THIS IS PROGRESS *CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP*
THIS IS PROGRESS *CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP*
THIS IS PROGRESS *CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP*
There is a buzz in the air surrounding the London, UK-based promotion, Progress Wrestling — a joint venture between Jim Smallman, Jon Briley and Glen Joseph that boasts itself as a hybrid of Japanese strong-style wrestling, comedy with a punk ethic and vibe. The first show was held in March 2012, at the Garage in London, Islington, and since gone on to become one of the most exciting wrestling promotions in the UK currently.
The punk rock vibe to the company is helped by it’s setting in the Garage, a famous music venue in the capital city, only holding just over 300 people or so – but it’s also in the company’s clever t-shirt designs: taking logos from the likes of the Ramones, and infamous album covers like The Clash’s “London Calling” and turning them into t-shirts that look a little more acceptable out in public compared to the usual standards of wrestling t-shirts.
Chapter Twelve: We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Room, saw the promotion make the next step up as they took over the Electric Ballroom, fitting over twice the capacity of the Garage. And with Chapter Thirteen: Unbelievable, Jeff! Also selling out the Ballroom, things only look bright for Progress Wrestling.
Between the excellent plethora of matches in their short history already, the raucous enthusiasm of the crowd and the general (and some times fourth wall-breaking) hilarity that ensues, there’s a similar vibe to the company that puts them in comparison to Pro Wrestling Guerilla: arguably the finest independent wrestling promotion on the planet currently. And with the recent news that Samoa Joe will be wrestling on the July 27 show (the wonderfully titled Thunderbastard) there is no better time to dive headfirst into the product.
Alan Counihan, host of the Dr Keith Presents show over at wrestlingobserver.com put it best: “In 2014, most promotions could announce that they’re bringing in Samoa Joe and you’d be like ‘ah Samoa Joe, that’s cool’. PROGRESS announce Samoa Joe and you think ‘OH MY GOD, SAMOA JOE IN PROGRESS!!!! THAT’S GOING TO BE INCREDIBLE!!!’. The way they will promote it and the way those crazy fans will react to it, will make it something very special.”
Like PWG, Progress is capable of putting on dream matches in a very special environment: Zack Sabre Jr vs Prince Devitt from Chapter Thirteen being a prime example, or the triple threat of Sabre Jr, Ricochet, and Mark Haskins from Chapter Ten. The mere mention of Joe on the next show has people clamouring over potential opponents, with the likes of Dave Mastiff, Rampage Brown, Mark Haskins, and Tommy End all available.
Co-owner Jim Smallman was lovely enough to take time out to answer a few questions for me:
Mark Robinson: Can you tell me a bit about how you, Glen and Jon got together and came up with the concept of Progress?
Jim Smallman: It was just me and Jon to start with, Glen joined us by our second or third show. Jon was my agent (I’m a stand-up comedian) and we were sat in Edinburgh during the fringe watching PWG DVDs. We were both massive wrestling fans and I believe it was Jon that initially said “we should run a wrestling show in London.” So that’s what we decided to do, and then spent seven months putting our first show together. As for the overall concept, there are several aspects to it. — I’m really into Japanese wrestling, so that’s where the “strong style” thing comes in. A lot of people pick up on the fact that we don’t use too many imports on our shows, and that was partly because we wanted to push British talent and make something cool (hence the name Progress) and partly because we couldn’t afford them!
When it came to running shows in London, there really wasn’t much in the capital itself – most shows being in outlying towns and suburbs – so we really wanted to do something more central and put our stamp on London. So location was quite deliberate, even though I’m the only one of the three of us who doesn’t live there (I live 200 miles away in North Wales).
Mark: Who came up with the Ramones/Clash-style shirts, and did you intend on making Progress have a punk rock vibe to it?
Jim Smallman: I designed the t-shirts… well, I came up with the concept of them and got my mate Rob to draw them up. I’m a HUGE punk fan. I’ve got a Minor Threat tattoo on my arm, for example. It’s now one of my jobs to come up with merch ideas, partly because I’ve had a decent hit rate so far and partly because I actually used to work in the fashion industry before I did comedy. As for the punk rock vibe, I think it helps that we have always ran our shows in music venues AND that we make a big deal about being from London which is one of the birthplaces of the original punk scene. It probably helps too that I’m our ring announcer and instead of wearing a suit and putting on an american accent to do the job I’m dressed the same as the fans, covered in tattoos and swear like a sailor.
Mark: How did you settle on The Garage as the location for Progress?
Jim Smallman: We looked at a lot of places in London, but the Garage was the right mix of being a decent size and having a great reputation as a cool music venue. We would get a lot of fans saying that they’d seen one of their favourite bands there and now they were watching wrestling, and it just made it feel that little bit cooler. It also helped that when we started out, the Garage was super supportive of everything that we did. Of course by January of this year we’d outgrown it; Chapter 11 sold out in 24 minutes so we had to think about moving on, and The Electric Ballroom is another great fit for the same reasons. It’s great that in our new venue – which is twice the size – that we still have the same crazy atmosphere. Our special World Cup show on June 29th is our final show at the Garage, so it’ll be nice to be able to go back and say goodbye properly to the place that helped give rise to our success.
