By Haydn Gleed, Prowrestling.net Staffer (@haydngleed)
I wrote about the first eight wrestlers in the WWE UK Championship tournament in Friday’s blog. Let’s pick up where we left off now that the final eight entrants have been announced.
Travis Banks: As I write this, Travis Banks is the Progress Wrestling champion, however he is involved in a story with Jack Sexsmith which culminates in a match tomorrow so he may not be the champion going into the UK Championship Tournament. With that being said, Travis is probably the wrestler with the greatest natural ability in the contest and is very much someone who people like to get behind. It was through his sheer ability and smaller underdog stature in Progress Wrestling that got the crowd behind him and ultimately drove him to the Progress Championship. Has a fantastic, painful looking offense while also able to incorporate some athletic moves as well. I’m a little confused how he has met the criteria of being in this competition since he is from New Zealand, but he is someone who I can see WWE eventually bringing in full time to the company. One of the main guys to look towards winning the entire tournament.
Flash Morgan Webster: The only Welsh guy in the competition so naturally he is the most gifted, most charismatic, and clearly the only true winner of the tournament. In all seriousness, Flash is someone who WWE has been looking at for a while. In fact, he was in a qualifying match against Zack Sabre Jr. for the original cruiserweight competition that was staged at a Progress event. Unfortunately, he suffered severe injuries in that very match and took a long time to fight back to where he is now. Before the injury, he had great looking offense but didn’t always look like he could put it together to produce a story in the ring. There were many times when he would put his body on the line and as a viewer you would wince at the impact on him and his opponent. He has really put things together since the injury. And although the flashy offense is still there, he wrestlers in a much smarter way. I look forward to seeing how my American friends react to his “Mod” gimmick. If you get the chance, have a look at his excellent documentary on Vimeo called Road Back To Malice, as it will give you a great idea of who Flash Morgan Webster is.
Jordan Devlin: Anyone who watched last year’s event will be familiar with Devlin, who is essentially billed as the next Finn Balor in that he has the same style, comes from the same country, and was trained by the WWE star. He was a great heel last year and wasn’t utilized as much as he could have been in favor of showcasing Pete Dunne. This is an opportunity for him to really cement himself this year in front of the bigger audience. He has done some good to great work in the OTT Wrestling promotion from Ireland in the last year so he’s another guy who could do well this year.
Tucker: Another competitor who was in last year’s event and was in fact beaten by eventual winner Tyler Bate in the first round. He is certainly a competent and a good hand in the ring, however I see him as someone who will make whoever he faces in the opening round look like a million bucks, which is the perfect role for him.
Drew Gulak: If I’m confused by how Travis Banks qualifies to be in this competition, then I’m staggered that Drew Gulak is also part of the 16-man crew. He’s rocking a “American representative” on Twitter. He wrote that he will make the UK the 51st state of the United States, which clearly puts him in the position of a heel for this competition. Fantasy booking wise, I would have him come out in the first round against whoever will eventually go on to win the competition (possibly a babyface Travis Banks?) and cut a promo on the way to the ring iterating those anti-UK comments. With that the Kiwi Buzzsaw comes out and knocks him out within a minute and the crowd will be fully behind him moving forward. If Drew goes deep into the competition then I really question this decision.
Ashton Smith: Ashton is a guy made from the Shane Strickland mold in terms of his in ring style. He’s another wrestler who will stand out due to his athleticism. Not only is he good in the ring, but I saw him in PCW (Preston City Wrestling) a number of years ago as part of a tag team and Charlie Garrett called Interracial Love and that showed a fun side to his personality. As a FYI, I believe they recently got back together in PCW so I’m looking forward to my next visit to the company up north. He might win a first round match in an impressive showing, but I don’t think he will go further than that. Still, he’s someone to keep an eye on.
James Drake: Drake is an interesting guy to discuss. He has been herald by some of the biggest promoters and respect wrestling analysts in the UK as a star of the future, but he hasn’t really caught fire. After the UK Championship event last year, he turned heel and his entire gimmick as far as I could see was pulling his hair over his face and looking like a wrestling emo type person. In the last six months he has been tagging with fellow UK tournament entrant Zack Gibson as the Grizzled Young Veterans, which has been entertaining, but I don’t see them facing each other if the announcements represent the bracket order. Drake is certainly a talented wrestler, but he is someone who needs the right gimmick for him to push him over the top.
Tyson T-Bone: Another returning wrestler from last year’s event who, to be fair, was one of the guys you may have missed if you blinked. He is one of the bigger men in the competition. He’s also not someone I envision advancing past the first round. Ideally, it would be Dave Mastiff against Tyson T-Bone in the first round to demonstrate the “bigger men” strong style wrestling, which has become big in the UK in recent years, but again it will all depend on the bracket lineups. Tyson is definitely someone who is aggressive in the ring, and can put together a hard hitting match. For years was part of a tag team called Team Single with another UK talent called Rampage Brown, and the match they had at a PCW vs ROH event against the Briscoe’s several years ago still makes me wince to this day.
Although I’m not disappointed in the second half of the 16-man tournament entrants announcement, I’m a little underwhelmed by the returns of those who I consider first round cannon fodder in Tucker and Tyson T-Bone, and the random inclusion of Drew Gulak. However, it needs to be noted that there are a number of top UK stars that are contracted to World Of Sport for the tapings that are happening this month so I guess rather than stick some of the up and comers who are probably not ready for the big stage yet it does make sense to pad it out. Despite my confusion at the eligibility of Travis Banks, I am delighted he’s involved. He’s no longer a hidden gem for independent wrestling fans around the world, but to the more casual viewers he still is. Now he has an opportunity to showcase why he’s in my current top three for favorite independent talents.
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