“Could this possibly be as good as people are making out?” It’s an odd attitude to have on the way to a live wrestling show, but such is the tidal wave of positivity generated around PROGRESS Wrestling in the three years since it started it was hard to think any other way. On paper, there wasn’t really anything that should make PROGRESS so special, these were guys who all featured on other shows I’d been to, yet somehow – at a music venue in Camden, it all came together. Something about this movement meant tickets evaporated within minutes, sometimes seconds, of going on sale. What was it?
At the beginning of the year I headed down to Selsdon to an IPW show. Being a relative novice to the UK independent scene I was going largely off the back of the promise of Mason Ryan making an appearance and the promise of a tag team TLC match that included Marty Scurll – him of “Take Me Out” fame, one of the shows I’m less proud of having watched while at University.
The show included appearances of Will Ospreay – who wrestled a nice opener and clearly showed he had something about him acrobatically, and Jimmy Havoc – a guy playing a gimmick that reeked of “indyrific”. Neither man looked particularly imposing, I’d fancifully back myself in a fight against either given their stature. A few months later they’d be lauded as part of a headline program in PROGRESS Wrestling. Something felt amiss.
11 months on, a having seen and gained a significantly stronger knowledge base of PROGRESS I made my way into the melee for tickets ahead of Chapter 23. British Wrestling is in excellent health, the demand for PROGRESS tickets at their 700 capacity venue far outstrips the supply, making the hunt for tickets a frantic panic at 10pm on a Monday evening. Buy first, ask questions later. The Electric Ballroom is their home, a bigger venue, for now, seems out of the question.
Upon arriving we’re greeted with the familiar sight of wrestling fans queuing… we head inside and I pretend to understand the wealth of film references that adorned PROGRESS’ admittedly impressive range of merchandise. To this end they’re unrivaled. The venue, admittedly, is a great choice. Packed deep with people and imposingly small without feeling “indy”.
The show itself didn’t disappoint, and certainly provides value for your ticket provided you can get one. The action didn’t blow me away, mind, there was little here that I hadn’t or couldn’t find elsewhere. A half hour “TV taping” prior to the show turned what would’ve been a long show at over three and a half hours into a marathon that really stretched the atmosphere.
If “Strong Style” is the game, then I’d hope Chapter 23 was an off night. There’s an implicit element of size when talking about strong style wrestling, which was delivered in spades in the opener between Rampage Brown and Big Daddy Walter. The unusually lose ropes that should’ve been a giveaway for the ring break that followed. It was an impressive start, and the ring break certainly popped the crowd even if the match fizzled out after when (has a match with a broken ring ever not fizzled out?). The size of the rest of the card did seem to get increasingly small.
Another impressive aspect of PROGRESS is their training school and their “progression” (pun pretty well worn out by now) up through their ENDVR shows through to the main shows. They do a very good job of framing these matches and giving us a reason to care about the match in hand but also about the performers involved. The three way between Damon Moser, Jack Sexsmith and Shen Woo was a fun comedy match – certainly the first and last time I ever need to see a dildo “used” in a wrestling match.
But between the opener and the main event this felt like “just” a good show. Nothing awful, nothing great – just good British Wrestling. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but with the inherent build-up that PROGRESS seems to get, and how passionate their core fanbase is, you’d be forgiven for thinking there perhaps would be more to it. The triangle tag team match between The Origin, The SDS and The London Riots teased a showdown mid-match between the Riots and the SDS, before quickly cutting it off. The crowd were going nuts for the first confrontation, but by the time they tried to revisit after the match the reaction to the pull apart was quite flat. Sometimes you can be too clever.
The main event, if you enjoy that kind of match, you probably loved it. For me, Will Ospreay vs Mark Andrews was about as good as I expected it to be: e.g. a fan favourite vs fan favourite match that lacked drama, had to work incredibly hard to wake up the crowd (which too their credit, they did) and one that involved some unbelievably acrobatic spots. It did suffer from the usual British indy problem of blowing through so many big false finishes that the eventual ending did feel a bit flat. Excellent stuff if you’re into that kind of thing, though.
All in all, a fun show – with some of the best that British wrestling has to offer. I’d highly recommend going if you can get your hands on a ticket, although I wouldn’t necessarily buy into the hype that PROGRESS is any more special than many of the other great British indys out there right now. It would be nice to see them venture outside of the Ballroom once in a while, what’s the point in having a great product if people can’t access it? If British wrestling is riding the crest of a wave on the back of ICW and Progress right now, why is one playing an 11,000 seat building next November… Progress may not do 11,000 people in live attendance next year. It isn’t a contest, but why risk getting left behind?