BENNO’S REVIEW: NXT UK Takeover: Cardiff

Richard "Benno" Benson reviews Saturday's NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff card featuring WALTER vs. Tyer Bate, Toni Storm vs. Kay Lee Ray, Cesaro vs. Ilja Dragunov, and more from the Motorpoint Arena.

Benno’s Review: NXT UK Takeover: Cardiff

Review by: Richard “Benno” Benson

Taking place on the same day as AEW’s All Out and head-to-head with a New Japan Royal Quest show that had some 6,000 tickets sold in the UK, in the weeks leading up to August 31st this, the second Takeover for a flagging NXT UK brand lacking in buzz, looked in danger to be the day’s forgotten show.

Free on the WWE Network for all subscribers though, as opposed to the lofty price tags of AEW and New Japan’s offerings, this was the day’s most accessible show, with the main event that had every chance to be the sleeper match of the weekend. The show took place in front of a packed and raucous Motorpoint Arena crowd of near 4,000, with Vic Joseph and Nigel McGuinness as your commentary team.

Noam Dar vs. Travis Banks

With Jordan Devlin, Pete Dunne and Ilja Dragunov missing from the advertised main show, this looked to be the strongest potential bell-to-bell match on the undercard with the always dependable Travis Banks taking on a Noam Dar who, as the pre-NXT UK signing, has struggled to connect on 205 Live and looks far more comfortable here in smaller buildings in front of an NXT UK crowd who are much more familiar and receptive to his act.

Dar took control of the bulk of the beginning stages of the match, working over Banks previously injured shoulder at first and later switching his focus to Banks’ leg. Banks would come back with a running Dropkick in the corner and bridging German Suplex, before Dar would counter a standing switch with more kicks to Banks shoulders, trapping on a Lebell Lock. Banks replied with a Crossface of his own before Dar would take control back, attacking Banks knee and hitting a Fisherman Buster for a near fall. Banks rallied with a Double Stomp and a Suicide Dive to the outside, before hitting a Slice Of Heaven using the barricade, then hitting a Double Stomp off the top for a near fall. After a strike exchange, Dar would counter another in-ring Slice Of Heaven attempt with a kick to the knee, paying off that work earlier in the match, then hitting a standing Shining Wizard Nova Roller for the win.

As far as hot Takeover openers, this under-delivered with a solid, but unspectacular and largely forgettable match. The finish, based on recent booking was unsurprising with Dar, like many of the Scottish wrestlers on this brand, seemingly positioned higher than his potential value would suggest, with Banks, as talented as he is, continuing to be under-utilized and positioned as a mid-card act who delivers in ring, but is never a headline story on the show. Whilst this was as good a Dar match as has been seen in recent times, this was much below what Banks may have been capable of in this position, in front of this crowd, with a more compelling opponent.

Winner: Noam Dar

Cesaro vs. Ilja Dragunov

With it having been announced earlier in the day that Cesaro had posed an open challenge, a backstage promo where the two would come face-to-face and then a cautiously short two-line promo in the ring from a limited-English speaking Ilja, led to this, a bonus match pitching the main roster talent versus an NXT UK wrestler, similar to the Jordan Devlin vs Finn Balor match on the previous UK Takeover.

Visibly much larger than Ilja, Cesaro controlled much of the match with the power, pressing Dragunov to the outside and launching him around ringside. The crowd would rally behind Dragunov for his near falls before Cesaro responded with a ridiculous multiple rotation Giant Swing, bringing the near-capacity crowd to its feet – even if perhaps they were somewhat overzealous in the counting of rotations. Cesaro would grab a Crossface that was countered by Ilja with a rollup before hitting a huge Clothesline, putting the two men back on more even-footing.

Dragunov hit a Tope to the outside, before hitting a Van Terminator for a near fall, before a strike exchange led to Cesaro coming back with an impressive looking Gorilla Press to the knee and a European Uppercut for a near fall as the crowd rallied for the Dragunov kick out. After a Death Valley Driver from Dragunov into the corner amongst chants of “This is Awesome” and “Are you watching Vince Mcmahon?”, the match then came to a somewhat abrupt end as Cesaro would counter a Torpedo Moscow with a great-looking Popup Uppercut and the Neutralizer, for the always likely win.

This was a very good match that will have done plenty to get Ilja over with less familiar WWE fans, as he got a good amount of offense in and looked very good in the loss here even if it remains to be seen whether his unique act and odd mannerisms can translate properly to a larger audience. Whilst this was a match that was much better laid out than the aforementioned Balor vs. Devlin and did much more to get the underdog wrestler here over, it was yet another occasion with a main roster wrestler beating an NXT UK regular in a foregone conclusion of a result. Whilst in isolation an understandable and correct decision considering the wider context of both men’s place in the company, too many of these results on these flagship UK Takeovers won’t do much for NXT UK’s already low perception as the fifth tier of WWE.

