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31 Days of Wrestling (12/22/17): Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne, NXT Takeover: Chicago



Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2017 produced for us.


“When that month of May / Comes and the day / In beams gives light / I fear no more the fight.”
— T.H. White, “The Once and Future King”

Mention “Tyler Bate” or “Pete Dunne” to the casual wrestling fan, and chances are he/she would ask, “Who?” And it’s a valid reaction: the two young British grapplers have yet to reach hotshot superstar status like AJ Styles, John Cena, the Hardy Boyz, or Roman Reigns. They have yet to be in main roster main event matches. Still, for what it’s worth, they have given us some of the finest wrestling clinics this year, at NXT Takeover: Chicago.

Both the inaugural UK Champion Tyler Bate and the "Bruiserweight" Pete Dunne started out in independent wrestling organizations in Europe, most notably in Progress Wrestling and in Revolution Pro Wrestling. At the beginning of the year, the WWE held the inaugural United Kingdom Championship tournament, pitting some of Europe’s most talented wrestlers in a two-day 16-man tilt for the belt. Bate and Dunne made it to the finals, in what was considered as a match of the year contender.

But eager to show the world the quality of British wrestling, the two rivals faced off months later in perhaps the year’s best pure wrestling showdown.

***

With Bate as the champion and Dunne as the challenger, the match itself seemed to be an afterthought to an otherwise well-booked Takeover PPV: after all, the show itself was stacked with other matches like Roode vs. Itami and a triple threat match for the NXT Women’s Championship. The Bate-Dunne rematch from the UK Championship Special was announced just a little under two weeks before NXT Takeover: Chicago, and it seemed a little awkward to defend the UK belt on US soil. Still, the match knocked all expectations out of the park.

The early parts of the match were reminiscent of wrestling matches back in the days of World of Sport, kicking off with traditional wrestling holds and small joint manipulation; things you won’t see in a lot of wrestling matches today. Control went to Dunne at around the 2:00 mark of the match, as he delivered a trademark suplex on the ring apron.



The match emphasized plenty of realism and old school fighting from Dunne at the beginning, until Bate recovered with a series of cruiserweight-style running elbows. Dunne attempted another X-Plex on the canvas this time, only for Bate to roll through with a beautiful standing Shooting Star Press into a belly-to-back suplex. It was a sequence of moves that showed the versatility of both characters in telling one story in a single match: from British catch-as-catch-can to indy-style high-speed high-flying action.



The match itself was all about mat technique: five minutes into the match, Bate decided to run after a prone Dunne with another running Shooting Star Press from the corner, only to be caught in a triangle choke from Dunne. This was answered by a one-handed powerbomb, a long Airplane Spin, and an exchange of attacks from both men. This culminated into one of the more psychological aspects of the match, with Bate and Dunne exchanging tired blows from the mat. Reminiscent, of course, of the big-match spots which were common in the old days of Strong Style/King’s Road matches back in Japan.



The final third of the match saw Bate in a valiant—if not desperate—attempt to rid himself of the challenger, digging deep into a well of high-impact, high-risk moves including hard shots from the ropes, a moonsault from the corner to the outside, and an attempt at the Tyler Driver ’97. But for almost every move, Dunne had an answer: stiff shots, counters, and a nasty counter for an over-the-top rope dive. In the end, Dunne rolled the champion back into the ring, and pinned him with one of the most innovative finishers in wrestling today: the Bitter End.



***

If anything, the UK Championship match from NXT Takeover: Chicago should be the stuff that WrestleMania matches are made of. It is proof that wrestling—in its purest and most physical form—can exist outside of gimmick matches, the dozens of things you can do with a steel chair, or surreal acrobatics that many people usually associate with a “classic wrestling match” in 2017. If anything, the fans recognize it too: giving the competitors two standing ovations during the match. For a match that initially seemed as an afterthought to justify the UK Championship, the Bate-Dunne match proved that wrestling—beyond sports entertainment and spectacle—was alive and well, and NXT is the show to watch for showcases of that caliber.


If anything, these future kings of the squared circle just gave us a taste of what wrestling could be in 2018 and beyond.



*****


31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2017.

Read our previous entries:

1. The Okada/Omega Trilogy
2. Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 33)
3. The Mae Young Classic Finals
4. Billy Suede vs. Jake De Leon (Wrevolution X 2017)
5. WarGames
6. Prince Puma vs. Pentagon Dark (Ultima Lucha Tres)
7. Fatal Four Way for the WWE Universal Championship (SummerSlam)
8. Manami Toyota's Retirement
9. Jinder Mahal Wins the WWE Championship
10. Roman Reigns Tries To Take The Torch (No Mercy 2017)
11. Hanzello Shilva vs. Aldrin Richards (MWF Balikbayan 2017)
12. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega (G1 Climax 27 Finals)
13. The Implosion of #DIY
14. Ubusan ng Lahi (PWR Vendetta 2017)
15. The First (and Second) Women's Money in the Bank
16. Cody Rhodes Wins the Ring of Honor World Championship
17. The Beginning of the Zo Train Era
18. Killshot vs. Dante Fox, Hell Of War (Ultima Lucha Tres)

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