cardiff, one can only imagine what NXT UK can become with this quality of shows being produced consistently.

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