Ah, a PROGRESS Sunday. The perfect combination of wrestling, Travelodges and overpriced but delicious Domino’s pizza. Sounds great on paper, and it normally is – but this time Network Rail had decided to inform Transport for Wales that their maintenance work would overrun and all trains would subsequently be cancelled, conveniently five minutes before my train’s scheduled departure. I’m not going to go into the details of my six-hour journey to Birmingham because it would be truly depressing, however I hereby declare that Network Rail joins the Camden branch of KFC in Dei’s Hall of ShameTM.
There’s nothing I enjoy more than a wrestling show that far exceeds my expectations. With most of the big names in BritWres away in Germany for WXW’s 16 Carat Gold tournament, PROGRESS’ weekender in Bournemouth and Birmingham left a lot to be desired at first glance, however I was very pleasantly surprised and walked away more than satisfied whilst carefully avoiding the plethora of smashed glass bottles and roadkill that was laid in my path by the picturesque city of Birmingham.
The main show kicked off with the Anti-Fun Police taking on Do Not Resuscitate’s ‘Present’ William Eaver and Chuck Mambo, where we saw a more serious side to Santos and Dunne in reaction to Eaver and Mambo’s new aggressive attitude. I must admit – having previously struggled to buy Mambo in this role, I thought he and Eaver both came across as genuinely threatening in this match, as if they were trying to prove a point. The finish was very well-done too, where Eaver submitted Santos after Mambo had hit him with a spare turnbuckle behind the referee’s back. I believe DNR used a spare turnbuckle in the main event of the night before, too – I like it when a wrestler has their own weapon. It adds a little something to their character in doing so and a spare turnbuckle makes a lot more sense to be under the ring than a chair or a table. This was a fun match to open the show. The AFP are still very popular when they appear for PROGRESS and DNR’s momentum continues.
Up next, we had a six-woman tag match pitching Nina Samuels and the mother-and-daughter team of Session Moth Martina and Millie McKenzie against Jinny, Laura Di Matteo and the debuting Kasey Owens. Again, this was a lot of fun. Nina Samuels is really starting to feel like a top player in the PROGRESS women’s division to the point that I wouldn’t be in any way disappointed if she walks away from Alexandra Palace with the Women’s Championship. Her last few matches against Jinny and Laura Di Matteo really showed her strengths, and she continued to be impressive in this match. Kasey Owens also came across well in her debut. She fitted right in with those around her and I’d certainly like to see her become a mainstay In the PROGRESS women’s division.
The third match of the evening saw the team of Mark Haskins and Jimmy Havoc take on the debuting Team WhiteWolf. I had high hopes for this one, having heard great things about WhiteWolf’s recent work in Revolution Pro Wrestling – and they made a cracking first impression here by having a highly-intense match that fed perfectly into Havoc and Haskins’ style. Like DNR, it felt like they had a point to prove, and the reaction they garnered from the packed-out O2 Academy tells me that I’m not the only one that was massively impressed. It was Jimmy Havoc who pinned A-Kid, but WhiteWolf got a standing ovation after the match that was very well- deserved.
Continuing on as DJZ faced Eddie Dennis, who replaced Jody Fleisch who unfortunately pulled out of the weekend due to a family emergency. As much as I was disappointed to not see Jody, I thought Eddie Dennis had one of his strongest matches here with DJZ, the most recent name to qualify for Super Strong Style 16. Dennis reacting to the crowd’s “Ready, Steady Eddie” chants in a positive way was a breath of fresh air and made him more likeable in my opinion, giving me a reason to root for him if that is the direction that they are heading in. Another thing I liked was the conflicted crowd who had differing opinions of the pronunciation of DJZ’s name.
After the interval, we saw Spike Trivet go one-and-one with crowd-favourite Chris Ridgeway to qualify for SSS16. As good as the match was, I mist admit that my personal highlight was the look of disapproval on an older gentleman as the crowd chanted “Remain! Remain! Remain!” at Spike
Trivet. Ridgeway submitted Trivet with an arm-bar to cement his position at Alexandra Palace. The line-up is looking great thus far.
Up next was my personal match of the night, as the PROGRESS Atlas Champion Trent Seven took on the EVOLVE Champion Austin Theory. During a quick back-and-forth on the microphone before the match, Trent said that he didn’t want to risk losing his big opportunity at Ally Pally by putting his Atlas Championship on the line, but hinted for Theory to put his EVOLVE Championship on the line. Just as everyone in attendance were losing their shit at the prospect of Trent Seven being draped in more gold, Theory used his belt to hit Seven and demanded for the bell to be rung. What followed was a truly excellent match that got me liking Austin Theory who I had never seen before and proved why Trent Seven is one of the most underrated in-ring performers in the world, as he combined his hard-hitting strikes with more high-risk manoeuvres than we had seen before. Trent hit the Burning Hammer to score the one-two-three, concluding what was an outstanding match that has done wonders for Trent’s momentum going into SSS16 weekend.
Main event time, as newly-qualified SSS16 entrant Jordan Devlin teams up with Angelico and El Phantasmo to take on the South Pacific Power Trip in Travis Banks, TK Cooper and NIWA. This felt liken El Phantasmo’s coming out party in PROGRESS, as he got thunderous reactions from the crowds with his picture-perfect aerial offence. I’m amazed that he has not been announced for SSS16 so far. Someone who it, though, is Jordan Devlin who defeated Austin Theory the night before in Bournemouth to secure his position in the tournament. Devlin was just as impressive as ELP here, being just as over with the PROGRESS faithful as always, which is why he is currently my pick to win SSS16. The match itself was great, with a lot of the action happening all around the venue that made it feel chaotic. To my surprise, it was TK Cooper who rolled up Phantasmo for the win in what was a quite strange ending but I don’t think that took much away from what was otherwise a great match.
Overall, I’d say that PROGRESS’ return to Birmingham was a big success. A somewhat average- looking card delivered a much better show than I had expected going in, with a lot of debuting performers such as Kasey Owens and Team WhiteWolf fitting in brilliantly with the PROGRESS roster.
That’s all from me until the annual scorcher that is SSS16, a weekend that cannot come soon enough. The build has been great thus far and the line-up is looking very promising. Bring. It. On.
– Dei Owen @DeiOwen