Picture credit to PROGRESS Wrestling
Well, what can I say? Third show in six weeks that I’ve seen live, which is a lot for me, and I certainly saved the best for last.
PROGRESS Wrestling held their two year anniversary show “Chapter 12 – We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Room” this past Sunday 30th March 2014. For only the second time in those two years, it was held in a different venue from their regular home of The Garage in Islington. Knowing this was going to be a big, celebratory show, they booked the Electric Ballroom in Camden, holding their biggest audience of 650 people. For the first time in their history, the date was announced and tickets on sale four months before the show, making this a highly anticipated show. You can always tell when a crowd is hyped if they’re already chanting things whist in the queue. Although some of the innocent Camden bystanders were getting chants the relevance of which they had no idea about (that poor dishevelled, moustachioed, pony-tailed man probably doesn’t know who Jake the Snake is), it was a very positive and friendly atmosphere.
Having never been to the Ballroom before, how the PROGRESS ring was going to look in this bigger venue was a hugely curious thought amongst many. Well quite frankly, the room looked awesome. The stage was a full entrance way, one side of the room was a video wall showing the top three matches in PROGRESS history and even when the Ballroom was filling up, it never felt crowded. Of course, the brand new canvas featuring the names of people that contributed money to it was debuted and looked rather sweet. The atmosphere was felt by everyone in the room, even the security guys from the PROJO /ENDVR roster I chatted to were genuinely excited.
Onto the matches themselves. After the usual rousing introduction from Jim Smallman, Tommy End came out to a huge cheer to face Paul Robinson, replacing El Ligero who was promoted to the main event due to Noam Dar’s injury. A good wrestling match with some vicious sounding strikes. First random chant of the night came in the form of “Hairy Nipples”, leading End to vocally question what the fans were on about. After failing to get the pin with a brainbuster, End leapt to the top rope and connected with his Double Stomp to pick up another win. Only five or so minutes, which might go down as one of the shortest matches in PROGRESS history, but a hard hitting one. End was booked for ICW in Scotland the same night, so it was fair enough that they had to make the match quick. End thanked the crowd and wished he could stick around and get drunk with us.
Another Glasgow-bound name came out for what was billed by Jim Smallman as a “different kind of wrestling” to what we’d just seen. “Like a Prayer” blasts out and the Ballroom went wild. Making his third appearance for PROGRESS and his first since the BBC “Insane Fight Club” documentary, Grado had the crowd in the palm of his hand. His opponent, Mad Man Manson, established a gimmick at Chapter 10 where he entered to music designed to mock his opponent (at that show, to mock the hairless Martin Kirby, he entered to the Crystal Maze theme). Tonight, he entered to a horrendous, acapella version of “Like a Prayer”, no doubt performed by some talentless muppet from YouTube. The crowd kind of turned on this and it went down like a fart in a lift. To his credit, Manson had a look on his face that seemed to suggest he realised this wasn’t such a good idea. The match was a double title affair. The prizes were Grado’s Bum Bag Championship (complete with plates!) against a jar containing Manson’s balls. Yes, those balls. The match started with an intense stare down, each man looking out to the crowd, a la Hogan/Rock WM18. They seemed to get a little confused whilst doing this and started looking around for something that wasn’t there. There followed some not entirely fluid chain wrestling, including Manson backwards crawling through Grado’s legs. Grado wants to do the same spot, but Manson backs himself up and makes Grado crawl the entire length of the ring. Manson sets himself up on the second rope, but Grado climbs up with him from behind. What’s it going to be? A German suplex? No it’s…..it’s…..it’s “My Heart Will Go On?” Yep, Celine Dion pops up on the sound system and a re-enactment of Jack & Rose from Titanic takes place. Words cannot do justice to this beautiful moment. Eventually referee Chris Roberts pulls both men off of the ropes and everyone lands in a heap. While the ref is down, Manson grabs the Bum Bag Title. The crowd gasps – is this a heel turn?! MANSON SMASHES GRADO IN THE HEAD WITH THE BUMBAG! And Grado is busted wide open……well, he’s covered himself with ketchup from the bumbag, but even so, he is wearing the crimson mask! Grado makes a comeback with a Rock Bottom, then a Stunner and finally a Pedigree (which actually got boos due to some anti-HHH remarks made earlier by Jim). But three established finishers get Grado the win, the Bumbag title and the Balls. I hope the airport security didn’t question him on his way to ICW.
