by Ben Corrigan
“Under-promised and over-delivered” is absolutely right. For a card that had so little pre-show anticipation and excitement, this turned out to be an awesome event – one of the best one-off shows PROGRESS have ever presented.
It was true, I’d previously mentioned, that NOTHING on the announced show had any kind of history, backstory or grudge going in, mainly since the only real storyline still happening in PROGRESS (the almost perfectly-booked simultaneous ‘Rise and Fall of Jimmy Havoc’ and ‘Fall and Rise of Will Ospreay’) seemed to have come to a more-than-satisfactory conclusion at the last Chapter. While there are other promotions around the UK that match or surpass PROGRESS in terms of in-ring action, characters and crowd atmosphere, what PROGRESS undeniably does better than any of them is those big, epic, emotional, dramatic story-driven main event grudge matches, where everyone knows the history and meaning behind it, and loses themselves completely in what they are seeing. Without one of those, this show did admittedly look ‘weak’ coming in, as the main strength and selling point of the promotion wasn’t there.
I was wrong.
The first half of the show wasn’t anything special, but was still an absolutely fine, decent collection of matches….. but then from the precise moment Jimmy Havoc came out, the rest of the show became an incredible thrill-ride. The unadvertised appearances of Roderick Strong, Adam Cole and a Jimmy Havoc/Paul Robinson implosion and deathmatch were fantastic surprises that would have had nowhere near the impact if they had been revealed beforehand. By doing the surprise gimmick, they’ve also created great word-of-mouth for people to have to check the show out on DVD or Demand PROGRESS, and terrific goodwill and loyalty amongst the existing fanbase. Much like the “Raw after WrestleMania” that I thought it would be, the ‘reset’ button was pressed and a good few new, interesting scenarios started to emerge. The end of the Regression storyline had left PROGRESS very light on the headline heel department, but now, with the Origin expanding their numbers and Paul Robinson and Marty Scurll immediately positioning themselves in top positions we have the balance back and a whole load of new, fresh matches and situations to watch unfold.
Owner/MC Jim Smallman opened the show as usual, though this time accompanied by the GZRS (Tom Irvin & Sebastian) out as Stormtroopers, for reasons I’m not quite clear on, aside from plugging their new ugly-ass t-shirts. I still don’t ‘get’ the GZRS. Everything about them is presented as loud, brash, annoying and arrogant, and they’re great at it which would actually make them great antagonists, but for some reason everyone seems to love them. Maybe I’m out of touch with teh yoofs…
The Origin (Nathan Cruz & El Ligero) beat The London Riots (Rob Lynch & James Davis) when Zack Gibson appeared, gave Cruz a FORK, and Cruz used it for the win. A fine tag match, with the highlight being El Ligero continuing to be massively fun as a bad guy. I think I’ve said it before, but when channelling past incarnations of his ‘darker side’ he’s always become a more mysterious, silent, brooding character, whereas this latest version sees him being a lot more animated and cocky, getting into it with the audience etc. It’s smashing. Just before the end, the Riots gave Ligero what was effectively the District Line outside the ring, powerbombing him 4 rows into the audience’s chairs. **3/4.
‘The Extraordinary’ Jack Gallagher beat Pastor William Eaver by submission with a roll-through Boston crab. Not a lot to say about it, but another fine contest. Eaver, who is a capable performer, will always be popular with this audience as the first PROGRESS-born wrestler to make it as a regular on the main shows. He’s got a new ‘Blessed In The World’ t-shirt, which is pretty damn clever. Gallagher made a great impression on this crowd back in May, and that carried through here. I could easily see him catching on as a cult favourite. This time he thankfully used the theme he now uses in FutureShock (which is also the Paddy Power ad theme), that had everyone singing along. Fully established and familiar to the PROGRESS audience now, I can see him having great matches with the bigger names on the roster. This also marked the end of the Pastor’s little win streak. **1/2
Zack Gibson beat Eddie Dennis via WWE-style Distraction/Low-blow/Roll-up FinishTM. This was what it was, mainly played to set things up. Following what we saw in the opener, Gibson was accompanied by Nathan Cruz, who interfered for the win. This seemingly officially confirms Gibson’s place in The Origin, which is a great step. Gibson is a fantastic in-ring performer, but had done all he could meaningfully do in PROGRESS without a storyline or direction. Similarly, despite the grand arrival, The Faceless/Origin have so far been nothing more than ‘just another ordinary pro wrestling villain tag team’, and this finally moves them along to something more threatening and interesting. Dennis, however, desperately needs something more interesting and meaningful to stay relevant here. I think he’s great, and he has infectious enthusiasm which carries over, but without direction he’s starting to fall down almost into the role of comedy midcard jobber. I’m hoping he will be one of the PROGRESS good guys now battling with the expanding Origin (and Dennis was great in the similar PROGRESS vs. Regression feud). **1/4
