The SSS16 tournament this year was very important for a plethora of reasons, a significant one being the political doubts many had over PROGRESS as a company and their links to WWE. Last year’s winner, Zack Sabre Jr was contracted to NJPW and so essentially couldn’t partake in his title match at the prefered time, so would this put Progress off giving the win to a wrestler outside the WWE bubble? The line-up already faced critique for being too heavy with guys contracted to WWE (6/16) and the presence of big time NXT names such as Kyle O’Reilly raised the question of whether they were allowed to lose to guys outside of WWE or at all.
All this criticism and speculation (for which I was certainly a part of) was rooted in the fact that PROGRESS in this last year has been viewed clearly by many as part of the WWE system. This isn’t unjustified either, with WWE taking guys like Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate away from PROGRESS and independent wrestling, and PROGRESS reaping the benefits by getting the odd NXT import. Progress had undeniably lost the image they had in 2015/16 as the hottest independent company in the world – with both of those accolades being now untrue.
However I now write in an era of PROGRESS that feels different, thanks to one man – David Starr, the winner of Super Strong Style 16 2019. A very clever independent wrestler, Starr created a campaign on Twitter advertising his independence and using #USvsTHEM. In a very good promo video, he said that it’s odd that he represents british independent wrestling in this tournament more than anyone else. This man knows his audience too well – an audience that became due to boredom with the WWE product and a love for independent wrestling.
Therefore Starr, an already popular wrestler, was able to make himself a firm fan favourite by essentially encouraging fans to vocalise their love for independence in wrestling – a genius move. This was a resounding success with Starr getting the biggest reactions of the tournament, but it permeated further aspects of weekend as well. Trevor Lee was the biggest villain of the tournament, as an NXT signee he was able to play up to the fact that Progress was below him and he didn’t want to be there. Further, the line from Kid Lykos – “I’d rather watch the indies, fuck NXT” got one of the biggest cheers of the night.
However obviously contracted stars are not all as disliked as Trevor Lee, with Jordan Devlin and Kyle O’Reilly being two of the most popular men in the tournament. The fans love independent wrestling but don’t tend to hate on wrestlers for signing contracts, something Starr had to clarify in his victory speech.
It’s impossible to know whether Starr was pencilled in to win the whole tournament from the start or whether the call was made during the weekend due to his popularity, but either way, his eventual victory is evidence that PROGRESS are listening to their fans. The fans chanted for independent wrestling and were rewarded when the flag bearer of independent wrestling, David Starr was victorious in the tournament. PROGRESS Wrestling became a platform to show that David Starr is a better wrestler than Ilja Dragunov, Jordan Devlin, Kyle O’Reilly, Travis Banks, and many more WWE names which is the biggest statement of independence possible and further shows they aren’t tied down by WWE in who and what they book.
Further, the way the tournament ended up is just the most independent thing ever. We had Starr vs Devlin for the right to fight Walter for the title. Devlin and Starr obviously have history with each other from OTT wrestling in Ireland and hate each other, meaning this match had some actual meaning and emotion behind it, as well as the stakes. And even better, both men have history with Walter; Devlin from OTT and Starr from OTT, wXw, Defiant, FCP. To me, that is the epitome of independent wrestling – the three men all have history with each other from around various promotions that makes the audience want to see any combination of them fight again. And to top it all off, it was the guy not signed that won it all.
A really nice ending to this whole tournament was David Starr’s speech after his win. He said that this victory was for indy wrestling, it isn’t dead. In telling the crowd that they don’t even know how much power they have, that does rather indicate that the reaction Starr was getting persuaded Progress to let Starr win, and if so that is really cool. And he’s correct, when people get behind independent wrestling it thrives, and hence Starr encouraged people to get behind OJMO, Connor Mills, Kurtis Chapman, Martina, Ridgeway and Brookes, a really nice touch especially for Chapman who isn’t at all involved in PROGRESS and is very much a Rev-Pro guy. That is certainly symbolic of how indy wrestling is not about competition between promotions but rather togetherness. Starr is not here to bring down contracted talent and companies, but to build something up, and that thing is independent wrestling, and he’s succeeded in bringing it back to PROGRESS Wrestling. Thank you David Starr and well done PROGRESS.