When WWE announced their first ‘UK Championship Tournament’ would take place on this, the same weekend as PROGRESS Wrestling’s debut in Birmingham, the company were put in a quandary. Both it’s World Champion Pete Dunne, and Tag Team Champions Trent Seven and Tyler Bate, members of top bad guy group ‘British Strong Style’, were heavily featured in WWE’s plans and were therefore unavailable for use on this, the promotion’s first foray into a Midlands area where all three had significant ties and were likely to be featured prominently. With a burgeoning “friendly” relationship between the companies (PROGRESS had served as location for the previous WWE Cruiserweight Classic tournament) and rumours of a potential deal for PROGRESS content to be shown on the WWE Network, it was clear the promotion had no intention of standing in WWE’s way, being sure to mention when asked, that there was no “us versus them” feud to be had, and that the company was very supportive of the talent involved. The three men being missing, in fact played well into the company’s on-going story, with the British Strong Style trio further adding fuel to their outsider status, re-affirming their threat that they planned on using such WWE opportunity, to leave the promotion, taking their titles with them.
Unfortunately for PROGRESS, the show also came on a weekend where both Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll would be absent due to their own outside commitments and with Mark Haskins also missing for the foreseeable future through injury, there was a gaping hole at the top of the card, with Jimmy Havoc, the only clear headline act announced. As matches were revealed in the days leading to the show, the card looked unfinished, with no clear main event and questions from fans as to how PROGRESS would deliver on such a high profile weekend, a weekend where many travelling fans would be forced to choose between attending PROGRESS, or watching the WWE UK Tournament take place as it happened on the WWE Network.
This “bottom heavy” card though, should have been a red flag. This is a promotion after all, that has built it’s reputation such that it sells out their usual 600-700 capacity for events well in advance, and even with this knowledge, do not rest on their laurels. PROGRESS thrives on repeat business – and the goodwill of it’s fan base, so in a bind such as this, the bet should always be that the company will find a way to deliver and send their fans home happy, ready to buy tickets for the return event. With a helping hand from their friends at WWE, PROGRESS, true to form, would come to deliver.
1. Finn Balor vs Four Fans – Musical Chairs
Enter Finn Balor. The friendly face of the WWE ”make good” department, Balor having previously done a similar appearance in both OTT, and in ICW (when Mick Foley had to cancel due to WWE commitments), came out to a thunderous ovation. As the fans playfully chanted “you’re just a shit Jordan Devlin”, referencing the chants his trainee got the previous night at WWE UK, Balor mentioned his past appearances in PROGRESS, where he wrestled as Prince Devitt, painted up as both the Joker and Hannibal Lecter. Balor announced he wanted to compete again here tonight – and compete he did, losing the inaugural “Musical Chairs” match in PROGRESS, against four fans. It was a fun segment, and a bemusing sight, being there live, seeing the bar staff even at Birmingham’s O2, leaning over the bar, also trying to get a photo of this, a proper WWE TV star, doing a rare appearance in an independent company.
2. London Riots (James Davis & Rob Lynch) vs Ring Kampf (Axel Dieter & WALTER)
With the crowd already primed, the London Riots came out here to a huge reaction with their new sped up remix version of “Diesel Power” by The Prodigy. Ring Kampf of Axel Dieter and (the former Big Daddy) WALTER, established themselves on entrance with the heel Ring Kampf militant schtick they are famous for as part of WXW’s lead stable.
Starting with a short technical exchange between Dieter and Davis, the match quickly escalated with a “big lads” brawl of Rob Lynch and WALTER and with a dive sequence where Davis was caught and posted by WALTER, before Lynch hit a huge topeconhilo to both men. Ring Kampf would regroup, controlling much of the match, first working over the arm of Lynch, and then after the false dawn of a hot tag from Davis, isolating him, with smooth double team moves and a couple of big near falls, culminating in a nasty Powerbomb/Uppercut combination move. After a hot tag proper from Lynch, complete with a huge belly to belly to WALTER and somewhat botched run up the corner Suplex, the Riots hit their “District Line” double team Blue Thunder Bomb variation, before their “GBH” Slingshot Spear finish was countered by a slick Dieter Dragon Sleeper.A Regal Plex, followed by a Sleeper Suplex to Lynch, led to his being tapped out by WALTER for a clean win.
A good match and a strong statement of intent for Ring Kampf as a duo in PROGRESS, establishing them as a clear threat, and a fresh team within PROGRESS’ already stacked tag division.
