PROGRESS returned here to Manchester for their first show of 2017 in the region, after an unusually lengthy absence. The company, being cautious not to over stretch, had reduced it’s dates in the city from a planned 6 in 2016, to 4 in 2017 in part to allow the running of 2 shows in a new city, Birmingham. Unfortunately, a mix up with their venue here in Manchester, the O2 Ritz – specifically a double booking with the band Ash and a subsequent relocation to Sheffield, meant PROGRESS missed their last scheduled show here in December and so it had been a full 6 months between visits, when they arrived for this Chapter 45 – Galvanise, in front of a sold out 700 plus.
There were some changes to the presentation, most likely due to the companies burgeoning relationship with the WWE (there are persistent rumours about PROGRESS content in some form making it’s way to the WWE Network) with some, but not all of PROGRESS’ most famous entrance themes, amended to more generic stock music, something which began at the last Freedom’s Road Tapings and continued here – most notably with all three members of the British Strong Style Team curiously entering to Pete Dunne’s WWE theme. There appear to be some acts (South Pacific Power Trip specifically) who have had joy in reaching out to the artists involved, getting special dispensation to allow them to continue to use their themes, but as more of PROGRESS entrance music is downgraded to rights free alternatives, it will be interesting to monitor what effect it has here in a promotion with a penchant for running in music venues with superior sound systems, where entrance music is so important to the overall presentation of it’s characters.
1. PROGRESS Tag Team Champions British Strong Style (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) versus The South Pacific Power Trip (Travis Banks & TK Cooper with Dahlia Black)
This is a match that had been long in the making, with Cooper and Banks, “number one contenders” to the PROGRESS Tag Shields since September of last year finally getting their title shot. Although scheduling issues played a part, the delay had almost become comical, most notably at December’s Unboxing Live show, where the British Strong Style combination won the belts officially, in a three way match for vacant titles that did not include the number one contender team.
The match itself was strong, built around the selling of TK Cooper, who was punked out by Trent Seven almost from the bell with a piledriver, only to respond by hitting his spectacular Spiral Tap looking dive to the outside, before being cut off and isolated by the British Strong Style team. Such is the heat attained by Seven and Bate as part of PROGRESS’ top rebel group, Cooper, in peril and cheered on by the crowd, became almost Ricky Morton like for the bulk of the match, a strange sight considering his usual strong standing as one of the more detestable acts in the company. Much more comfortable in the fan favourite role is Travis Banks, whom it has become clear has tremendous upside in the company as a singles star and that continued here with him getting the hot tag from Cooper to a huge response, hitting his trademark strike combinations, before hitting a Cannonball onto both opponents.
After strike and suplex exchanges that ended in all four men being down, the Power Trip came close with a near fall from a 450 knee drop of sorts from Cooper (the ropes unfortunately were loose and he didn’t get all of it) and a clever spot incorporating Dahlia Black, herself being unusually cheered, as she grabbed the groins of the crotch-chopping Seven and Bate, allowing her charges to hit stereo superkicks. Moustache Mountain would regroup however, with Seven hitting a piledriver off the second rope, right into a Tyler Driver ’97 for a clean victory, closing a strong opening match and ending the hopes of those expecting a big South Pacific Power Trip win after the near 6 month wait.
As @roseannenotbarr would say, BSS vs SPPT was truly a religious experience. Everything I wanted it to be and more. Incredible. Love.
— Jenna Ø/ 🔥 (@Miss_Zelda_Zonk) March 23, 2017
After the match, Seven and Bate were attacked by Jimmy Havoc with a steel chair, beginning a show long story of Havoc attempting to take out his enemies and stop them interfering in his main event against stable mate Pete Dunne.
2. Zack Gibson versus El Ligero
The splintering of the two distinct sides of The Origin stable continued here with an announcement prior to the match from ring announcer Jim Smallman, that the absent Dave Mastiff was sending his apologies for El Ligero having consumed “a four pack of Wine Gums” and sending word that he was “in a bit of a state”. Ligero then entered, two days removed from St Patrick’s day, worse for wear and stumbling down the entrance way in Irish getup, wearing what can only be described as a “Leprechaun Emoji” head in lieu of a mask – his mask, or at least one of them, having been stolen by Nathan Cruz the prior month.
