Warning – descriptive spoilers ahead!
The year 2016 has been an unusual and newsworthy one for many reasons. The passing of legend after legend. Brexit. Trump. And don’t get me started on the new shape of Toblerones.
But in wrestling, it’s been huge. New Japan losing multiple headliners to WWE. NXT being filled up with Indy talents. ICW running the Hydro.
And then we come to PROGRESS. Starting their first season-ticket year out with a mammoth announcement that they were to run a show at the Brixton Academy, the promotion has gone from strength to strength. Looking back at the year, multiple stories have been told: the reign of Marty Scurll; tag team dominance between the London Riots and the Sumerian Death Squad; Will Ospreay desperate to break his losing streak; the rise of the Pastor; Zack Gibson getting so much heat it even reflected back to me when I dressed as him for the Halloween show!
And of course there’s Mark Haskins. The build to his title win at the Brixton show met many hurdles, most notably his collapse during Super Strong Style weekend. In what many assume was his tournament to win, he was forced to sit it out, allowing Tommy End to take the reigns. But what a comeback to make, answering the open challenge of Johnny Gargano to win the Smash Wrestling championship and then going on to cause a stir in PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles. Then he caps it all off by finally gaining the PROGRESS championship at Brixton.
And then one slight change causes massive ripples in the fabric of PROGRESS. On doctor’s orders, Haskins has to forfeit all of his titles. PROGRESS decide that the card they booked a while back will now see all the winners of the men’s matches go towards another match to crown a new champion.
The Graps of Wrath: where everything changed.
The first encounter saw the undefeated tandem of Travis Banks and TK Cooper, the South Pacific Power Trip, take on the ever popular combination of Eddie Dennis and Mark Andrews, FSU. The Welshmen have been on somewhat of a losing streak in the last few shows, but they seemed determined to break that streak in this match as late replacements for the Hunter Brothers (get well soon Jim!). The Trip’s valet Dahlia Black attempted the same distraction during the their entrance as they had done at the last show, but FSU were wise to the New Zealanders and threw them to the outside twice, while Dennis retaliated to a Dahlia slap by powerbombing her onto the Trip on the outside. Because wrestling.
A high octane encounter that kept the crowd enthralled throughout, with Banks showing his toughness battling through the match with a badly bleeding ear. Black got involved once again by low blowing Eddie, allowing the SPPT to hit a London Bridge DDT to gain the win, allowing them to advance to the main event and gaining them the no1 contendership to the tag titles. The Trip are certainly contenders for team of the year in PROGRESS, while it’s back to the drawing board for FSU.
Singles action saw the Iron Man Joe Coffey take on former PROGRESS champion Pastor William Eaver, who was seconded at ringside by the man that “owns” him, Sebastian (who got his own entrance, of course). Seb was insistent on reminding the Pastor of the threat he has over him as a type of encouragement. Coffey was more than a little rattled at the pesky nature of Seb at ringside, only made worse when Eaver had to take advantage of distractions to gain control over the powerful Scotsman. Coffey hit his signature moves to the crowd’s delight, including a lovely springboard cross body and giant swing, which I was more than a little amused at due to the crucifixion pose struck by the Pastor whilst being swung. The No Mercy Boston Crab did result in a tap out, but Sebastian had the referee distracted. A roll up from Eaver was added to by a pull of the tights for the pinfall. A furious Coffey refused to shake Eaver’s hand and stormed backstage.
Seb took to the mic and congratulated Eaver on the win and especially the pull of the tights. Of course, he was more pleased by the fact that he was taking Eaver’s place in the title match main event. Due to the threat hanging over the Pastor, he had to relent.
A lot of people are being overly harsh on this storyline. While I realise some of the criticism, I think this is one that should left to play out and see what direction it goes in. As for the match itself, it was good, but I’d like to see them have another round when the storyline has reached it’s end and without the outside distractions from Kensington’s finest.
