So, another year and another Super Strong Style 16 is in the books. The fourth annual iteration of the largest tournament in British wrestling saw at least 1,500 of the PROGRESS faithful descend on the Alexandra Palace in North London for three days of sun, food, booze and sixteen of the best professional wrestlers from around the world competing for a shot at the PROGRESS World Championship. Also on offer, a huge World Title match pitting champion Travis Banks against ATLAS Champion WALTER, Women’s Champion Toni Storm defending against the House of Couture’s Charlie Morgan, an impromptu deathmatch and a load more surprises across the three action packed days.
Day one was comprised solely of first round tournament action, with eight matches to determine who would advance. The highlight for me was a fantastic contest between Zack Sabre Jr. and Chuck Mambo, who seemed determined to prove any doubters wrong with a strong and exciting performance against one of the absolute best wrestlers in the world today. Elsewhere, Pete Dunne and Doug Williams set the tone with a solid back and forth opening contest, Tyler Bate and Jordan Devlin had a great match that really showed how much Devlin’s improved since his last PROGRESS appearance and, from what I was told, Chris Brookes and Kassius Ohno put on a great main event I can’t wait to watch on demand (having missed the end of the show to get to York Hall for Wrestle Queendom).
Angelico and Mark Andrews was going well enough until, as he said he’d do, Eddie Dennis made his way down to ringside and ultimately cost Andrews the match. Likewise, the shenanigans involving the Grizzled Young Veterans entrance into the tournament led to a disappointing exit from the field for Joey Janela, while Haskins & Havoc’s presence wasn’t enough to stop Flash Morgan Webster being steamrolled into the mat by Keith Lee. The second day of action was revealed in full that morning, with the four quarter final matches and the aforementioned PROGRESS World Championship match rounding out the card.
There was a great atmosphere in the building for the title bout, the crowd growing in excitement as WALTER beat Banks from pillar to post and in frustration as TK Cooper interfered on behalf of the champion. Travis electing to take a count-out loss shows the 180 in his character since the crowd began to turn on him, a world apart from the fighting champion the ‘Kiwi Buzzsaw’ Travis Banks began his reign as. Naturally, WALTER was enraged. There were also two great six-person tag matches, with Chris Brookes, Joey Janela & Mark Andrews vs Jimmy Havoc, Mark Haskins & Flash Morgan Webster and The House of Couture (Jinny, Nina Samuels & Chakara) vs Millie McKenzie, Sierra Loxton & Laura DiMatteo (making her first Chapter appearance in PROGRESS since last July).
The tournament action of the day kicked off with Zack Gibson and James Drake further infuriating the crowd by screwing over fan-favourite Pete Dunne, but (after a fun 3-way match with Devlin vs Mambo vs TK, in which Devlin masterfully bicycle kicked one of Mambo’s beach balls) things soon picked up with an awesome clash of styles in Keith Lee vs Angelico, the best match of the weekend for the impressive South African high-flyer now based in Spain. Hot on the heels of one great match we were treated to another with Zack Sabre Jr. vs David Starr, the sixth meeting between the two in singles competition and the sixth in which Starr has fallen to Sabre. Lastly, but most certainly not least, Kassius Ohno vs Tyler Bate was a hugely exciting match-up that more than delivered and featured some amazing feats of strength from young Tyler.
Day three brought some problems for PROGRESS management, Pete Dunne couldn’t appear due to a family emergency and semi-finalist Tyler Bate had injured his shoulder in his match with Ohno and couldn’t compete. As such, Roy Johnson’s Wasteman Challenge (which went badly for Roy, again. It’s becoming a tradition) was turned into an impromptu qualifier and, much to the crowd’s approval, Kassius Ohno took the semi-final spot in the tournament! Fallout from the previous night spilled onto this show, first with Mark Andrews calling out Eddie Dennis (after the latter had turned up to the former’s post-show gig and attacked his tour manager) and Eddie finally goading him into a match in the future. Also, Joey Janela challenged Jimmy Havoc to a deathmatch and the results were rather memorable.
As was the post-match, with Will Ospreay returning and challenging Jimmy Havoc to a huge match at Wembley in September! Later, WALTER got a measure of revenge by destroying TK Cooper, which brought out Travis Banks who said WALTER would never receive another title shot as ATLAS Champion, and then in a dramatic move from the big man he handed the belt over to Jim Smallman before chasing Travis to the back. There was also a women’s title match with Toni Storm defending the belt against Charlie Morgan of Jinny’s House of Couture in a good bout, the impressive challenger coming up just short against her more experienced opponent.
Which brings us to the 2018 Super Strong Style 16 semi-finals, Zack Sabre Jr. vs Keith Lee and Kassius Ohno vs Zack Gibson. The latter was a cathartic experience, Gibson and Drake (who referee Joel eventually sent to the back, to rapturous approval from the crowd) finally getting some comeuppance as Ohno elbowed his way into the final. Meanwhile, Keith Lee and Zack Sabre Jr. had a hugely exciting bout that saw the ‘Technical Wizard’ Sabre intentionally raise the ire of his much larger opponent, and ultimately use that to his advantage to book his place in the final.
And what a final match it was, two of the very best of their respective generations, two of the best in the world today and two men who are very familiar with one another, Kassius Ohno vs Zack Sabre Jr. Before the match the score over the past decade stood at six wins to Ohno, six wins to Sabre, the pair having faced off in four different countries, on three separate continents and now in the final of the PROGRESS Super Strong Style 16 tournament. The resulting match provided everything you’d expect of these two, intense physicality, precision technical wrestling and a gift for telling a fascinating story inside the squared circle, which evoked a huge reaction from the fans in attendance. Although the crowd had been (understandably) subdued after three days of wrestling shows in some intense heat, the atmosphere for the final itself was electric and it was an amazing way to close out an amazing weekend of wrestling.
Overall, this was such a great experience and maybe the most I’ve personally enjoyed attending SSS16. While I had some misgivings about moving the event away from the more self-contained Camden, it was hard to deny what a wonderful atmosphere the Alexandra Palace provided and the effort from the PROGRESS crew into making this a weekend to remember. Everyone went above and beyond, not least the wrestlers competing in such an arduous event, and PROGRESS deserve nothing but praise for pulling it off so well. For someone who’s been attending shows since The Garage days of PROGRESS, this felt big. It felt special, and on a whole different scale to everything that preceded it, but most importantly: it still felt like PROGRESS.