3. Sebastian vs Jack Sexsmith
To say Sebastian splits opinion would put it mildly. Firmly revelling in the bile he gets from (and gives out to) PROGRESS’ fan base, Sebastian is as much internet troll as he is wrestler – and one that gets his intended response, one that feels more visceral than the “playing along” heat of his contemporaries. For all the talk of people selling their tickets “in droves” when he was announced (I’d submit, the dozen or so tickets that went on Twickets were more reaction to the card appearing to lack a big hook, than anything) he still commands a reaction, with the heat in this match being eclipsed by few of the other matches on the card. Some will put that down to the popularity of Sexsmith, a beloved face in his own right, but Sebastian plays his role well, even if the on-going story with William Eaver, is not to all tastes.
The match itself was a light hearted affair that fit it’s place in the undercard, starting hot with a Sexsmith Superkick from the bell and the tease of “Stinkface” spot, with Sebastian being saved by his second William Eaver. After a not quite picture-perfect flip dive to the outside from Sexsmith to both men, Sebastian took control of the match (even hitting a great twisting “Unprettier” variation, a move so good looking and unfitting with Sebastian’s character it was almost certainly a troll move). Sexsmith showed great fire here as underdog babyface and after being unable to hit his trademark “Mr Cocko” condom assisted Mandible Claw move, due to more Eaver interference, he took advantage of confusion between the two, tapping Sebastian to his new “Crossface Cocko” finish (it’s exactly what you imagine) for the victory.
The post-match again teased insubordination from Eaver as he was pushed and smacked around by Sebastian and brought to his knees. His eventual revolt, will surely get a huge reaction when it inevitably happens, at the Electric Ballroom.
4. Jimmy Havoc vs Tommy End
Jimmy Havoc entered first, delivering a promo where he ran down his enemies in PROGRESS (essentially all of the top line heels in Swords of Essex and British Strong Style), leading to the dulcet tones of Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s “Deathbed” and surprise number two for the evening, Tommy End coming out as his opponent. Fans, seemingly unsure as to whether it could in fact be Michael Dante, End’s former tag partner who uses the same theme, only came unglued when End appeared from the curtain, with the hard camera visibly shaking from both the reaction and the beats of the song.
The match itself was a short affair, as the thicker now WWE contracted talent End, had another match later that evening at WWE’s UK Tournament. The story was more the red hot crowd, chanting alternately “Jimmy F’n Havoc” and “Tommy F’n End”. End ran through some of his trademark spots including his wheel kicks and suplexes, but was ultimately pinned clean in the middle by Havoc with a Go To Sleep variation followed by his “Acid-Rainmaker” finish.
For his part, End seemed genuinely happy to be there and in a nice moment, End was left in the ring to soak in his applause (and throw a loan streamer) in what seems, barring any more favours, his very last independent appearance.
An exceptionally awkward match to kick off the second half, with multiple mistimed and botched sequences. Livii Grace is not yet the finished article, a fact which was not helped by Windsor, usually a much better performer, also having a poor showing. Grace was the face here and is very likeable and charismatic for her part (as shown by her performances as Tennessee Honey elsewhere) but Windsor’s work here as a heel, left a lot to be desired, falling into the much too often used PROGRESS de-facto heel tropes, of walking round the ring with a raised middle finger, as if it’s the only way to generate heat.
An unfortunate match, with an unfortunate ending, as Grace tapped to a poorly applied adapted Sharpshooter from Windsor, who lost her balance as the tap came. Both will have much better days.
6. The Origin (El Ligero & Dave Mastiff) vs South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper & Travis Banks) with Dahlia Black
The rise of Origin: Banter Edition, specifically on the Northern (and now Midlands) shows has been something to behold. Gone are the days where Metallica’s foreboding “Turn The Page” would elicit something of a groan and loud boos for PROGRESS’s most hated characters, as instead, the music is now greeted by cheers, with the fans singing along, as Ligero and Mastiff circle the ring, thumbs-up fist bumping fans and playing off one another with the undeniable chemistry of their now endearing “banterous” double act.
Mastiff took the mic before the match apologising for “implications” he had made on social media about Dahlia Black (which in truth, encouraged some genuinely unacceptable shouts targeted at Dahlia by some unfortunate members of the audience) before being jumped by the South Pacific team.
