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The last couple of days have been absolutely monumental for both WWE and the British independent wrestling scene as the sports entertainment juggernaut staged a 16-man tournament to crown the first ever WWE United Kingdom Champion over a two-day period at the historic Empress Ballroom in Blackpool.
With two sold-out shows and millions tuning in on the WWE Network to hear Michael Cole and Nigel McGuinness call the action, 16 of the very best wrestlers from these shores slugged it out for the right to be known as the first ever WWE United Kingdom Champion.
And it was Tyler Bate, 19, who went all the way to be crowned the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Champion - becoming the youngest ever WWE singles champion in the process. Only Rene Dupree, who became a tag-team champion at 19 years old and 6 months, beats Tyler to the record of being the youngest person to achieve championship success in professional wrestling's biggest company.
Bate had to win a total of four matches to clinch the title - including three in Sunday's packed show. The Dudley grappler beat Tucker, WWE superstar Finn Balor's protege Jordan Devlin and Wolfgang to set up an encounter with the vicious Pete Dunne in the final.
'The Bruiserweight' made a huge name for himself in the tournament when he unleashed an attack on hometown wrestler Sam Gradwell before their quarterfinal match - which utterly infuriated Blackpool's own William Regal.
But despite his antics and the fact he looked like he was wrestling in his Mum's swimming costume, there is no denying his incredible talents in the ring. After convincing wins over Roy Johnson, Sam Gradwell and Mark Andrews, coupled with the fact he blindsided and weakened Bate after his gruelling semi-final match, it appeared as though the title was going around the waist of Dunne.
Following an exciting, unannounced bout between 'The King Of The Cruiserweights' Neville and Amsterdam's Anti-Hero Tommy End, signed but yet to appear on WWE TV, as well as a surprise appearance by Finn Balor, the stage for the final was set.
Two vegans, two Fight Club: Pro mainstays, two of the very best young wrestlers in the world. Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne, with the WWE United Kingdom Championship on the line.
Every match in the tournament was enjoyable but this match-up, between two guys who have trained with one-another from a young age, was next level. They went back and forth and beat the shit of each other, the psychology and storytelling was perfect and incorporated so many great sequences in the 15 minutes they were allocated. Fans in the Empress Ballroom thought the match was done and dusted on so many occasions, thanks to the plethora of near-falls.
There is one instance in the match where Bate utilises his freakish strength to power out of an armbar locked in tightly by Dunne and at the very same time he rises and powerbombs the 23-year old, the crowd leapt out of their seats - gunning for the fan favourite and cheering him on. It was a magical moment that was only superseded when Bate kicked out of the finisher that Dunne had put every one of his opponents away with, and then when the moustached man hit his trusty Tyler Driver finisher for the win.
The @WGEmpress EXPLODES as @Tyler_Bate becomes the NEW @WWE UK Champion!!! @PeteDunneYxB #WWEUKCT pic.twitter.com/ZnaImKd2aN
- WWE UK Championship (@WWEUKCT) January 15, 2017
Triple H, William Regal, Finn Balor and Fit Finlay were all in the ring to present the champ with his prize, before the whole roster, except Dunne of course, celebrated in the ring with Tyler. Confetti and Champagne provided the perfect mix for a proper Championship celebration.
The tournament on the whole was a resounding success. Triple H and William Regal told us how proud they were of the performers on the first night of the show and they went up another gear in the final night of action.
The whole vibe the show gave off on the whole was special. 16 guys from the UK and Ireland were able to be themselves and project themselves as a performer in the same way as they do when normally wrestling infront of a few hundred people - the only difference was it being under the WWE banner and with their stellar production values.
Unreal night at the @WWEUKCT . Well in, @Tyler_Bate , the first ever @WWEUK Champion :flag_bg::flag_bg: #andthenew #WWEUKCT pic.twitter.com/dMUVXYypIm
- Joe Baiamonte (@JoeBaia) January 15, 2017
Tyler Bate was the worthy winner. He connected with the crowd wonderfully and looked like an absolute star in every match.
At 19 years old, who doesn't think @Tyler_Bate is the future of this industry? Congratulations! #WWEUKCT pic.twitter.com/cPY61ZtOOP
- Triple H (@TripleH) January 15, 2017
But the British scene on the whole was represented so well, with Wolfgang, Trent Seven, Jordan Devlin, Mark Andrews, Joseph Conners and the deadly Pete Dunne all impressing. A whole host of those who featured in this tournament are more than deserving of opportunities going forward.
EXCLUSIVE: The @WWEUKCT field honors @WWE UK Champion @Tyler_Bate, as they celebrate his historic victory! @WWENetwork pic.twitter.com/fLIgCZ32My
- WWE (@WWE) January 16, 2017
As for Bate, he made it clear in his post-show press conference than he intends to defend the belt whenever, wherever - welcoming all comers and challengers. He told us back in May, before a UK tour with CHIKARA, that his main goal was to get a full-time contract with any wrestling company.
Just months later, he main evented two WWE Network specials; including closing out the final night of the tournament as the WWE United Kingdom Champion.
What a night for Tyler Bate. What a showcase for British wrestling.
Words by Josh Lawless
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