@MotorPoint Arena, Cardiff, August 31 2019
A low rumble begins to reverberate around the arena. Quiet, at first, but as the vibrations build, the noise grows and, just for a moment, you could be excused for worrying the stands may be about to collapse.
Of course the MotorPoint Arena was built of sturdier stuff but the typically rowdy Welsh crowd is more than happy to test that theory to its limits.
It isn’t just the foot stomps or fans banging on any flat surface available. At NXT UK Takeover: Cardiff the vocal support was, in a word, incredible. Chants of “Waaaales”, “Are you watching Vince McMahon?” and “This is wrestling” filled the air, producing another memorable night in British wrestling.
The action inside the ring matched the fervour created outside it. A simple five match card was advertised but a sixth was added (our preview hopes were answered) on the night.
Noam Dar facing off against Travis Banks got the crowd warmed up: a solid but steady match that was evenly matched, showcasing the undoubted talent both men possess.
But the prospect of new talent Ilja Dragunov competing against a visiting Cesaro, brought the first big crowd pop of the night. After the show Triple H would confirm that Cesaro hadn’t stopped smiling and had always wanted to be involved rather than being sent out on assignment.
The skill and passion that exudes from the Swiss Superman was evident from bell to bell. Cesaro seems to thrive in a slug fest, fighting to prove just how good he is and can be, when presented with the opportunity. Matched every step of the way by Dragunov, chops to the neck, chin shattering uppercuts and an astonishing 40 second swing on Dragunov using nothing but strength and endurance sent the fans in to rapturous applause. The match solidified both Cesaro as an ultimate professional as well as building Dragunov’s rapidly rising star. Chants aimed at McMahon were intended to remind the WWE chairman, exactly how to use Cesaro.
Some triple threat tag team action served as the half way point of the night. With home country heroes South Wales Connection (Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster) returning to a partisan reception, the crowd stood for the vast majority of a riveting match. In this situation it takes three to tango and their dance partners, Gallus (Mark Coffey and Wolfgang) as well as Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson and James Drake) ensured a memorable bout.
The fact that the three teams represented Wales, Scotland and England respectively added a layer of intrigue. It would be the boys from the valleys that would ultimately prevail – Andrews and Webster combining precise timing and athleticism with the adrenaline seeping from their fellow Welshmen in the WWE Universe.
When a show reaches the potential peak half way through the night, it can be a remarkable drop off in audience participation for whoever has to follow. This unenviable task fell to Dave Mastiff and Joe Coffey during their ‘last man standing’ match. Such was the quality of the match, the two big guys soon had the crowd up on their feet again. Cricket bats and snooker cues ensured a very British feel to a brutal match. With the match spreading into the middle of the crowd, Coffey emerged as the victor by using his smarts as well as strength to kick away Mastiff’s aid when trying to answer the ten count.
The penultimate match saw the female division step up to the plate and Aussie champ Toni Storm was dethroned by her Scottish challenger Kay Lee Ray in a short, but high paced affair. Unfortunately, the personal jibes used in the build-up to the match never really transitioned to the in ring performance. The last match before the main event is always a tough ask and on another night this clash may have flourished.
The buzz around the arena before the show was all about Tyler Bate and how much he had changed since he captured the title and became the first ever WWE UK Champion. From boy to man, it has been fun to watch someone grow in the space of just a few years. His mic skills have come on leaps and bounds and teaming with Trent Severn has showcased a greater sense of charisma.
Against Walter, Bate needed to summon every ounce of his wrestling ability to snatch the title away from the leader of Imperium. It wouldn’t be enough on the night but the story told from start to finish was close to perfection. David vs Goliath match ups are used all the time in wrestling but the strength Bate possesses gives an age-old story a fresh twist. It was the clever little nuances that made this match so outstanding. The feats of strength, Bate kicking out on one after taking a hellacious powerbomb and scary looking suplexes.
Every great match needs the crowd invested and here, they had the crowd eating from the palm of their hands. Serenading Bate and scorning Walter for the full 40-minute match, the WWE Universe in Cardiff all but ensured the company will need to return here again soon.
Flanked by fellow Brummies Pete Dunne and Severn, it appears this may have been a swansong before a move up to NXT for Bate and Co. If so, the trio leave this fledgling brand in a marvellous position for the future.