Slightly more serious competition followed with the latest first round match in the 2014 Natural Progression. Will Ospreay comes in as one of the favourites, having been in the previous series, losing to eventual winner Mark Andrews, had to leave the promotion after losing the rematch, reinstated to PROGRESS back at Chapter 10 and allowed to compete in the series again by Andrews himself. His opponent is Zack Gibson, one of Britain’s best and one I have been looking forward to seeing live for the first time. The Liverpool native comes out as a natural heel, being subjected to many scouse catcalls by the London crowd. Ospreay was accompanied to ringside by his Swords of Essex tag partner Paul Robinson. It started out as with some great technical wrestling, with Ospreay using his superior agility to offset Gibson’s offence. Countering a trademark Exploder suplex by landing on his feet, Ospreay became frustrating for Gibson, unable to put him down and succumbing to a fantastic springboard somersault plancha. Gibson eventually took over, working on Ospreay’s left arm, despite the crowd coming up with new chants to get at him – “Where’s my hubcap?” being a particular favourite. Ospreay comes back with a back flip kick, followed soon after by a springing Falcon Arrow. Gibson cuts off a dive attempt and hit his Exploder suplex from the top rope. A pin attempt with his feet on the ropes leads Robinson to interject, pushing Gibson’s feet off and jumping up to the apron to argue with the ref. Gibson tales advantage with a low blow to Ospreay, before throwing him into Robinson. He follows with a Tiger Driver, penalty kick and an inverted keylock on the injured arm to get the tapout. I was very surprised at the time at the result, as I was sure Ospreay was a lock to win the whole tournament. But I’m quite glad, in retrospect, as Zack Gibson is an excellent talent, so to know he’ll be back in a PROGRESS ring soon is a good thing. The aftermath of the match was pretty important. Ospreay was visibly upset with Robinson for getting involved. I could hear him telling Paul that he didn’t need his help. Robinson was apologetic and eventually Ospreay hugged it out with him, though it was begrudgingly done. Certainly there were some seeds sewn for future storylines, with the main one being not just the potential breakup of the Swords of Essex, but the fact that Ospreay has yet to win a match in PROGRESS.
Next up was the match billed as 18 months in the making – The London Riots vs The Bhangra Knights in a street fight. A quick recap: At Ch3 he Riots, defeated Darrell Allen and Danny Garnell, injuring Garnell in the process. At Ch5, the reuniting of Darrell Allen and RJ Singh was briefly interrupted by the Riots as the two teams stared each other down, with Allen wanting revenge for Garnell. At Ch7, RJ Singh is injured at the hands of the Riots. At Ch9, the Riots, who officially are no longer PROGRESS employees, attack the Knights after a match, leading in to the Jimmy Havoc turn. At the behest of the Knights, the Riots are put into the tag title tournament against the Knights at Ch10, where both teams are counted out. Which leads us to tonight. As expected, this match started quick and strong and stayed that way throughout. After the Riots “made friends” upon their entrance, Allen & Singh hit dives before their opponents could get into the ring. A double Ethnic Submission on James Davis was broken up by a Rob Lynch kendo stick strike. From there, anything and everything was used. Road signs, cricket bats, chairs and a laptop were just a few of the items on show. An atomic drop onto a traffic cone was an unfortunate event for Lynch, while a Swanton from Singh onto a Riot with a road sign in between did just as much damage to Singh himself. In fact Singh wore the imprint of a computer keyboard on his back from the early stages. The Riots held Allen in a sacrificial position to wail away at him with a kendo stick. Eventually the Knights hit the Bhangra Buster, but the pin was broken up. The Riots hit Allen with their launch/2nd rope spear combo and, after a top rope variation was flubbed, hit Singh with the District Line to pick up the victory. A crazy brawl that ended without much in the way of controversy, as it was as clean a win as you can get in a street fight. The Knights left to a huge cheer whilst saying sorry to us all.
After an interval which included Jim Smallman and Glen Joseph getting as many selfies with the audience as possible, as well as the filming of a DVD extra (which I am not going to spoil, sorry!), the second began with the crowning of the first ever PROGRESS Tag Team Champions. True to form, the titles were not the traditional belts that every other promotion has. Glen Joseph went backstage to bring out a huge shield – that splits in half! That is one of the many great things about PROGRESS – nothing is ever what you might expect.