As people thought it was time for the interval, dethroned former champion Jimmy Havoc’s music hit and everyone went “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH!!!”. Sure enough, Havoc and remnants of Regression Paul Robinson & ‘The Omega’ Isaac Zercher came out, with Havoc demanding Smallman grant him a title rematch. Smallman said he would grant the request… if Havoc won a contenders’ match… against underling Paul Robinson… with No-DQ rules. Crowd went absolutely nuts. There was an obvious ‘gap’ in the card Havoc, thinking he had the easy answer, ordered Robinson to lay down for him, and Robbo was about to comply, until Smallman said if they did anything like that they’d both be fired. Havoc and Robinson started exchanging words and shoves, with Zercher initially in the middle, but then basically threw his hands up, walked out and left them to it. And so it was on…
Paul Robinson beat Jimmy Havoc in a No-Disqualification match after a curb-stomp through lighttubes. Just an insane spectacle, with a ridiculously red-hot audience absolutely with them and the story they were telling. The whole match was set-out around getting Jimmy over as a massive, massive babyface, with Robinson beating down on Havoc for long periods and Havoc being put in the usual good-guys spots and showing the huge heroic bravery. It worked big-time: as the match wore on, gradually people got more and more behind Jimmy until just about everyone was 100% passionately supporting him, relishing the opportunity to finally get behind one of by PROGRESS’ most iconic characters. The bout itself was bonkers. There was a piledriver through a ringside table within the first couple of minutes, there was a bag-full of drawing pins scattered all over the ring, there were chairs, there was a staplegun and finally there were the lighttubes, but most of all, more than any of that, there was DRAMA. After the decision, which came to most as an upset, Havoc got a massive heartfelt standing ovation and even a handshake of acknowledgement from Jim Smallman, as he seemingly said goodbye. Super. (Where to begin rating this? I will say a hefty **** as a match, but as a MOMENT it was off the charts).
After the real interval to allow everyone to get their shit together:
Kris Travis beat ‘The Villain’ Marty Scurll via pinfall. This was Travis’ first match in PROGRESS since his comeback, and he naturally received a genuine emotional reception. The pair then went on to have a clean, fair, athletic sporting contest, full of fast action, smooth wrestling and quick counters. It was all good stuff. The win via inside cradle came out of nowhere, leading to Scurll and Travis hugging in the ring, then Scurll attacking Trav and putting him in the “CHIIIIICKENWIIIING!”. A whole host of people ran out to pull him off, but then Scurll locked it on again before finally being prised off and sent to the back. Villain by name, and all that. Though he is ‘The Villain’, Marty’s character in PROGRESS has essentially been a babyface with a ‘pro wrestling bad guy’ gimmick. Sounds like the shittest thing in the world, but it actually worked really well. Now, well, I guess he’s an out-and-out bad guy. As I mentioned during my introduction, I’m all in favour of this move. ***1/4.
Sumerian Death Squad (Tommy End & Michael Dante) beat Adam Cole & Roderick Strong to retain the PROGRESS Tag Team Championship with the assisted-Diamond Dust. This was SDS’ ‘open challenge’, with the best guesses most people could come up with being British names unannounced for the show. No-one could have guessed at two of the undoubtedly best unsigned US performers at this moment turning up unadvertised, so we had the fabulous moment of Roddy getting the massive ‘Holy Shit’ moment surprise moment when he was revealed, only for the reaction to increase when Cole joined him seconds later. The match was an awesome thrillfest, jam packed from start to finish with non-stop breathless action typical of the modern indie tag team sprint style, pulled-off magnificently. SDS have mainly just been beating various random British teams so far, but this definitely raised their stock and announced their arrival as potential (not PTNTL) genuine PROGRESS headliners. ****1/4.
Will Ospreay beat Mark Haskins with the 630 senton to retain the PROGRESS Championship. An excellent main event to end a fantastic night. While it was a change from usual for a PROGRESS main event in that there was no feud, grudge or animosity between the pair, the issue between them really was wanting the BELT, wanting to be CHAMPION, wanting to prove they are THE BEST and wanting to BEAT the other guy to make that happen. Sometimes, in the end, that’s all you need. A very ‘RevPro-like’ headliner, then, with both men putting in great shifts and putting on a supremely exciting, perfectly executed and wonderfully enjoyable headline attraction. All this match really had to do was cement Will as the undisputed top guy in PROGRESS, and it did that perfectly. ****.
And that was that. I went from going in thinking it might potentially be my last regular PROGRESS Chapter for a while (the financial cost of coming down to these shows, added to the increased frequency of events in 2016, and all the hassle with the queuing, rush to buy tickets, etc. made me think, while I enjoy the shows, this might be a good ‘jumping off point’ now the main story was done) to rushing home, going through the teeth-biting drama of buying tickets all over again and locking-up some Gold tickets for the next show. That one comes on Sunday 18 October and while I’ve given up trying to remember the show names and numbers, is already something I’m looking forward to greatly.