Another four-hour journey down south from a little village in North Wales to the nation’s capital saw my fifth PROGRESS Wrestling show at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. Having somehow scored a pair of front row tickets on less-than-ideal Premier Inn Wi-Fi the day after Wembley, the level of excitement was a tad higher than usual, even if it meant taking the risk of nearly being kicked in the face by Isla Dawn like a couple of months ago. Going into this show, I was very much looking forward to seeing the payoff to Zack Sabre Jr.’s Super Strong Style 16 victory back in May, which I found elevated the stakes for the main event. Add that to the promising undercard, and we had quite a tasty card on our hands going into the first Ballroom show after Wembley.
The Electric Ballroom keeps evolving every time I set foot on its Magners-stained wooden floorboards. This time it was the addition of a new projector screen towering over the former home of the white sound booth. Although seemingly still under construction, it looked very good and I’m sure it will be an asset to the venue’s infamous atmosphere when completed.
Jim Smallman’s opening speech had a different vibe this time. Sporting a Leicester City FC shirt, he payed his respect to the late owner of his hometown’s football club’s owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who died in a helicopter crash at the team’s home ground. Smallman then addressed the unfortunate injury of Tyler Bate, who was originally scheduled to be the opponent of RingKampf’s Timothy Thatcher. Replacing Bate for this match was none other than ‘Present’ William Eaver. Yep, the former pastor has now been repackaged with a new catchphrase of “today is the best day of my life”. Eaver had previously been seen walking down the queue outside on Camden High Street preaching the same thing. Needless to say, no one took much notice at that point as he blended in seamlessly with the usual spiel of the street-venders of Camden Market. Wielding a giant speaker hooked up to a microphone that kept cutting off, Eaver seemed to garner a decent reaction from the PROGRESS crowd. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not that was based on the intrigue of seeing a new character or if it will become a consistent reaction to Eaver’s new shtick. The match itself played on the legitimacy carried by Thatcher, in a similar fashion to when Tim teamed with Chris Brookes. It was a short match with RingKampf’s own getting the one-two-three, but the match succeeded in establishing ‘Present’ William Eaver.
Up next, we saw the ‘Suplex Machine’ Millie McKenzie take on Isla Dawn, in the latter’s return match for the company in over forty years – and she definitely impressed me here. Throwing out Aleister Black inspired knees and kicks left right and centre, her offence fed perfectly into Millie’s power moves. Just as the match started to sizzle with McKenzie making a valiant comeback, out came PROGRESS Women’s Champion Jinny and her acquaintance, Laura Di Matteo to put an end to things. After a minute of printing their footprints on the two competitors, former House of Couture members Charlie Morgan and Nina Samuels ran to the rescue and stood tall over their former leader. This advancement is exactly what the PROGRESS women’s division needs right now in my opinion, to break up the House of Couture and to establish new motives for the roster. I’d like to see Dawn and McKenzie face off again since they seem to have natural in-ring chemistry together.
On to the Trent Seven Atlas Championship Open Challenge, a fun way to break up a stacked card and to provide an opportunity for a surprise debut or return – and they did just that. Eager to take the challenge was Australia’s Gino Gambino, who came out wielding his MCW Heavyweight Title to the ever-so-welcoming applause of the Ballroom crowd. I’d certainly describe this as a comedy match, with it being centred around ‘Mr. Juicy’s draining energy after hitting multiple running splashes aimed at the Atlas Champion in the corner of the ring. This led to Seven handing his opponent an asthma inhaler which backfired with Gambino spraying the inhaler into Trent’s eyes, costing him control of the contest for a few minutes. Fighting back from the Aussie’s dirty tactics, Seven used his patented combination of snug chops and fake-out DDT-combo to set up and hit a humongous superplex that caused a sizeable shockwave that could only be measured by the Richter scale. An impressive Burning Hammer by Trent Seven ensured a hard-fought title retention and finished an Atlas division match that far-exceeded my expectations.
We’re closing the first half of the show with Aussie Open’s first title defence since winning the gold at Wembley. Their first hurdle? Former PROGRESS Tag Team Champions Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson and James Drake) and the relatively new alliance of ‘Flash’ Morgan Webster and Wild Boar Mike Hitchman as The 198 in a WWE-style tag team triple threat match – i.e, only two legal men at one time as opposed to one from each team. Plenty of near-finishes padded out the bulk of this fast-paced match, one of which being a Fidget Spinner being hit relatively early on with Mr. Popularity Zack Gibson breaking up the fall. After a lot of back-and-forth between all three teams including a mistake that cost the Grizzled Young Veterans the match with Gibson inadvertently hitting his own tag team partner with a chair. With both men out, Dunkzilla and The Modfather squared off in the ring before Davis connected with the ‘Close Your Eyes and Count to Fuck’ piledriver followed by a Fidget Spinner with the aid of his Aussie Arrow tag team partner, picking up the one-two-three and subsequently standing victorious in their first title retention of their long-anticipated championship reign.
