Photo Credit: James Musselwhite – Portrait of a Wrestler
He emerges from the curtain to a chorus of boos and stands at the top of the entranceway, hands aloft, middle fingers raised and a scowl affixed to his face as seven hundred (mostly drunken) fans hurl abuse his direction and take up a now familiar chant that seems to fill every corner of the venue. “DIE, HAVOC, DIE!”, “DIE, HAVOC, DIE!”, “DIE, HAVOC, DIE!”. As he proceeds towards the ring, he runs an appraising eye over the assembled masses and the verdict is plain for everyone to see: something more than hate, something beyond mere loathing. It’s a look of sheer and utter contempt. Some are fool enough to step forward but, as with many of the competitors that have tried to stand in his path, they soon learn the error of their ways. His name is Jimmy Havoc and, as he steps into the ring at Camden’s historic Electric Ballroom this coming Sunday, he will have held onto his PROGRESS Wrestling title for four hundred and ninety days, defending it on eight separate occasions against ten of the toughest wrestlers Britain has to offer.
But this isn’t about Jimmy’s successes in the ring, it isn’t about his tenacious ability to come out on top time and time again, when the odds are stacked against him and his obstacles seem nigh on insurmountable. It isn’t even about the kicking he’s undoubtedly going to receive at the hands of Mastiff, Marty, Dar & Ospreay this Sunday, or the intriguing spanner-in-the-works that is Paul Robinson, Jimmy’s cohort in Regression. It’s about what brought Havoc here, what led him to become one of the most reviled figures in British wrestling and how all of this has been the must-watch centrepiece that helps put PROGRESS tickets in ever-greater demand month after month. To my mind, the key to this success has been the sort of nuance you don’t often see in modern wrestling story telling. While there’s a laundry list of reasons to despise Jimmy Havoc there’s also a method to his madness and, in spite of the chaos he’s caused, his reasons and motivations are undoubtedly clear and uncomfortably understandable.
Because while Havoc has been the architect of much misery for PROGRESS management and the roster alike, there’s a grain of truth to his grievances. He may have committed despicable acts in response to those perceived slights, but it’s hard to deny their validity and easy to appreciate the irony of what PROGRESS have unleashed in Havoc and Regression. Jimmy’s PROGRESS career began with a twitter campaign to #BookHavoc, because he had a reputation as a guy who competed in matches where he’d regularly be lacerated and have lemon juice squeezed into the open wounds, where he’d bleed buckets from chair shots to the head and see his flesh torn to ribbons by light tubes and barbedwire. In short, he was not the sort of competitor PROGRESS were looking for, but he wanted to prove himself, to show that he could be more than a death match wrestler and could hang with the best in Britain today. Ultimately, PROGRESS gave him that shot and, although in-ring success proved difficult for him to come by, he won over the fans and PROGRESS management.
After his match with Zack Sabre Jr. at Chapter Seven Nigel McGuinness, the special referee for that bout, told Jimmy “you don’t need to do hardcore” and praised his skills as a technical wrestler. It was seemingly a great moment for Havoc who, even in defeat, had looked the equal of his opponent, who ranks amongst the very best in the world. He earned the crowd’s respect and adoration and the people couldn’t wait to see him get his first victory in a PROGRESS ring. It wasn’t yet to be, however, as PROGRESS management had an ongoing problem in The London Riots and they saw Jimmy Havoc as a solution, booking him in a death match to face the Riot’s James Davis at Chapter 8. While Nigel had seen the potential Jimmy offered, while the fans had gotten behind him and wanted to see Jimmy Havoc the WRESTLER succeed, the men behind PROGRESS still saw the garbage wrestler, the hardcore guy, the man willing to put his body on the line and shorten his career, if not his very life, to get the job done. Havoc wrestled the match that night and Havoc lost, much to the crowd’s disappointment.
For that particular sacrifice Jimmy earned an open contract for any match at any time, cashing it in at Chapter 10 to devastating effect as he shocked everyone in attendance that day by unleashing the violence PROGRESS had so feared in the first place, yet through their actions had brought directly to the surface. This wasn’t the happy-go-lucky, crowd-pleasing Jimmy Havoc out to prove himself worthy of their adulation, this was an angry Jimmy Havoc, a Jimmy Havoc who felt (perhaps rightly) that he had been wronged, looked at as nothing more than a tool to solve a problem by people who didn’t understand, didn’t properly appreciate or just didn’t care about his motivations and aspirations. For Jimmy, PROGRESS was meant to represent a new era of progression in his career, but by placing him in a death match PROGRESS forced him to regress, to go back to his old ways and undo what he’d struggled to achieve. With this, it’s perhaps easier to understand where Havoc and his Regression team mates are coming from and why they’re so destructive in pursuit of their goals, but that’s of little comfort to the competitors who have felt the brunt of their anger.
So on Sunday the longest reigning PROGRESS Champion will once again step into the ring to defend his title, this time against four enemies and one friend, the aforementioned Paul Robinson who PROGRESS look to with hopes that he’ll scupper Havoc’s nefarious plans. But, as with previous occasions when PROGRESS have done their very best to stack the deck against Jimmy and he’s prevailed time and time again, it’s hard to imagine any outcome other than a victory for the Champion. Perhaps this time his luck will run out, or more than likely the woes of PROGRESS management will continue. Either way, I doubt Havoc has any sympathy for PROGRESS, or for its fans who have been almost as complicit in Jimmy’s spiral to regression. Much of this is summed up by the lyrics of his entrance music, “I gave my heart to the cruel, now it will not beat again” and for that, Havoc has a simple, poignant message for us all;
“I hope you suffer”.