Picture Credit: PROGRESS Wrestling
Ahead of their debut up north in Manchester next Sunday, PROGRESS returned to the Electric Ballroom for the last time in what has been a memorable and action packed year of wrestling in the capital. Intriguingly, before Chapter 23 got properly under way a pre-show was held to record matches for “a TV thing” that PROGRESS are remaining tight-lipped about for the moment. The first match of the afternoon saw ‘The Pride of Wales’ Eddie Dennis taking on ‘The Bastard’ Dave Mastiff, who joined up with The Origin and spat a scathing promo towards the PROGRESS faithful at the last chapter. Unsurprisingly, Mastiff was greeted with a chorus of boos and jeers, while the crowd went wild for Dennis as if to further annoy the ill-tempered Bastard from the Black Country. The match was a short affair, going a little over five minutes in the end as Mastiff pushed referee Paz into the ropes to crotch Dennis on the turnbuckles, before hitting a huge cannonball followed by the Bastard Bomb for the win. The perpetually disgruntled Mastiff seems better suited to the villain’s role and he basked in the crowd’s disgust at his short-changing of Eddie, who had impressed with a great show of strength as he hoisted up the big man at one point.
The second pre-show match saw the return of Darrell Allen to PROGRESS chapter shows, his first since Chapter 14 last year, with ProJo student Earl Black Jr. in tow. Taking on the duo was the fan-favourite team of Sweet Jesus, Chuck Mambo and Pastor William Eaver. This was a tidy little tag match, Allen & Black Jr. took control in the early going with some solid tag team workmanship, but weren’t able to weather the storm as Eaver got the hot tag and tore into them, before pinning Black Jr. with a crucifix bomb into a cutter from Mambo. Fun match, all four guys did well. After a brief intermission Chapter 23 kicked off in earnest with a rematch from this past summer’s inaugural Super Strong Style 16 tournament, as Rampage Brown faced off once more against Big Daddy Walter. A good reception for Walter (who perhaps the PROGRESS crowd weren’t entirely familiar with back in May) but an even bigger one for Rampage who has remained a very popular figure in PROGRESS ever since his match against Samoa Joe back at Chapter 14 last year. As you’d expect, this was certainly a hard-hitting match and Walter impressed as he imposed himself on Rampage, no small task in itself.
He looked to have the upper hand after a devastating Irish whip into the corner saw Rampage bounce off the turnbuckles, which in turn ripped free from the ringpost as man, rope and buckle all crashed to a heap in the centre of the ring! However, a shaken Rampage managed to regain his composure and caught Walter with a devastating piledriver for the victory. This was a great opener, I’m a big fan of both men and hopefully we see a lot more of them in PROGRESS next year! The next match was a three-way bout in the Natural Progression Series tournament, all three wrestlers trainees of the ProJo school. Damon Moser had appeared briefly as a cohort of The Faceless (who would reveal themselves to be The Origin, before kicking Moser out of the group) and appears to be trying to mend his ways, but Shen Woo and Jack Sexsmith were both making their debuts on a PROGRESS chapter show. Sexsmith, in particular, had a rather memorable entrance, making his way to the ring to Comanche from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, replete with gimp. Sexsmith’s shenanigans dominated much of the match, but didn’t detract from what was a fun contest that saw Moser advance after a vicious knee to Shen Woo’s head.
Third match in saw former Regression member and all-round gobshite Paul Robinson taking on Mark Haskins in what proved to be an exciting back and forth contest. Robinson, as easy as he is to dislike, has done well since climbing out from behind of Jimmy Havoc’s long-cast shadow and dictated the pace of the match for much of the early going, but Haskins picked his moments well and eventually managed to turn the tide after hitting Made in Japan, followed by the bridging armbar for the submission victory. Haskins has become one of Britain’s best talents in recent years and, no matter his placing on the card, quietly proves it every show he’s on. The last match before the break saw the return of ‘The Sicilian Psychopath’ Tomasso Ciampa, but his entrance was cut short as ‘The Villain’ Marty Scurll lived up to his name and pre-emptively attacked Ciampa, who had challenged Marty at the last show. It didn’t take long for Ciampa’s anger to boil over, however, and soon Scurll was on the back foot, Ciampa punishing him with a series of knee strikes in the corner.
But ‘The Villain’ is a very crafty competitor and confounded Ciampa on a number of occasions as he tried to trap him in the cross-face chicken wing. When that didn’t work, he resorted to some nefarious tactics borrowed from the late, great Eddie Guerrero, which thankfully Ciampa (or the ref) didn’t fall for. Referee Chris Roberts did unwittingly play into the finish, much to the fans dismay, as he failed to see Scurll’s use of a cable around the throat as the chickenwing was applied and Ciampa was choked out for the victory. Another good showing from Ciampa in PROGRESS and yet more of a reason to despise ‘The Villain’ Marty Scurll. The second half of the show got under way with a much anticipated 3-way for the PROGRESS tag shield, pitting the champions of The Sumerian Death Squad (Tommy End & Michael Dante) against The London Riots (James Davis & Rob Lynch) and The Origin (Nathan Cruz & El Ligero). The Origin had a big distraction at ringside as well, in the form of ‘The Bastard’ Dave Mastiff, but after he was caught interfering the ref sent him to the back.