The story of the match, was the story of the Origin feud, with Gibson getting increasingly frustrated with Ligero and his “banter” as he stalled in the opening stages seemingly unable to stand due to his “inebriated” state and continuing to not take the match seriously as it went on, first removing his Leprechaun head, to reveal he was wearing the mask of El Generico, then later hitting a “rolling” dropkick assisted by the wheelchair of a PROGRESS fan front row.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) March 23, 2017
The match was perhaps overly long considering it’s comedy intentions, but it was well received by the live crowd, ending with Nathan Cruz providing the WWE style distraction finish, emerging from the back wearing the mask he stole at the previous Chapter. This allowed Gibson to hit his Helter Skelter finish for the win, continuing a feud that will come to a head at the next show where the two halves of The Origin, will finally collide in a Tag Team match.
3. James Drake versus Jack Sexsmith
This match continued the story of Jack Sexsmith’s quest to be taken seriously in PROGRESS, a quest which began with an excellent “Face To Face” video package the company produced where Sexsmith announced his intention to enter May’s Super Strong Style 16 tournament. Whether a wrestler with the name Sexsmith, with his Ugg Boots and Pyjama gear, can long term become a more serious character is yet to be seen, but that could yet play into the story being told, which does continue to be interesting, mainly as it plays to the strengths of Sexsmith as an underdog character people genuinely like and want to root for. His opponent here, James Drake, while technically solid, continues to be simply adequate in his appearances in PROGRESS – his being an act which on face value fits the promotion in look and tone, but has thus far not offered much in the way of substance.
The match was built around Drake working over Sexmsith’s back after a hard backdrop bump on the apron, with Sexsmith’s back already taped up following last month’s count out loss to Zack Gibson via Helter Skelter on the floor. Sexsmith’s selling was excellent here after being cut off with a harsh looking backdrop on the apron, and his condom assisted “Mr Cocko” and “Crossface Cocko” spots, though daft, continue to command a response and were bought as near finishes by the live crowd. Drake would win the match clean with his Sit Out Front Suplex finish, continuing a well-told story of Sexsmith coming close, but ultimately coming up short and in his mind, letting his fans down.
Sometimes, I really feel like I don't deserve your support
— Jack Sexsmith (@TheJackSexsmith) March 19, 2017
4. Will Ospreay vs Mark Andrews
This was the beginning proper, of an intriguing chapter in Will Ospreay’s PROGRESS run, working here for the first time as a villain, after re-forming the Swords Of Essex with Paul Robinson at Unboxing Live. Ospreay has excelled as such, both in WCPW and under a mask in his former home promotion Lucha Britannica, and with great facial expressions and command of the crowd, he showed again here the potential of further such character work.
The action was thick and fast with Ospreay attacking from the bell with a front Dropkick, before Andrews responded with a Hurricanrana and Tope. Ospreay in turn hit a dive of his own, before being caught with a Sliced Bread by Andrews on the apron. Ospreay regained control and slowed the pace of the match down somewhat, picking his moments and showing a more vicious streak with a heavy reliance on Low-Ki inspired kicks and strikes, as well as more nefarious offence such as bites.
Andrews would come back with some sustained comeback offence including an incredible looking Crucifix Bomb from a Tilt-A-Whirl attempt, however before the match could truly going into what was sure to be a big finishing stretch – the story of independent wrestling shows in 2017 reared it’s head yet again, with the ropes breaking and becoming loose, leaving both men to improvise. Andrews bravely, attempted to continue to use the top rope, leading to a couple of heart in mouth moments, notably hitting a Rey Mysterio style hurricanrana off of the buckling top rope. After some further back and forth exchanges avoiding the ropes where possible, Andrews hit his Stuntdog Millionare stunner and lieu of his usual shooting star press finisher from the top rope, followed it up with a Homicide style Cop Killer of all things for the victory, in a match that was still very good, even if impaired somewhat, by the malfunctioning ring.
Loved Ospreay vs Mark Andrews @ThisIs_Progress Chapter 45. Heel Ospreay is awesome in his Next boxers & was a really great base for Andrews
— Joe Lemon (@Lemsipppp) March 23, 2017
Again after this match, Jimmy Havoc, a man apparently feuding with all of the top stables in PROGRESS, attacked Ospreay with a chair, seemingly rendering him too incapacitated, ahead of his main event world title shot.
