Over the years I’ve heard many fans say ‘it has never been a better time than now to be a wrestling fan’. Many fans have said that this modern era of wrestling has led to some of the best wrestling ever. Of course, many prominent wrestling reviewers and critics have said the same thing, especially about the year 2018.
That year featured a whopping twenty-one matches rated 5-Stars or higher by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer. Twenty-one! To put that in perspective, that’s the same amount of matches rated 5-Star between 1995 and 2011.
But was 2018 really some kind of banner year? Or was it a year-long case of people overreacting to matches compared to the past? Well, today we look at another 5-Star match and see if it indeed lived up to that billing.
Today we look back at the tag match between Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) and The Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong) from the July 11th, 2018 episode of NXT.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
This match took place during a period when WWE was expanding into another market. Their biggest project was creating WWE NXT UK which saw them bring in a ton of British and other European wrestlers. One of the biggest groups they signed were the British Strong Style trio of Seven, Bate and Pete Dunne. As a two-man team, Bate and Seven became known as Moustache Mountain and achieved quite a bit of success as integral members of the early NXT UK roster.
Then, during the second annual NXT UK Champion Tournament, BSS beat the Undisputed Era (Strong, O’Reilly, and Adam Cole). This was a huge win because UE were being pushed as the dominant stable on the ‘main’ NXT brand. That victory was followed by another one the next day when Seven and Bate beat O’Reilly and Strong to win the NXT Tag Team Championships. Determined to get revenge and to brush that loss off as a fluke, UE demanded and were granted a rematch for their titles, leading to this match.
This match was took place and was taped on June 21st, 2018 but aired on July 11th, 2018. This is for MM’s NXT Tag Team Championships. UE rush MM the second the bell rings. They get MM into opposite corners and go to whip them into each other but MM reverse and uppercut their opponents. Strong and O’Reilly get elbowed to the mat and then Bate slams Strong onto O’Reilly. MM do some more tandem moves to gain control of the match and UE bail to the floor to recover for a brief moment. UE rush back in but get thrown out again and then both of them eat more stiff elbows. That leads to some ringside brawling and UE try to double-team Seven. Seven kicks Strong away but O’Reilly uses that distraction to smash Seven face-first into the ringpost. O’Reilly follows with a knee crusher into the ring steps. Clever counter.
Seven gets tossed into the ring and O’Reilly tags in to attack Seven’s bad leg. he DDTs Seven’s leg and tags Strong, who stomps away while Seven’s leg is trapped by O’Reilly. Strong loosens Seven’s knee brace and tags O’Reilly, and then Strong lands a modified dragon screw leg whip. O’Reilly lands a Figure-4 leg stretch and then puts himself between Seven and his partner to keep him isolated. O’Reilly breaks Seven’s guard and locks in a heel hook. Then Strong tags in and stomps on Seven’s exposed limbs. He applies a leglock on his own which forces Seven to do whatever he can to try and escape, even pull the hair. Seven uses his free leg to land some kicks but Strong responds by tagging O’Reilly, who attacks Seven’s leg some more using the ropes for extra pressure. O’Reilly goes for a third hip press onto the leg but Seven catches on and counters with a roll-up for a two-count. Seven somehow manages to kick O’Reilly away but Strong makes a hot tag. Strong goes for a back body drop but Seven kicks him with his healthy leg and throws him to the floor. Strong tries to drag Seven to ringside but Seven kicks him into the barricade. O’Reilly tries to attack Seven from behind but Seven sidesteps and sends him to the floor as well. Seven starts crawling to his corner as the fans rally behind him. Strong tries to stop him but he too gets kicked backwards. Seven lunges forward with all his strength for the tag. But O’Reilly pulls Bate from the apron. Strong capitalizes with an Indian deathlock. Seven escapes via wild slaps and lands some chops as Strong tries regaining control. Strong ducks a third chop. Seven has him scouted and goes for a DDT. Strong swings out and goes for a chop of his own but Seven blocks it and connects with a DDT. Bate cheers his partner on but Strong tags O’Reilly and O’Reilly boots him off the apron. The crowd boos loudly as Seven lands more desperation chops. O’Reilly rolls into another heel hook but Seven escapes with kicks to O’Reilly’s head. Seven drags himself across the ring…and finally tags in Bate.