This was a much more grounded match than the previous chapter’s tag title brawl which went all over the building, mostly thanks to the slow-down tactics of The Origin who sought to frustrate their larger opponents. In the end the tactic paid off, but not before the match broke down in memorable fashion and spilled to the floor, Tommy End hitting a beautiful Orihara moonsault before Michael Dante (the biggest man in the match by some margin) floored the whole pack and brought the crowd to their feet as he hit a huge tope con hilo! Ultimately, the conniving Origin managed to goad James Davis into taking a swing at Ligero using the Riots’ cricket bat, only for Ligero to duck out of the way and the bat to collide with the back of Tommy’s head. Cruz then rolled up end for the cheap win, making The Origin the new PROGRESS tag team champions. Post-match, it’s fair to say that the Death Squad weren’t best pleased with the outcome and half the locker room spilled out to separate them from The Riots, which proved to be quite a difficult task. This one’s far from over, it seems.
The penultimate match of the evening was a rematch from the finals of last year’s Natural Progression Series, in which ‘Flash’ Morgan Webster defeated Zack Gibson to win the trophy and earn a future title shot. Gibson had provoked Webster into giving him a rematch and putting the title on the line, raising the stakes of this particular bout. Zack, like most members of The Origin, is an easy figure to dispise and his overt allegiance to Liverpool football club plays directly into that, but he’s also a very talented technical wrestler who knows how to wind up the crowd and his opponents in equal measure. He showed that here, berating the crowd and Webster for the fact that the crowd’s chants (regardless of their intent) were all aimed at Gibson. “They don’t care about you!” he crowed, but this spurred Webster and his supporters on and he started to build a comeback.
It wasn’t to be, however, as Gibson trapped Flash in the Shankly Gates submission for the second time. Webster got his feet to the ropes, but Gibson’s fellow Origin team-mate Nathan Cruz knocked his foot back down before the referee saw it. Gibson dragged Webster to the centre of the ring and re-applied the hold, forcing Webster to tap away his Natural Progression Series trophy and future title shot. Post-match, Gibson got on the mic and declared he was cashing in his newly won title shot at Chapter 24! Before then, however, there was the small matter of the main event to address. Will Ospreay and Mark Andrews had previously met twice in singles competition for PROGRESS, once in the first Natural Progression Series and again at Chapter 7 as Ospreay put his PROGRESS career on the line in a losing effort to Andrews, the eventual NPS winner. Andrews, as is the tournament winner’s prerogative, then declared that Ospreay should be reinstated to PROGRESS.
Suffice to say, the two have history and earned a huge reaction from the crowd when Andrews saved Ospreay from the machinations of Paul Robinson at the last chapter, before reminding him of their storied past and challenging him to a title match. Ospreay, proving himself a champion who isn’t afraid of competition, eagerly accepted and the main event of Chapter 24 was made. The resulting match was one that’s likely to rank high on PROGRESS fan’s all-time favourites in the promotion, a cutting-edge highly flying contest between two of the most spectacular aerial performers in the world today. But their skills aren’t limited to high-risk moves off the top-rope, as the opening third of the match sought to prove, both men crisply engaging in a ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ back and forth of chain wrestling skill. Andrews has always demonstrated a proficiency in this regard and took control, but it wasn’t long before the match inevitably picked up in pace and intensity.
Some of the moves on display were incredibly ambitious and jaw-dropping in equal measure, but the grace showed by both men made it look easy at times, when in truth it was anything but. Ospreay & Andrews had the crowd on their feet on more than one occasion and, while this isn’t the sort of match to placate those who feel today’s generation of modern wrestlers simply do too much, it was a stand-out main event that sent (the majority) home happy. The finale came after both men had managed to kick out of some big offence, Ospreay somehow coming back from a brutal reverse Frankensteiner, only for Andrews to then kick out of the Essex Destroyer. But when Will hit the move for the second time, before ascending to the top-rope and scoring with a huge 630 senton, Mandrews remained down for the count and Ospreay had retained his title in an exceptional bout that bettered their PWG meeting in the Battle of Los Angeles this past August. All in all this was another cracking show from PROGRESS, a return to form after the slightly subdued Chapter 23 and an excellent way to cap off an eventful 2015 in Camden.
PROGRESS: Chapter 23 – What A Time To Be Alive! will be available on-demand from http://demandprogress.pivotshare.com within the next week.