5. Ringkampf (WALTER & Axel Dieter Jr) versus The Hunter Brothers (Jim and Lee Hunter)
Fast becoming the hottest act in PROGRESS, Ringkampf have continued to impress in the company, of particular note being their match at Chapter 43 against the South Pacific Power Trip – a match that for my money was up there with the best tag matches PROGRESS have featured in their 5 year history. Although they are great villains and the act seems more suited to that side of the aisle, WALTER and Dieter Jnr here, much like in their last appearances, were largely cheered by the crowd and to an extent, the two went with it. This hurt the match somewhat, as it was clearly structured with Jim and Lee Hunter intended as underdogs, and with the crowd never truly getting behind the brothers from Tipton, it left their hope spots and comebacks somewhat cold.
The match therefore became all about Ringkampf, and the team, with Dieter Jnr’s technical ability and the pure size and power of WALTER, bring something truly different to your standard tag matches, using a clever array of spots to keep control of the match and prevent the inevitable Hunters tag. The crowd came alive for the brutal big boots and strikes of WALTER and some unbelievable high angle suplexes as he launched the Hunter team around the ring and punished them throughout. The Hunters attempted to respond with double team offence, most notably a double team neckbreaker onto knees combo on Dieter for a nearfall and then a combination splash and hurricanrana off the top to WALTER (as the crowd cringed at the site of so much weight on the hastily repaired top rope) however it was barely sold by the big man, who kicked out forcefully at two, going on to hit a huge running dropkick to Jim Hunter, leading into Ringkampfs’s powerbomb/uppercut combo that finished the match clean.
Heck of a match with Ringkampf and the Hunter Brothers! #Galvanize
— Martin Bentley (@themib) March 23, 2017
6. Flash Morgan Webster versus Nathan Cruz
Of all the victims of PROGRESS’ new music policy, Flash Morgan Webster was effected here most, coming out to a generic sounding “The Jam” tribute, and to something of a lukewarm response from the northern crowd.
The two men worked hard however to bring the crowd into the match with Cruz one of the most hateable wrestlers on the scene doing his usual strong crowd work and Webster, a strong underdog in his own right, bringing a quiet crowd into the match with some hard bumping, and great fire, although the match did follow a structure all too similar to the superior Sexsmith/Drake match earlier, with another apron bump cut off (the third of four that evening) this time with Cruz working over the surgically repaired shoulder of Webster.
Webster came back with running knees, a Tetsuya Naito inspired Destino and an attempted Strangler Choke that led to a clever spot where Cruz rolled out of the ring and drove Webster into the post, putting more emphasis on the surgically repaired shoulder. Webster replied with a dive and crossbody into the fans, before playing up the shoulder, being hesitant to take the risk of a move off of the top rope, allowing Cruz to hit a Codebreaker off the top that was so brutal looking, it was almost too much for a near fall. Cruz would follow up attempting to hit his Show Stolen finish, only for Webster to counter with a second Strangler Choke out of desperation for a satisfying win from underneath.
Cruz attacked Morgan Webster after the match, further targeting the shoulder, indicating a likely return match between the two.
7. Natural Progression Series Jinny versus Nixon Newell
With wrestler availability not always a given, tournaments in indy wrestling, particularly long-form tournaments, are not always easy to plot out and this one particularly, the Natural Progression Series to crown the company’s first Women’s Champion has felt something of a mess (see also – the half finished “Round Robin” ATLAS tournament of 2016). With a series of poor matches over the last few shows, and a limited amount of information provided by the company – particularly regarding the structure of the tournament, there had been an almost random seeming amount of first round matches that eventually lead to this, one of what is apparently three “Semi” finals.
This match though, was a stronger effort than the first round matches that came before it, as you’d imagine with two of PROGRESS strongest characters pitted against each other, with the universally hated Jinny taking on Nixon Newell, in a match where the subtext was all about this being one of Nixon Newell’s last independent dates. After an uncharacteristic Jinny Hurricanrana from the bell followed by a dive, the match spilled to the outside where Newell would recover, responding with a pair of dives of her own.
After countering a Shining Wizard attempt with a knee, Jinny took the bulk of the match with Newell showing fire in hope spots, with a neat counter of a crossbody into a bridging pin and a choke slam being most noteable. The intensity was upped with an almost entirely Jinny dominated closing stretch, that included a somewhat questionable 1 count kickout from a Rainmaker by Newell (a move used as the finish of more than one person on the card) followed up with an X-Factor assisted by the second rope where Newell landed on the top of her head for a closer call – before Jinny hit Newell’s own Welsh Destroyer, for a surprising clean win. If this was her last match for the promotion, it was great use of Newell putting over the ever improving Jinny strong, who has to be a favourite going into the final stage of the Natural Progression Series.
