One year ago, I ventured down to London for my very first independent wrestling show. Now being a PROGRESS regular, it’s fair to say that Chapter 64 exceeded all expectations and made a cracking first impression, despite a flying baking tray colliding with my forehead during the Thunderbastard match – I never seem to leave these shows unscathed, come to think of it.
Gone are the days of scoring front row tickets with ease, though I feel like I’ve found my new spot at the Ballroom; that being in the second row adjacent to the entranceway. Much better than the gap where the old sound booth used to be, as I found out last month.
After bumping into NXT UK ring announcer and host Andy Shepherd (who is always a delight), it was brought to my attention that a certain British wrestling legend by the name of Johnny Saint was also in attendance. Saint is a very significant figure in my wrestling fandom. Coming back into the wrestling loop from a different perspective in early-2015, it was looking back at the work of himself, Rollerball Rocco, Terry Rudge amongst others that really opened my eyes to a different style of wrestling – one that carries a sense of sporting legitimacy along with it, making it a much more appealing product to digest for someone who at this point viewed the industry in a different light. To this day, I don’t think my tastes have changed much, with some of my favourite wrestlers such as Tyler Bate or Zack Sabre Jr. having clearly been influenced by Johnny Saint’s work in one way or another.
To kick off the show, we had two PROGRESS debuts going one-on-one in the form of Sugar Dunkerton and NIWA, in what was by far the best pre-show match I have ever seen at a Ballroom show. We’ll get to NIWA a bit later on, but Dunkerton has everything going for him. His flawless in- ring work combined with an insane level of charisma made it so that he could fit right into a chapter show and wouldn’t look out of place. I’d highly recommend the latest episode of Jim Smallman’s Tuesday Night Jaw podcast in which he appeared and displayed his great sense of humour that I’m sure will continue to connect with the Camden faithful. To our surprise at the time, it was NIWA who was victorious, though that made total sense considering what was to come later on in the day.
Following Jim’s introduction, it was announced that Mark Andrews will be unable to compete due to the injury he sustained the night before during his match with Noam Dar at the NXT UK taping in Coventry. He was immediately interrupted my Mark Haskins who voiced his eagerness to fight Do Not Resuscitate’s Chuck Mambo and Spike Trivet alone. A bold move, but one that I felt really added to this match. Haskins channelled his unique level of intensity in a way that had the 700 in attendance on the edge of their seats throughout this match. Unfortunately, his victory came by way of disqualification as DNR’s Drew Parker ran in to sway the balance of what was a fairly well- fought match from Haskins until that point.
With the numbers stacked against Haskins, it was long-term tag partner Jimmy Havoc who returned to PROGRESS to save his partner, whilst everyone in the Ballroom sang along to AFI’s ‘I Hope You Suffer’ in unison. Havoc beating the living shit out of DNR, breaking bodies with chairs right after one of the best wrestling theme songs played is what we live for. Truly an incredible moment, and one that shows that there is a lot more to be done with Havoc in PROGRESS.
The second match saw Bea Priestley return after an absence of over a year to face Millie McKenzie, who herself had been absent since Chapter 77 in October. I’ve raved enough about McKenzie in my time, however I really feel that this match was as good as it was because of both of the competitors’ efforts combined. Priestley’s rope-based offence in particular stood out to me – not only due to its visually-impressive nature, but also because it fed beautifully into Millie’s stuff, and nothing is a better example of this than the end of the match when McKenzie caught Priestley off the ropes with a brutal-looking Spear. I feel like this match delivered in every aspect.
Just as Smallman announces that the third match is also from the women’s division, he is interrupted by Eddie Dennis who came out to a 50/50 reaction – though that was quick to change after he confronted a couple of hecklers. Addressing his PROGRESS Championship opportunity that he has up his sleeve, he said that whether it’s Trent Seven, WALTER or Chris Ridgeway, he
will be waiting until the opportunity arises at the right time. I find myself struggling to cheer Dennis, therefore I hope that the demeanour his character will change very soon. It’s certainly an interesting dynamic as it stands.
Angry Welshmen aside, we cracked on with the third match of the day and the second from the women’s division. Up-and-comer Nina Samuels going head-to-head with former PROGRESS Women’s World Champion, Jinny. With Samuels coming off the back of her decisive win over Laura Di Matteo at the previous chapter and Jinny’s World Title loss still fresh in our memory, I was really looking forward to seeing who would advance to the four-way match at Super Strong Style 16 weekend for the Women’s Title.
The match didn’t disappoint. It showcased a lot more of Samuels’ underrated athleticism that we caught a glimpse of last time around, whilst also being a good display of Jinny’s willingness to perform some brutal sequences – this time resulting in an Irish Whip that sent the fashionista through about seven rows of chairs. Without wishing to take anything away from Jinny (who I like enough to own and wear a ‘Yas Queen’ shirt), it was Nina Samuels who stood out to me here and the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the crowd cemented her as the new top-player that the PROGRESS Women’s Division is in need of. A backfiring attempt at a distraction from Di Matteo on the outside is what resulted in Samuels pinning the former champion to earn her title opportunity at Alexandra Palace.
Main-eventing the first half of the stacked show were the ‘Kiwi Buzzsaw’ Travis Banks and the ‘Irish Ace’ Jordan Devlin as they squared off less than 48-hours removed from their phenomenal Falls Count Anywhere match at the NXT UK tapings. A recurring opinion that I saw surface on Twitter was that this match is just a copy and paste from NXT UK. The reason why I disagree is two-fold: firstly, the story is completely different and has the two competitors playing reversed roles, and secondly; those that somehow manage to complain about getting to see Jordan Devlin and Travis Banks trade fists should perhaps reconsider wrestling as their source of entertainment.