The teams involved were Project Ego (Martin Kirby & Kris Travis), Screw Indy Wrestling (Mark Haskins & Nathan Cruz) and FSU (Mark Andrews & Eddie Dennis). Katherine Rose did the introductions for Haskins & Cruz. Or at least I think she did, as the crowd was deafening with their chants of boring and various heckles. A chant of “Get your tits out” was a little over the top, to say the least, but to her credit, Rose rose above it (see what I did there? Hur hur) and for once didn’t scream into the mic. She did mention getting manhandled by a certain Bastard at the last show, which would play into later events. FSU decided to introduce each other to mock their opponents. Triple threat rules in this match, one man from each team in the ring. The opening exchange involved Kris Travis playing favourites with Eddie Dennis by wearing a Team Defend wristband, resulting in a double team on Cruz. It didn’t take long for Travis to double cross Dennis, discard the wristband and replace it with a Team Screw one. Cruz wasn’t falling for it and Travis decided to discard that one for a Project Ego band. Nice subtle salesmanship there. Anyway, the match eventually settled into an excellent pace, with great double team moves by Screw, including dropping Andrews on top of Travis with a springing double back suplex. Haskins was the star of this match, coming up with some tremendous double moves, such as Camel Clutching Kirby whilst also Crabbing Andrews. A hot tag to Dennis saw the tide change, with FSU hitting near simultaneous somersault dives. A Crucifix Buckle-bomb/Enzeguri combo followed by a double stomp/reverse cradle DDT (I don’t know the name of the move!) gets the pin on Kirby and FSU are the first ever PROGRESS tag champs. FSU are incredibly over with the crowd, getting a massive ovation for their entrance and the victory, and they celebrate their way through the crowd.
Next up was the battle of British heavyweights between “The Bastard” Dave Mastiff and Doug Williams. Before the match, Nathan Cruz and Katherine Rose came back to ringside to “just watch”. I was particularly looking forward to this one and I was not disappointed at the start, as they embarked on a very technical matchup. Eventually Mastiff got Williams in position for his corner Cannonball. Now here’s where some unforeseen controversy begins. Katherine Rose got into the ring to get in the way of Mastiff hitting his finisher. Trying to get a bit of revenge for Mastiff’s actions at the last show, the plan went awry after Williams got up and was none too happy about Rose’s interruption. Mastiff then set up Rose for a powerbomb, but Williams stopped him, only to position her for an exploder. Then they passed her between each other before settling on a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who gets to deliver the move. Meanwhile Cruz is on the outside doing NOTHING to save his lady. Eventually Williams headbutts her in the stomach, gives her a kneelift and Mastiff, hitching up the lady’s skirt, hits a huge sit-out powerbomb. Rose is carried out by Cruz. Williams attempts to win with a rollup during the aftermath, setting up the closing stretch where Williams rolls through a missed kneedrop, Mastiff connects with a running dropkick and hits the cannonball to win.
Now, there has been a lot of controversy regarding this match. The PROGRESS fans Facebook page has had a hearty discussion about the events that transpired, with many feeling there was too much of misogynistic element to it. I certainly didn’t appreciate the skirt hitching. Williams and Mastiff also took a long time to set up the eventual spot, making it look quite degrading to this apparently defenceless woman. Now storyline-wise, Rose got what she deserved. She got into the ring of her own accord and got what was coming to her. I’m sure this will lead to something at the next chapter, as Cruz and Mastiff have been feuding for a long while now without a singles match having taken place. As for the actual action, Williams and Mastiff were very safe and took care of her in their moves. Plus she took that powerbomb like a champ. However the uneasiness of the general tone, with the addition of some rather rowdy fans that enjoyed it a bit too much, made it a moment that probably shouldn’t be repeated. For myself, I just thought it was a slightly pointless moment, as it added nothing to the result of the match. Despite all that, it was a great match and I’d like to see them go at it again. Just no interruptions next time.
Main event time – Jimmy Havoc defending the PROGRESS title against Marty Scurll, El Ligero and Rampage Brown. Time for another history recap. Jimmy Havoc claimed the PROGRESS title at Ch10 after cashing in a contract signed long before his heel turn at Ch9. He retained at Ch11 against Zack Sabre Jr with help from security guard Isaac Zercher. Guest referee for that match was Marty Scurll, whom Havoc laid out with a Death Valley Driver. Scurll challenged Havoc for a title shot tonight. Elsewhere on the Ch11 card, Rampage staked his claim for a title match. His loss to Mark Andrews was in a match that he never actually agreed to and was looking to regain what was his. Noam Dar also made a challenge for a title match and so the three challengers were put together for a four-way. Dar sadly has been injured again and chose El Ligero to replace him. This addition gave the match even more history. At Ch2, Ligero cost Scurll a title match again Nathan Cruz, for reasons never quite explained. Ligero eventually won the title but lost it to Brown at Ch8. So with all that history, this match was going to be something special.
