LONDON -- Liverpool's Zack Gibson won the second annual WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament on Monday, earning himself a shot at U.K. champion Pete Dunne on Tuesday night.
It was a career night for Gibson, 27, who defeated three men in one night inside the historic Royal Albert Hall. It was the WWE's first event held at the venue in almost 20 years. The scouser's route to being hailed as tournament champion included victories over "Gentleman" Jack Gallagher, "Flash" Morgan Webster and, in the final, Travis Banks. In a first-round match held two weeks ago at the Download Festival in Derby, England, Gibson beat Amir Jordan.
"This is the biggest thing I've ever done in my career, this was a massive opportunity, a massive landmark for me," Gibson told reporters in a post-event media scrum.
"I can't rest yet, not when in 24 hours I have an even bigger opportunity. The whole point of this tournament was to get face-to-face with Pete Dunne. The tournament was a massive, I'll tell my grandkids about that one day. For now, I'm going to home, eat, rest, have 16 showers, get ready for tomorrow and show up to work. I came here to win the tournament, but more importantly than that, I came here to win the title."
Gibson wasn't the only one to receive good news Monday night in London, as the entire assembled roster and a number of other talents got some long-expected happy news. Earlier in the night, the WWE announced the official launch of the NXT U.K. brand which, in addition to the current men's U.K. championship, will add a women's U.K. championship and division as well as a U.K. tag-team championship and division in the coming months.
The brand will hold eight events -- in Cambridge, Birmingham, Plymouth and Liverpool later in the year -- which will all be taped for an NXT U.K. show -- although where these episodes will air has yet to be finalised.
"The U.K. has an amazing talent base and incredibly passionate fans that are deserving of their own showcase," WWE executive Paul "Triple H" Levesque said via press release. "This is the next step in our ongoing strategy to create localized content and further develop our brand globally."
"This is one of those things we've all dreamt about for years," Gibson said on hearing the news. "When I started out I just wanted to wrestle, I didn't care where it was. To do this, in our country, in a brand and opportunity so unique as this, it literally doesn't get bigger than this."
Dunne, the current WWE U.K. champion and one of the most recognizable faces in British professional wrestling over the past few years, weighed in on the monumental news as well as the choice of Royal Albert Hall as the venue to kick it all off. "All these guys have been working for a decade and now they have this platform to go out there and show people what they can do," Dunne said. "I think they found the perfect location. If you want to launch a U.K. brand, I think this is the best place you could possibly find."
Levesque, who was in attendance Monday night, was beaming at how the tournament played out and what the future holds for the WWE's plans in this market.
"I thought it went spectacularly well" Levesque said. "Looking at this talent pool and everything that was accomplished here tonight I think we're just nicking the surface of what can be done, and I'm really excited about this brand going forward."
As for Tuesday's main event, Dunne is ready for a fresh title challenger. After competing in a six-man tag-team match against the Undisputed Era earlier in the night, he said he's looking forward to closing the show with a familiar face in a new setting -- and hopes Gibson can handle the pressure of the spotlight.
"Zack's a great talent, he's done really well today," Dunne told reporters backstage. "It's such a high-pressure situation and I've worked with him and wrestled him many times. Obviously, this is the biggest stage; it's something I'm used to by now. I hope he steps up and I hope he brings it. Hopefully we have a match-of-the-year contender."
- WWE (@WWE) June 18, 2018
Eighteen months ago, when the WWE held its inaugural U.K. Championship Tournament, it brought in 16 of the most talented wrestlers it could find. Gibson's name was not on that list, and it's something that ultimately became his motivation to bounce back from.
"There's a very specific part of my heart that broke, the day that I missed out on the first U.K. tournament," Gibson said. "I've never shied away from the fact that this is the job I wanted to do, this is the company that I always wanted to wrestle at. WWE is the leading brand in sports entertainment, it always has been, it always will be, and this is where I always wanted to be. Everything I've ever done in my career has been to get here. This is vindication. This is everything I ever wanted and it's everything I deserve."
Dunne praised Gibson and compared it to his own experience in 2017 in addition to highlighting the depth of talent emerging from the U.K.
"I went through the same process last year," Dunne said. "I think he done really well tonight. I know how stressful it can be and what a big platform it is to go from the independents, and then you're dropped right in at the deep end. I think he did really well, but I think tomorrow is the true challenge. I'm excited to face him but the title is staying with me.
"Last year they plucked 16 guys and it went really well and people loved it. To come here and pluck another 16 guys and again blow people out of the water, it shows the depth of the talent we actually have, and we're only scratching the surface."
Full results from Night 1 of the WWE U.K. Championship Tournament event
Zack Gibson def. "Gentleman" Jack Gallagher
"Flash" Morgan Webster def. Jordan Devlin
Joe Coffey def. Dave Mastiff
Travis Banks def. Ashton Smith
Zack Gibson def. "Flash" Morgan Webster
Travis Banks def. Joe Coffey
Zack Gibson def. Travis Banks
British Strong Style (Tyler Bate, Trent Seven and Pete Dunne) def. The Undisputed Era (Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly and Roderick Strong)
Toni Storm def. Killer Kelly and Isla Dawn*
Amir Johnson def. Joseph Conner
*This was originally a Fatal 4-Way match until Jinny was injured and taken away by ringside physicians. The match was restarted as a Triple Threat, with Storm earning an NXT women's championship match against Shayna Baszler on Tuesday night.