Winner: Cesaro

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

As questionable as their team name may be, the South Wales Subculture of Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster have shown some solid chemistry as a team and this match, taking place in their native Wales, pitting them as the only babyfaces against reigning tag champions the Grizzled Young Vets and for reasons unclear, the Gallus team of Mark Coffey and Wolfgang, looked like the perfect stage for the two struggling singles acts to cement themselves as a tag team proper in NXT UK.

The structure of the match seemed primed to do exactly that with the Welsh team beginning the match with a flurry of offense and dives to the outside, before Webster was isolated by first Drake and then Gibson. This led to a big Andrews hot tag culminating in a Tornado DDT to Drake and then more dives to both the interfering Gallus and Drake and Gibson. As the match further broke down, Gallus would take over with a Slingshot Samoan Drop near fall on Andrews, before the Welsh team would come back with a fantastic looking Running Knee/Reverse Rana combo near fall on Wolfgang. After a StunDog Millionaire near fall from Andrews to Gibson, Gibson and Drake took over with a flurry of offense with a Helter Skelter from Gibson and a beautiful 450 splash from Drake leading to a big near fall as the partisan crowd rallied behind Andrews and Webster with “Wales” chants.

After a double down between the Grizzled Young Vets and South Wales Subculture, Gallus looked to play spoiler taking out both teams before Coffey himself hit a big Stage Dive to the outside. The match then broke down further with all three teams brawling before Morgan Webster countered a Slingshot with a Canadian Destroyer and Gibson and Drake hit a Suicide Dive Doomsday Device to Wolfgang. The match concluded with Gibson and Drake facing off with Andrews and Webster, leading to a double Stundog Millionaire from Andrews and a 630 from Webster to Drake as Gibson pulled the ref out for another near fall. Drake and Gibson looked to have the match won with the team hitting a Ticket To Mayhem and Drake hitting a Suicide Dive to Gallus on the outside, before forgotten sixth-man Andrews came out of nowhere with a Shooting Star Press to the back of Gibson, putting Webster atop him for the win.

This was a very good high spot filled match with a feel-good result, boosted by a partisan crowd that made Andrews and Webster look like stars. The best parts of the match were the interactions between the Welsh team and the Grizzled Young Veterans, making it even more questionable why the over-pushed, never happening Gallus were even in the match, to begin with. Whether Andrews and Webster can continue this momentum on shows outside of their home region, remains to be seen.

Winners: The South Wales Subculture (Mark Andrews & Morgan Webster)

Last Man Standing: Dave Mastiff vs. Joe Coffey

Yet more Gallus action would follow with this, a reasonably built, if not Takeover worthy mini-feud, pitting faction leader Coffey against Dave Mastiff, another wrestler who has been surprisingly prominent across two UK Takeovers now.

This was every WWE Last Man Standing match ever with something of a British twist with use of Snooker Cues and Cricket Bats amongst the usual assorted plunder, with highlights being a hard Coffey bump into the corner which broke the ring, a stiff-looking Mastiff Cannonball through a table and some hard brawling and chair shots amongst the crowd. After a silly-looking chair dual in the crowd amongst fans, Mastiff would hit a Finlay Roll on the announce table before both men would fall off a staging area through a pair of tables in a rough-looking bump. As they both got to their feet to answer a ten count, Coffey would kick a box Mastiff was using to balance himself from under his feet, giving him the victory.

This was probably the weakest match on the show and had a weak finish that, taking place in darkness in the crowd, looked unclear for those watching in the arena, giving it an anti-climactic end. Coffey, like his Gallus compatriots, continues to be one of the least interesting, most over-pushed acts on the roster and this continued the perplexing booking direction with a match that easily could have taken place on NXT UK’s TV and didn’t add much to a card that didn’t have space for Pete Dunne, Jordan Devlin or Trent Seven.

Winner: Joe Coffey

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

As two veterans of British wrestling’s women’s scene, expectations were high for the match between these two, who have been nothing but reliable in previous meetings in various promotions around the country. Unfortunately, both women here seemed to have an off-night with the Cardiff crowd who had been hot for pretty much everything all night, not connecting with the match.

Much of the opening stretch of the match took place in silence as Kay Lee Ray stalled for the heat that never really came before Storm hit a dive to the outside and they brawled both around the ring and within it. From there on out, this was a match of big moves and not so much of a discernible story, despite the grudge match nature of the build, with Storm hitting a Sunset Bomb and Storm Zero mid-match before KLR would come back with multiple Superkicks and Gory Bomb near falls. A Toni Storm German Suplex off the 2nd rope was enough for a rope break at two, before KLR came back with a step up Senton to the outside, just about hitting Toni Storm for a nasty landing. A second Gory Bomb gave KLR a strong if anticlimactic win.