Havoc made an epic entrance flanked by the Riots and Zercher. Smallman told Havoc that his cronies could not stay at ringside as they wanted it to be a fair fight, and if they didn’t leave he would be stripped of the title. Havoc said it was fine as long as the match was no disqualification. Smallman said “OK”, Havoc turned around and was smashed by a steel chair courtesy of Scurll. No, Scurll I have had a love/hate thing with. He is an immensely talented wrestler and has a lot of charisma. At Revolution Pro two weekends ago, he was fantastic in his heel persona. Tonight he was a face, but came out in his heel get up. He even has the word “Villain” on his trunks. No other trunks at all, Marty? So that sort of thing annoys me, as does his slightly grating persona as a face. I also thought that he would be in league with Havoc tonight and turn on PROGRESS himself. The chairshot cemented the fact that this was not going to happen.
From that moment, the match went crazy. Scurll paired off with Havoc, Ligero with Rampage. All four men fought everywhere but the ring. Scurll suplexed Havoc against one of the building pillars, right next to me. Whilst watching this unfold, Rampage and Ligero suddenly appeared behind us at the bar! Ligero attempted a dive but Scurll cut him off and suplexed him from the ring on top of Rampage outside. Scurll also gives Havoc an Air Raid Crash on the apron! From my angle, I could see Havoc’s head bounce off the bottom ropes before the impact. Nasty stuff. Ligero then dived onto everyone from a stairwell banister. All this action I was expecting from the earlier street fight, which was crazy. This match was crazy times at least twenty! Finally getting in the ring, a lot of chairshots, including a rolling elbow into Havoc’s bright pink chair from Scurll to Rampage. Havoc hits that Death Valley Driver onto Scurll – it must be over, it put Scurll down for at least ten minutes at ch11 – but no! Scurll completely no-sells the move and hits a Driver on Havoc in the corner, where Ligero just happens to be hanging. Havoc makes a comeback, diving from the top rope with a double stomp to someone on the outside. Bear in mind that Havoc later revealed he was wrestling with a broken foot! Rampage gets Havoc alone in the ring and powerbombs him…..and again…..and again!…..Four times in a row! Rampage then presses Havoc and throws him over the ropes to the outside. Each challenger empties a part of the crowd and throws Havoc into the empty chairs. Havoc’s taking such a beating. The challengers all talk strategy. Ligero and Scurll throw chairs into the ring, Rampage taking each one and throwing them at Havoc. Some fans get a bit rowdy and start throwing chairs, trying to replicate ECW. They’re stopped very swiftly, thank goodness. The challengers all set up Havoc for a triple chairshot, but Scurll and Ligero throw their chairs at Rampage! Scurll gets knocked to the outside and Ligero goes to the top. He’s caught by Rampage and is thrown from the top on top of all the chairs in the ring! Scurll covers but Rampage breaks the pin up. Ligero’s night is over after that bump. Rampage catches Scurll with the piledriver, but Havoc smacks Rampage with his chair and steals the pin on Scurll to retain. Unbelievable brawl. Everyone was phenomenal in the match. I have had a total opinion change of Scurll, Ligero was superb as he always is and Rampage was an absolute beast. Outside of the storyline, you can’t help but respect Jimmy Havoc. He took a pounding in this match and with a broken foot, which you wouldn’t have known had he not revealed it himself.
After the match, Rampage gets some payback for his pin being stolen. He piledrives Havoc twice to a great crowd response. I’ve seen Rampage live a few times and this is the first time I’ve seen him get a reaction like this. Not sure if it’s an official face turn, but a reaction like that can’t be ignored. With Havoc down in the ring, Jim Smallman reveals there’s a Plan B. Mark Andrews enters to a huge pop and hits Havoc with a Shooting Star Press. He gets on the mic and reminds Havoc of who he is and what he has in store. Jim announces that Andrews will be getting his rematch at Ch13 in the Ballroom and it will be a ladder match.
Well what a great night. The atmosphere of the PROGRESS fans made the transition to the Electric Ballroom and it was increased tenfold. Aside from the controversy surrounding the Katherine Rose situation, the night went off without a hitch. The addition of a proper entrance way and video screen with wrestler logos has made PROGRESS look that much better. And as usual, they’ve left it making you want to know what’s in store at the next show. What’s next for Will Ospreay? Will the Riots be brought back to defend their undefeated streak? What will the fallout between Cruz and Mastiff? And of course, will Ch13 be the night that Havoc gets what he deserves? Time will tell.
All I can say for certain is that PROGRESS have absolutely raised the bar. I have seen all types of wrestling in the last six weeks, as you can see from my previous reviews, and this was the best of the bunch. If for some reason you’re not aware of PROGRESS or watching the product, do yourself favour and get the DVD of this when it comes out. An absolute Show of the Year candidate.