This match was exceptional, whilst sharing nothing with their match which I think is testament to both men’s ability to structure a match around any given storyline. NXT UK’s main event saw them knock lumps out of one-another, showing the resentment they both share for each other, whilst this match was a lot more wrestling-based with Banks’ cocky demeanour determining the outcome of various sequences. The second DQ finish of the night came as TK Cooper and NIWA came out to attack Devlin, forming the new South Pacific Power Trip after an excellent match. At this point, NIWA’s pre-show match victory made total sense, and I’m very intrigued as to what the SPPT in their new form do next.
The PROGRESS interval is normally the time of buying merch, chatting to a few wrestlers, politely declining the offer of Class A drugs from a Camden native and frantically looking at one’s watch, wondering if your Popcorn Chicken Snack Box from the WorldsWorstKFCTM across the road will be prepared in time for one to force it down their neck whilst they run back to the Ballroom just in time. Sunday was no exception. I do wonder when I’ll stop subjecting myself to that terrible excuse for a fast food joint, but my curiosity took the better of me and I had to try out their new chips.
In summary, they’re still the worst chips of any fast food outlet. They’re still just as soggy and bland as before, only now they’re twice as thick. I would like to know which cretin thought that enlarging the chips would solve the issues, because it absolutely has not. They might retain their heat marginally better but that’s it. If good chips are what you’re after, then I’d suggest taking the Northern Line two stops southbound to King’s Cross and going to Burger King. Sure, you might miss the main event during rush hour but if we have any self-respect whatsoever, then we must stop funding KFC’s frankly insulting ‘effort’ at taking up your daily carbs.
Whilst bashing out my first draft of a furious email to Colonel Sanders himself, it was announced that Chris Brookes and Jonathan Gresham of CCK will take on Santana and Ortiz of LAX for a third time, this time at the promotion’s home at the Electric Ballroom on March 31st. The mere thought of that made me forget about the atrocity that occurred across the road during the interval.
To kick things off in the second half, Aussie Open’s Kyle Fletcher and Mark Davis went head-to- head with Will Ospreay and Paul Robinson of the Swords of Essex. I’m gonna come out and say it. This was categorically the best tag team match that I have ever seen. I don’t even know where to begin. From the in-ring action to the atmosphere to the emotion to the storytelling, 700 people witnessed something special here. Both teams have incredible chemistry and made those titles feel more prestigious than ever. The point where Mark Davis (after Fletcher had been taken out for a while) contemplated using the title-belt as a weapon reminiscent of Sami Zayn’s match with Adrian Neville at NXT TakeOver R-Evolution had everyone on edge, no matter who they were cheering for. Shockingly, it was the Swords who retained their titles after Will Ospreay used the title-belt as a weapon behind the referee’s back. This was an absolute wrestling and storytelling masterpiece and I cannot wait to watch this one back on the VOD.
After the match, an emotional Mark Davis cashed in his Natural Progression Series title opportunity for a TLC match to get the gold back around Aussie Open’s waists, stating that if the belts are suspended above the ring, the Swords won’t be able to use them for an advantage during the match. I’m starting to feel more and more annoyed that I’m not able to make the next chapter show.
A tough match to follow, however we dive straight into our second of three title matches as Trent Seven’s Atlas Championship Open Challenge is answered by RingKampf’s Timothy Thatcher – a man who was often thought to be the one to dethrone Seven. Naturally having followed such an intense match, the crowd never quite got into the top gear during this match despite what was otherwise an incredibly well-told story of Thatcher targeting Trent’s injured abdominal region but to no avail, as British Strong Style reigned victorious over RingKampf in a very hard-fought contest. Serious Tim Thatcher is right up my alley. I think it’s a lot more natural to him than the CCK comedy route that he’s been going down for a while – only until recently in his match against Ilja Dragunov the month prior, which was also excellent.
To my surprise, Trent Seven picked up the win and did so with a Burning Hammer. This match could have main-evented any other show, I only think the crowd weren’t quite as hyped as they could have been due to the difficult position they were placed in, and the fact that I still thought the match was excellent is a testament to both competitors.
Main event time. WALTER puts his PROGRESS World Championship on the line against Chris Ridgeway, a real up-and-comer who has been on a roll in recent months. This highly-anticipated match had the Ballroom crowd completely torn. I chose to cheer for the underdog in Ridgeway but wouldn’t have been disappointed if WALTER was to retain. The match did exactly what it said on the tin. A hard hitting affair that saw Ridgeway’s kicks answer WALTER’s chops for about fifteen minutes. WALTER’s lariat got the job done as he picked up the one-two-three over Ridgeway who showed a tremendous fighting spirit and looked great throughout the match. This is definitely something they could come back to in the future.
With the Ring General celebrating in the ring, out came a raspy-sounding Trent Seven who stepped up to WALTER with a title-unification challenge at Alexandra Palace; stating that with British Strong Style stablemates Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate gone, it’s time for Trent to stand up on his own two feet. Sign. Me. Up.
Overall, I thought that this show was absolutely exceptional. The white-hot crowd, the world-class wrestling and the thrilling stories being told made it well worth my time to pop over to London after two nights of NXT UK tapings in Coventry. I’d highly recommend every match on the card, which is something that I’ve rarely been able to say in the past. It’s just a shame that KFC is such a shambles.
– by Dei Owen @DeiOwen