WWE NXT UK @Hull Bonus Arena, November 2019
As the unmistakable guitar intro to Metallica’s Enter Sandman fills the curiously named Bonus Arena, an audible sigh of appreciation ripples through the audience.
By the time ‘we’re off to Never Never Land’ is belted out, if it weren’t for the ring in the middle of the floor, you’d be forgiven for forgetting this isn’t a concert but a wrestling event.
The first of two nights in Hull, WWE’s NXT UK Superstars are in town to record the latest round of TV tapings for their weekly show on the Network.
It’s been a big week for the wrestling community, with fans clambering for Wrestlemania tickets, as the countdown to Tampa unofficially began last Wednesday.
After a noisy couple of nights in Cardiff nearly three months ago, Rushonrock.com returned to ringside.
It would perhaps be prudent to place a disclaimer here: although we will attempt to stay spoiler free when it comes to match results, we can’t guarantee minor storyline spoilers won’t be present.
Television tapings can be tricky for many reasons.
One of the biggest headaches is ensuring the audience stays interested and vocal throughout the night.
Ring announcer Andy Shepherd had the unenviable task of becoming the night’s emcee and master of ceremonies.
Between geeing up the crowd, making important announcements about future events and hyping the gratuitous crowd shots that open every show, Shepherd was cheered into the ring at every opportunity.
The crowd flitted between deathly silent and boisterous at a moment’s notice.
The loudest noise of the night greeted a typically heel promo by Grizzled Young Veteran, Zack Gibson as a chorus of boos threatened to derail the Scouser’s train of thought.
The Bonus Arena, opened just last year, is a peculiar venue.
As with all modern arenas the tiered amphitheatre doesn’t allow for the best of atmospheres, with a tremendous amount of dead space down the flanks.
Give us a ring surrounded by the audience baying for action on pretty much every side of the squared circle any day.
Away from cable and national network deals, NXT UK has been allowed to grow its brand and style organically.
New talent can be introduced at a moment’s notice or a new feud can seemingly happen in the course of one show.
Over the course of the three or four tapings recorded on Friday night, a stellar match between Alexander Wolfe and Ilja Dragunov spun a thread through to the final match of the night.
Imperium facing off against Gallus and Dragunov in an eight-man tag match sent the fans home ready for more action the following night.
An announcement at the top of the show that NXT UK’s next Takeover event would head back to Blackpool, gave clues as to how the two nights here in Hull would pan out.
A breakout performance from A Kid against Jordan Devlin and a superb triple threat match between Travis Banks, El Ligero and Joseph Conners are worth tuning in for alone.
Although some may argue that WWE have hijacked and choked a once thriving UK independent scene, the essence of those indie shows still remains, albeit mixed with the production value of the biggest company in the industry.
Every British wrestling fan should be happy to have such a well-oiled weekly television show, that showcases some of the best talent on our fair shores.
There are still plenty of leisure centres and old bingo hall shows to support away from the bright lights of WWE.
But to accuse the company of destroying the British industry is, quite frankly, insulting to the performers that have helped make it happen.
The fact some of NXT UK’s talent have appeared on both Raw and Smackdown in the last couple of weeks is evidence enough of the exposure that comes from WWE.
Guys like Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews sitting under the learning tree of Triple H and being watched by millions would have been a pipe dream just two years ago.
More evidence of the popularity the brand is experiencing came in the form of the aforementioned NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool selling out in less than two hours on Monday. British wrestling is dead? Not bloody likely…
Words And Images: Andy Spoors