The tag titles were on the line next with defending champions British Strong Style taking the challenge of the men they took the titles from in Brixton, the London Riots. In their previous encounter, Rob Lynch of the Riots came into the match with an eye injury that turned out to be a lot worse than originally thought, thus he came into the rematch with a protective face mask.
This match was fantastic. At Brixton, these guys had an underrated scrap which came close to stealing the show, and tonight they absolutely improved on that to deliver a tag match of the year contender. Champs Trent Seven and Pete Dunne kept Lynch and James Davis at bay with their various combinations of strikes and suplexes (with the odd mix of finger biting), whilst the outside brawling veered firmly to the challengers’ advantage. It would seem every member of this match would have suffered damage to their hands from each man missing a chop and hitting the ring post, as well as a four way bite off. In the end it was Trent and PETER that came out victorious through slightly questionable tactics. I could watch these teams face each other again quite happily.
Next up was the highly anticipated debut of Matt Riddle, who entered to the chant of “This is Brogress”, taking on the returning Will Ospreay, who was looking to break his losing break in spectacular fashion. Riddle wasn’t playing games however as he attacked Ospreay during the introductions and remained in control for the majority of the match. Riddle showed the audience exactly why he is one of the hottest properties in independent wrestling today, as everything he hit was crisp and fluid. A few weeks ago, I was in an audience for an impromptu Ospreay q+a on Facebook Live whilst queuing for a show. Someone asked him about his match and his response was “A former UFC fighter, what am I supposed to do against that?!” Turns out, quite a lot! Ospreay comeback was great as ever and Riddle made it look great too, just as good taking the moves as dishing them out. Ospreay only mistake was kicking Riddle in the back. At that point, the match was practically over. Riddle destroyed Ospreay with a jumping piledriver followed by the Bromission for an almost instant tap out. Ospreay begrudgingly shook the hand of Riddle, obviously distraught at his lack of success in PROGRESS this year. He has one more chance to correct that in Sheffield against Adam Cole. If he can’t get it done there, what next for him?
The last match of the first half for the final spot in the main event saw The Villain Marty Scurll against the returning hero that’s blatantly still an evil bastard Jimmy Havoc. These two have been at each other’s throats since Havoc essentially cost Scurll the title at Brixton and started the match exactly how you’d expect fierce rivals to do so – by reenacting the Lesner v Goldberg Survivor Series match. Pick up into corner charge, shove down, spear, spear, jackham-….ok, Acid Rainmaker instead, 1-2-kick out! A unique start which got the crowd into quite the frenzy, before they settled into a “Haaaaavoc” chant. As was more expected, there was crowd brawling and a few shenanigans from both men. Havoc interrupted the “Just kidding” super kick with one of his own, while Scurll successfully snapped the fingers of his opponent. A scuffle ensued when both men attempted to bring weapons into the action, which became one man’s undoing, but not in the way it was planned. As the ref hit the deck after getting in the way of a Rainmaker, Havoc sized up Scurll’s umbrella that had been brought into the ring by the Villain. Seeing the referee stirring, Havoc did the only logical thing – hit himself over the head with it. With Havoc tossing the weapon to a confused Scurll and hitting the canvas, referee Chris Roberts caught the Villain with the smoking gun and made the most popular call he’s done in years by promptly disqualifying Scurll and awarding Havoc the victory. The match was very entertaining with both men being very clever in not doing everything in their arsenal, as this feud is clearly not over and they have plenty left to go with in future bouts.
After the break, the Women of PROGRESS were highlighted with the latest match in the Natural Progression Series to crown a Women’s champion. The ever popular Nixon Newell took on the debuting Katey Harvey. Whenever there’s a new face in the Electric Ballroom, it’s always intriguing to see what the crowd may pick up on. In Harvey’s case, it was her sleeve. Her one sleeve. Cue all the usual fan chants with “one sleeve” inserted into the appropriate wording. An inspired effort gained Jim Smallman’s applause at the chant of “shit winter soldier”.
After some early nerves got the slight better of Harvey, this settled into a nice match, with Nixon impressing in her fourth match of the weekend after suffering a broken nose in the first. Great chain wrestling was exhibited early, before Nixon finally put Harvey down with the Shiniest Wizard.
