Just Because You’re Paranoid, Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t Out to Get You
The show kicked off with a number one contender’s match for the PROGRESS tag titles, featuring Screw Indy Wrestling of Mark Haskins & Sha Samuels taking on Martin Kirby and his mystery tag partner for the evening: Doug Williams! Always great to see Doug and he got a warm reception from the PROGRESS faithful. Haskins grabbed the mic and made his displeasure known, Screw Indy Wrestling having had altercations with Williams in the past. Sha and Haskins then blind-sided Kirby & Williams during the ring introductions and the match was under way. I’m liking the team of Haskins & Samuels, their styles compliment each other nicely as they showed in the early going, controlling the pace of the match-up with some quick tags. They proved especially effective in distracting referee Chris Roberts and the crowd wasted no time in telling the ref what they thought of him, their ire raised by his failure to notice Jimmy Havoc tapping away the title to Noam Dar at Chapter 14. Eventually Doug & Kirby managed to build up a head of steam, both hitting suicide dives at one point. Williams teased the always crowd-pleasing Chaos Theory suplex on a number of occasions, but Haskins squirmed free and rolled up Doug, using his feet on the ropes for leverage to get the three count and earn Screw Indy Wrestling a shot at the tag titles. A fun opening bout that served its purpose well and set a quick pace for the rest of the show.
Next up was the first semi-final in the Natural Progression Series, with ‘Flash’ Morgan Webster taking on ‘Dynamite’ Pete Dunne. These two both had impressive showings in their quarter-final matches and I was looking forward to this, as I do for all the Natural Progression matches which have been one of my favourite aspects of PROGRESS to date, providing a great showcase for young British wrestling talent on one of the best possible stages. The tempo of this particular bout was ridiculous and both guys packed a hell of a lot in to a match that was just over seven minutes long. Dunne, fresh off a tour of America, looks to have bulked up and it showed in the ease with which he tossed Webster about the ring. The fast and frantic action went back and forth early on until Webster missed a 450 splash and came down hard on the mat. Dunne capitalised with a devastating chain of offence, but had trouble putting the resilient Webster away. Perching his opponent on the top-rope, Dunne ended up flat on his back after Webster scored with a flipping piledriver and followed up with the 450 splash to earn his place in the finals! This was an exciting match that I would’ve liked to see given a few more minutes, if only to allow some breathing room between the numerous near-falls towards the end. Great performances from both guys though, and I look forward to seeing more of them in the future.
The third match of the evening saw ProJo student Pastor William Eavers face a stern challenge in ‘The Heavyweight House of Pain’ Stixx, a road tested veteran with over a decade of experience under his belt. Eavers had an impressive showing in the student’s 4-way match at Chapter 14 and I was interested to see how he performed one-on-one. Stixx, the far heavier of the two men, took control from the outset and did a good job of cutting off the Pastor as he tried to gain some momentum. Eavers, perhaps somewhat naively, attempted on multiple occasions to get the big man up for his crucifix powerbomb finish, but this proved too great a feat. Having had enough, Stixx looked to lay the match to rest with a powerbomb of his own, but upon hoisting his opponent up for the move Eavers scrambled loose and caught Stixx in a crucifix backslide for the shock three count victory! Eavers performed admirably here and clearly has already won over the audience with his gimmick and his ability, which is especially impressive given his level of experience, while Stixx is always well received by the PROGRESS fans, even if he’s not been in winning form as of late.
They closed the first half of the show with a number one contender’s match, pitting tag team partners in the LDRS of the New School, Zack Sabre Jr. and ‘Party’ Marty Scurll, against each other and the monstrous Rampage Brown for a shot at the PROGRESS title at Chapter 16. The LDRS are always popular with the PROGRESS faithful, but Rampage is now ridiculously over after his narrow defeat to Samoa Joe at Chapter 14 and received a great reception from the crowd as he made his way ringside. Unsurprisingly, Marty & Zack decided to work together from the outset, using their tag team experience to put the bigger man on the back foot. However, it wasn’t long before Rampage stamped his mark on the match and started using his size and strength to good effect. The LDRS kicked their tag offence into second gear and doubled their efforts to team up on the big man, hitting a nice enziguri into a German suplex. Zack scored with a penalty kick that slammed Rampage hard down to the mat, but when he went to make the cover Marty broke it up. The fractuous alliance persisted but a minute or two longer, until Marty inadvetendly kicked Zack in the face. Rampage uncerimoniously dealt with Marty, hitting a big powerbomb before dumping him to the floor, then turned his attentions towards Zack and finishing him off with a spinning piledriver for the 3-count. This was an exciting match, livened up by the tag team shenanigans of the LDRS, but felt a little short for a bout that could have been the main event of any card in the country. The fact that such a match appeared half-way through the show only speaks to the quality of PROGRESS.
After filming an introduction for Maffew of Botchamania fame, the second half of the show started with the unwelcome appearance of one ‘No Gimmicks Needed’ Michael Gilbert who’s lack of gimmick, as the fans duly noted to his annoyance, is in itself a gimmick. Gilbert’s been waging a war, of sorts, against the various colourful characters of PROGRESS, having already dealt with Eddie Dennis & Mad Man Manson. His opponent for the evening was supposed to be RJ Singh, but Gilbert looked confused when ‘Seek & Destroy’ began playing over the speakers, then annoyed as RJ Stingh made his entrance! Gilbert won the initial lock-up, but his opponent escaped and hit the Stingher Splash, followed by the Scorpion Deathdrop. He tried to apply the Scorpion Deathlock, but couldn’t get Gilbert over and Gilbert then reversed the move to make Stingh tap in a little over two minutes. As Gilbert celebrated, another familiar entrance theme blared from the speakers and Singh Cara appeared through the curtain! He pointed to the ring and went for his patented entrance, only to be dismayed at the lack of a trampoline. An infuriated Gilbert immediately went on the offensive, punishing Singh with European uppercuts. Cara rallied and scored with a nice reverse springboard crossbody, but got caught in a backbreaker and then tapped with a vicious armbar.