— Big Bad Benny Daddy (@BritWresAwayDay) March 19, 2017
8. PROGRESS World Champion Pete Dunne versus Jimmy Havoc
This match, initially announced by Jimmy Havoc as a “Deathmatch” and subsequently toned down in advertising to a “No Disqualification” match, taking place on Havoc’s birthday of all days, was much anticipated and pointed to by many, as the likely location Dunne would drop the PROGRESS title, before his WWE schedule becomes too problematic to continue at the top of the card. That did not come to pass, however the two put together a really strong brawl, that although not quite a “Deathmatch”, delivered in the violence stakes, with some nutty spots all around the 02 Ritz. Dunne attacked Havoc as he made his entrance, throwing him through chairs, a staple of Havoc matches, before being caught by a Havoc dive into a DDT from the entrance stairs. The match broke down further with Havoc introducing a Frying pan of all things, paying no penance to those who thought the match may be toned down with a WWE contracted wrestler in it, with solid shots from the Frying Pan and other assorted weapons including steel chairs to the head of Dunne.
— Melanie Price 💅🏻 (@MelaniePrice01) March 19, 2017
Dunne to his credit, seemed in his element here, with his usually vicious and cruel offence being amplified with biting on the bleeding ear of Havoc and escalating proceedings by introducing Barbed Wire, which he used for an assisted knee stomp out of a surfboard, then introducing a Stapler, stapling streamers to the head of Havoc and across his body. The action spilled into the crowd at multiple points, leading to perhaps the most creative spot of the match, with Havoc using an 8×10 to give Dunne paper cuts between his fingers, then dousing the cuts with alcohol he forcibly obtained from the bemused O2 Ritz bar staff. After a Tapai death match situation of sorts with both men wrapping Barbed Wire across their fists, sitting down in chairs exchanging shots, Havoc introduced a table and placed thumbtacks in Dunne’s mouth, which Dunne used to bite on Havoc.
— Pete Dunne (@PeteDunneYxB) March 21, 2017
Havoc responded with the finish of the previous match, a Destroyer onto thumbtacks (I suppose turnabout is fairplay) for a nearfall before Will Ospreay appeared from the back, apparently not entirely neutralised by Havoc’s earlier attack. After a Superplex by Havoc failed to break an exceptionally sturdy table and a Dunne Powerbomb that very much did break that table, Ospreay’s continued interference played strongly into the finishing stretch, first failing with a barbed wire bat attack, then pulling out the referee and preventing a Jimmy Havoc Acid Rainmaker win, allowing Dunne to hit Havoc with the bat and hit his Dropdead finish for the victory.
Well that's why my back hurts… pic.twitter.com/vRCaLn3vlH
— Jimmy Havoc (@JimmyHavoc) March 19, 2017
After the bell, Ospreay would attack Havoc, hitting his Rainham Maker version of the move and following up with hard strikes to the head from the microphone, announcing simply “This has to end”. We would later find out, the “end” would be at the next show, Chapter 46 in Camden in a “Fans Bring The Weapons Match”.
After the cameras stopped rolling, Havoc, back on his feet, stated simply “You’re dead you fucking cunt” before being serenaded with “Happy Birthday” from the live fans, as he downed a beer, bringing the show to a close.
FINAL THOUGHTS: PROGRESS, almost as a make good for their absence, provided Manchester with a stacked 8 match card and aside from the minor critiques of some long matches on an already lengthy show, they delivered, with no particular standout match, but with 8 matches where each, in the main, offered something slightly different than the match that proceeded it, collectively making for the strongest show PROGRESS has presented to date in Manchester.
The company returns to Manchester on 14th May, and returns to the Electric Ballroom in London for their next show Chapter 46 “I Like To Chill Out Here and Shoot Some Dinosaurs” even sooner than that, this Sunday 26th March, with another stacked line-up, featuring the aforementioned coming to a head of Jimmy Havoc and Will Ospreay and Pete Dunne versus Mark Andrews for the PROGRESS title, one of the world’s best touring matches, taking place for the first time in a PROGRESS ring. This show and all others from the promotion can currently be found on Demand Progress.
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