Bate runs wild on both O’Reilly and Strong. He lands a back body drop and a huge running corner uppercut on the now-legal Strong. Strong reverses a corner whip but Bate boots him and lands a kneelift. Bate follows with a diving European uppercut and a shooting star splash for a two-count. Bate goes for a deadlift German suplex but he sees O’Reilly coming and catches him in an airplane spin. O[Reilly counters that with a backpack sleeper hold. Bate falls backwards into the turnbuckle to break the hold and then lands an Exploder suplex into the corner on Strong onto O’Reilly. Ringside doctors attend to Seven as Bate gets Strong in an airplane spin. O’Reilly goes to interfere but Bate catches his leg, trips him, and does a simultaneous giant swing and airplane spin on two opponents at once. Even if it’s a bit silly, that’s some impressive strength right there.
Bate slams Strong onto O’Reilly and hits Strong with a bridging deadlift German suplex for a two-count. He goes for a Tiger Driver of sorts on Strong but stops and lands an abisengiri rolling kick on O’Reilly first. He charges at Strong but Strong boots him and hits an enzuigiri. He tries sending Bate into the ropes but Bate rebounds and hits a lariat. Tiger Driver connects. One, two, O’Reilly makes the save. Bate throws O’Reilly out and looks to check on his partner. Seven looks worse for wear but still wants to take part in the match. Bate refuses to tag Seven in out of concern and turns around, only to get hit by Strong. Strong counters a throw into the ropes. Bate does the same rebound as before. But this time Strong catches on and lands a half nelson backbreaker. O’Reilly tags in and hits a running Penalty Kick but Bate kicks out. He follows with a Brainbuster but Bate kicks out of that too. Strong tags in and both UE guys try double-teaming Bate but Bate fights them both off. O’Reilly stops him momentarily with a kick to the calf and Strong charges for a kick. But Bate dodges and Strong hits O’Reilly instead. Bate attacks Strong but Strong hits him with a kneelift. But that kneelift sends Bate in the right direction as he manages to tag Seven.
Seven starts hitting both UE guys by himself. He drops O’Reilly with a dragon suplex and hits Strong with a Rainmaker lariat. One, two, Strong kicks out. Seven goes for a Burning Hammer but can’t keep Strong on his shoulders with one bad leg. Strong takes advantage with a chop block and locks in a modified Texas cloverleaf. Seven tries trapping one of Strong’s legs but doesn’t have enough strength. Suddenly Bate comes in and almost boots Strong’s head off. Strong goes for another leglock but Seven kicks him away. O’Reilly tags in as Seven crawls back to his corner. O’Reilly ascends the top turnbuckle and hits a diving knee drop to the back of Seven’s bad knee. Another heel hook gets locked in. Seven tries punching O’Reilly’s leg but it isn’t working. Seven tries crawling to his partner. He’s inches away from tagging but then O’Reilly pulls him away. Seven tries kicking with the free leg again. O’Reilly keeps readjusting himself to avoid them while maintain the heel hook. He tries stiff slaps but O’Reilly hits back in kind. O’Reilly tightens the hold and starts tanking any kicks that Seven lands. O’Reilly eventually lets go from the combination of all of Seven’s attacks.
O’Reilly puts himself between Seven and Bate again and locks in an even more vicious leglock. Bate can’t enter the ring because he already used up his one save for the match. he can only cheer his partner on and watch helplessly. O’Reilly tightens the hold even more as Bate grabs a towel. He might throw it in to save his partner. But Seven sees this and tells him not to. Seven writhes in agony unable to escape O’Reilly hold. Bate is torn between saving the titles and saving Seven’s career. He’s in as much moral pain as Seven’s in physical. Seven can’t even hit more than one weak forearm club as he starts going limp. Bate throws in the towel! The ref calls for the bell! There’s the match!