Break time, and it was definitely needed after that high-octane championship match. This time, myself and my friend Liam treated ourselves to a quick bite at the adjacent KFC which we both agreed is the worst in the country – the best being on Argyle Street in Glasgow, just in case anyone is interested. Back in the Ballroom, we had a quick scan around the merch tables, after which I parted ways with twenty of my hard-earned pounds on a shirt that says “Yas Queen” on it. I’ve made some pretty questionable life decisions in the past, and this is right up there.
Kicking off the second half, now full of lacklustre chicken and in possession of a garment that makes me 20% more likely of being the victim of a hate-crime, the show was underway again with a full ring entrance made by a Kickstarter backer of the THIS.IS.PROGRESS. documentary. This was interrupted by Eddie Dennis who expressed his disgust at his omission from the card whilst a fan was garnering attention in the ring. Dennis appeared to receive a rather empathetic reaction from the London crowd, which seems to have been a consistency throughout this story.
The first spot of grappling in the second half saw a rather unexpected match pitching a man that Eddie Dennis is very familiar with in Mark Andrews going toe-to-toe with Paul Robinson – both who came up short at the last chapter in Wembley. Robinson bleeds an unhinged aura of intensity that is practically unheard of for a man of his size – I’ve never seen such legitimate fear in the eyes of fans at ringside than when they were approached by Robinson. The match itself was technically sound with a lot of aerial offence thrown in, which didn’t play into the hands of the Welshman as much as one would expect. Robinson had an answer to everything that was thrown at him and ultimately secured the three-count after finding an opening for a vicious Curbstomp. To everyone’s surprise, we saw no Eddie Dennis involvement in this match at all, which was especially refreshing considering he had been out in the prior segment.
Back into the World Title scene we go, with the #1 Contendership triple threat match between CCK’s Chris Brookes, Jimmy Havoc and crowd-favourite Mark Haskins, accompanied to the ring by his wife Vicky. I must admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan of either of these competitors going in, but I’m slowly but surely becoming more and more impressed with Chris Brookes, especially since seeing his work on RevPro’s new TV series, ‘World of Pro Wrestling’. Haskins on the other hand, we’ve all known that he’s flawless in the ring for a couple of years but despite that, I’ve been stone cold on him for the last year – I felt that this match was a turning point in his momentum, which I felt took a considerable hit after losing the #1 contendership match to Tyler Bate at Chapter 75.
The match was closely competed until Drew Parker came out with no prior warning to attack Jimmy Havoc mercilessly before dragging his unconscious body to the back like a caveman’s dead prey; eliminating the King of Goths from the match altogether. I believe this is the first time Parker and Havoc have touched in PROGRESS since their deathmatch back at Chapter 73 in Birmingham.
With two men left standing in the ring, Haskins and Brookes fought on for a fair few minutes before it was ultimately Mark Haskins securing his World Title opportunity by wrenching in the Sharpshooter on Brookes. After the match, Haskins delivered a cracking promo ending with “One. Two. Haskins is coming for you”. It was this sense of purpose and drive that I felt was missing from Haskins in the past, but now I’m fully onboard with seeing him take on WALTER at the next chapter in Manchester, in what promises to be a very physical match.
Time for the main event. Reigning PROGRESS World Champion WALTER defending the gold against the winner of this year’s Super Strong Style 16 Tournament, Zack Sabre Jr., who walked out to his copyrighted theme song – Mother by Idles. This match did exactly what it said on the tin – a technical masterpiece that, despite the size difference between the two competitors, felt 100% legitimate… because it was. If I had to show one wrestling match to someone with the preconceived notion that wrestling is ‘fake’, this would be it. Every single manoeuvre had a purpose and a logical consequence, and it felt real. Sabre blocking and escaping WALTER’s fearsome chops in the way that only he knows, combined with WALTER’s use of his weight, size and reach gave this match an atmosphere that I can only compare to that of a big-money MMA fight. The Electric Ballroom crowd were not the loudest they’ve ever been, nor the most creative in their chants. It was simply a back-and-forth “WALTER/Sabre!” chant battle whilst two world-class athletes battled it out for the most prestigious prize in European independent wrestling today.
After a hard-fought contest, it was WALTER who reigned victorious and retained his PROGRESS World Championship by virtue of his ‘Fire Thunder Driver’ piledriver, though Sabre had come mere fractions of a second away from prying the World Title away from the Austrian on multiple occasions. A standing ovation from the Camden crowd was all that was needed. Genuinely one of the best matches I have ever seen in my fifteen years of being a wrestling fan.
On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Chapter 77, and it got me really looking forward to Chapter 78 in Manchester. The development in the women’s division, the sheer quality of the Tag Team Championship match and the heat in the World Title scene right now give me high hopes for the remainder of the year.
I hope you enjoyed my first review here on The Indy Corner – I certainly enjoyed reliving the show. I aim to be back for the next chapter in Manchester and I’m sure that will be a similarly high quality show, especially with the announcement of Ilja Dragunov’s return.
You can follow me on Twitter @DeiOwen, where I’ll gladly discuss wrestling and sausage rolls all day long, though mostly the latter. Thank you very much for reading.