PROGRESS has established itself as a pinnacle of British wrestling, a company where many wrestlers aspire to perform, and their importance to the UK scene could only become more apparent if rumours of an alignment with NXT UK are true.
To say that PROGRESS is in pole position would be an understatement. They continue to sell out their Camden shows in rapid succession, whilst shows outside of London do exceptionally well and it’s all from word-of-mouth and online buzz, not a poster in sight, let alone a full card of matches until very close to show day.
It’s odd to think that, when it launched, it should really never have lasted – another wrestling company in London, run by guys who weren’t already part of the business and at a time when British wrestling wasn’t the behemoth it is today. However, PROGRESS did a lot right from their first shows and constantly evolved into the powerhouse they are today.
They’re running the Wembley Arena later in 2018 and this could be the biggest show for a British independent wrestling company to date. Add to this a new round of international tours and it could be argued that PROGRESS is the biggest independent wrestling company in the United Kingdom today. They’re certainly one of the most recognisable and they’ve definitely attracted the attention of the international stage.
Let’s make some leaps of faith here: Triple H occasionally mentions PROGRESS when he’s talking about UK talent. It’s not the only company he mentions, but it’s not like he’s listing half the companies in the UK today. There have been rumours, for years, that WWE Network could feature PROGRESS and those rumours don’t appear to be going away soon.
A previous online article suggested that Jim Smallman has taken up a role with the nascent NXT UK brand, whilst PROGRESS has also played host to the likes of recognisable and current WWE talent previously. It’s not appearances by The Brooklyn Brawler, Disco Inferno or “that guy who was really popular on Jakked/Metal”, but talent such as Kassius Ohno, Finn Balor and, recently, Dakota Kai. Whilst other larger UK companies scaled down appearances from the likes of Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate and Trent Seven, PROGRESS continued to throw its weight behind British Strong Style, amongst others.
What has been interesting is that, of the talent rumoured to be involved in WoS Wrestling, those who had previously appeared on PROGRESS haven’t appeared in an age. Perhaps this was just a case of “creative has nothing for you”, but there’s certainly some British wrestling heavy hitters in that list. On the flip-side, the WWE UK talent has found another home in front of the PROGRESS family.
However, with the news that NXT UK is finally launching, what next for PROGRESS? PROGRESS could act as a feeder territory, of sorts, for NXT UK which, in turn, would feed into the main WWE roster. It’d make sense as the vast majority of WWE UK talent had appeared, or would appear, at Chapter shows for PROGRESS and it seems that the team of Jim Smallman, Jon Briley and Glen Joseph have an eye for the talent that’ll appeal to their fans whether they’re homegrown, up-and-coming or established. Jim Smallman doesn’t hide his friendship with William Regal, though has previously played his cards very close to his chest on whether that friendship includes a special business relationship.
If PROGRESS does become a feeder company, it’s a perfect opportunity to cherry pick the best of the talent in the UK and introduce new talent thanks to their close relationship with Knucklelocks Gym wrestling school, born from the old ProJo. Could we see this morph into a WWE UK Performance Centre? That’s certainly another concept that has been suggested; a wrestling school in the UK designed to teach WWE methods to developmental talent. There’s certainly the talent in the already named NXT UK roster (those who appeared at the WWE UK Championship Tournament) to segue into teaching if their in-ring WWE wrestling career doesn’t pan out.
With NXT UK running shows later this year and PROGRESS running its biggest ever show in 2018, where do they go in 2019? Smallman had suggested that they had no interest in bringing PROGRESS to television – why would they give up control of a carefully crafted product? It could come to WWE Network and, very much like NXT, be free of the influence of advertisers.
Let’s expand on that, though, could we see PROGRESS run more frequent, grand-stage shows alongside the regular Chapters? Alexandra Palace, Victoria Warehouse and, soon, Wembley Arena. Maybe PROGRESS will replicate the WWE format of old – Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Survivor Series and Summerslam. Imagine that, four shows a year that break all the expectations and records in British wrestling, becoming a focal point for wrestling fans from far and wide. It’s not inconceivable, nor is the idea that wrestling could be the next thing to be broadcast live in a cinema, joining everything from Doctor Who to boxing, ballet to theatre as a must-see anywhere event.
Jim Smallman wanted to see a day where British wrestlers could make a living from wrestling and it seems that, for some, that day is getting ever closer. With more quality performers going to full time, the opportunities are there, not just in WWE UK or WoS Wrestling, but beyond that. With shows now running during the week, instead of the more traditional Friday to Sunday, and some companies able to run two shows per day, and the still prolific holiday runs for companies like NGW and MegaSlam, the cream of the crop for this and the next generation can certainly find the work.