Mark: Are you surprised by how successful Progress has done, considering you’ve focused more on using British talent like Jimmy Havoc and Mark Andrews as the marquee names, instead of relying on international stars to draw in crowds.
Jim Smallman: Even when I know we’ve sold 700 tickets for a show I’m surprised when the Ballroom fills up! When we started out we were just hoping to have a half-full venue and work from there. We’ve never had a show that hasn’t sold out. Glen tweeted last night that when we started we just wanted to sell 300 tickets for our shows. Last night tickets went on sale for Chapter 14 on July 27th and we sold over 300 in an hour DESPITE the rush on tickets breaking our ticketing system and Jon having to invent a new one in the space of minutes. It’s mind blowing how much support we have, but we can’t ever rest on our laurels. We want to keep selling 700 tickets a show and sending fans away happy every single time.
We’re not against using international stars, but we are run as a business and it is incredibly expensive to use imports. Plus add to that how many amazingly talented wrestlers there are here in the UK and it makes sense running things the way we do. Not that we’re completely adverse to it; we’d never fill a show with imports, but using one on a show every now and again can help elevate our awesome British workers and bring in new fans. But for us it always needs to be the RIGHT import. Look at the ones we’ve used so far: Colt Cabana, Ricochet, Adam Cole and Prince Devitt. They are all big names and amazing workers. In the case of Adam Cole, he wasn’t even announced – that was on Chapter Ten when the show was long sold out, and the day before the show he contacted us asking if he could come and work for us. That was an amazing moment right there. It’s also great the feedback we get from stars like him and Devitt, letting us know that we run a good company and look after our guys pretty well.
Going back to the British talent, I don’t know why you would ever ignore such a wealth of great performers that are right on your doorstep. In the case of Jimmy Havoc, he’s an incredibly talented guy who has been around for over a decade and has never been given the chances that he deserves. Mark Andrews is just unbelievably good, getting better with every show that he’s on. Then you have yet more established talent: Zack Sabre Jr, Rampage Brown, El Ligero, Mark Haskins, Kris Travis, Martin Kirby, Mikey Whiplash / Michael Gilbert, Dave Mastiff, RJ Singh, Noam Dar, Marty Scurll… the list goes on and on. And then thanks to the Natural Progression Series that we run annually, you’ve got even more great developing talent like Will Ospreay, Darrell Allen, Paul Robinson, Eddie Dennis, Zack Gibson, Pete Dunne, Robbie X, Flash Morgan Webster, Josh Bodom… there are a lot of great training schools across the UK (obviously including our own ProJo in London) that will be producing great talent for years to come.
Mark: And as a result – because of the success Progress is having – do you feel that British wrestling is in a healthy position right now, and how far can you envision Progress going?
Jim Smallman: I think my list above shows how healthy British wrestling is. I think that EVERY SINGLE one of our roster could be a success in the USA or Japan. To break out into the mainstream you often need luck on your side, but I’d happily throw any of our guys into a big show situation anywhere and know they would win people over. There is a hell of a lot of talent in this little island.
As for how far we can go, whenever we sell a show out people start saying that we need to move to a bigger venue and so on. That’s not my goal. 700 people coming to an independent wrestling show that only sparingly uses imports is a pretty big deal, and we want to maintain that. If every two months we sell out, put on a show that people like and send everyone home happy and desperate for the next show then we’re doing something right. I like how our shows feel, I’m not desperate to move into arenas or anything like that. I like that we feel underground and that every fan lucky enough to get a ticket feels like they’re experiencing something special. We don’t want to run too often so the fans don’t get burned out, and asides from providing wrestling shows at Sonisphere this year we don’t want to leave London and tread on the toes of the other great promoters across the UK.
I don’t know if you’re into football, but there is a team in Germany called St Pauli. They’re the football equivalent of us. Bayern Munich or Dortmund would be the WWE, huge crowds and all the glamour. St Pauli is more like us: small arena but crazy fans and people on a waiting list trying to get tickets. That just makes you want to go see them all the more. I love that we have that vibe around what we do. I don’t ever want us to change that.
Mark: Some of your favourite wrestlers right now, British or international?
Jim Smallman: Prince Devitt is probably my favourite wrestler in the world at the moment, it was mind blowing to watch him at our show on Sunday against Zack Sabre Jr, who happens to be another favourite. I nearly cried halfway through this amazing match when the fans started chanting “thank you Progress” as it was clear that something special was taking place in the ring. There are guys from the States I really enjoy the work of – CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, Bray Wyatt, Adam Cole, Ricochet and Chris Hero to name a few. Then in Japan I love Okada, Kota Ibushi, Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata. The latter two had a mast in NJPW last year that is the best ten minute long match that you will ever see.
Then in Britain… I can’t choose one or two guys. It’s too hard, plus the atmosphere in the Progress locker room is like that of a family. I love those guys for how hard they work for us, and I’d go to bat for any of them to say how great they are.
- Follow them on Twitter: @thisis_progress
- Jim Smallman can be found on twitter at @jimsmallman
Check out the full PROGRESS Chapter 13 show for free on YouTube. Chapter 13 features a much-talked-about Prince Devitt vs Zack Sabre Jr match: