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31 Days of Wrestling (12/28/19): Die Matte Ist Heilig (Tyler Bate vs. WALTER, NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff)



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 2019 produced for us.

It was a fine year for professional wrestling. After years—if not decades—of formulaic wrestling that spans everything from spotfests to snoozefests, 2019 has brought us the kind of refreshing and exciting wrestling that was to set the tone for years to come. Yet in a year full of Match of the Year candidates and instant classics, it's hard to argue against one match in particular: Tyler Bate vs. WALTER for the WWE NXT Championship, at NXT TakeOver: Cardiff.




The very best of professional wrestling is often surfaced when simplicity takes over. David vs. Goliath, an invasion, the fight to prove who is the best. Left unsaid is when the best professional wrestlers emerge from the storytelling to do what they do best: wrestle.

Being a relatively young brand steeped in the long traditions of European wrestling, NXT UK had a lot to prove to an audience already saturated with wrestling-related content from all over the world. What the brand lacks in mainstream star power, it more than makes up for in having (arguably) the best pure wrestlers in the world. That belief is reinforced in the two warring factions leading up to NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff: British Strong Style (Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, and Pete Dunne), versus Imperium (WALTER, Alexander Wolfe, Fabian Aichner, and Marcel Barthel).

The match between Tyler Bate and WALTER, however, took that belief to new heights.

On the one hand, there was Tyler Bate: the inaugural NXT UK Champion, the young Big Strong Boi who made a name for himself as a young, technically savvy competitor whose wealth of experience makes him a perennial contender at the top of the cards. And then there was WALTER: the current NXT UK Champion, the Ringgeneral who, along with wrestlers of similar belief, fights to restore the honor of the sport of professional wrestling. In many ways, the match was the embodiment of myth—the smaller Tyler Bate going against the immense WALTER, wrestlers protecting the British Isles from the onslaught of mainland European wrestling talent. It was a violent disagreement of wrestling philosophies, pitting the cosmopolitan flavor of British professional wrestling with the smash-mouth hard-hitting wrestling born out of Germany.

The first half of the match was all about trying to assert dominance. Bate displayed the incredible feats of strength that he was known for, punctuated with suplexes and powerbombs to a man almost twice his mass and weight. The champion was no slouch here, too: WALTER's infamous chops and impressive array of holds sought to wear down Bate for the pin.

Yet we were all in for something special at the second half, where we saw both competitors dig deep from a well of moves and spots that truly showcased the evolution of both performers. The typically clean-cut Bate, in a show of perseverance and grit, took to the bag of tricks of his old rival Pete Dunne, and delivered Bruiserweight-style brawling and finger-snaps to an increasingly frustrated WALTER, who himself took to the air to try and take down the challenger. Many moments punctuated this second half: from WALTER landing a head-dropping Exploder Suplex on the apron, to Tyler Bate taking down all 300+ pounds of the champion down with a Burning Hammer.

With both competitors down and having given them all, it took a vicious clothesline from WALTER to finally seal the deal and defeat the challenger. With that one strike, the greatest professional wrestling match this year ended: WALTER proving once and for all that the mat is sacred.

It's hard to rank this match by stars: there really is no accounting for how much Bate's extended Airplane Spin accounted for that, or how many of WALTER's thunderous chops account for a single star in a ratings system. But what's hard to argue is how this match put NXT UK on the map, as the best pure wrestling show in the world. And while many casual wrestling fans may struggle to put a face on the franchise's wrestlers, this match clearly showed that any person who watches professional wrestling should keep their eyes open for NXT UK in 2020, and the true honor that it brings to the sport.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2019. Read our previous entries:

1. The Man Stands Tall at WrestleMania (Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Ronda Rousey, WrestleMania 35)
2. The Game Changes (Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega, AEW Double or Nothing)
3. Still the Ace (Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega, Wrestle Kingdom 13)
4. #KofiMania (Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan, WrestleMania 35)
5. Starting With A Bang (The Premiere of AEW Dynamite)
6. Let's Start A War (The Premiere of NXT On The USA Network)
7. For You And Me! For All Of Us! (Jake De Leon vs. TJP, PWR Homecoming)
8. It Takes a Bird and a Villain (G1 Climax Finals: Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White)
9. The Fall of Bray Wyatt and the Rise of the Fiend
10. Johnny Champion (Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano, NXT TakeOver: New York)
11. Do You Wanna Yeet a Four-Man? (QUATRO vs. Chris Panzer vs. Jeff Cobb, PWR Homecoming)
12. From Purveyor Of Violence To Death Rider (Jon Moxley in NJPW)
13. We Will Rock You! (Crystal vs. Emi Sakura, PWR Path of Gold 2019)
14. Revolutionary (QUATRO vs. IMABAYASHI, PWR Wrevolution X 2019)
15. Manila Has Fallen (Ho Ho Lun vs. Robin Sane, MWF 10: Republika)
16. Saudi Na Natuto (WWE Crown Jewel 2019)
17. Hey Now, Hey Now, This Is What Dreams Are Made Of (Elimination Chamber for the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship, Elimination Chamber 2019)
18. A Different Evolution (Tessa Blanchard wins #1 Contendership Gauntlet, Impact Wrestling)

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