Gilbert’s night wasn’t over, however, as Original RJ Singh with The Director appeared! RJ wasted no time in taking it to Gilbert, but when he went to apply the Ethnic Submission, Gilbert countered into a headlock, hit the Saka Otoshi and applied a rear naked choke for his third victory of the evening. Post-match, Stixx made his way to ringside, seemingly to dissuade Gilbert from dishing out any more abuse, but in fact he grabbed the mic and confronted RJ, criticising him for the loss and for his attitude towards wrestling. Things got weirdly personal as Stixx tore into RJ for treating wrestling as a hobby, whereas for wrestlers like Stixx it’s a career. Singh didn’t take kindly to those comments, but in mentioning Stixx’s daughter he crossed a line with the big man and a brawl ensued. Once separated, Stixx made a challenge for Chapter 16; Singh vs Stixx with careers on the line! The match itself was pretty fun, Gilbert has zero problems raising the crowd’s ire, even before demolishing a fan favourite like Singh three times in a row, but I’m eager to see him face some tougher competition in PROGRESS. As for the stuff with Stixx, I’m looking forward to the match, but this all seemed to escalate very quickly and the career vs career stipulation came out of nowhere, as this was the first we’ve seen of any tension between the two.
The penultimate match of the evening would decide the second number one contender to the PROGRESS title, as ‘The Bastard’ Dave Mastiff took on former champion El Ligero and, making his PROGRESS début, ‘The F’n Guvnor’ Martin Stone. Some of the fans didn’t seem to take kindly to Stone receiving such a big opportunity in his first match, but presumably management felt his reputation made him a worthy competitor here. The ‘Guvnor’ and Mastiff got things started off, entirely ignoring El Ligero, which didn’t sit well with ‘The Mexican Sensation’ who struggled to make his presence felt. Mastiff and Stone traded some hard strikes before things spilt to the floor and Ligero surprised his bigger opponents, hitting a nice topé con hilo. Once back in the ring, Stone gained the upper hand and scored a near-fall with a half nelson facebuster. Ligero rallied and hit the C4L springboard DDT on Stone, but when he went to the top-rope to follow up, Gilbert appeared at ringside. El Ligero launched himself off the ring apron, flooring Gilbert with a big crossbody before the two brawled to the back, leaving Stone and Mastiff alone in the ring. Stone tried to hoist Mastiff onto the ropes for the London Bridge, but Mastiff smartly switched to a waistlock and hit a huge release German suplex. A dazed Stone managed to crawl to the corner, but was met by a sick cannonball splash from Mastiff! El Ligero sprinted back through the curtain, but only in time to see the referee count to three and declare Mastiff the winner. Good match here, Stone fitted in well and Ligero’s always a lot of fun, but this match was all about Mastiff.
Main event time rolled around with a sense of trepidation in the air due to the high stakes careers vs titles stipulation as Noam Dar, Will Ospreay & F.S.U. of Eddie Dennis & Mark Andrews took on the hated Regression of Jimmy Havoc, Paul Robinson & The London Riots. The rules were fairly straight-forward: if PROGRESS champion Jimmy Havoc or PROGRESS tag champions F.S.U. were pinned, they would lose their titles, if THUNDERBASTARD winner Will Ospreay was pinned, he’d lose his guaranteed title shot and if Noam Dar, Paul Robinson or The London Riots were pinned their PROGRESS careers would be over. Suffice to say, it took no time at all for the match to break down and for referee Chris Roberts to lose all control over proceedings. The wrestlers brawled all over The Electric Ballroom as the ref administered the count, calling for the bell amid a chorus of boos when no one made it back to the ring in time, but thankfully PROGRESS co-owner Jim Smallman got on the mic and declared the match wouldn’t be ending like that, making it no-rules! The brawl continued, inside and outside of the ring, and the action was just too crazy to call with numerous dives and big moments. At one point Andrews landed on his feet from a 450, only to get caught in the pop-up spear from The London Riots!
He later would make the save for Noam Dar, scoring with a shooting star press on Havoc who then somehow ended up on the balcony with Will Ospreay. Havoc was left clinging to the rail, before plummeting into the crowd below! Ospready climbed out onto the ledge, yelled “THIS. IS. PROGRESS!!” and leapt after Havoc with a huge moonsault off the balcony! Insanity. Back in the ring Havoc tried for a Rainmaker on Dar, but Noam somehow countered into the Champagne Super Kneebar, which has to be one of my favourite Rainmaker counters to-date. F.S.U. took out Rob Lynch of the Riots with a double-stomp/air raid crash combo, before flooring James Davis with an absolutely disgusting chair shot to the head. Ospreay went up top and hit the 630 splash to pin Davis and effectively end the PROGRESS careers of The London Riots! Havoc and Robinson quickly retreated to the back, leaving the Riots alone in the ring. Smallman asked them where their friends were now before bidding them farewell for good. What a crazy main event. The show was paced perfectly and, although nothing in the first half quite reached the heights of previous shows, nothing overshadowed the all-important main event either. Fantastic effort by all eight men involved, especially Ospreay & Havoc for their balcony spots and The London Riots for the beating they took on the way out. Another great showing from PROGRESS.