The match was a fun affair, that can be viewed for free on the company’s Facebook page, consisting mostly of comedy utilising referee Joel Allen and Dahlia Black, with fun spots from Mastiff, complete with Lucha mask, attempting Lucha rolls, hitting big cross bodies and the usual great heel work from the Power Trip. A failed tower of doom spot let to a second rope dropkick from Mastiff, however a Dahlia Black distraction, gave opportunity for a multiple kick and strike combination from the heels on Mastiff, culminating in a running knee from Banks that gave Cooper the pinfall and another solid win for the perennial number one contenders to the Tag Titles.
7. Paul Robinson vs Rockstar Spud
The vast majority of the match played to Spud’s strengths with him selling, as Robinson beat him down with a variety of stomps, slaps, belt whips and also his trademark gross-out spitting spots. The idea was that this wasn’t the snivelling Rockstar Spud of TNA, but more the “old” Spud of British Indies in the late 2000’s, with Robinson using a bowtie to mock Spud and his TNA persona throughout the match. The beat down led to a big comeback from Spud, literally spitting back at Robinson, putting his kickpads to good use with some hard kicks, and hitting a trio of big suicide dives, each at a scarier low angle than the last. As Spud attempted to use his studded belt on offense, Robinson hit a low blow, for a dissatisfying end to a hot affair, though one that made sense with Robinson, the bully, not wanting any of Spud when he was rallying, setting up a potential gimmick match for PROGRESS’ return to Birmingham later in the year.
Robinson attacked after the bell, with the save being made by Jimmy Havoc, who himself endorsed Spud, with an almost condescending soft slap to the face, leaving Spud in the ring, as the fans sang “Living on a Prayer” and Spud spared no half measures on the pandering, kissing the mat to ”Please come back” chants, then hugging his parents in the crowd. To a more jaded audience, this level of pandering may have led to backlash, but PROGRESS fans are an accepting lot, as proven by the sustained goodwill towards the “punk-rock” promotion’s furthering relationship with WWE, and Spud who did a masterful job, will surely be welcomed back with open arms for future appearances.
8. ATLAS Championship match: Rampage Brown vs Matt Riddle
Surprise number three of the evening, was Matt Riddle answering the open challenge for Rampage Brown’s 205 pound and over title (Riddle himself is announced as 208). I won’t go too far into just how good Riddle is at this stage in his career, that’s been done both here and elsewhere ad nauseam, but his magnetic personality, made him an immediate hit in his one previous appearance in at Chapter 37, the Graps Of Wrath ,and here he embedded himself further in PROGRESS lore.
A match akin to something Tetsujin Shoot Style may have put together, this was very much a style battle, with Riddle going for Armbars and a quick submissions using his Mixed Martial arts and Jiu Jitsu background as offense, and Rampage responding, in an equally hard hitting but more Professional Wrestling style way, closing the distance with big lariats and high impact Big Boots and Powerbombs, all believably big hits in this, a real fight style atmosphere.
Riddle’s strength is mixing in plausible worked wrestling moves, such as his legitimate looking Back Senton and Fisherman Buster variations, with his hard strikes and kicks. The closing stages of the match, had him countering another Power Bomb attempt hitting a big running knee, relenting only when Rampage hit another huge lariat, but then hitting his “Bro to Sleep” and leaping Tombstone signatures, which looked great on a man Rampage’s size. The finish, would come somewhat abruptly, with Riddle hitting ground and pound to a resistant, yet fading, Rampage, just as fans were in the midst of duelling chants (a sign the audience may need to be educated that Riddle’s matches can end this suddenly). The referee stopped the match as Riddle elbowed and stamped on Rampage’s head, bringing to an end the inaugural reign of the first ATLAS Champion.
The story, was very much that of a passing of the torch, as Rampage the man who established the over 205 belt, did everything in his power to put over the incoming champion. While it was Rampage that gave the belt meaning, with solid, consistent defences on shows that always gave something different to the card, Riddle will now elevate the belt to new heights, such is his star presence, as he defends the belt not just on PROGRESS shows, but – as already announced against Michael Elgin in the St Louis based Glory Pro, on other shows around the world as well.
Questions remain over the relationship of PROGRESS and the WWE, as you’d imagine last minute WWE make goods cannot be done every show, but here it worked, as that relationship helped the company do what they do best, pulling a thoroughly memorable show out of the bag, when the deck seemed stacked against them.
With this a very good debut show highlighted by the three big surprises, and a super main event, the promotion have found in Birmingham, a great new third home in the middle of the country, that serves as a place their fans from both north and the south can travel to. Tickets are already flying for the return visit on the 9th of July.
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