This was an average match most notable for how clean Kay Lee Ray, who had been positioned as the heel for this story, went over. Storm’s loss here in such circumstances whilst in part seeming designed to freshen up the division she has largely dominated, does create natural speculation about whether Storm will remain in NXT UK. As with her Progress title reign, her run in NXT UK has been solid, if unspectacular, carried by her star presence – a star presence that seems ripe for a callup to potentially the main roster, but more than likely to NXT proper with that brand becoming a live two-hour prime time show. With Tegan Nox pictured in the crowd before the match, you would imagine the former Nixon Newell will provide a fresh challenger for Kay Lee Ray’s reign as the first British-born NXT UK Women’s Champion.

Winner: Kay Lee Ray

NXT UK Championship: WALTER (c) vs. Tyler Bate

Tyler Bate’s victory in the first WWE UK Championship Tournament at this point seems a lifetime ago, with the often now tag-team wrestler having competed in precisely one singles match in the UK in 2019 prior to this match with WALTER (a forgettable match with James Drake at a Coventry NXT UK taping). With a paint by numbers build to this, a match that took place at Progress Wrestling’s big Wembley show almost a year ago, the strongest promotion of the match came this week, in a fantastic Prime Target WWE Network special.

The special told the story of incumbent champion WALTER, the hard-nosed Austrian who runs his wXw training school with military-like discipline, having a distinct lack of respect for Tyler Bate, both the man and wrestler. Bate’s own story, tellingly, was best told in vignettes by the stars of the documentary, tag team partner Trent Seven and his mother, Jill Bate. The documentary pitched Bate as a boy who had now become a man, and Tyler’s tag team partner and mother did a grand job at drumming up interest in a match that had seemed like a very likely WALTER win, adding a further layer of story to a match that needed it dearly.

The 43-minute match told it’s story well, beginning with Tyler with youthful enthusiasm aplenty, going for Bodyslams and power moves early, being caught by WALTER on a dive, chopped and then in succession falling to a WALTER apron Powerbomb and a rough-looking second Powerbomb to the ring post where Tyler’s head legitimately looked to make contact with steel, bringing out a WWE physician.

This led to a heavy period of WALTER domination, with fleeting Tyler Bate comebacks being inevitably stopped with clubbing chops and power moves from WALTER, including a fantastic looking spot where WALTER swatted an incoming Tyler from the air with a chop to the back, countering a flying elbow. Tyler would spend the majority of the match selling, his eventual comeback beginning early with a great-looking Exploder Suplex from the apron to the floor. Tyler would later counter a WALTER suplex with one of his own, piling up near falls in the final third with a Kapo Kick, a second Exploder in-ring and standing Shooting Star near fall. After numerous attempts at the Tyler Driver being thwarted, Bate would eventually reverse a WALTER Powerbomb to a Sunset Powerbomb of his own and hit the third Exploder, for another near fall, this time off the top rope.

The match would then descend into a hard strike exchange with valiant babyface Tyler Bate attempting to fight back against an increasingly fatigued WALTER, leading to Bate going after the knee of WALTER and attempting his Birdie Lariat, before being caught with a WALTER Exploder. Bate would then use the Airplane Spin for a loud ovation as WALTER powdered to the outside and was caught with a Bate Tope into a Bulldog that led to a German Suplex near fall. Bate would impressively bridge out of a WALTER cover and hit both Tyler Driver and Corkscrew near falls before WALTER used a momentary distraction by the referee attempting to break up the two men in the corner to lock in a Choke. This led to Bate impressively powering out (ala Vader and Cactus Jack), before a second WALTER choke, led to a German Suplex on the apron and a WALTER splash off the top for a near fall. The finish of the match came with a well-timed Bate kick out at one to WALTER’s Powerbomb finisher, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of chants for Bate, before he succumbed to a final WALTER Lariat for the three count victory.

This was a very strong match and contender for match of the weekend, albeit a match very much in the NXT Takeover main event formula, running long with an extended finishing stretch of back and forth big moves and near fall drama that may not be to all tastes, but that brought this Cardiff crowd to their feet multiple times. The strongest parts of the match were when Bate was selling and where he was struggling to strike with, or use power against WALTER and whilst he may not have seemed an overly credible challenger going in, Bate was over huge in the building and fantastic in his underdog role, with WALTER himself reminding those who have missed his work with him being less prolific on the indies, of just how good he is as the big-bad and final boss level villain.

Winner: WALTER

Overall Thoughts:

This was a good show, with the main event well worth going out of your way to see. The undercard was very much a mixed bag, with some matches being entirely skippable but with at least two matches in Dragunov vs. Cesaro and the three-way tag, worth seeing. As a product overall, NXT UK continues to tick along with it’s thoroughly unremarkable and lukewarm TV product being unbefitting of the talent available to it and a booking pattern that continues to lack inspiration. The unbeatable status of WALTER at the top of the card does, as Progress has also found, present problems, with the brand struggling to develop credible challengers to the top man, with no real credible babyface threats built on the undercard of this show.

Benno can be heard every other week on the British Wrestling Experience with Martin Bushby & Jamesie. He is also the co-host of the GRAPPL Spotlight podcast