All our interviews and reviews from the world's biggest arts festival, Edinburgh Fringe.
Back in January – emanating from Blackpool, via the WWE Network – the world at large got a glimpse at what we’ve known for a considerable time now: the UK wrestling scene is a hotbed of extraordinary yet slightly under-appreciated talent. So it was that WWE picked 16 competitors, who fought it out over a two-day tournament that saw 19-year-old Dudley lad Tyler Bate crowned the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Champion. But many impressions were made and names burned into the minds of people watching around the globe.
Time passed – a defence of the title was made on NXT and at a PROGRESS show in Orlando – but all hopes of a frequent, perhaps weekly show shining the spotlight on those that caught attention back in January started to fade into obscurity. Until WWE announced the first WWE UK Championship Live show, that is – taking WWE to Norwich for the very first time. So, we headed to the city with more churches than inhabitants – no, really… – to get a taste of the action. Here’s what we found.
THE TALENT, AND ACTION, ON SHOW WAS PHENOMENAL. OBVIOUSLY.
As well as the matches from the stars of the WWE UK Championship Tournament, we were treated to bouts from the Cruiserweight division, too – and we’ll get to the 205 Live Superstars later. But the pure, raw talent from the UK Superstars was jaw-dropping and got bums out of seats – making the groans from a portion of the WWE Universe that some of these seats were uncomfortable lawn chairs completely redundant.
We saw the likes of Roy Johnson, Wolfgang, Dan Moloney, Joseph Conners, James Drake, Saxon Huxley, Sam Gradwell and Tyson T-Bone all compete in exceptional matches over the weekend – but on Sunday, it was the closing duo of Trent Seven v Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate v Mark Andrews that got our adrenaline spiking. The Number One Contender clash between Moustache Mountain’s Trent Seven and the Bruiserweight Pete Dunne provided the most violent and eye-opening moments of the weekend. A snap dragon suplex on the ring apron from Seven getting a gasp and ‘OOOOHH’ so big, Vince McMahon’s ears must’ve picked it up from WWE HQ in Stamford, Connecticut, and we’re sure we felt every iota of the pain. While Bate’s WWE UK Championship title match with Andrews got us essentially doing squats – thanks for that, our legs are toned as hell right now – as close calls back and forth had the title in limbo. As you all know, Bate just clenched this and set up a match at NXT Takeover: Chicago between himself and Dunne that showed the entire WWE Universe that the UK wrestling scene is arguably the greatest in the world.
PETE DUNNE IS A NATURAL BORN HEEL
Let us just focus on Pete Dunne again for a moment. There’s something about that perma-snarl he has that requires absolutely nothing else from him to come across as a nasty piece of work. If you watched the original WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament back in January, you’ll remember Dunne incurring the wrath of William Regal as he attacked Gradwell at the end of the first night, or when he viciously set upon Bate before their scheduled meeting in the Tournament Final.
This time attacking Mark Andrews as he walked up the ramp to a standing ovation from the awestruck UK audience after his title match with Bate, however, proved to further increase the boos shouted in his direction. The look of absolute disgust William Regal gave him while he faced-off with Tyler Bate in the centre of the ring at the end of night two… well, there’s something commendable about how easy it is to hate, yet love, the Bruiserweight.
205 LIVE’S CRUISERWEIGHTS GOT A CHANCE TO SHINE
The WWE Cruiserweight Classic was super-exciting, a show you looked forward to every week. More so than we all expected, right? There was hope for the high-flying action from the CWC when WWE announced they’d get their own weekly show on the Network: 205 Live. Tacked on the end of a SmackDown Live show in front of a crowd who had already seen that night’s main event – with Superstars like Randy Orton, AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt etc. – the action was great but the crowd were already spent. It all started to feel a little lacklustre, through no fault of their own.
But here, peppered across the two nights, the likes of TJ Perkins, Rich Swann, Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese and Akira Tozawa seemed… different. Maybe it was the intimacy of the venue. Perhaps it was the unrelenting energy from this rabid UK crowd. Whatever it was, that thrill and excitement of the CWC returned for two nights. The matches between these guys were hugely enjoyable – heck, they even looked like they were having more fun.
THE UK DO CHANTS AND HECKLES BETTER THAN ANYWHERE ELSE…
…But they still confused Triple H. “I get the Jesus stuff…” he offered when he came down to the ring. But the Alan Partridge stuff? Not so much. Poor old Dan Moloney. It was inevitable, being in Norwich and named Dan, really. Every punch he threw – “DAN!” Every attempt at a pinfall – “DAN, DAN… DAAAAN!” Triple H, though, clearly isn’t a connoisseur of ’90s British comedy – well, perhaps he is now. Maybe he went home, hit up Gold and spent the next week binge-watching I’m Alan Partridge. We like to think so.
Elsewhere, as already mentioned, every guy with long hair and facial hair – a surprising amount, actually – were met with the Jesus chants; Sam Gradwell was called Jason Statham, Ross Kemp and every other bald guy someone could think of. TJ Perkins, however, was met with the less-PG chants of “TJ is a w**ker!’, although he took it well – covering his ears and shaking his head. So funny that we left the weekend with better abs than Tony Nese.
THE INDIES GOT RECOGNITION
It was a nice move on WWE’s part – and perhaps a deserved piece of recognition – that PROGRESS featured heavily on the second night. Not just a mention, no. To open the show, the promotion’s logo graced the screens, and co-founder Jim Smallman walked to the ring to chants of “JIM! JIM! JIM!” and “THIS IS PROGRESS!”. Later in the night, Pete Dunne came to the ring with his PROGRESS Championship clenched between his teeth, like a lion carrying his kill, and was even introduced as the PROGRESS Champion.
And with talk of ICW being shown on the Network, this can only be good for all the Indies that, week in week out, up and down the country, put on shows like we’ve seen this weekend all the time.
Good news if you didn’t make it down to Norwich – or if you did and want to relive the action – the WWE UK Championship Live Special is available to watch anytime on the WWE Network. Could this signal the start of an in-demand, more frequent show?
And we highly recommend taking the time to watch NXT TakeOver: Chicago on the Network, too. The WWE United Kingdom Championship match between Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne stole the entire show – getting the whole arena on their feet multiple times and receiving “Fight forever!” and “UK! UK! UK!” chants. Pete Dunne may have won the match – and the WWE UK title – but both men put on a performance that gives the UK something to be proud of in these dire times.
There’s another chance to see some of the WWE UK Superstars in action as the NXT Live! tour begins in the UK on June 5, culminating at Download Festival 2017. Tickets for that are on sale now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.