Winners and NEW NXT Tag Team Champions after 17:30: The Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong)
Imagine my surprise when I tune in to NXT expecting a complete spot-fest and I get blessed with actual competent wrestling. This was an awesome match that started off all wild and chaotic and then turned into a very compelling and emotional match. It had the right blend of story, drama, and psychology. It was definitely fun and worth watching.
And yet, calling it 5-Stars is a real stretch.
The main reason for that is how the UE shifted gears depending on who was in the ring. When Seven was getting mauled, they were laser-focused, brutal, relentless, and calculated. They tore him apart and did an amazing job acting as heels. O’Reilly in particular excelled here as he did something so simple yet so effective: he positioned himself between Seven and his corner to make it even more difficult for Seven to tag out. That slight detail made a world of difference and showed why ring awareness is so important in matches.
But when any hot tags took place, the UE transformed…into basically warm bodies. When Bate tagged in, the match turned into one of those silly, telegraphable WWE main-event-style matches with over-the-top comebacks and copy-and-paste sequences. There was no longer a sense of urgency or danger for MM. That was especially true when Bate did the swing/spin combo. Yes, it was impressive, but it was also out of place tonally-speaking. It was like putting a moment of slapstick comedy in a deadly-serious scene with high stakes. It was one of those fanservice gifts to the crowd intended to make the crowd pop but didn’t belong in the match itself.
That’s not to say the match wasn’t great; it really was. Kyle O’Reilly was by far the best wrestler here. He always knew how where to be, he was excellent at doing small and subtle things to make Seven’s life much more difficult, and he came across as a cold-hearted bastard as he tried to end Seven’s career. Seven was impressive as an FIP, especially as he endured so much pain for the first half of the match and then showed incredible tenacity as he re-entered the match with only one good leg. Sure he had more guts than sense, but he wanted to show that he could still contribute to the match in a meaningful way. That’s not to say that Strong and Bate weren’t good here; they were, just not as impressive as O’Reilly and Seven. If you had no idea who these wrestlers were or what they were fighting for, they did more than enough to explain things to you through their actions in (and around) the ring.
Plus, there was some excellent tag team psychology here that is quite from the rest of modern WWE. The way that Seven was consistently isolated from Bate and how they gradually built up to the hot tag was textbook classic tag wrestling. the things UE did to make things look hopeless for Seven and make the crowd really believe he was in peril is way less common than it should be. On that front, these four wrestlers really excelled at showing how great tag team wrestling can be if done correctly.
However, the ending of the match was a bit too contrived. The final sequence with Seven getting his leg torn off dragged on way too long. We were meant to believe that he could barely stand and that he needed doctors to check on his leg, yet he could also withstand O’Reilly’s punishing submission holds for so long. This went beyond milking the crowd and building up a moment. If O’Reilly’s heel hook was supposed to be built up as a credible move, that credibility vanished here. Seven didn’t even tap out to it, despite having his leg smashed into pieces for most of the match. I get that they were trying to squeeze as much emotion out of the audience, but they went a bit too far in doing so. Granted, this isn’t as bad as Vince Russo surviving Ric Flair’s Figure-4 leglock for longer than anyone else, but it’s the same general concept. Seven lasting so long after spending most of the match as a one-legged man caused the finish to veer into the realm of exaggeration. And up to that point, the match was far more realistic and believable than most NXT matches. Maybe Seven was trying to cosplay as Shawn Michaels in his match with Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21. That match had a similar ending but it was way more believable and had a greater sense of realism, even if it included Shawn Michaels being himself and exaggerating his emotions a bit.
Final Rating: ****1/2
While this match is definitely great and worth watching, I don’t see the same top-level quality as many other fans. It’s very refreshing for a 2018 match, especially since so many of its contemporaries were so spot-heavy and focused more on style over substance. I think all four wrestlers had the right ideas here and almost put on a true classic. If only they trimmed the fat and kept a few of the more exaggerated parts of the match out. Had they done so, this match would indeed be up there as one of the best tag matches in modern wrestling history.