And so it came down to this – TK Cooper, Travis Banks, Sebastian, Trent Seven, Pete Dunne, Matt Riddle and Jimmy Havoc: all vs all for the championship. Six out of seven chance of a brand new champion. One out of seven chance of the second eve two-time champion. Those odds drastically dipped after Marty Scurll attacked Havoc on the stage, inevitable really after the way Scurll was taken out of the match. Havoc was taken backstage, while Sebastian tried to corral his fellow bad’uns to take out Riddle. Not that many people were paying attention to that due to the crowd getting massively behind the former UFC fighter by singing BRO to the tune of Spandau Ballet’s “Gold”. Inspired once again.
Seb was maybe a little too aggressive in getting the others to follow his lead as they left the ring, allowing Riddle to smash Seb with a running knee. Each member of the BSS and SPPT (yay for initials!) attempted to keep Riddle down with amateur wrestling, something that clearly didn’t work. Multiple dives took place (all towards the same young lady in the front row throughout the night) with Seb deciding to troll the audience with his “dive”. Say what you want about the character and the angle, but it is quite something to see Sebastian back in the ring so soon after his near tragic accident at the Brixton show.
Riddle scored the first elimination on Cooper with a Bro to Sleep and a Fisherman’s Buster.
After Seb hit “the best move ever”, we were suddenly treated to a run-in by Jack Sexsmith, who inserted Mr Cocko fully into the jaw of Kensington’s Finest. Jimmy Havoc made his return to the match immediately after to hit Seb with the Acid Rainmaker for the elimination. A new addition to the Sebastain/Eaver story. What is Jack’s motivation for the run-in? Is this another social injustice that he felt needed dealing with? Does the secret hanging over the Pastor’s head involve Sexsmith? Questions that will be answered eventually, patience is a virtue after all. Whatever happens, Eaver was ringside for all the events and did nothing to help his “owner”.
British Strong Style scored two eliminations next, with a middle rope Trent piledriver taking Banks out of the running, with the pump kick piledriver was enough to see Riddle taken out of contention. A great debut that gained Riddle a lot of new fans. He’s surely a great shout for one of the international entrants for next year’s Super Strong Style.
Coming down to the tag champs against the former longest reigning PROGRESS champ, Havoc beat the odds to take Trent out of action after several Rainmaker attempts and scoring with two.
Down to Havoc vs Dunne, but the odds were still not in Havoc’s favour. Being a no disqualification match, Seven stayed at ringside to cause chaos. Referee Chris Roberts was taken down, resulting in another pump kick piledriver. Referee Paz ran in to count, but Havoc kicked out at two. Havoc came back with another Rainmaker, but Seven pulled Paz from the ring and threw him into the audience chairs.
British Strong Style clearly in control, nothing can possibly stop them. But down the entrance way comes a familiar face – Tyler Bate! The man who was betrayed by Trent Seven, who has a score to settle, who looks towards BSS twirling his moustache…….and turns to strike Havoc! The heartbroken crowd are in shock that another beloved favourite has turned to the dark side. Havoc is beaten down. Dunne hits Drop Dead. Roberts has recovered. 1….2….3….
What a turn of events to end a dramatic main event. British Strong Style is now a three man stable holding the tag titles and now the new PROGRESS champion, and the first double title holder in the company’s history, Pete Dunne. PROGRESS seem to excel at these multi-man matches. Think of some of these type of matches this year – the Thunderbastard, the 10 man opener of SSS16 day 2, and now this main event. Sometimes these matches can be confusing clusters in other companies, so it’s a credit to whoever manages these matches in PROGRESS that they rarely ever are.
A year ago, Dunne was barely on the company’s radar. Until tonight, he had just one singles win to his name in PROGRESS. Tonight, he added to his collection of titles in a big way and along with Trent and Tyler, is taking the company in a direction no one could have predicted 12 months ago.
Another blinder of a show from PROGRESS as ever.